Between The Blinds
Arcantonic and Brom slip silently into the night to do some things that might very well break the prophecy they were sent for.
Adamant that she must do what she set out to do, Brom has little choice but to help accompany the ‘cute little demon’ of a gnomic girl.
Alright. What’s the plan?”, asked Brom when he returned back to Arcantonic’s room with weapons, his lyre, and cloak. “I really hope there is a plan..”
Tonic was just putting her cup-sized boots on, her own gear, and her artificer’s satchel placed at her feet. “We go, we find the princess, hopefully alone, talk to her, then go and find.. uhh.. the Tinkerdome boy, talk to him as well, then get back before anyone’s the wiser!”, she said scowling at her boots. She’d already put her right one, but apparently, she was having trouble with the other.
“Get.. in.. the.. stupid.. damn.. boot..”, she finally snarled, but either her foot or the boot was resisting. Some kind of a footish mutiny was going on there that Brom could not see.
He put his stuff down, walked up to her, mutely grabbed the little boot and her ankle, and carefully inserted the tiny little foot into the boot, and did the laces.
And Tonic just watched him with a flushed, embarrassed, scowling but broken red face.
“I didn’t ask you to—”, she began angrily.
“—Don’t have time, Luv!”, finished Brom, doing a rather impressive imitation of Seressa. Then grabbed the gnomic girls pack and her satchel, handed them to her, and went for his own, without waiting for her response.
There was a moment of dormant silence, then Brom heard her mumble..
..in a very tiny voice.
“Shall we?”, Brom said and went for the door.
Careful not to make any noise, he opened the door and took a sneak peek, and beckoned the girl with a tight, “All clear”, whisper.
“Why are we sneaking and whispering? Why are we even skulking at all? We haven’t left the inn yet.”, Tonic asked from behind the hobbit.
Brom pointed at the far end of the hallway, to a door near the stairs.
“That is where Cora and Wraiven are..”, he said.
“Just what do you think will happen when they catch us, going out in the middle of the night, to do some highly illegal, prophecy compromising venture?”, asked Brom with an amused whisper.
“Ahh.. Point taken.”, came Tonic’s voice from behind him.
“I feel like I am sneaking out in the middle of the night to see a girl and afraid to be caught by my mom!”, he whispered, then paused, and added, “Damn.. That’s exactly what we are doing!”
“Does Cora know you refer to her as your ‘mom’?”, she asked.
“Never happen! And I shall deny any allegations made on this matter.. Though I must admit, she and mom are likely the same difference in terms of ‘backhand’ punishments!”, he said lightly as they snuck down the hallway, towards the stair.
“You called Seressa as ‘Wraiven’..”, Tonic whispered.
“Yea..”, replied Brom, dreamily. “It’s such an awesome name, don’t you think? It sounds so much like ‘raven’, yet isn’t. The phonetic illusion there is hypnotic.. in a bardic sense!”
Tonic was about to ask something else, possibly an intimate follow-up question, but they both froze in their steps as they heard a squeal from the aforementioned room!
“Ummm..”, began Brom.
“Ow. My. Gosh.. Was.. Was that.. Cora?”, Tonic said with total shock in her voice.
“I.. don’t.. maybe..”, replied Brom, unable to refute the gnomic girl’s claim.
A giggle was heard then.. A very girly giggle!
“What the..!”, said Tonic.
“Well now..”, smirked Brom. “Looks like they are having fun.. Damn, I can’t believe I am missing all that.”
“What. Are. They. Doing?”, demanded Tonic incredulously.
“Cora offered Seressa a ‘girls night’ so your pair would leave me with you. And the best part is, I don’t think either of them knows what a girl’s night actually is!”, Brom said with glee. Then he added with a dejected tone; “Seressa was captivated by the idea. Apparently, no one has ever asked her any such thing, though I can’t imagine why. I mean, she has a pair, and the fact that the two of you have never had a girl’s night, is sort of sad, really..”
“It.. it never occurred to me that she’d want something like that.”, she said mutely.
“I hate to say this, Tonic, but had someone as awesome as Wraiven been my pair, I would have done everything in my power to make her day, every day.”, said Brom, but not unkindly.
“You are a boy. Of course, you would—”, Tonic began hotly.
“—Must everything have an ‘agenda’ for you, Miss Tonic?”, Brom cut in. “And no, that wasn’t a rhetorical question. The fact that I am a ‘boy’ would have just made me do it more willingly because she has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. Note that I have been a traveling bard for the past few years and have seen some truly amazing and beautiful things. And yet, none of it compares to seeing that smile.
As much as you may have suffered in your past, so has she. While yours has likely been brutally direct, traumatic, and brutish, her punishment has been much more existential in its nature..
Think for a moment, girl; assume you are one of the prettiest things there is to behold, but because you are not ‘human’ but a ‘creature’, however, your thoughts, your wants nor your wishes about not wanting to amuse any given male, is of no consequence because the moment you have been denied of your ‘humanity’, you are now a mere ‘object’ with little to no rights!
