Four

The attacks continued with swiftness and brutality, tearing through farming communities all along the northern border, and not a week passed before the first troops were deployed to protect the outermost villages that were suffering the most. Rather than deter future attacks, it focused them; the army was wiped out hardly three days after it arrived on the border and not even a messenger got out to deliver any reports. Some of the villages were getting messages out; the information was scattered and varied, but there were a few constants. They were human, they were desperate, they were still coming.

Alekasyl was scrambling to get together more soldiers to send north. The raiders had never been this serious a problem before and they were unprepared for such overwhelming attention. There was little time for training and even less for mistakes. Another group went out and, while surviving, was not faring well. Another joined them the next week and they were able to hold things in check for the moment; they would need the rest of the army there before the next month or they, too, would be lost.

 

 

Celedria was furious. She couldn’t ever remember being so feverishly irate before, so angry it was paralyzing. She could hardly breath she was so mad.

“Celedria, I did not think you would be this upset.”

She couldn’t even respond.

Enthiln struggled to find a way to salvage the situation. “I just wanted to help. You father has to handle all of this himself and I just thought it would relieve him a little if I-”

“If you went gallivanting off into the fray and got yourself killed?” she snarled.

He winced. “I just wanted to help.”

“There are other ways to help! Why not try those? Why not stay here?”

“I gave my oath.”

She threw her arms in the air, turning away. “Which I am still trying to understand.”

Coming closer, he drew her suddenly against his chest.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked, pushing him away.

He looked hurt and she couldn’t meet his eyes. “Celedria, please do not be mad at me.”

“Why not? Why should I not be mad? And why would it matter anyway? When have you ever cared what I feel?”

“I never meant to upset you,” he assured her. “I care very much how you feel.”

“Half a year, Enthiln!” she cried, the tears starting down her cheeks. “Half a year! And the moment you start actually paying attention to me, the moment you stop spending your time with letters and servants and gods know what else, that is the moment you choose to run away to the opposite end of the country to get yourself eviscerated by some raider.” She shook her head. “Why did you come here? Was it a cultural exchange, an apprenticeship with my father, a way to make new friends among the palace workers? Was it ever for me?” She sobbed. “Why are you still here? Do you not know me yet? Will you leave me once you do?”

“I never want to leave you.”

“Then why are you?” She looked up at him, her eyes swimming with tears. “Enthiln, I do not want you to go. I feel like you just got here.” She shook her head. “Why did you swear yourself to my father? Why did you volunteer for this when this is not even your nation? This is not yours to defend. Why do you feel like you have to?”

He sighed, scratching the back of his neck. “Celedria, these are your lands under attack. This is your nation. You will be queen here and I am defending that. I am defending you. And that is something I would give anything to keep safe.”

She frowned, her chin raising proudly. “I do not need you to defend me.”

“But I want to defend you. Celedria, I care about you. I care about what you feel. I care about keeping you safe, about protecting what is yours. I care about safeguarding your future, whether or not I have a part in it. I care about keeping your world perfect for you because you deserve a perfect world. And I know that right now it is anything but perfect, but if I can make my small contribution to perfecting it again for you, I will do it, even if it costs me my last drop of blood. You mean all the world to me, Celedria. I love you.”

Finally, a little certainty in her crumbling world. She started crying again and, when he tentatively gathered her up in his arms once more, she didn’t push him away. She was in love and he was leaving her and the world was falling apart; propriety was the last thing on her scared and elated mind.

 

 

Rosemary was feeling tired after a long day of unending drama and so she declined Celedria’s offer of an idle stroll. Instead, the princess walked through the palace gardens alone with her thoughts. She held her hand out, brushing against the plants as she walked down the leafy corridors. The young trees arched over the tops of the walkways, creating a green canopy. She had always preferred the tree section of the gardens; the flowers were beautiful and expertly laid out, but the trees felt like home to her, as they did to all elves. Her fingers slid through the cool waxy leaves, but, try as she might, she couldn’t find the peace she was looking for.

