We were stupid and blind to believe we could try and defeat the Corrupt ourselves. We believed we could find a simple solution to a very complicated problem. We could not see what our own hubris was leading us to.
This Corruption, that twists soul, body and mind, that poisons hearts and lives, that spreads its own diseases, would not be stopped by simple means and never could be, but through a magic that has long been gone from our lands, and that mortals should no longer possess.
Or, perhaps, it’s wounded pride that stops me from truly speaking what I should. Maybe it is not the power that is the problem, but simply that I am not the right one to wield it that has me so bitter, that someone who is not weak to its charms and temptations is truly what we need. Rather than my brothers or I who have been so easily swayed so many times before.
Whatever the answer may be, may the Founder have pity and mercy on the poor soul who must carry that burden.
Extract from the journals of Lord Marish, Lord High Mage of the Brotherhood of Magi, Keeper of the Council.
The Kingdom of Vagharia was a large country steeped in history, ruled by the royal family of Hindor and its regions governed by the loyal Denshin and other Lords. The Southeast Region, known as the Gaemon Region, so-called after its main city and Castle, was home to the family of Rathiain.
The Rathiains were of Elvish descent, and had been raised to Nobility through the loyalty of one Mo’Thell Rathiain to his King and going above and beyond what was required of a soldier. Although Mo’Thell had gained the title it wasn’t until his son Bonial that the family also gained respect and the start of stability.
For those of Elvish blood, although allowed titles, were never considered with the same regard or respect as their human counterparts. Bonial had changed this for his house, however, by not only taking Gaemon Castle back from an invading force of Valdorians but keeping it, only to then take back the remaining city and region.
Bonial had been rewarded with the Denship of the Region, for doing what its previous lord could not, and showing a will and strength that many could learn from. Since then the Rathiain family had gone from strength to strength, earning themselves a little more freedom and, rather than having to solely rely on political alliances, they could, in some cases, marry freely and raise other Elvish noble families to notice and stability with them. But from time to time a political alliance was still needed. Such as the one that the current Denshin’s eldest daughter Mylea was about to undertake, or would have, had the increasing fear of war not stepped in and changed fate for the better.
It had been four generations since Bonial had taken the Denship of Gaemon Palace, a fact that Mylea Rathiain was painfully aware of. Her father, Arandris Rathiain, the current Denshin, had seen to it that she had been schooled in her family's history in great depth to ensure the matter stuck and stuck it had. Mylea could barely get away from the fact, no matter how hard she tried. So, rather than fight it she chose to just get on and live with it, and whatever duty that may entail. So she had taken great care to practice every skill a Noble wife was expected to have. From running the home to needlework, from dancing to being the perfect hostess. She took great care in her appearance also, so that even if she didn’t feel it, she would look like a lady. From ensuring that her long deep brown wavy hair was always well-taken care of and pulled back into intricate plaits to keep it tidy. Making sure her gowns were always presentable and well-fitting for someone of her short height, and if she wore any adornment at any event it complimented her lavender eyes.
All this she did, to show herself to be a desirable wife. Coached and guided by her mother, and encouraged by her father, she had done well. She had not long come of age and had her presentation ball when she got an offer of marriage from the son of Earl Heires, an old family friend. After a lengthy discussion, she had accepted him. She knew she would probably never love him, but she deeply respected him, and that would be enough. It would have to be. But no amount of respect would stop her from finding him a little much after a while. She supposed that was why she had found herself hiding away in her favourite tree out in the gardens more often than normal.
Ever since she was young, to get away from courtly life or duties, to spend some time just being herself away from others, Mylea had taken to climbing one of the old Oaks that made up the small wooded area at the edge of the Palace boundaries in the flower garden. She could sit there for hours lost in her own thoughts or away with the fairies, dreaming up things that were just out of her reach, before climbing back down her face set, and determined to be the embodiment of the perfect young lady again. A part she could now play flawlessly. No one outside her family knew that Mylea was anything but, or as far as she was aware no one was. With her family, away from the prying eyes of others, Mylea took after her two eldest brothers more than her parents would like to admit. But they never stopped her or reprimanded her for the fact because, when in the presence of others she always did as she was told and acted as she was expected. It was also why they allowed her her time away up in the Oaktree. They understood how draining playing the part of a Noble lady was, and let her have her time to reset.
Today had been no different. Well, in fact that was a lie, it was very different. Today Lord Arandris was gathering the last of the Regions forces and getting ready to ride to join the king in the South to face an old and dangerous threat. A horde of the Corrupted.