I am just guessing here, but I bet she’s had many admirers in her past, but never any friends. Now put all these together and try to figure out just exactly how lonely your pair truly is.. And understand, why she does as she does, and wants the kind of genuine love and care that she wants..
I may, or may not be an unscrupulous guy, Miss Tonic, but I sure as hell am honest to her about every thing I say to her, and every way I look at her, and I certainly am not indifferent about her, nor shrug her off as an oddity. Because that’s not just cruel, it is also cheap!”
And with that, he snuck down the stairs.
✱ ✱ ✱
They traveled silently in the night. The Great Arashkan City was exceptionally quiet that evening as if holding her breath as some rather important events were taking place in her bosom. Brom led the gnomic girl like he knew where he was going.. Just like he had when they had gone for the bathhouse and the inn they were to have stayed.
“I am a selfish person, aren’t I?”, asked Arcantonic, in a small voice. “I feel ashamed that all these years, never once have I ever thought of what my pair ever felt, or wanted..”
“Perhaps you are, perhaps you are not. I am not in any position to judge, really. I have tried to help ease Cora at some of her worst moments. But never have I really asked her about her feelings either. To be honest, I am not as brave as you think, when it comes to girls’ feelings. Men don’t speak such things. Which makes it near impossible to even ask, even though I have wanted to, for all the time I have been with her. I fool myself by saying I respect her privacy. But the matter of fact is, I am a coward. She is so much more sensitive than she ever lets on and I just can’t bear to see her get hurt. Flesh wounds heal.. Her heart and what she has been through at Ironfrost.. and to have lived it all over again.. It must be slaying her over and over, every day!”, Brom said quietly.
“You.. you really care for her!”, Tonic said, a bit surprised.
“Egad, Miss Tonic. What gave it away?”, smiled Brom, somewhat sardonically. “You truly must think so little of me..”
“I.. Look, I am sorry, alright. I keep catching you staring at Seressa. What the hell do you think I am supposed to think?”, scowled the gnomic girl.
“You know..”, said Brom. “Wraiven is a big girl.. in all sorts of awesome ways! I am sure if she finds my staring offensive, or annoying, she will make sure to tell me so.”
“She is a kind girl. She might not want to hurt your feelings..”, disagreed Tonic.
“Miss Tonic.”, said Brom seriously. “As far as I have seen, known, and observed, there are a few things your pair stands true for; one is that she truly is kind where it matters, two, if she likes something, she either compliments about it or says nothing and lets it continue being something she likes, and three, she brings down hell upon those who offend her!”
“And besides..”, he added. “There literally isn’t anything I can do to avoid staring at her.. Really. She is smart. She is kind. She is intuitive. She is fun. She is a sad soul who desperately wants and needs to feel happy. She is beautiful, in all sorts of ways I can’t even describe, short of writing a dedicated epic about her..
Come to think about it, I love everything about her and I find her very much enthralling, from the top of her slender, elegant horns, down to the tip of her fluffy tail. The fact that she is also a klutz just makes her all the more endearing..
So when you say, ‘I keep catching you staring at her’, you, Miss Tonic, are missing the whole point of Seressa Wraiven!”
Tonic held her step and just stared at the halfling sneaking before her.
“I.. I can’t believe I am hearing all this from you..”, she stammered.
“I can’t believe you haven’t noticed any of your pairs awesome qualities.”, replied Brom. “Hell, girl, had she asked me if I would be willing to demean myself by being carried around all day in her coin-purse, I would have said, yes. And not because of any of the reasons you might think, but for the sole reason of being next to her warmth, which is her heart. I mean, I still can’t bring myself to believe there is such a wonder in this world and all anyone ever sees is her pinks!”
“You are creeping me out, boy!”, mumbled Tonic.
“Ahh.. we are back to ‘boy’, already?”, said the hobbit.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I just.. All I see is a guy staring and staring and staring at my pair with this stupid expression of his face and it pisses me off!”, she said.
“Like the expression, you had when you were talking to your Gordigon boy?”, smirked Brom.
That shut Tonic up real fast!
It took a while for her to find her voice again.
“That.. That was not nice, Brom..”, flushed Tonic.
“As a matter of fact, it was.. Watching the two of you blubber at one another saying things that made little to no sense while speaking volumes with your eyes was.. beautiful, I must say.”, said Brom with a genuine smile.
“When I said, ‘Sir Gordigon missed so much of you’, and that I felt sorry for him, back at that filthy alley, I wholeheartedly meant it.”
“You really think so? I feel so stupid.”, mumbled the gnomic girl from behind.
“I may be an unscrupulous guy, as you like to repeat so often, I do not, however, lie about matters of the heart. That goes against my whole bardic ethics. And I certainly never lie to my friends..”
“But.. you said you lied to Seressa to let you talk to me instead of her.”, said Tonic a bit befuddled.
“Did I? Must have made you feel better.”, smirked Brom.
