By Autumn Faery
Disclaimer: Oh please, my writing would not stink this much if I was actually the author of Crown Duel; I'm but a mere fan and own nothing!
Thank you Kateranie, Wake-Robin, Dumbledore's Heir, Racetrack's Goil, RYR, FreckledMischief, rubic-cube, ruledbythemoon, Erkith, RandomPerson, l'ilmissnitpick, siriusforeva, tina for your ever kind reviews!
Some have asked how many chapter would be left: Well, I've got the plot planned out—but not the chapter division and stuff. So all I can say is that the adventure is just beginning i.e. expect 6-10 more chapters or so.
Also, a plea for help: All right, my computer is just messed up. It wouldn't let me have access to the "stories" page in the logins area. Every time when I visit that page, a blank page shows up and I can't update anything. Because of this, I have to do ALL my updates on Sundays in my mom's lab computer and thereforewon't have time to sendmy chapters to Wake-Robin, my wonderful beta-reader.
Ugh! Does anyone else have the same problem? Do any of you guys know how to solve it? I have aPC under Windows XP and I use IE 6.
It was a blindingly bright day. The intense light flooding from the wide archive windows highlighted all in my vision a vibrant hue: the various parchments and open books a pristine white, the redwood table a crimson glow, the silver pitcher a dazzling glare, and the bottle of ink a glittering violet.
I had come to the archive while everyone else was preoccupied with Petitioners' Court in favor of privacy of contemplation and research. Recent events have occurred far too rapidly for the space and time to simply think.
Outside, the bright, sun-lit leaves were beginning to yellow, betraying the impending departure of summer. I felt grim. Would this be my last summer? I quickly tore my gaze from the outside view. Starring at the various documents and books scattered in front of me, I held back the urge to slump in defeat. Remalna—
"Remalna simply lacks the magical background to provide the ideal information on magic. I know." A subtle, deep, but familiar voice sighed.
"Vidanric!" I looked up from my books and smiled at the Marquis as he took a seat close to me. He must have came directly from Petitioners' Court, for he was magnificently adorned in a dark purple tunic with gold embroideries, his hair braided and bejeweled. But up close, I saw that his face, thought skillfully schooled to a bland expression, betrayed weariness and melancholy.
"What's the current situation?" I asked him at once, feeling tense.
He sat back and regarded me with serious eyes. "Lelaine has disappeared—as is expected—along with all her servants and belonging, just like that"—he snapped his fingers—"without anyone knowing or noticing. It's as if she was never here; nothing of importance or value was uncovered in her rooms."
I nodded, and then replied, "A temporary retreat, then. She's not done with me."
Vidanric frown faintly in acquiesce. "No she's not." His face briefly tightened before he sighed with frustration. "I resent the heavy involvement of magic. All my years of training has failed to prepare me against malice such as this. But Lelaine and Flauvic are human—their thinking and behavior therefore can be accessed in human terms. Consider this: Lelaine is no great fool. If she deemed chasing you through the palace a necessary risk, it must mean that your knowledge—however limited—of their plans places you in considerable advantage."
I thought hard and allowed his words to process in my mind. "You're right; I see what you mean," I said, pursing my lips thoughtfully. "She wouldn't have taken the risk if it doesn't matter if I know why I'm to die; she must have feared what I could do if I knew of their plans and got away. From the brief bits of their conversation that night, I'm fairly sure that Flauvic is completely dependent—thought I do not know how—on me to break the enchantment. So her desperate actions must suggest that I'm not completely powerless to stop their plans."
Vidanric's faint smile was approving as he nodded and murmured, "Exactly." But his smile quickly dispelled as grim deliberation replaced his expression. "So their schemes may be thwarted—but how? It's clear we must fight magic with magic, but there are no mages or magical resources in Remalna."
"What about the Council of Mages in Eidervaen?"
"I've already composed and sent a letter seeking aid with my fastest messenger," he told me, but his forehead was troubled. "However, it could still take many weeks before the letter reaches them and our importunity is considered and discussed." He looked at me gravely. "Time is more than valuable—and I don't think we've got enough of it. Help might not arrive in time."
I balled my hands into tight fists and said nothing.
"Meanwhile, the possibility of Flauvic's release from bondage means that Remalna is once again under threat," Vidanric told me lowly.
I felt my shoulders tighten. Vidanric was putting all the responsibility upon himself—and the burden's weighting him down. He now must prepare the kingdom against any possible danger, yet he must to so without rising panic in the general populace. Wishing his tired and troubled countenance away, I asked, "What about Flauvic's things? His house was thoroughly searched after the previous Merindar threat, was it not? He must have left magic books, and they must give some insight on whatever nasty spell he's cooking up."