She sighed to herself. She was miserable, as she usually found herself these days. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse, but, in thinking that, she feared they would to spite her. Her nation was under attack, the elf she loved was leaving into dangerous territory and she couldn’t do a thing to change the world. She had never felt so helpless. Was this what being an adult was all about? Loss of certainty, loss of feelings of power, loss of safety and security?

She felt someone watching her and glanced around herself. Just down the path there was a little alcove beside the path. The walls of the small structure were densely planted trees, pruned and tended so that they had twisted together over the decades since their planting. A woven swing that could seat up to four was hanging from their strongest boughs. Celedria had spent many happy days as a child playing on it, but it was the person on the bench that caught her attention.

Prince Enthiln, heir of Paleithois… At the moment, she couldn’t decide whether she hated or loved him. He was watching her thoughtfully, as if still trying to decide something though it was far too late. He was lounging idly on the swing, but she could tell that he was tense. His face was outwardly calm, his eyes alone revealing the turmoil inside. Tucked away within the deepest shade of the alcove and wearing the dark colors he knew she favored, he looked to Celedria like a shadow, a raven specter. It was strange to come upon him like this; she was unsure what to do so she just stared right back at him.

He sat up and silently beckoned to her, but she hesitated. She was still mad at him; it would take her a long time to get over him going behind her back to join her father’s armies that very morning. Slowly, she came to where he was sitting and, as he reached for her hand, went to sit on the opposite end of the swing, as far from him as she could manage.

He closed his hand into a loose fist that settled uncomfortably on his lap and asked quietly, “Still mad at me?”

She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms.

He nodded slowly, glancing away. “I am sorry.”

“I know.”

“That is a start, I suppose.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I just want to be sure you know I would never intentionally hurt you.”

She sighed. “I know that, Enthiln.”

“I love you.”

“Yes, you told me that this morning.”

“It bears repeating.”

She shook her head slowly. “Why did it take you so long to figure it out?”

He laughed softly. “It has only been four months, princess.”

“Half a year is plenty of time, Prince Enthiln.” She sighed again. She should have stayed in her room pouting. She knew he was trying his best to make amends, but, just then, it was more annoying than endearing.

There was a long pause. Finally, Enthiln asked, “If you could have one thing, any thing, what would it be?” He glanced over at her and quickly added, “And you cannot choose something like ending the war, because that will end with or without our wishes, or the moon, because that is just ridiculous.”

Celedria rubbed her arm absentmindedly as she considered the unexpected question. A few thoughts wafted through her head. What did she really want? The war to be over, yes, but Enthiln had already disallowed that. To meet her mother, but, knowing Enthiln, he would probably place that in the ridiculous category. She certainly wished that he would always be safe, that he would stay with her, but she sensed that that wasn’t an acceptable wish either. “I am not sure…”

He shook his head. “Not allowed. I am not letting you leave until you tell me.”

She glanced over at him, a dangerous glint in her eyes, but she wasn’t still angry enough to be so blatantly and pointlessly defiant when he was trying to be nice. Pursing her lips, she drew her feet up onto the edge of the seat, resting her chin on her knees, and stared out into the greenery. “And I suppose it cannot be something like egg pies for dinner?”

He shook his head, smiling a little, though she could tell he was trying to be serious. “You just get one wish for a lifetime. Do not waste it on supper.”

She thought for a long while, listening to the birds and her suitor’s breathing and the breeze through the leaves. Finally, she said slowly, “I guess… I want to be a good mother.” She laughed shortly, glancing over at him, and added, “Which is a strange thing to be thinking about because it has never really occurred to me before.” She glanced away again and Enthiln could practically see the layers of her sheltered heart peeling open to him, allowing a rare glimpse of what lay hidden within. “I never really knew my mother, but, for the short while we were together, she adored me. She gave her life for me. And maybe she did not have any choice in the matter, but somehow I just know that, if there had been a choice, she would not have changed it.” She looked up at him, her eyes sharp with intensity. “I want to be that kind of mother: the kind who would give anything, do anything, be anything for the sake of my children. And I know I am not that kind of person right now, but, given the reason, I think I could be. I know I could.”