Another pause followed.
“You really are an unscrupulous guy!”, sniffed Tonic.
“You haven’t asked me about my foot.”, she said a bit later in a quiet voice.
“No. I did not. And I shall not.”, said Brom sternly.
“Because I do not hurt girls. Certainly not those who already are. That would be just cruel.”, replied Brom. “If there is anything you think is alright for you to tell me, I am willing to be part of your pain. Other than that, I have no desire to be the cause of more.”
“You.. you are weird.”, said Tonic, but not with spite. More with, amazement, perhaps?
“A bit of eccentricity is expected of bards, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom blandly.
“My uncle. The great Arcanton Mordenon thought it would be a great idea to train a progeny from a very young age. He convinced my parents to hand me over to him. Then he took me to his tower and locked me up down at his dungeons where he kept his pet demons.. Sort of so we could get to be acquainted..”
“I never heard anything nice ever to be told about your uncle. I can see why..”, said Brom quietly, and there was an ugly expression on his face. Demons, as he had known of them, were vile, cruel, savage, evil creatures, and putting them in the same room with a little girl went beyond any and all his scales. He shuddered and just couldn’t imagine the kind of traumatic fear one, little, gnomic girl must have gone through, day and night after day and night for years!
Just how abysmally stupid and inhumane did someone had to be to actually have been that cruel to do such a thing to a little girl?
“One day, one of them got loose and attacked me. The demon couldn’t enter my cage, but he could slash at me with its long, barbed tentacles. Managed to grab my ankle and tore right through my ligements. Never healed properly and I have had trouble putting my boot on ever since. I.. We didn’t make a fuss about it and Seressa has been helping since we started getting along properly, so you probably wouldn’t have noticed it before. But every time she does, I can see the irrational anger and madness that appears in her eyes.. I.. I suspect that was the main reason she sort of went ballistic on Cora the way she did, back at Dreadmaw’s mountain.”, she mumbled.
Brom stopped walking.
Slowly, he turned around and looked right into her eyes.
For the first time since they met, Tonic saw burning hate in those eyes and she flinched.
“I am your friend, Tonic. If it is your socks you need me to put on you, I will. If it is your boots, your vest, your cloak, or whatever you need help with and are comfortable enough to ask of me, I will.. Hell, I’ll even bun up your hair! And since I am a lot shorter than your pair, I don’t even have to bend all the way down to do any of those either.”, he said harshly and there was non of the nonchalance she had seen in him for all the times she thought she had known him.
“We are a team. Willy-nilly, we have set forth to do some extraordinary things together. Your wounds are my wounds. Your pains are my pains. We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!
I do not keep score of my deeds, Miss Tonic. When you need it, call my name and I will put your boots on. But should the day come and somehow we face your uncle, I will hurt him, and hurt him where it will leave a grand mark!”
“You.. you really mean it!”, Tonic said with bewilderment.
“Yes. I mean it. And I mean more!”, replied Brom, even more harshly.
“You won’t survive my uncle..”, she said in a small voice.
“Miss Tonic.. When I look around me, at my friends, I see no survivors. I only see broken pieces of what was once people. You, Wraiven, Cora.. I am happy that you all are here. However, I have no desire of living in such a state of perpetual mental and emotional torment. When I go, I want to make sure I leave a song and a mark behind me.”, Brom said, turned around, and started down the dimly lit street.
They walked silently towards Arashkan Courthouse, crossing the very large street that they had, earlier that evening.
“Please don’t go up against my uncle!”, whimpered Tonic, from behind Brom.
“Ow. My. Gosh. Girl! Are you still there? We left your uncle all the way back at that street!”, replied Brom exasperated.
“Just saying, that’s all.”, said Tonic stubbornly.
“Duly noted and very much ignored, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom and there was no trace of pun in his voice.
“But why? You don’t even like me!”, she said quietly.
“Like has nothing to do with it, Miss Tonic. Some things, you just don’t do. And when done, some kind of hell should come raining down on them, telling them that they crossed the line! Besides, whatever gave you the idea that I don’t like you?”, Brom asked.
“You always swat me down with your words.”, she said.
“No, girl. I only reply in kind. I never claimed to be a nice guy, Tonic. We are who we are. But we can be who we chose to be. I don’t like being berated, nor humiliated. We were coworkers before. Now we are friends. We have a clean slate. And I protect my friends..”, replied Brom seriously.
“Seressa likes you, by the way..”, Tonic blurted after a while.
“Ow?”, Brom asked carefully.
“Yea. As much as she claims she likes her freedoms, she does not tolerate the kind of ogling you have been giving her. And yet, she hasn’t said anything against you..”, she said with a small voice.
“Well, what can I say. She fully deserves ogling. But I want her to appreciate life for more than what it appears to offer her. She should have more kindness, empathy, and love in her life, for she truly is a flower that needs the sun to bloom.”, Brom said thoughtfully and knew he was right.
It was one of the rare times he wished he was, perhaps not a hobbit, but a much, much taller man.