The Corrupted were dark twisted creatures who lived to kill anything and everything that was not one of their own. Although formidable, because they could infect those they battle with the corruption that coursed through them, they were not unstoppable. This being said however, for the most part the Corrupted could be dealt with without the need for a full-blown war, as from time to time the odd one would venture from its nest to quickly be cut down. Other times a few of the clans would bound together and the King’s Guard and Watchers would be sent out to deal with them. There would be a gruesome, but short battle and the defeated Corrupted would be chased back to their underground nests to die off. It was the uprisings that caused the most worry and panic. It was during an uprising when the King would have to call on all the lords of the land to face the threat with him and his men.
An uprising however only happened when the Corrupted had found themselves a Corrupt Mother. A powerful and terrifying Beast that was able to control the Corrupted that followed it, organising them into a massing horde that was far harder to defeat than the normal odd scavenger or Clan party. There had only ever been three Uprisings in recorded history, and there were signs that they were about to face a forth. The moment the King had sent out a call for the Lord’s forces, Arandris had gathered his own men and sent them to join the King along with his closest adviser. Arandris had stayed behind to help organise and gather the other Lords and their men intending to join the King and his own forces with the other lords. Much to the annoyance of some.
The day the call to arms had been sent out was just after the arrival of Earl Zeph Heires and his family. They had journeyed to Gaemon Castle in time to prepare for the wedding that was meant to take place a week later. The call had put a stop to all that, however. Earl Heires had voiced his displeasure and annoyance, stating that the King was jumping at ghosts, that he was wasting valuable time and resources on a battle that would be over and done with by the time they actually arrived. Although there were signs of an uprising there had been no proof and absolutely no sign of a Corrupt Mother, and everyone knew that without a Mother the creatures were nothing better than mindless savage animals.
Arandris however, as always, was the voice of reason and had managed to quieten Heires’ annoyance and, to compensate him for his inconvenience, had offered for his family to stay as long as needed at Gaemon castle so that when they returned the Wedding could follow as soon as possible after.
This had been an agreeable plan to not only the father, but the son also, who had been just as annoyed as his father if not a little more vocal about it. It had then fallen to Mylea to play hostess and keep the Earl’s family entertained while her father and the Earl prepared to take the last of the men to the front lines.
So no, today was not like any other day, today not only did she have her normal duties, but she also had to entertain her fiance and his family, help her mother look after the other Lords who would be joining her father. Ensure that her brothers had all they needed before they too headed off and prepared to take on some of her father’s roles while he was away so that her mother would not be overwhelmed, any more than she already was. Her mother was a formidable woman who could take care of much, but even she had admitted running a Castle was too much for one person and was thankful for her daughter stepping up and helping shoulder that burden.
Thus Mylea had found herself in desperate need of some peace and quiet, as well as some time to herself. She had placed herself up higher in the tree than normal, wanting to be able to avoid the eyes of anyone that might pass through the gardens on their way to their destinations. She sat with her back against the wide trunk, one leg dangling, the skirts of her court dress pulled up to allow movement. If her mother could see her now she would be horrified to see the way she sat. Her mother was lenient about many things, sitting unladylike and risking the world seeing what you wore underneath was not one of those things.
Mylea had her eyes closed and was gently humming to herself when she heard her mother, Lady Hiriel, approaching. She knew it was her mother, by the way, the steps themselves were soft and almost inaudible but then followed by the gentle rustle of material as the train of her mothers dress followed behind. Mylea had to bite the inside of her cheek to stop herself laughing when, as if to confirm her theory, her mother's voice called up to her.
“Mylea Rathiain come down from wherever you have hidden yourself off too, right this moment! Your Father is looking for you!”
Mylea sighed, her mother did not sound happy. If anything she sounded frustrated, short-tempered and tired. All of which was understandable, the last few days had been stressful and straining. It did not, however, make her mother any easier to deal with when she got into this kind of mood. Then again, Mylea wasn’t exactly in the most cheery of moods herself. She hadn’t been sleeping much herself. She had been getting up early and going to bed late in order to help her father out more and to start taking on some of the castle’s running ready for when her father left. She had even fallen asleep up in the tree for a few hours before she had woken up and not feeling ready to rejoin the bustle of the castle sat humming. But there wasn’t much time to think about it as her mother called up again in a much sharper tone.
