Elfin Crown Prince Treyas Merripen regarded the two young men seated before him. He sighed, dropped his quill pen, and rose to stare out the library window. He could see the reflection of King Jansson van Tannen of Odora Dava and Crown Prince Darosenim Quartermane of Karsaba, as they exchanged worried glances.
"I'm sorry, Treyas," Jansson finally said, "but the conflict in Mere Odain has been going on for a long time. My people are starting to question our involvement. They are starting to view it more as an elfin matter." He paused, obviously waiting for Treyas to say something. When he didn't, Jansson continued. "My people are dying down there, Trey. They're human. They don't have magic like your elves. And besides that, I've got to pull in what I have left for my own borders. The Valley Trolls have gotten a little brave lately. They know my defenses are split. My duty has to come to Odora Dava first."
"And Karsaba?" Treyas asked without turning around.
"Baerns, Treyas," Darosenim answered, shifting uncomfortably in his chair, "I've only been in power for three years. I don't yet have the undying loyalty of Karsaba, especially for a land as far away and remote as Mere Odain."
There was a long, heavy silence before Treyas turned back to face his two friends. He hadn't seen either one of them in months. He saw how much they had changed. They'd grown, matured, and right now both of them looked far too tense for their young ages of nineteen. And me, Treyas thought, how old do I look? I certainly feel older than my age.
Maybe it's due to the pressures of being Crown Prince. Or having to deal with the conflict in Mere Odain for the last two and a half years. Or the fact that my ten-year-old adopted son is such an integral part of that conflict. Treyas reseated himself at the large, darkwood desk.
"The dragons aren't old enough to fly," he said. "And Pepin isn't old enough to start training riders. The Foumen and the Merians are doing the best they can to keep the Keltins at bay but, even with our help, brownlings are still dying. If Odora Dava and Karsaba pull out, it could spell disaster for Mere Odain." He looked at Darosenim. "Perhaps you could remind the Karsabs that Karsaba is harboring Mere Odain's queen and that she has pledged a portion of Taithleach as payment."
Darosenim frowned, but nodded. "I suppose I could reinforce that. I just can't see many Karsabs getting excited over it. Don't forget, Treyas, those who weren't born in Karsaba came there by choice. And there are some, albeit few, who still resent the fact that you restored magic to Karsaba."
Treyas grimaced, recalling that conflict. Technically, it had been Jansson who had released the magic, but Treyas wasn't going to debate the issue. After all, Jansson's act had been one that had saved not only Treyas' life but most of Karsaba as well.
"There is another possibility, Treyas," Jansson said. "I've not been idle on this. Dar and I have already had some preliminary discussions with Cennoc up in Dalach. He's willing to send some Ice Trolls to Mere Odain to replace the Davans."
Treyas looked at him, surprised. "And what's Cennoc's price?"
"A portion of Karsaba," Jansson replied.
"Cennoc's been interested in the far northland for quite a number of years," Darosenim put in.
"You mean Sarben's claim?" Treyas asked, then continued at Darosenim's nod. "Have you spoken to Sarben about this?"
Jansson sighed. "No. We were hoping you would do that. You know, elf to elf."
Treyas studied them. He was touched that Darosenim was willing to put up his own land to help both him and Jansson. But that was what he liked about them. They were more than just friends, they were like family. That closeness had brought the northern provinces of Glede together in a tight alliance.
"There are only about two hundred elves in Sarben's clan," Jansson added, taking Treyas' silence as a no.
"Two hundred brownlings," Treyas reminded him. "Mixed race marriages. Not exactly easy to place."
"But Kyel and Willow--" Darosenim started.
"Are an exception," Treyas interrupted. He leaned back in his chair. "No one says anything about Kyel marrying a white elf because of his position as King. But, to be honest, my plans of integrating the races is meeting with a fair amount of opposition."
"Why?" Jansson asked.
"Mostly habit. The fact is, the black elves are reluctant to leave their forests and the white elves are too established in their villages. They just find it easier and more comfortable to associate with their own kind."
"But do you think the white elves would be openly hostile to Sarben's clan?" Darosenim asked.