Tonic wanted to say more.
This weird hobbit had tumbled all her preconceptions with, not quite brutal, but some strange and unique kind of honesty and then blatantly claimed her as his friend and made sure she understood that fact. But then, so had her pair, Seressa. Just more kindly.
‘Apparently, I am so stupid, kind words don’t filter through and I must be bashed and clubbed over the head for me to understand..’, she thought.
But at least she had thought.
And in the generally right direction.
‘Perhaps I should make a formal sort of apology to him. Bards liked that kind of formal tone, right?’, she wondered.
‘Don’t look at me. You aren’t listening to anything I say anymore.’, said her inner Tonic bitterly.
‘I don’t listen to you, because you are vile. You want me alone and you want me to suffer..’, she bit harshly at her inner self.
‘Yea. Like they don’t. Whatever I told you, I told you so we could be stronger alone. To rid us of our weaknesses.. But you are just a stupid little girl.’, inner Tonic said in a voice that reeked of sarcasm.
‘And that is what you do not understand.. Your way has made us exactly that; ALONE!’, she said to herself, mutely. ‘I am tired of being alone. It has made me nothing but miserable and made me a poorer girl for it. I never want to be that girl again. Please. Please help me..’, she pleaded desperately.
‘Hah! First, you refuse me. Then you ignore me. And now, you want my help?’, asked inner Tonic incredulously.
‘We have always been together, have we not? This conflict is not helping either of us.. Please. PLEASE! Let’s try this way for some.’, she begged.
‘You will get hurt. Many times and inevitably brought down in the end, no matter what..’, inner Tonic said with a surprisingly hoarse voice. ‘It is possible, we shall not survive that..’
‘No. We shall not. But until then, we will be happy, and together. We are already broken. Can we not enjoy friendship and care, just for a little bit? Together, we have always been strong.. and stoic. When the end comes, we shall face that as well.. Together!’, Tonic said.
There was a long moment of inner silence. And then, with an exasperated voice, the other Tonic spoke.
‘What the hell.. We are stupid either way. Alright. We will try this way of yours, even if it’s for the novelty of it. Our current way was getting stale and boring anyway..’
‘Thank you!’, said Tonic with great relief.
‘You are aware that you are talking to yourself, beg pardon, arguing with yourself, then thanking yourself for agreeing with yourself!’, said inner Tonic mirthfully.
‘Yep.’, said inner Tonic in a confirmatory voice. ‘We are stupid already!’
Tonic waited, unconsciously holding her breath.
‘Go up to him, tap him on the shoulder, and when he turns around, hug and thank him. He will like that. And creep the hell out of him too!’, snarked inner Tonic.
‘Whot?’, Tonic said with a totally shocked voice.
‘Are you going to make me repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself ..?!’, snickered inner Tonic.
‘Ow, you are a riot.’, scowled Tonic.
Tonic walked up to Brom with a shameful, flushed red face, tapped him on one shoulder, and hugged the unscrupulous hobbit when he turned around!
“Thank you, Brom Bumblebrim, for suffering my stupidity. And thank you for caring for my pair. You are unscrupulous, but you are also a good man. You have treated me like I was a good person when I deserved little of it. Ogle at my pair for as long as she permits and as long as she is happy. Just do it a bit more discreetly. I have a very trigger happy mouth, and Seressa likes subtlety and finds it a lot more intriguing.”, she said, then let go of the hobbit, and shuffled off like a little, very much embarrassed, hamster.
Brom stood where he was..
..for quite some time.
He had no idea whatsoever, at what had just happened.
When he finally found his voice, all that escaped him was,
“Girls confuse me!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Here..”, said Tonic suddenly.
“Here, what?”, asked Brom.
“We wait here. This is where we will find her.”, the gnomic girl said.
Brom looked around. They were on the other side of the Great Arashkan Courthouse, not too far from the filthy alley where they had been assaulted by the assassins.
“Girl. We are in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night and the princess of Great High Woods is just going to drop in on us?”, asked Brom, not really trying to hide his disbelief.
“Pretty much, yes.. I think.”, replied Tonic mutely.
“How in the blazes do you know, girl. And I really mean it. How do you know?”
“I don’t know, how I know, Brom. I just know. This isn’t arithmetics, artificing, or logic. I. Just. Know..”, said Tonic helplessly. “If I am wrong, you can make fun of me all the way back to the inn..”
“I have no desire to make fun of you, girl. I just.. Well, non of this makes sense. I think I will just shut up now!”, Brom finally said smartly, though, deep down he really did wish the girl would be right, then wrong..
..and that is when they heard a pair of heavy footsteps.
From far up the street, a man was coming their way. He was a huge man and there was a bulky quality about his walk. A bulk made of muscles, flesh, and bones rather than fat. One could argue, Seressa was taller than the man coming their way, but while the very tall, very dark girl always loomed above them, this man was ‘huge’ in a sense that bespoke of the broadness of massive shoulders and depth of great physical strength.