“Do not ignore me young Lady I know you are up there -”
Mylea rolled her eyes and rather than responding simply jumped her way down out of the tree cutting her mothers next words off as she landed in a crouch next to her. Straightening up, Mylea brushed the dust off herself as she answered her mother.
“Sorry, Ofara! I was half asleep, it took me a minute to realise I was being called.”
It wasn’t completely a lie, as she smiled up at her mother who gave her her signature lavender glare, that said she didn’t completely believe her daughter, but she never-the-less let the matter slide. “Well, even so, your father has been asking for you, he said it was urgent” her mother said her tone was not as sharp as before.
“Do you know why?” Mylea asked, curious, but already guessing as to why herself. It was probably about her being ready for her father’s duties. “How am I meant to know, I have had other things to be taking care of, all I was told was he was looking for you and that he needs you in the grand hall”
Mylea’s shoulders sagged, it was making sure she was prepared then.
“Alright, I had better not keep him waiting, I’ll see you at dinner” Mylea said dryly as she turned and headed back towards the main Castle building, while her mother hurried off to see to the rest of her duties before dinner.
The part of the castle that housed the Great Hall was one of the largest; it had been modeled after the hall at the royal castle, being that it was built not long after the royal castle's completion. It was the first building that guests would walk into, and where not only important Region meetings would be held, but where any and all feasts and celebrations would take place. Currently, it was the main hub from which the lords and their men were being organised. Arandris always had a small troop of men, trained and ready, and had sent them with their commander and his adviser the moment the Call had arrived, he then had got to work, gathering the regions lords and their forces as well as gathering the last of his men that worked within the city when the land was at peace but were trained enough to take up arms should a war arise. It was a tactic that Bonial had put in place and it had served them well so far. It had almost always assured that they would never be short of men. A tactic her father wished Earl Heires had adopted. Since the Call, the Earl had faced delay after delay.
He was feeding her father with even more excuses when Mylea arrived at the Great Hall. She walked past the soldiers bustling about here and there getting ready to march later that night, providing that the Earls men made it in time. Her father and Earl stood at the other end of the Great Hall, deep in conversation. From her father’s posture, his folded arms and his stoney expression it wasn’t good news as she approached her father, he caught sight of her and his face softened then brightened.
“Ah there you are my Hiron, I hope I have not pulled you away from anything important” Arandris called upon seeing her. The Earl caught by the sudden interruption and turned ready to be displeased when he saw that it was, in fact, Mylea approaching, his expression instantly turned to one of contented pleasure. Mylea came to a stop at her father’s side, curtsying to both men each in turn. When she straightened she smiled warmly.
“Nar Morhell, I was just taking a rest, I hope I am not interrupting anything, it is just that Ofara said you wanted to see me” Mylea said politely looking at the Earl apologetically just in case.
“Ban, I did, there were a few last-minute details I wished to speak with you about before we left this evening if the Earl no longer needs me that is'' Arandris said looking at the Earl, praying he had got the hint, which he thankfully did, for he smiled at the pair and said.
“Of Course my Lord, I have taken far too much time as it is” He smiled warmly, but Mylea noticed the smile had an edge to it. It didn’t quite meet the Earl’s eyes, and then he turned to her and his expression warmed further still.
“And please, my Lady, do not worry yourself, you did not interrupt anything important, just this old man complaining about the costs of war”
Mylea returned the smile and said. “It is something that I don’t think is complained about enough, wars are not cheap things, in terms of men's lives or resources”
The Earl gave an impressive expression. “You are a most wise young lady, even at this very young age, my son is lucky to have a lady of such wisdom at his side, or at least he will be when this wedding can finally take place, but there I go again. I am keeping you both” He turned to Arandris and bowed.
“I shall see you this evening when we are to set off and,” turning to Mylea, he took her hand and bowed gently kissing it.
“I shall see you this evening when you come to see us off”
Mylea curtiesed politely. “You most certainly shall, but until then”
The Earl gave that same edged smile.
“Until then!” and, with that, he turned to leave, but he had barely gone a step when the doors to the Great Hall opened and two of the castle guards escorted a man in. The man in question was tall and broad-shouldered. His dark hair and beard was shot through with silver and grey. The medium armour he wore was a mix of steel plate and leather. It was also within reason to assume that it had been infused with deep enchantments that helped with his personal needs and skills, and at his belt hung a medallion of silver. It was large enough to fit easily into one's palm, With a Black ribbon hanging from its bottom edge. Although from far away it was hard to make out, it was well known that stamped on the medallion's face was the insignia of the Watchers. A Wolf’s head encased in a dragon's wings. The symbol had been designed as such to be easily recognisable by anyone and to announce that the person wearing it was a Watcher.