Vidanric grimaced. "Unfortunately, he left lamentably few books and documents. It seems he did most of the plotting in his head. Would you like to have a look at the magic books uncovered? I'll have a runner bring them to your rooms if you'd like."
I quickly nodded. "Please. What kind of information do they contain?"
He sighed softly. "Very general topics like transfers and wards. Some of them go into more complicated details on specific spells, but none of them mention what he is endeavoring to accomplish. Not even remotely close."
I whistled lowly. "All right, I'll admit our resident-villainous-tree sure is careful and vigilant. Who knew someone with such a sing-song voice would be such a pain-in-the—" I stopped short and flushed. Clearing my throat, I questioned, "Anyway, are you sure none of the books mention anything about spells that overcomes enchantments by harming another?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. I conducted a thorough search last night, and none of them provided the information I hoped."
"You stayed up all night researching this? When you've got Petitioners' the very next morning?" I gulped with guilt.
He held up a hand. "Please. None of that is important. What I want to know is how are you faring?" A single jewel in his ear glittered like a tear.
I looked transfixed into his gray orbs and suddenly felt my eyes sting. Unheedingly, huge plops tears began to overwhelm in my eyes and tumble down my face. I bit my lips hard and quickly mumbled, "Oh! Sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me. I—"
My words died when I realized Vidanric was kneeling very close by my side. Then wordlessly, he wrapped his long arms around me firmly and held me close to him. My face was tucked away in the folds of his tunic against his chest as he rested his chin on the top of my head.
His close proximity, the steady pulse of his heart, his faint scent reminiscent of dusky summer fields, the warmth and console of his arms around me, the feel of his slender hands stroking my hair, the gentle sound of his voice speaking words of comfort—all of it felt like wonderful blows to my head as my heart gave a great, foreign flip.
Vidanric then took my hands and pressed them to his lips. And, in a voice as raw as his first words to me the first moments when I awoke to find my memory gone, he softly murmured, "Brace up, Mel. We'll figure something out." His arms around me tightened. "No harm will come to you—I won't let it."
I suddenly realized the woe behind my tears: I wasn't fearful of death—but it'd be devastating if I could never gaze upon those gray eyes again.
From my balcony, I looked out and into the night sky. It was moonless night, and I could sense another summer storm approaching. The sky and stars seemed to have been seized by a mass of angry, rumbling, and constantly roving clouds. And below and around me, the trees and foliage were whipped about by a powerful and harsh north wind. A sense of foreboding raced down my spine.
Must I leave in such ill weather? I wondered for a moment as I considered the unpleasantness of traveling in a storm. But I must.
Vidanric had sent over Flauvic's magic books as he promised. And he was right: most of them revealed nothing of Flauvic and Lelaine's plans.
However, I had learned something of great importance.
One of the books had a section on the imposing tracer spells that Lelaine used seemingly so effortlessly to find me. I had learned that they could only work under two conditions: the specific identity of the person being traced must be known, and that the caster of the spell must know the one being searched is nearby before risking the spell. According to the book, the nature of a tracer spell is dark, thus it could backfire and harm a mage should the distance between they and the intended victim of search be too great.
In other words, if I remained in Athanarel, Lelaine could just come back and zap me away even if I tried to hide. If I fled however, she would no longer know of my relative location and therefore would not be able to use tracer spells to find me, lest the distance between she and I be too great and the spell backfires.
I'd decided to travel to Eidervaen in Sator to seek the Council of Mages in person. And meanwhile I'd no longer be a bothersome burden to Vidanric so he may concentrate solely on preparing the kingdom in defense against whatever threat Flauvic and Lelaine had prepared.
Of course, as I gazed out into the wide and lonesome landscape, with the chilly wind lashing around me, there were fear and doubt in my mind. Would I make it to Eidervaen? Would my already declining health last? Would I die and allow Flauvic to break from the enchantment before ever reaching the Council of Mages? And even if I made it to Sator, would I be able to find a solution?
Gripping the railing of the balcony hard, I forcefully pushed away my anxieties. You have to try, I told myself firmly, if you don't, Flauvic and Lelaine have already won.
After one last glance at the moody night sky, I returned to the warmth of my room. Plopping into a cushion, I quickly grabbed for a pen and parchment and scribbled a quick note to Vidanric:
By the time you read this, I will most probably be far away. In fear of this note ending in wrong hands, I'm afraid I must omit all details. All I can do is ask you to place your trust in me and forgive my sudden decision. Do not worry about my fate; I will be in less danger than I would be if I remained here. I promise you I will place the outmost care upon myself, and will endeavor to see you again.
Please accept my sincerest gratitude for everything. And please take care.
Until we meet again,
I read the note over and looked up when the tapping of my door-tapestry revealed the presence of Mora.
"My lady," she told me, her voice calmly soft, "I've gotten the palace stable livery that you requested."