And he wasn’t alone.
Next to him was a very slender figure and it made no noise at all. It seemed like a bad theater where some of the vocals and sound effects were missing. It was quite disconcerting watching the two approach, yet hear only one pair of footsteps. Who or whatever the slender figure was, it was clear she was a woman and a delicate one at that. Her sway was careful and seemed controlled, but definitely there. Or perhaps she was just naturally graceful and it wasn’t really controlled at all.. Whatever the reason was, there seemed a decided decorum in that sway.
Tonic grabbed Brom and pulled him closer into a side alley where it was darker.
“What is it? Is she a wraith? I can’t hear her steps.. at all!”, asked Brom astounded and a bit spooked. “I really hope it isn’t a wraith. Or a ghost. I hate ghosts!”
“Don’t tell me you are afraid of ghosts, Brom Bumblebrim..”, whispered Tonic.
“Well.. As fear goes, I would say ghosts are a good choice.”, replied Brom sincerely.
“She is not a ghost. That is our quarry.. That is Princess Alor’Nadien ne.”, said the gnomic girl triumphantly.
“How come she has no steps?”, asked Brom.
“Because she is a Feymist!”, replied Tonic. “Like her father, Grandaleren Feymist.. Feymists have a very lightfoot. They barely make any noise when they walk and they can disappear from one spot, and appear in another.”
“Like a spell?”, asked Brom a bit awed.
“No. Feymist is not a spell. It is something they are born with. It is innate..”
“Wow.. That’s awesome. Wish I could see her better. These street lights are all good and nice, but just not enough.”
“Here, then. Take this.”, said Tonic and pulled her goggles off her head, and handed them over to the hobbit.
“Ooookay.. I can barely see and you are giving me a pair of goggles with dark, tinted glasses? I am sure there is some kind of significance here, but I can’t seem to see it!”
“Just put them on.”, said Tonic exasperated.
Brom put on the goggles.
“Now I can’t see anything.. At all!“, he said.
Tonic reached up to Brom and lightly twirled the very small knob at the side of the goggle.
“Ow.. Wow.. WOW.. You guys see like this all the time?!”
“Well, duh!”, smirked Tonic.
“This is awesome!”, mirthed Brom.
“You like?”, asked the gnomic girl happily.
“I like.. Where do I sign to hand over my soul?!”, he nearly laughed with delight.
“You need your soul intact Mr. Brom. But the goggles are yours.. If you want them.”, smiled Tonic.
Brom looked at Tonic.
“You sure? These are probably expensive..”
“They are.. If I sold them. But since I crafted them myself, I can give them over to whoever the hell I want!”, she smirked.
“This really is a neat gadget, Miss Tonic. Are you sure? Once you give this, I will not give it back!”, said Brom seriously.
“‘Tis alright. I don’t really need it. And neither does Seressa nor Cora. You are the only blind mole in the party. But I’d be happy if you didn’t break it, or lose it. That was my first invention. My first work. I crafted it for the novelty of it. Fitting I give it to a friend..”, she said.
“Thank you.”, Brom said and meant it.
“Just don’t brag about it in front of Seressa. She’s had her eyes on it for a long time.”
“Then you should give it to her.”, said Brom.
“No. She only wants it because I crafted it. And she thinks it’s ‘cool’.. All these years and I still can’t believe she’s into the whole ‘Steamchunk’ theme.”
“This really is cool, though, Miss Tonic. I will finally see where I am shooting!”
“Alright. Here they come. I do not know who the guy is. He looks big. Proly her bodyguard. Though I can’t imagine what she is doing this late at night, wondering outside here, instead of High Spires, which I heard was a prettier part of the city, and with a human guard!”, said Tonic frowning.
“Perhaps it’s because she’s a half-elf?”, Brom mused.
“That.. never occurred to me.”, admitted Tonic.
“Her mother is human, after all.. Might be a political choice..”
“Perhaps. But her father is a high elf and I can’t imagine Grandaleren trusting her only child and daughter with a human. You saw how he reacted to even you, let alone Seressa and me.”
“Hmm.. That’s true. Guess we’ll find out soon enough. I’ll stay here as your backup. You do all the talking since this is your thing. No need to complicate the prophecy more than we already have.”
The huge man and the slight figure came closer.
Brom and Tonic heard the human’s voice rumble and there was an elated quality in that voice. For whatever the huge man was thanking the slight figure of the Princess, he was feeling very happy. An irrepressible kind of contentedness. He seemed like he had just won a war against impossible odds while a battle orchestra was playing in the background!
“No, dear Dorin. Thank you. Of all the people in my life, you have been the only one who has not politely skimmed the surface of my soul, but dared and bothered to look closer. You have seen me at my best. But you have also witnessed my worst and you are still here.
Still with me.
No sane man would have stayed..”, the two hiding in the shadows heard and were charmed.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne had a soft, kind, silky voice. Her words were not chosen with deliberation, nor reflection. They were intimate, honest, instinctual, and pure of intent, plan, or malice.