The Watchers were a group of highly skilled and highly trained warriors who specialized in dealing with the Corrupted. They were well respected if not slightly feared by most of the Kingdoms Denshin and Lords. Whenever a Watcher turned up a certain amount of respect and ceremony was expected. For anyone carrying the Watchers insignia were to be given bed and board until their business was concluded and they moved on, no matter where it might be they found themselves.
If a Watcher found him or herself in the home of anyone of title, they would also be given any and all supplies that they requested without question or argument. It was done as a thank you to them for the important service they provided, and the price every Watcher paid to provide it. Although many of the lords were more than happy to provide this hospitality, many more of them hoped they would never be called on to give it.
The Earl visibly froze on seeing the Watcher approach, Mylea caught a flicker of disgust and horror flash across his face, to quickly be replaced by a look of sudden surprise. Mylea raised an eyebrow at this sudden change of expression but said nothing, instead she looked sideways at her father to find, yes, he had noticed it too. The Earl quickly turned his head back to look at Arandris.
“My Lord, why did you not tell me that we had a Watcher with us, I have not been able to show the proper respect”
Arandris gave him a sheepish apologetic look.
“I apologise, old friend, Lashur only just arrived when I sent for my daughter, and as we were discussing other important matters I did not get the chance to mention it” Arandris said politely, hinting at the fact that had the Earl allowed him a proper word in sideways between all these excuses he might have been informed sooner. The Earl got the hint, as a look of utter contempt slipped across his face before he could gain control of it again. This time however Mylea had been the only one to notice, as her father’s attention was on Watcher Lashur as he came to a stop beside them.
The Earl, now unable to meet Arandris’ eye, gave a quiet “Ah, I see” as Arandris gave his full attention to the watcher, who bowed deeply to them greeting them with an awkward smile.
“My Lord Denshin Rathiain, Earl Heires, I thank you for taking the time to see me” and then as his eyes fell on Mylea his smile became warm.
“My Lady Mylea Rathiain, I hope I haven’t interrupted at a bad time”
Arandris gave him a broad welcoming smile.
“You are most welcome, Lashur, as you know, and no, you have perfect timing in fact, I was about to tell my daughter about you. Mylea” Arandris looked down at his daughter and motioned toward the Watcher.
“This is Watcher Lashur; he will be staying with you for a short time, while I am gone, and his stay was in-fact one of the things I wished to discuss with you, I know you have taken on much, but I must also ask that you take on seeing to anything The Watcher asks for, do you think you can manage that? I do not want to over-burden you on such short notice” her father asked with a tone of concern. Mylea looked up at her father and gave him a reassuring smile.
“Of course I can Morhell” and, turning to Lashur, gave him a quick polite nod.
“It would be an honour to offer any assistance I can, it is the least I could do to repay you for the great service you provide, so please do not hesitate to ask”
Lashur’s smile broadened. “You are too kind my lady, but hopefully I shall not need to stay long and hopefully will have no need to inconvenience you much”
Arandris beamed at his daughter with pride. “Very good, I knew I could count on you, My Hiron. Now”
He turned back to the gentlemen. “Earl, Watcher, you must excuse us, I still have a few more minor but pressing matters of which I need to speak to my daughter about”
Both men bowed, “Of course My lord”
Arandris bowed and gave one final farewell to each, turning first to the Earl.
“I shall see you later this evening before we set out and”
Then turning to the Watcher.
“Lashur I hope you have a comfortable stay, and that your business whatever it may be ‘is successful”
Lashur nodded. “I have a growing hope that it shall be”
“Very good” Arandris nodded and turned to Mylea, and said. “We had better head to my study”
Mylea smiled “If you wish Morhell” The pair gave a final parting to the two gentleman and then departed for Arandris’ study leaving the two men watching after them. Once they were out of sight and in the outer corridor heading to her fathers study, Mylea let herself wonder about the Earl’s change of expression against her father and the Watcher. The Watcher, she could somewhat reason out. When the Call had arrived and he had been vocal about his displeasure, he had accused the Watchers of being over dramatic, of playing the threat up so that they could prove themselves important again. But the look of contempt he had shown her father, that she could not reason out.