Treyas shrugged. "I don't know. I know that it hasn't always been easy on Kyel. Or Pepin."
"Then what about with the black elves?" Jansson asked.
"Why would they be any different than the white elves?" Treyas asked. "Plus, you're forgetting something. The brownlings would be lost, literally, living in the forests. They're from the iceland. The forests up there are quite a bit different. And they're a very tight clan. They've had to be to survive."
"Glede is a big place," Darosenim put in. "It seems to me it shouldn't be hard to place two hundred elves."
"You're supposing they want to be placed," Treyas retorted with more anger than he meant.
"It was just an idea, Treyas," Jansson said quietly. "One that maybe you could think on a bit."
::Myshay?:: The MindLink came gently.
::Cynthe, are you ready to leave?:: Treyas sent back.
::I am. But I can wait.::
::No. I'll be right there.:: Treyas rose, looking at the two men before him. "Excuse me. Cynthe has made plans to take the children to Moyru to visit their grandparents. She's waiting for me to TravelSpell her there."
"Gods, Trey, wouldn't it just be simpler to fix the Portal?" Jansson asked.
"It sure would be easier on the backside," Darosenim agreed. "That was a damn long flight on those birds of yours."
"Gryphons are not birds," Jansson retorted.
"They have feathers, wings and beaks," Darosenim pointed out. "They're birds."
Treyas managed a small smile as he headed toward the door. "You two fight it out. I'll be right back." He slipped into the hall and hurried to the solar of his living quarters, where his wife and children waited.
Pepin was perched on the edge of a green brocade chair, a scowl across his young face. It was a look Treyas had gotten used to over the past year. It seemed there was no pleasing the little elf these days, and Treyas had long ago stopped trying, though it broke his heart to see his beloved Pepin in such a continually foul mood.
Pepin had been Treyas' initiation into fatherhood at the tender age of seventeen. He had saved the little brownling's life, and Pepin had, in turn, saved his. They were bonded as more than father and son, as more than friends. Treyas gave him a smile before turning to Cynthe, who was trying to contain the boisterous activity of Treyas' two other children, two-year-old twins Vantann and Thomlin.
Treyas took her in his arms for a brief hug, breathing deep of the scent that was his wife. She had bound her long, blond hair up in a leather tie and Treyas wound a tendril about his finger as he pulled back to kiss her cheek. Concern lay deep in her violet eyes and she frowned.
"Myshay, you look worried. Can I help?"
"No, Cynthe," he replied, sitting down on the settee and letting the twins climb onto his lap. "I can't even help. This will have to go to Kyel. But I may have to go to the northlands for a few days." Treyas regarded Pepin thoughtfully. "What do you say, Pepin? Do you want to go with me? I'm going to see Sarben."
Pepin's dark eyes lit up. "Can I, Mamay? I don't really want to go to Moyru right now. Please?"
Cynthe shot a quick glance at Treyas, MindLinking him. ::It will be safe?::
::Just a diplomatic visit, that's all. It will give Pepin and me time together. And Jansson's going, too.::
Cynthe relaxed at the last words and nodded to Pepin. "You may go, Pepin. I suppose an outing to the northlands is more exciting than a christening."
"Especially when your family has one about every month," Treyas teased.
"Aye," Cynthe agreed. "And I'll have my ears full of questions, Treyas, on why I'm not expecting another baby."
Treyas laughed, then rose to once again take her into his arms. "We could change that."
"No!" Cynthe looked at him in mock horror. "When you've come from a family as large as mine, a small one feels nice." She accepted his kiss, then whispered, "At least for now."
Treyas chuckled and scooped the twins up, one in each arm. They were copies of each other, identical to the sunny blond hair and the brilliant blue eyes. He was profoundly glad that neither of them had inherited his mismatched blue and green eyes. It had caused him no end of problems over the years. Now, he gave each of them a kiss and a hug and passed them off to Cynthe. She looked over at Pepin.
"Do I get a hug and a kiss?"
Pepin climbed from the bed to oblige, then kissed each twin gently. "Watch them around Conor, Mamay. He teases."