I grinned and thanked her, but my grin slipped away when I met her gaze and sensed tenseness in her usually steady eyes. "Oh Mora, I'll be all right. Don't worry," I consoled, smiling ruefully.
She held up a thin and aged hand. "My lady, 'its not my place to interfere with your decisions, so all I wish to do is bid you a safe journey. That, and—" She paused to present me a soft package wrapped in white silk and tied neatly with a gold-colored string. "It's a gift from us servants. We had hoped to present it to you when you—well, when you married and—but with the current situation—" She broke off shakily and sighed.
Feeling the corners of my eyes sting, I held the package with great care. With a tug, the string came lose and layers and layers of oh-so-soft cloth tumbled down my hands. I held out the garment—and gasped. In my hands was the most beautiful nightgown I'd ever seen. It was composed of many layers of soft, thin, and translucent white cloth, with delicate stitchings in silver and pearls sewn near the elegant neckline and many ribbons intertwined near the flowing sleeves.
Overwhelmed, I quickly buried my face in the soft and pleasant folds of the nightgown.
"Do you like it, my lady?" I heard Mora ask. "We all wanted to save it for your wedding, and I was not suppose to present you with this until then—but I'd like you to at least see it once before you set out into great danger. I'll keep it for you until you return. Perhaps"—she gave a small, wry chuckle—"it'll motivate you to take great care to come back safe and well."
"Oh, Mora it's wonderful! Do save it for me. I'll most definitely come back and wear it should I ever marry!" I strode to her and embraced her slender form, whispering "Thank you, thank you" over and over.
The wind howling and wailing relentlessly in my ears, I rode tensely in unfamiliar terrain. It was dark out, and I didn't want an unseen rock and ditch to cause my horse to stumble and throw me off.
After biding Mora goodbye and leaving her with instructions of delivery of my note to Vidanric, I had swiftly changed into the stable livery, braided my hair, wrapped it around my head in a coronet, and carefully hid all of my renowned red-brown locks under a cap. I then had hastily packed a bag full of coins, some bread and cheese Mora had gotten me from the kitchens, Flauvic's magic books, some spare clothes, a glowglobe, and several maps of Sator and the southern continent that I took from the library. Taking care to be discreet, I had left my rooms and managed to take a fresh horse from the stables with no one interfering and noticing, for I looked like a typical stable boy. And just like that, I'd left Athanarel.
The shadows of the lush forest around me gradually thinned and disappeared as I rode into a clearing. Squinting, I realized I was riding along the top of a grand palisade. Below the steep, jagged cliffs, brightly alit in the darkness of night, was what appeared to be a busy town. Excellent, I shall make a stop there, I thought as I urged my horse to a mild gallop.
Despite the heavy rain, the town—called Ler Erthalen—was bustling with activity. As I led my horse along a wide cobblestone street, carts and carriages passed by us ceaselessly. It turned out that due to its close proximity to the capital, Ler Erthalen was a major stop for merchants and traders with business in Remalna-City. Thus the town's economy was mostly dependent on its many restaurants and inns that colonized every side of its busy streets.
Good, I thought with a small sigh of relief, I'd have no trouble finding a place to stay—and my presence will not raise curiosity or suspicion. And it'll be easy to go about unnoticed in the crowds of travelers.
Spotting a modest but comfortable-looking inn called Oak Manor, I approached its stables, handed my horse to an eager stable hand, and entered the inn. Music and warmth and the pleasing aroma of roasted pheasant and vegetables greeted me as I wrung off my soggy cloak and chose a lone table in a corner.
The Oak Manor was a medium sized inn with a spacious common room and neat sets of tables and chairs. It must have been built long ago, for its walls were oak paneled and warm-colored. Near the center of the common room, a fire crackled merrily in the hearth. And near it, a space had been made for enthusiastic dancers and a small group of traveling musicians.
"Good traveler, how may I be of assistance?" I turned to find a pleasantly smiling serving girl waiting patiently for a response.
"I'd like some hot chocolate and something warm and filling to eat, please," I told her. The pleasant aromas around me had woken my appetite and made my stomach ache with hunger.
After the serving girl's departure, I slumped in my seat and listened to the conversations around me. A group of merchants to my left were discussing the wool trade and the recent increase in demand for yearth fur. Several elders talked of local business and administration to the front of my table, and to my right, a few young people flirted and laughed. All right, nothing has gone wrong so far.
I didn't remember what I had to eat; I was already drooping with sleepiness by the time food arrived. After devouring everything, I paid the innkeeper both for the food and a room. Doggedly climbing up the stairs, I found my room and stumbled in.
Sprawling onto the bed, I promptly fell asleep.
AN: Ugh, my head was throbbing badly while I was writing this. So if this chapter's been really horrible, please forgive me. Please review!