“A moment of your thoughts” Her father asked gently, breaking through her chain of thought. It took her a moment to even realise he had spoken to her.
“Huh, what? Sorry?” She looked up at him a little bewildered, which made him chuckle slightly, as they reached his study door, and he opened it letting her inside first before following in behind her and closing it behind them.
“I said a moment of your thought my Hiron” He repeated as he motioned for her to take one of the seats by the fire. Arandris almost always had a fire going in his study, mostly for the fact that when he wasn’t seeing to matters of the region in the Great Hall he was here doing the paperwork that usually accompanied such matters. Mylea could remember in her younger years curling up in front of the fire reading while her father worked away at his desk. She would inevitably fall asleep there and wake up an hour or so later, her book safely to one side and a large blanket laid over her. Mylea allowed herself a small smile at the memory before turning back to the present and her fathers request. She sat for a moment staring into the fire, trying to find the right words.
She finally settled for.
“When the Watcher walked in Heires, was not just flustered or surprised at seeing him, he was disgusted, and I can not fully understand why”
She looked up from the fire into her fathers deep grey eyes, that watched her with an equal measure of understanding and pride. He considered her a moment sitting back in his own chair.
“I had also noticed this, the only reason I can come to, and it is not a very decent one, is that the Earl does not take kindly to the Watchers. He considered them unnecessary and they take up otherwise much needed resources. Especially as the times of rest before an uprising have been growing Shorter each time. I am given to believe that he thinks they are shirking their responsibilities, rather than ending the problem they are just putting it off for someone else to deal with. The fact that the Watchers themselves have already raised a concern with the King, saying a far more permanent solution needs to be found, seems to have missed his notice”
Arandris sighed as he looked into the fire, considering everything he had just aired to his daughter, before continuing.
“I am also under the impression that he resents the respect they command for some reason. The fact that they can do almost anything and not be questioned over it”
Arandris shrugged, looking back at Mylea who watched him with a curious expression.
“This however is all speculation and I could be totally wrong, but we will never know unless we ask him directly and that would hardly be called for”
Mylea took all this in, rolling it over in her mind. How could he judge what they have or have not done before finding out for himself what was in-fact happening, and said to her father possibly a little more coldly then she had intended.
“He seems very quick to judge from his safe estate, yet, does not seem so quick to be at the King’s side when he is called on. Where those he judges are some of the very first. If not the first”
Mylea sighed and shook her head. “But then I am no better, judging him before getting all the facts. I have not seen war the way he has, so maybe that is where some of his distaste comes from having actually been on a battleground”
“Possibly” Her father responded regarding her with a raised eyebrow. She could take a guess as to what it was he was thinking. Normally Mylea kept her opinions or judgments, especially her negative ones about anyone firmly to herself. For her to have spoken so sharply about anyone, more importantly her future Father-in-law was a little out of character. But Mylea couldn’t help it. Since the Call to the King had arrived her opinion of the Earl had slowly been changing. From his outburst and annoyance at being called away and the wedding having to be put on hold rather than brought forward, Arandris had explained that there wouldn’t have been enough time to bring it forward and that it would have seemed rushed, thus being unfair on the young couple. This had satisfied his son, and made him even more eager to marry Mylea.
The Earl however had still tried to argue the point until his wife had to talk him down. Then there were all the delays. Although some of the other Lords had run into difficulties, they did not have as many as the Earl was claiming to have. Mylea was starting to feel like the Earl was putting off the arrival of his men on purpose. But Mylea knew better than to mention as much to her father.
“But it equally does not mean that you were not right in what you said” Arandris said in a gentle tone. After a moment of silence passed he sighed and got to his feet.
“As I said unless we ask, we will never know, and as we are not likely ever to get a chance to do that we should not worry about it, we should however” He said walking over to his desk and picking up some of the scrolls of parchment that lay there.
“Get to work on these” He said, waving them for enfaces, as he walked back to his seat, sitting once more handing a few of them over to Mylea to look at straight away.
“They are not major matters but they can get complicated if you are not ready for it, so I want to go through them now, so you are ready should that happen” Arandris continued now all business. Mylea nodded and ran her eyes over the scrolls in her hands, and got down to working. With their focus now on the matter at hand, the Earl and his reactions were soon forgotten! At least, for now!
+ + + +
Mylea left her fathers study an hour later, leaving him to settle the last final arrangements with his footman, allowing Mylea to carry out the task he had charged her with. To head and find her younger siblings and to get them ready for dinner. It did not take her long to track them down. All she had to do was follow the echoes of childish laughter and joyous shouts of play.