Cynthe laughed. "Thank you, Pepin. I'll keep my eye on my brother." She raised her gaze to Treyas. "I guess I'm ready then."
"I'll see you soon," Treyas said and cast the TravelSpell, leaving him and Pepin alone in the room. "Come on. Jans and Dar are waiting in the library."
Pepin shrank back, his face darkening. "Is Uncle Jansson going with us?"
Treyas stopped, his hand on the door. Without turning around, he asked, "Why?"
"Because all he wants to do is talk about Pe'pinlaidh!" Pepin retorted hotly. "And I don't want to talk about him anymore!"
Anger crept over Treyas and he took a deep breath before turning to face Pepin. "What is it with you and your father?"
"He's not my father!" Pepin snapped.
"He was your father, Pepin. This denial has been going on for almost three years. Isn't that enough?"
"His went on for almost seven years!" Pepin fumed, crossing his arms tightly across his chest. His small chin quivered and his dark eyes pooled with tears. "He didn't even talk about me! He didn't even think to look for me!"
"You've been talking to El'leigh again, haven't you?" Treyas asked. "Pepin, why do you MindLink with her when it upsets you so much?"
Pepin shrugged and brushed away a tear that slid down his cheek. Treyas approached him tentatively, wondering what Pepin's reaction would be. He had been pushed away before, many times in the past year. He had never seen such stoic denial. Even Jansson's attempts at bardic healing had been swept aside. Kyel had said there was nothing more to do but wait. Wait for a trigger that would free Pepin's emotions and allow him to deal with his anger and hurt.
But, for Treyas that wait had been long and painful. In every other way Pepin was wonderful. He was a loving, emotional little empath who endeared himself to most everyone he met. Everyone, that is, except El'leigh, child Queen of Mere Odain. In fact, the little girl seemed to take great delight in tormenting Pepin with the fact that Pepin's father, Pe'pinlaidh, had raised her for eight years while Pepin lived as an orphan with Sarben's clan in north Karsaba. And yet, there was no separating the two children. She was Queen of Mere Odain, he was the DragonMaster. Even at their tender ages, their destinies were pre-written. A destiny Treyas wasn't sure he wanted for Pepin.
Now, he hunkered down in front of Pepin so they were eye to eye, and opened his arms to the little elf. To his surprise and delight, Pepin accepted. He wrapped his small arms tightly about Treyas' neck and buried his face against Treyas' shoulder to cry.
"She says she's going to take Fayemera, Papay," he sobbed. "She says that since I released Fayemera from the LifePledge, she can take her back. I don't want to lose my dragon, Papay! I love her!"
Treyas stood up, taking Pepin with him. For his age, Pepin was no bigger than a six-year-old; small, light and strong, like all Merians. Treyas sat down in a chair, holding Pepin on his lap. "It's not up to El'leigh, Pepin. You know that. It's Fayemera's choice."
"Do you think she'll go to El'leigh?"
"I don't think so. Fayemera knows why you broke the LifePledge. You said she agreed with your reasoning. I agree with your reasoning. Being LifePledged is just too dangerous."
Pepin pushed back to look into Treyas' eyes. "Can we go to Taithleach? I know that the Treefolk are taking good care of Fayemera and the hatchlings, but I want to go see for myself. Please, Papay, please?"
Treyas sighed and wiped the tears from Pepin's cheeks. "Yes, we can go to Taithleach, but first I have to take care of this problem in Karsaba. It shouldn't take long and then I promise we'll go see Fayemera."
Pepin nodded his agreement, then leaned against Treyas. "Fayemera's lonely, Papay. She wants me to be with her."
Treyas frowned at the words and changed the subject. "Speaking of lonely, I'll bet Jans and Dar are pretty lonely by now. Want to go see?"
Pepin agreed reluctantly. "But, Papay, could you tell Uncle Jansson that I don't want to talk about Pe'pinlaidh just now?"
"I will," Treyas promised. He felt some hope at Pepin's last two words. Perhaps in the near future he would talk. Perhaps.