It was too solemn a wish to be smiled at, no matter how deeply it pleased him. Without even really thinking about it, he leaned closer. She could barely hear his voice as he whispered, “You will be.” He sat back again, admiring the trees around them. When he spoke again, his voice was louder, but still little more than a whisper. “You will be the most spectacular mother this world has ever seen. You will adore them and they will worship you. You will go to the ends of the world to protect your little ones.” He turned back to her. “I would like to be there to see it.” Taking her hand, he held her eyes with his, more serious than she had ever seen him. “You amaze me. From the first day I got here, even though you annoyed me and I drove you half crazy, I realized you were special. And then, beyond anything I could control, I began to fall for you. I could die happy if I knew that you could ever love me half as much as I love you right now. As unworthy as I am, would you consider me for the father of your children? Would you consider me for your husband?”

She smiled at him, the tears in her eyes washing away all her hurt and anger. She whispered softly, “I would.” She moved closer, closing the space between them on the swing. “I have been growing fonder of you every day since you came here… and when you agreed to go to war for my kingdom, I thought I might lose you. I knew I loved you more than life itself.”

He pulled her into a close embrace. “Then I can die happy…”

She clung a little closer, begging softly, “Not yet, Enthiln, please.”

 

 

Despite the newfound joy in her certain possession of Enthiln and even despite the tried and true nightly time on the tower, nothing anybody said or did could make Celedria lastingly happy. In her self-destructive way, she refused to be consoled; it was her way of pressuring Enthiln, though nobody knew what she wanted from him, not even herself. She still smiled and laughed when occasion forced it out of her, but, by the end of the day, there were tears in her eyes as she said her prayers and she wasn’t reluctant about letting anyone see them. Everything was changing around her and she could not help but wish that things were as simple as they had been in her childhood. In the course of just a few hours into that fateful morning of the attack’s first report, things were suddenly and significantly not going her way, something she had never previously had to suffer in her life.

Prince Enthiln was also grimmer than when he had first arrived. The only time he went out of his way to be humorous was for his fiancée, her lady and the king. He would walk away from them laughing and smiling, but as soon as he was out of eyesight the smile would disappear, the laughter evaporate. He was always a pessimistic and suspicious person, and he did not expect to survive the war to marry his sweetheart. He never explained it to anyone, but that was why he did not marry her right away, as she and Galandorn wanted. He did not want to leave her a widow so early in life, to mourn him until the day she died. It would not be fair. So instead, he condemned them both to present misery. For her sake alone, he pretended to be optimistic. She was the only reason left that there was any joy in his life. A month before he might have had a few other things to list, but they were one by one being stripped from his grasp. His father, upon hearing of Galandorn’s struggle to raise troops quickly, jumped to his friend’s aid without hesitation, sending five eatlos and promising another five if they became necessary. Enthiln was placed at the head of his people, who he was to meet out in the field in just a few more weeks. Worry for her oldest son had made his mother sick again and, from Ulanis’ letters, she seemed to be fading quickly. One of his younger brothers was coming to join him, despite their mother’s feeble condition, and, though he would be glad to see him, he wondered if he would ever see his mother again.

King Galandorn was an optimist, always had been, and he had a knack for jumping to conclusions. He was sure the conflict would be over before summer solstice. He would come to find later that he did not prepare as well as he should have. All that he had seen of his enemies was a glimpse of their numbers, the bit that had attacked the outlying elfin villages. He thought that he was only dealing with a band of raiders, albeit unusually large and organized. He called on his allies in the Tashlin Empire and was given the use of several small herds living within Alekasylic borders. Beyond faeries, unicorns were the quickest and most sure messengers and Galandorn’s confidence grew.