Their calls of laughter lead her to the castle court-yard where she found her young sister and brother Sheaira and Nesterin play fighting with her nephew, her oldest brothers only son Finder and her finance Wynfir Heires using sticks for swords. Wynfir was currently trying to teach Finder how to handle a sword properly, and having a terrible time of it, as Sheaira, the eldest of the children and ten years Mylea’s junior was proving to be far too skilled for her own good. Despite this, however, Wynfir seemed to be having as much fun as the children were, laughing and playing along with them. Mylea stood watching them for a moment. For a man who was otherwise rather straight-laced, he did continue to surprise her with how laid back he could also be. Despite herself, she found herself smiling. One sure way to get on her good side was to be best friends with her siblings, and Wynfir was doing his very best at that, that was for sure.
It didn’t take Wynfir long to notice her standing there watching them. He grinned brightly as he straightened up, throwing his arms wide welcoming her forward.
“Ah fair Lady Mylea, care to come join us in our fierce battle against, against the, Oh um” He faltered and looked round for Nesterin for help, but Nesterin was too busy locked in his own fierce battle with Finder to answer. So giving up, he went for.
“Against whatever it is your brothers invented” He said with a hearty laugh, shrugging slightly. Mylea laughed in her own way and stepped forward ready to answer, but Sheaira seeing an opening in his being distracted poked him sharply in the ribs. Wynfir instantly doubled over in pain clutching at his side.
“Ouch! Why you little” His head snapped round to see who had poked him, then seeing it had been Sheaira his furious expression quickly broke into an understanding laughing grin, and began to die very dramatically, making gurgling choking noises as he slowly collapsed to the floor, where he fell silent and still. The three children crowded round him looking curious and just a little worried. As Mylea drew closer to watch over their heads she heard Finder Whisper to Sheaira.
“I think you’ve done it now, you’ve really hurt him”
“Oh don’t be silly” Sheaira whispered back sharply, but Mylea was happy to note the slight twinge of doubt in her voice as she added. “You can’t die from a stick to the ribs”
“Well maybe with the way you use that stick you could” Nesterin added in his own whisper. While the children had been discussing this little fact between themselves, Mylea had been watching Wynfir closely, seeing the slight twitch of a smile at the corner of his mouth, and saw him peer out at them from underneath his lashes. She saw what he was going to try and do and carefully placed herself behind Finder and when she saw him peer out a second she gave a very slight nod and a wink, letting him know she was in on it and happy to help. This drew a quick smirk, before going still once more, he let Nesterin and Shearia argue for a moment longer, before he jerked up with a roar grabbing them both to him and tickling while Mylea grabbed Finder up into a hug from behind giving a roar of her own. The Children screamed in surprise then in laughter, having enjoyed the joke immensely. After some time of non-stop laughing. Wynfir let the siblings go, straightening up trying to catch his breath, unable to stop smiling. Mylea placed a warm kiss on her nephew's cheek before setting him on his feet and a little breathless she turned to the children and said.
“Right, that is enough of that silliness, time to go and get ready for dinner”
The three of them broke into their normal whining, but Mylea was immune to their pleas.
“No! Dinner, now get going before mother sees the state of your hands and clothes and demands you are all bathed before dinner”
This quickly shut the children off, all looking panicked. “No! Not one of Nan’s baths”
“Yes!” Mylea said her hands going to her hips mimicking her mother’s stance whenever she got serious with the children. “One of Nan’s baths! That is unless you get going and wash up and dress yourselves!”
“We are gone” They said in chorus, and almost stumbled over each other to be gone. Mylea and Wynfir stood together and watched them rush off smiling.
“Well I must say, I have never seen them move so fast before, this Nan of yours must be scary,” Wynfir said lightly, turning to face her. Mylea gave a small laugh, shaking her head and crossing her arms across her chest.
“No, old Shea is not that bad, she is just a little thorough. It can leave you feeling a little raw as it were” Wynfir chuckled, and gave an understanding nod.
“I am glad to know my own Nanny was not the only one that does that”
“I do not think there is a single Nanny who does not do that” She smiled up at him.
“This is of course true” He said gently as he stared down at her. Wynfir stood a complete head taller than her so she had to crane her neck a little to look him in the eye. His eyes searched her face a moment before he gave a slight chuckle and gently tucked a flyaway strand of her deep brown hair behind her ear, where he took the chance to gently stroke along the pointed line of her ear tip. As he said.