The Princess had said her mind, exactly as she’d felt them.
“Always thought sanity was a bit of a luxury.”, said the man. “But the fact remains, my dear Lady; Thank You!”
“This will rock many boats, I am afraid.”, said the Princess thoughtfully.
“I certainly hope so.”, rumbled the large man. “They cared little when you had to bear the burdens of their inconsiderate stupidity. I feel so little for them when they end up having to own up to their future queen because her wants and needs inconvenience them..”
“Such is the fate of rulers, dear Dorin.”, murmured the Princess.
“No, my Lady. Loyalty goes both ways.. They want their safety and their luxuries, they should be mindful of yours.”, replied the big man and there was a district scowl in his voice.
“Wow!”, whispered Brom. “That there is one, purebred princess worthy of an epic!”
“For once, I must agree with you, Master Bard. She is not only beautiful, but she is also pretty and so cute.. Just look at her hair..!”, gulped Tonic.
The two watched as the huge man and the slender form of the Princess walked by.
Tonic took a deep breath, “Wish me luck.”, she said and stepped out of the dark alley.
“Luck.”, called Brom from behind her.
“Umm.. P.. Princess Alor’Nadien ne?”
He heard the little gnomic girl stammer.
“Tonic, baby girl..”, said Brom with an amused voice. “..you are such a dork, and a fangirl!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Princess Alor’Nadien ne spun around as dark, smoky shadows gathered around her while the huge man beside her also spun, but in the opposite direction as he drew a long blade from the scabbard hanging on his belt, and another, the one hanging on the princess’s elegant chains wrapped around her waist, and he did it with unannounced smoothness.
The huge, burly man spun like a dervish and the lithe princess belly danced in near-perfect sync!
By the time Tonic had gotten less than two steps towards them, The huge man and the Princess were standing back to back, one with two longswords and the other with a seven-foot-long polearm that supported a near twenty-inch blade —a beautiful and deadly glaive that seemed to have appeared in her hands like it was magic.
The night lit as one of the blades in the huge man’s hand burst with savage, incinerating flames while the glaive lit with an eerie, very uncanny green light, and moaned like there were countless souls trapped in it!
The whole preparation, from a relaxed and intimate conversation to full battle formation of the two had taken less than three seconds!
So did Brom.
“What just happened?”, squeaked Tonic.
“You shall not have him.”, said the Princess. Her voice was still soft, still a whisper, but there was a very stubborn, very steely quality in it. A kind of determination one saw rarely and only in the darkest depths of feral nature!
And her eyes.
The Princess had very alluring, dew grass-green eyes. But at that moment, they seemed to burn akin with the great, smoking glaive’s green fire.
“If she wants me destroyed thus, she should at least show the honor and the courage to face me herself. She should also know better not to involve beloved ones. She may have at me, but she shall leave him out of this. This beautiful man is mine!”
“Umm.. Lady Lorna?”, asked the huge man as he blushed and was somewhat surprised by the lethal possessiveness she had related him to herself.. It was.. beautiful.. and a bit scary!
And he loved it!
“Is there something I should know about? I don’t mind a good fight, but if this is a dedicated ambush, then there are likely to be more than one little bunny. More to the point, would your aunt be this vile and heinous?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Dear and beloved Dorin. How did you—?”, stammered the Princess.
“Please, Lorna.. I am the son of a renowned and respected sheriff and I was trained by one of the worst Drashan had to offer. Quite painfully, I might add.. I was bound to learn a thing or two.. I know a family feud when I see one. And a royal family feud, no less!
It was clear how things stood between you and your cousin the moment she appeared in Serenity Home. But I have been polite to her because you love her.. And because her hate for you lacked conviction. Like it was enforced or pushed upon her. It is also clear she has some good sentiments for you, deep inside, and she is in conflict, which makes her very unstable, and equally dangerous for she must, sooner or later make a choice. One between you, and her mother. A choice that will keep her loyal to you, effectively signing her own death sentence, or to try and destroy you, to stay alive.”, said the big, burly man called Dorin.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne turned around to look at the huge man with amazement.
“You are amazing!”, she said with a bright pink face.
“No, love. I am just a simple county boy. But let’s not get distracted here. The bunny..”, he said, also with a flushed face.
“Bunny?”, sputtered Tonic.
Brom cackled from behind.
“I am not a bunny!”, said the little gnomic girl. “And I certainly have not come to assassinate the Princess of Bari Na-Ammen!”
Brom couldn’t help it.
He crumbled down on the ground laughing and banging his fists on the cobblestones.
“There’s another.”, whispered the Princess.
“Not very good assassins, are they?”, said the burly man with mirth.
“Very sweet though.. You, Sir Dorin, never cease to amaze me.”, Princess Alor’Nadien ne said, her face still pink.
“I am sorry. I try very hard to just keep my mouth shut and stay unnoticed. Found out years ago that put me in a lot less trouble.”, smiled the huge man shyly.