Celedria had finally come to realize that she could do nothing to hold Enthiln at the palace with her. An oath was an oath and nothing released an elf from a promise save death. Since he could not stay, she wanted to go with him. In elfin culture, females went into battle commonly enough, usually as archers, and Celedria was an excellent shot, as she was always quick to point out, but neither her father nor her fiancé seemed particularly excited about having her on a battlefield with wild and unpredictable raiders. In desperation, she continually pleaded with anyone who might listen to her and support her. For her father, who suffered the brunt of the verbal attacks, it swiftly shifted from pitiful to annoying. Meals became a hopelessly tedious thing, for the subject inevitably turned to whether she should go or not, and he began scheduling meetings and conferences during mealtimes.

 

 

Shaking his head, Galandorn leaned aside and took another bite of his grilled sandwich, a personal favorite of cheese and tomato; it did nothing to improve his mood. “How certain are we of the story?”

“Very certain, sir. There were multiple witnesses and all testified exactly the same. Unless they are working together in a lie, we can be certain that this is not the work of mere raiders.”

“And you are sure the uniforms were not stolen?”

He nodded. “Almost completely. There were too many for them to be just raiders wearing grave-robbed uniforms and pretending at being an army to cause trouble. Besides, to them it would be more trouble than it was worth; starting a war in this area would be bad for their business. I assure you, King Galandorn, we are not dealing with raiders here. These are army regulars.”

He pursed his lips, digesting his thoughts more than his food. Pushing the plate away from him, he asked, “Were they able to get a description of the uniforms?”

“From all the witnesses, we were able to get a fairly detailed description and, after a little bit of research, we found three nations that could be responsible. However, it seems most likely that Bemnah is responsible.”

Galandorn wasn’t particularly surprised, but he was plenty angry. He certainly knew of Bemnah’s troubles; he had been sending aid to them for years. But it still seemed ridiculous that they would invade. There had to be something more to it than a few bad harvests. Perhaps things were worse up north than he had been informed. Not that it mattered much; he would still react in the same way.

He sighed. So that was it then. That was why they were so organized, why they were able to act on such a large scale, why they were not pulling out once the elfin army arrived. This wasn’t a raid; this was an invasion.

 

 

Far sooner than Celedria was expecting, the day came for the troops to leave, including Enthiln. It dawned cold and clouded, the murky heavens as troubled, uncertain and weepy as the princess herself. Celedria wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep and wouldn’t smile. Turning away meals and visitors alike, all she could manage with any proficiency was crying on Lady Rosemary’s lap.

Enthiln was crushed, frightened and alone. It was his last few hours with her and she refused to see him. Wearing the crisp black-and-gold uniform of the Paleithois military elite, he wandered aimlessly through the palace halls. Nearly all of the work was already done; his battle and camp gear was all in order, his possessions were being packed for storage by his servants, and his mount was being carefully groomed and inspected at that very moment. With a broken heart, he sat alone for hours on the swinging bench in the gardens, certain that he would never see his darling Celedria again. It eventually struck him as pointless, if not downright harmful, and he still had enough willpower to go in search of his countrymen headquartered out of his room for a little familiarity and companionship. They were still busy packing and he spent his time watching them work from the neatly made bed. He watched as the room was slowly wiped of all traces of his ever being there. Then it was all snuggly crated and ready for movement into cellar storage while he was away; in another few moments, that, too, was gone and he was sitting alone in a plain guest room with the few bags going with him waiting expectantly by the door. Standing, he glanced out the window at the sun before heading toward the hallway; it was almost time for the parting ceremony. With unusual piety, he hunched over his packed bags and whispered, “The will of the Great God be done.” He picked them up and went to find Galandorn.