“There we go, perfect, it would be a shame if you went to dinner with a single hair out of place after all the care you take in that intricate plait of yours”
Mylea felt her cheeks burn despite herself. “Thank you”
She said quietly, unable to think of anything else to say as he stared down at her, they had been close before, they had danced together and you couldn’t get much closer than that, but something about the way he looked at her now with those brown eyes of his felt different. Mylea was about to say something when he pulled back a little, clearing his throat.
“I had better not keep you, the last thing I need is your mother scolding me for making you late to dinner,” He said with a smile returning to his face, but like his father, it didn’t quite make it to his eyes. Mylea sighed sagging a little.
“No, we do not want that” She forced herself to smile.
“I will see you tomorrow morning for our daily ride?” She said, trying to sound cheery. Wynfir looked confused for a moment then nodded, smiling a little more lightly.
“Oh yes, of course, Until tomorrow morning then” He bowed, taking her hand and kissing it, before hurrying off himself. Mylea watched him go, his departure leaving her with more questions than his father’s strange reactions had.
Mylea was still deep in thought when she joined the rest of the family for dinner. The meal was to take place in one of the family rooms rather than with the rest of the men in the Great Hall which had been the habit of the last few nights.
Tonight, however, was for family only, so the family dining room was used. When Mylea walked in and took her seat her older brothers Faelen and Barauil were already seated with Faelens wife Olaia and their son Mylea’s only nephew Finder. Her mother was sitting in her place at the other end of the table with Sheaira and Nesterian on either side of her, to keep them from bickering then and poking each other under the table more than anything. Mylea took her seat between Barauil and Nesterian, just as her father joined them. Apologising as he sat down for being late, his paperwork had taken longer then he planned.
With Arandris, the meal could begin. The talk was relatively normal, asking about each other's day and discussing everyday family matters, laughing and enjoying each other's company and the last family meal they would have together for some time. For the most part, the meal passed pleasantly. That was until near its end one of Earl Heires’ messengers came in and handed Arandris an urgent message. Arandris’ eyes ran over the message, his expression blank, he signed and folded the note up.
“Thank you, tell the Earl I understand” the messenger bowed and quickly backed out of the room with his charge.
Arandris waited until the door had safely closed behind the messenger before addressing the question everyone was thinking but hadn’t yet had the nerve to ask. Mylea watched her father’s eyes move from one son to the other before saying to the table as a whole.
“The Earls men still have yet to arrive, He suggested that we ride on ahead of him and that he will follow on tomorrow once his men arrive, He said that there is no need to keep the King waiting for the few companies he could provide”
This caused an uproar from her brothers, both flying off into outbursts of fury and frustration. Mylea on the other hand stayed very, very quiet, staring down at her plate as her brothers voiced their anger. Something in the pit of her stomach twisted giving her a sick feeling, her mind looking back at the Earls look of contempt, and Wynfir’s strange expression before he left. Mylea was however paying just enough attention to catch when Barauils burst out with.
“What is taking the Earls' men so long! There is no excuse for these constant delays”
Faelen banged his fist on the table in frustration, causing the plates to rattle slightly and Mylea, Olaia and the children to jump, as he voiced what most of the adults at the table were starting to think, or in Mylea’s case had been thinking for some time now.
“Is he doing this on purpose? Is he stalling his forces in the hope the war will be won before he gets there? Does he hope that if he puts it off long enough he will not have to see battle? That his men will thank him for saving their lives by keeping them back? Does he think it's that simple?”
“The Earl” Arandris began gently, trying to soothe his sons while battling with the wave of doubt that washed over his own mind.
“Has always been a very cautious man, and this may be his way of being so when it comes to his men, I am sure whatever it is, he has his reasons”
Barauil although not happy with the idea saw reasoning in his father's words. Faelen on the other hand was still seething with growing unease and resentment. Orlaia gently placed a hand on her husband’s arm.
“There is no point in fretting over it now, you all have enough to worry about, without adding to it something that is completely out of your control. Please for your own sakes” Orlaia was a kind and gentle soul who saw the very best in everything and had learned how to soothe her husband's more volatile temper.
Hiriel observed both her eldest sons. “Orlaia is right, there is nothing that can be done now, other than to save your energy and frustration for the fight ahead and to do everything you can to ensure you come home to us safely”
She glared at the boys, her tone sharp. She had enough to worry about without them adding their worrying accusations on top.