“Let’s see what this is all about, then, shall we?”, he said, nodding at the little gnomic girl.
“Let’s..”, she agreed and turned once more to face the little gnomic girl. “Perhaps we acted with haste and some introductions are in order, Mistress Gnome.”
“I can’t remember the last time anyone Mistressed me!”, mumbled Tonic with a flush.
“Good evening.”, Brom came forth, since he had already been spotted, it didn’t make much sense to stay in the back. “We are mere travelers and messengers. My companion and I mean you no harm nor discourtesy. We are, however, short on time and our duty brought us to the presence of your grace.”
“Half-truths but no lies.”, said the Princess. “If your wish is not to deceive, why the half-truths?”
Brom cocked one eyebrow.
The Princess, it appeared, was not just a pretty face.
“Only the truths we can divulge, your grace. We.. are not from around here, nor around this time.. Hard to explain..”, stammered Brom.
“You are ‘faded’!”, said Princes Alor’Nadien ne, solemnly.
“Faded?”, asked Brom baffled.
“Faded..”, repeated the Princess. “..You do not belong here, nor now. You are faded. Very slightly incorporeal.”
“We.. we are?”, asked Tonic.
“We are?, asked Brom.
“Quite so.”, said the Princess calmly. “Like someone who’s running out of time..”
And she clawed one, slim hand and made a beckoning motion.
A dark, smoking.. thing.. rose from the cobblestones..
“Like this..”, she said pointing at the wraith-like creature she’d just summoned.
So did Brom..
The implications of what they had heard and just seen was not something either of them could simply shrug off. It appeared, dawdling was not a good idea in a prophecy.
“Tonic..”, said Brom, sort of to get her started.
“Umm.. First, I feel must apologize for having startled you, and perhaps ruining your evening.. and to have given you the wrong impression. I.. would like to introduce myself but I must know if your man-at-arms can be trusted.”
The huge man standing behind the Princess and still facing the opposite direction snorted.
“That is the most unique description of a ‘man-at-arms’ I have ever heard, don’t you think, Lady Lorna?”, he said happily.
Princes Alor’Nadien ne smiled and her face pinked again. “I must say, I totally agree, dear Dorin.”
“I don’t understand..”, stammered Tonic.
“He is not my man-at-arms, Mistress Gnome. He is my fiancée.”, she said happily.
“Love it when you say it.”, rumbled the huge man.
“Love it for the truth it is.”, smiled the Princess again.
“Ow.. I.. I am sorry if I offended the Prince! I was not aware the Princess was engaged. Our historical records seem out of date..”, blushed Tonic.
The huge man chuckled.
“Prince? That was quick!”, he said mirthfully.
“He is not any prince, Mistress Gnome. Only the man I want. No prince can hope to cope with that. And there is nothing wrong with your historical records. We just got engaged, this very evening!”, said the Princess, also with a happy voice.
“Congratulations, I think?”, stammered the gnomic girl.
“Thank you. Now to the issue at hand, then?”, the Princess said kindly.
“I.. I am Arcantonic Palecog.”, blurted Tonic.
“Arcantonic..”, mused the Princess. Then her eyes noted with recognition. “You are a relative to Arcanton Mordenon..”
It had been a statement, not a question. And when she said the name, her brows did not scowl. Her eyes did not change. Her lips did not thin out. The serene face of the Princess of High Woods stayed exactly the same.
Without a single word, Princess Alor’Nadien ne of Bari Na-ammen, the daughter of Nadine Graciousward, the sorceress who had destroyed Arcanton Mordenon had given the little, gnomic girl standing before her, the benefit of the doubt.
“He.. he was my uncle.”, said Tonic mutely.
The Princess chose to stay silent.
“When.. when your mother, Rise Nadine, destroyed him, I was there..”, she said looking down.
“Miss Palecog.”, the Princess called with challenge. “Please look at me when you are speaking to me.”
Tonic’s eyes blazed and she looked up at the Princess.
“I am not your superior. Nor am I your better. You owe me nothing. You will not stare at stones with shame while addressing me. You will look at my eyes whilst you speak, and you shall do so as an equal.”, she said boldly.
Tonic just stared at the Princess.. with awe.
“I.. I came merely to meet you, your grace. And to apologize to your mother, Nadine Graciousward.”
“We shall meet. But that can wait. The matter of an apology must take precedence. How do you know my mother that you would need to apologize to her?”, and for the first time, there was a hint of steel in the Princess’s voice.
“Y.. Years ago.. when she beat the crap out of my retarded and degenerate uncle..”, she started.
So did the Dorin guy!
“..she.. she found me there. In the dungeons of Arcanton’s tower. I was perhaps six, or eight, then. My parents had given me a way to him so he could train me from a very young age. I think I was two.. maybe three when I was put into those dungeons. The next time I saw the sunlight, I was in Nadine’s arms, being carried away from that awful place.”, Tonic mumbled.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne just stared at the little gnomic girl and her eyes teared.