 

 

After hours of fruitless weeping, the princess sent away her faithful friend and cleaned her face. Still crying quietly to herself, she went to her expansive closet and threaded her way through the narrow walkways, dodging shoes and hats and sashes scattered across the floor from an angry fit the night before. She stooped in the far corner, back in the clothes that were outdated or outgrown, and pulled something out of the carefully ordered clutter: an inconspicuous basket filled with carefully scavenged dark fabrics and sewing materials. Picking her way back out of the closet, she sat down on her bed and set to work on finishing the project with bright, defiant eyes.

She was tired of being treated like a child. She was tired of feeling like things were entirely out of her control. She was tired of being told what she could and couldn’t do. So she was going to show them what she could do. After a short while, she held up a black pair of riding pants made out of tough leather, the fruit of two days’ labor at every secret moment. She went back to the closet and picked out a deep maroon dress with white silk embroidery, a personal favorite of Enthiln’s. She looked at it and sniffled a little, then sheared off the top, not bothering to seam off the bottom. There was no time for beauty. Like the layers of an old self, she peeled away her clothing, girdle, gown, shift, climbing pants, until she stood naked and new. With solemn deliberation, she slipped her newly-made clothes on, ragged with haste and inexperience. They were soft and reasonably comfortable, and she told herself that she could be happy wearing these kind of clothes, but she knew she would miss her finery. Glancing around her room, she picked up a few things that she thought she might need and stuffed them in a satchel. In reality, she had no idea what to bring since she had not slept outside of a comfortable palace for more than a few weeks at a time since her infancy. She deemed herself ready and smiled at her own decisiveness. Almost as a second thought, she gathered a few favorite pieces of jewelry and hurried out of the room.

 

 

Prince Enthiln tightened the cinch strap of his saddle and glanced up at the clouded sky. At least it had finally stopped raining. The sky was covered in a thin gray sheet of clouds, but it was light enough to see easily. He looked around at the assembled soldiers filling the space before the palace: crimson and gold for the House Ethperok and black and gold for the House Sievurn. Later he would meet up with the regular army of his nation, garbed in the regular blue and silver of Paleithois; he felt like he should be looking forward to it a little more than he was. From behind, Galandorn rested a hand on his shoulder and squeezed comfortingly. Enthiln turned and tried to smile for him, but couldn’t quite manage one. All that flashed across his face was a sad grimace. Since Celedria had not yet arrived, Enthiln gave a small package to Galandorn.

Still looking at the small box, he shrugged and muttered, “This is just something for her. I thought I would get her something to remember me by… you know, just in case something happens.”

Galandorn smiled gently. “Nothing is going to happen to you.”

Enthiln nodded obligingly, whether he believed it or not. He glanced around. No, she still was not there.

Galandorn leaned closer and said softly, “Enthiln, you do not have to go. This is a quarrel for my nation. It has nothing to do with you. I will understand perfectly if you want to stay here with Celedria. You are one of the best swordsmen in the nation; you could be a trainer here with no blemish to your oath.”

Enthiln shook his head resolutely. “No, I swore this and I will do it. We both knew what I meant when I took the oath.” He smiled slightly and said, “Besides, this is the only kind of thing my father ever talks about: the glories of war. I suppose I am plenty old enough to figure out what he is talking about.”

The old king shook his head slightly and said, “You know, that is the one thing that I could never agree with your father about. There is nothing glorious about war. There is nothing glorious about killing and maiming. And, though it may become necessary at times, it is not enjoyable or magnificent. Heroes may emerge, friendships may be forged, peace may return, but all at such a cost.”

Nodding slowly, he replied, “I know. I am glad that you understand me.” He paused and added guiltily, “My father never did.” He sighed and added, “But I am still going.”

Galandorn nodded. “Alright, then, if this is what you want.”

Enthiln nodded as well and murmured, “This is what I want.” He looked around. She still was not there. Still nodding, he pursed his lips and clapped his hands together with false eagerness. “Well,” he said, his voice buoyant. “I suppose it is time for me to leave.” He paused and glanced around again.