“Your right Ofara, I am sorry,” Faelen said deflating under his mother’s glare and his wife's gentle touch. He smiled weakly at Orlaia taking her hand and squeezing it slightly.
“As are you my nairell, wise as ever”
“Now, if you do not mind, I would like to change the subject, you are making the children uneasy,” Hiriel said sharply.
Both brothers quickly shot looks around the table at the youngsters sitting staring at them, wide-eyed and worried. The brothers quickly apologised and went back to finishing the last of the meal. Mylea however had lost her appetite and Arandris had been given much to think about. The meal ended in relative silence from all.
When it came time to leave, Arandris pulled his oldest sons over to one side and had a very quick heated and very animated discussion with them. It did not take long however for what seemed like a decision to be reached. The three of them walked back over to the others who stood waiting to see the Brothers and Arandris along with their men off safely on their way.
Barauil and Faelen said their final goodbyes, hugged each of their family in turn then mounted their horses. Arandris on the other hand stayed at his wife’s side, this drew confused looks from all gathered, but Arandris kept his eyes on his sons.
“You ride safely my Ronim, I will join you with the Earl tomorrow, May the Founders Guide and Protect you”
Barauil and Faelen. Bowed to their father and after one desperate look over their family, they turned their horses about and took up their place at the head of their men, and led the way forward into the night. Mylea, her Parents, her remaining siblings and Orlaia and Findir stood waiting, watching until the last man was swallowed up by the night before showing any signs of moving. Once the last man was clear out of sight and a few silent moments had passed where nothing but the normal night sounds from
the village beyond the walls could be heard, Arandris sighed and said solemnly. “Well then, that’s, that. We had best get inside, we have a busy day tomorrow, and we need our rest” He said, turning to them and looking over each of them, his eyes coming to rest on Mylea as he said this. They all agreed and after saying their goodnights, Mylea and Orlaia saw the younger ones to bed before returning to their own rooms.
Mylea waited until she was safely in her room with the door closed and locked against the outside world before she let the fears of the day's events rush up and wash over her. She lent against the door for support as her mind raced. Mylea had been suspicious of the Earl for some time now, his constant delays and weak excuses, his son's constant well-meaning but snide remarks on the war and its effort. Insisting that a mountain had been made out of a molehill. Mylea had at first put it down to Wynfir being bitter about the wedding but as time went on he became more irritated and less polite about his comments. Mylea had begun to wonder, and now with Faelen voicing just what she had been thinking, clearly meant she was not the only one noticing that something was off. But her mother was right. There was no point in worrying over something she could do very little about; and anyway, even if he was withholding his forces to keep them out of the war. It wasn’t like the King would be without, many of the other Lords had also answered his call swiftly. Even without the Earl’s men, he would have enough to face the Corrupt uprising and defeat it. It was a belief Mylea clung to because the alternative was not an option. Her father and brothers would come home and that would be the end of it.
Mylea had been so lost in thought she hadn’t noticed her wolf-dog Arex gently pad his way over to her, from the large pillow that served as his bed, until he started to nuzzle gently at her hand. She looked down at him smiling gently and stroking at his head and ears. Arex was a special breed of Vegharien War dog that had been cross-bred with wolves. Arex had been the runt of his litter and Mylea had saved him as a pup from being abandoned by his mother. The two had bonded over the weeks in which a six-year-old Mylea had nursed the poor creature back to health.
“Hey there boy sorry, I was away with the fairies” She stroked at his dark fur, as he stared up at her with eyes of deep emerald green.
“Are you hungry or are you full up from the scraps from dinner?” Mylea asked happily more than willing to sneak down to the kitchen should the wolf still need feeding. But no, Arex panted happily and gave a happy swish of his tail, showing he was completely satisfied. Mylea smiled and gave a small chuckle.
“Alright then, in that case, I better get myself off to bed, I need to be up early for that ride with Wynfir” She said with a sigh, her mind filling again with that worry from earlier, as she walked over and started to change into her night things. Something about it was bugging her and she couldn’t place it, and it was now starting to frustrate her.
Mylea racked her brain as she got into bed and settled down beneath the sheets, until she had to give up to save her sanity instead she lay there for several moments going through the other thoughts that nagged at her, carefully, until, turning over she had to remind herself of what her mother had said once more.
“There is no point in worrying over something you can not control” She muttered to herself as she closed her eyes and allowed herself to sleep.