“Your mother.. she could have destroyed me as well.. Or just left me there.. I would have preferred she’d destroyed me. I stank of demon stench. But she chose to take me, clean me, feed me, she sang to me, she hugged me and she let me sleep in her embrace.. Then she gave me away.. back to my parents, who had given me up to my uncle in the first place!
I was angry.. I was so furious.. I felt betrayed. More so than when my parents had sold me out to Arcanton! I.. I might have called her many names.. Not good ones. For years I hated her and spited her, yet all she had shown me was kindness.. Thanks to my uncle, kindness was something I never understood.
It took me years to remotely grasp what it means. We came here, to this city, for another matter. But I felt your presence. And I felt your mother’s kindness walking the streets of this city. And.. and I knew I must make amends.”, she said, and once more, she was staring at the cobblestones.
The next time she looked up, she was in the arms of the daughter of the woman, who had saved her out of the demon-infested dungeons of her vile uncle.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne, embraced her and wept.
“My dear, dear little sister.”, she said. “I had heard rumors that my mother had taken the only survivor of Arcanton and given her back to her people. Always, I waited, for the day to arrive to take her and treat her as I would my own, and so I have.. Thank you..”
“You.. you are thanking me?”, stammered Tonic as she blushed furiously.
The Princess of Bari Na-ammen smelled so nice.. and warm.. and she had her mother’s kind embrace.. The embrace she had never forgotten..
“I am sorry I called your mother names, Princess.. I am so sorry.. Please tell her I said that..”, she blurted.
“When and if I get the chance, I shall, dear Arcantonic Palecog Feymist.”, she whispered.
“Whot?”, she stammered.
“What?”, Brom baffled!
“What?”, the Dorin guy exclaimed.
“Years ago, the day I was born, my mother insisted two names were to be placed into Bari Na-ammen’s royal records. One, Alor’Nadien ne Tel’Ariel Ath Selora Feymist, and one, Arcantonic Ama Ath Tel’Dun Feymist.. She made us sisters, though she never told about the reasons nor who you were to anyone but myself. Not even my father, Ri Grandaleren knows. Father can be a bit mule-headed at times..”, she smiled.
“From a royal family point of view, we are not only sisters, we are also twins!”
Arcantonic.. Ama Ath Tel’Dun Feymist.. Palecog just stared at the Princess of Bari Na-ammen.
“And finally we meet.”, she said happily.
“Ow, your father is going to love it when he sees the next heir to the throne!”, chucked the Dorin guy with delight.
Then he froze in his place as a very large smile.. a very large and evil smile stretched across his face.
“My dear Lorna. The Heavens have smiled upon you once more. She really should go and claim her right to the throne! Would get both you and me off the hook, set your father on flames, and totally destroy all your aunt’s evil plans!”
Princess Alor’Nadien ne laughed with mirth, while she knelt and held the little gnomic girl.
“That.. would be so cruel, dear Dorin. I would much rather we settled things between myself and my aunt Angrellen peacefully. She is power, on her own right and we will need someone like her in the coming confrontations ahead.”, she said.
“I so wish you are right, dear Lorna. But let’s be honest. Petty is petty, no matter if one is a peasant or of royalty. The only difference is, one would grab a rake or a sickle to do his sin, while the other will bring armies to do their deed and get thousands of others killed.. I hope things will go for the better. But I shall prepare and defend you like I was facing your mortal enemy.”
“She’s still too powerful for us, dear.”, the Princess said.
“So was Themalsar. So was pretty much everyone else we faced, come to think of it.. I don’t mean to sound overconfident, here, love. But we do have some rather skilled friends.. She is strong and powerful, but we are much more versatile. And more importantly, we are on the right and we have you. In the end, your people will have to decide how they want to be recognized among the other peoples of the kingdom. As honorable elves, or petty usurpers.. And trust me when I say, NO ONE RESPECTS USURPERS!
And if, by some remote chance, she claims the throne, it will inevitably incite rebellions which, in turn, will trigger counter suppressions..”, said the Dorin guy and shuddered. “Never ends well.”
Princess Alor’Nadien ne, the Heart of High Woods, the jewel and the apparent heir to the throne of Bari Na-ammen gave one last hug to the little gnomic girl, gently kissed her on the cheeks, and rose, took a step back and with her head bowed she knelt before her with great grace and reverence.
“I shall abide by my elder twins’ wishes.”, she said softly.
Brom Bumblebrim ‘ho booy’ed at the monumental, yet the oddest turn of events. He looked up at the night sky with a defeated expression.
Alor’Nadien ne Tel’Ariel Ath Selora: Elvish for “The Allure of Nadine, The Heart of High Woods” / Elfçe, “High Woods’un Kalbi, Nadine’nin Cazibesi”
Arcantonic Ama Ath Tel’Dun: Elvish for Arcantonic, “The Beauty of the Hills” / Elfçe, Arcantonic, “Tepelerin Güzelliği”