Galandorn understood. “I had hoped she would come, too. Celedria just needs a little time to herself to figure some things out.”

Looking at the ground, Enthiln forced a ghost of a smile and nodded quickly. He glanced up at Galandorn, his eyes shinier than usual. “She will be fine, though, right? Everything will be fine?”

Galandorn’s heart nearly broke for the young elf, the youth hardly more than a child. “Of course it will,” he assured him softly. Watching Enthiln lovingly, Galandorn could again admit to himself that he had always wanted a son. In truth, he had been disappointed when his firstborn had turned out to be female. Celedria was sometimes harder to understand than he liked to admit. She had always been closer to Rosemary and the lady always knew exactly what the child was thinking, but Galandorn had the distinct feeling of being an outsider in his daughter’s life; they loved each other dearly, but they were too different to be one, despite their appearances. Galandorn felt like he understood this confused young prince, like he could almost call him his. He had grown to regard Enthiln as a son and the thought of losing him was almost as painful as the thought of losing his own child would be. Enthiln was much like his father, but Galandorn was always quick to point out any similarities to himself, even if they were only imagined. In truth, Celedria would not have been the only one to feel relieved if Enthiln decided to stay. He repeated softly, “Everything will be fine.”

Enthiln glanced around, making sure than nobody had seen him. Sweeping up past the palace entry, his eyes stopped there and widened in surprise.

King Galandorn turned to follow his startled gaze and saw his daughter descending the front stairs in those strange clothes. They were obviously travel clothes, probably handmade. His eyes dulled at the sight and his predominant thought was, ‘I should have expected this.’ Her face was set with determination and her hair plaited in two long braids. She wore the lovely top of a favored dress coupled with ill-fitting dark pants, not much more than climbing pants, with a full satchel slung resolutely over her shoulder. Her slim figure was framed in the grand arch of the front doors. Tendrils of the vibrant green ivy clinging to the stone hung about her head, mingling in her bright orange hair as she descended the front stairs. When she stopped, she stood alone, apart from anybody else there, as if she dominated her own untouchable sphere of the universe. Everyone stared in silent surprise and Galandorn was breathtakingly reminded of his late wife.

Before anybody could say anything, she said, “I know you both want to stop me from going, but please listen to me first. Almost five months ago, an elf came from Paleithois against his will to do a duty to his father. He came to this place on a stormy night when I was in a bad mood. Within an hour, he had me smiling and laughing and, without quite realizing it, I never wanted him to leave again. About a month ago, another elf came to this place on a sunny morning when we were all happy and everything changed in that instant. It hurts to think of what has been taken from me. Today, someone more precious to me than anything else is leaving, and I wish to go along with him because I do not want to lose him, not even for a moment. Father, I know you have forbidden me to go, but you know me as well as I know myself. If you have ears that hear and a heart that feels, I beg you to allow me to stay with my fiancé. I have sworn myself to Enthiln, and I would think myself a great coward if I were to part with him because of something so trivial as the threat of death. I want to go with him.” Her voice became more pleading; she was not as confident as she wanted them all to think and it began to show through as she assured them both, “I would stay in camp for the battles. I would stay away from everything dangerous, work in the healing tents, help in the kitchen, anything just so long as I could be with you and know that you are safe. Would you deny me that?”

Including Enthiln, everyone looked at the king expectantly, deferring to his authority as her father. He desperately wished that she had not decided to do this so publicly. He began slowly, trying to find the right words to say what he felt. “Daughter, I understand the magnitude of your love. I felt it for your mother and know that if I could, I would be with her now, even if it meant wading into the Sea of the Dead after her.” Even as he said it, he realized that she had, even if for just this small moment, won. He sighed. “Death is a small thing compared to love; I recognize that. If it would only drive you away from me, I will not forbid you.” Hating himself for doing it to the young man, but desperate to ensure his daughter’s safety, he turned to Enthiln with anxiety in his eyes and said thickly, “I leave the choice to your fiancé.”

His willingness to comply almost made her regret her flat-out disregard for his will. She looked at the ground and whispered, “Thank you, Father.” More hopeful, she turned to Enthiln, smiling trustingly. He would not let her down.

He looked at her carefully. ‘On my life,’ he thought. ‘She is the most beautiful person I have ever known.’ He closed his eyes and imagined her smile, her sparkling eyes, her hair in the sunlight… He imagined her lifeless on the forest floor, her eyes blank and staring, the ground wet with her scarlet blood. Keeping his face blank, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes, looking at her pleading face as she whispered to him. She begged him to let her come, tempting him with promises of perfection. Dangerously close to letting her come along, he looked away and exhaled deeply. “No. Celedria, I cannot let you come. I want to be with you always, but if any harm were to come to you…” He shook his head, almost reaching for her. His voice softened to a whisper. “I do not know how I could live with that. If you are here, I know that you are safe and that I can always return to you. What would happen to you if you were in our camp and we lost a battle? Just the thought of that hurts.” He glanced around at the watching crowd, wishing very much that there was nobody else with them. It was awkward being on display at such a time.

Celedria stared at him for a surprised, hurt moment; her eyes started to water and she said with quavering voice, “I am going, Enthiln. If I have to follow you, I will.”

He lifted a loose curl off of her face and tucked it behind her ear. Wiping a tear from her cheek, he said with gentle firmness, “No, Celedria. In your father’s stead, I forbid it.”

Her gaze fell to the ground and tears came in earnest. ‘Please make him feel bad,’ she prayed to anyone who would listen. ‘Please do not let him leave me.’

He hesitated, and then relented slightly, assuring her, “Give me four months and I promise I will be back by then, even if it is just for a visit. Just half a year: I promise.”

The promise felt like nothing more than a poor substitute for her fiancé. After a few minutes, she asked so quietly he had to lean closer, “Do you think you will miss me at all, love?”

“Of course I will miss you,” he whispered, refusing to let her manipulate him. “While I am gone, please do not do anything rash.” He smiled softly and added with a touch of sincerity, “Or anything exceedingly stupid.”

She smiled briefly. She didn’t really mind him teasing her anymore. He was allowed that now; it was just another mark of their closeness. “I will try. Must you really go? Four months is a long time. That is almost all the time I have known you.”

Enthiln brushed his hand against hers for just a moment. “It is long past time for me to go, Celedria. I love you.” He kissed her forehead and then mounted his horse. The ceremonial parting had already taken place in the throne room and all that was left was to say goodbye to those who had been his only family for the past half year. He unsheathed his sword and saluted the king. “Farewell, King Galandorn.”

Galandorn raised his own ceremonial blade and responded, “Farewell, Prince Enthiln. We will see you in a few months.”

Enthiln turned his attention back to the princess. He hesitated as a silent tear slid down her red cheek. “Farewell, Princess Celedria. I will come back for you, I promise.” He sheathed his sword and repeated forcefully, “I promise.”

She blinked rapidly, forcing more cheeks down her face. This wasn’t going at all as she had hoped. “Enthiln…Please, do not leave me. I-”

He could not stand anymore; if he did not leave immediately, he feared he never would. “I have to go,” he interrupted abruptly. He turned his horse and went to the head of the procession.

Celedria followed him, not quite ready to give up. “Enthiln, wait! What if I-”

Cutting her off again, he leaned down and told her, “If it is at all within my power, I will be back in four months. Until then, just remember that I love you.” Without waiting for a response, he kicked his horse’s sides as she shouted to him to wait. Not allowing himself to look back, he rode away as fast as his horse would carry him, the long columns of ovun following closely and the foot soldiers marching in the rear. Her plaintive cry followed him out the gates of the palace as the rain started to fall again.

“Enthiln!”

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