Song of Winter(8)

By: May Sage

A quick sweep of her mind had revealed there was nothing to worry about—she was simply exhausted. They’d slept perhaps five hours in the Valley of Doom. It seemed so long ago already. Yet he’d watched over her until she opened her eyes.

With her health no longer a concern, he could see to other matters.

Power had a feel, a scent, to those who were blessed with magic. As soon as he’d set foot on the steps leading up to Elvendale, he’d sensed a potent source.

Valerius followed his instincts blindly, his steps leading him out of the majestic residence and down a snowy path. No wonder his mother had told him to wear warm clothing up here. Unlike elves, he keenly felt the bitter cold—less so than common fae, but enough to be grateful for his fur lining. He lived in the north, yet never had he known such dreadful conditions. At Carvenstone, they’d opted to carve their homes under the mountain, and they kept fires through the fall and winter.

The winding path slithered up the snow mountain flank and opened to a garden where a small company had gathered. The snow and wind blew from every direction, making it hard to see despite his acute vision, but the elves hardly noticed the raging storm. They all wore plain tunics, comfortable in light clothing. An elegant male played a viola, and a youngling sat next to him, singing rather delightfully.

Three males and two females in armor stood, stiff and formal, around the gathering, and an older elf with long white hair sat surveying it all. A crow of white plumage was perched on his shoulder.

A little farther, near a bush of white roses that should not have been thriving in this weather, a few elves were engaged in a game of chess while three couples danced elegantly around them. They were all so joyful, enjoying simple pleasures with no worries.

Valerius stood before the high lords of the Graywoods of Wyvern. If that small group, those two dozen creatures, had risen against the army that had taken Asra, they might have been victorious. A fantasy. Those twenty-five elves would never fight for the Isle. They minded their borders and remained indifferent to what lay beyond. They’d only joined the War of the Realms because the fae had been foolish enough to attack their lands.

Valerius advanced and stopped before the guards.

“May I pass?”

“And what purpose would you serve if we let you?” one of the three elves asked pleasantly and mockingly. It was the tone one used with children, as indulgent as it was condescending.

Valerius took no offense, suspecting he spoke to a creature who’d seen at least twice as many winters as he had.

“I’d have words with Elden Star.”

“You may, if Elden Star wishes to have words with you.”

Valerius’s eyes returned to the plainly dressed musician. “Let us ask him when he’s done playing, lest we interrupt a beautiful song.”

That the humble musician, and not one of the listeners, was master of this court would have been no secret to any decent psychic, but Valerius needn’t use his gift tonight. He’d identified Elden by his hazel eyes, which would have better suited a wild cat. Hazel eyes that had become familiar.

The lord of the Winter Court and king to all elves surprised Valerius in many ways. For one, he seemed so young, just like his own mother. An idiot with no knowledge of auras, power, and magic might have mistaken him as a boy of twenty not yet done growing. The energy around him was telling another tale, buzzing, listening to his will as though nature itself feared his wrath. This “boy” might even have intimidated Shea. Seeing the father explained many things about the daughter.

Elden Star finished his song, and the white crow flew from the elder male to alight on his master’s shoulder now that it wouldn’t hinder his movements. The elf stroked the bird’s back, and then those familiar eyes fixed on Vale, demanding he submit. Vale inclined his head politely but kept his eyes on the elf. Being cordial was important, but he would not look down. Showing his neck to a tiger would be utterly foolish.

A smile curved the corners of the king’s mouth.

“I heard you brought me my daughter harmed at dawn.”

Vale opened his mouth to reply; the king, however, wasn’t done talking. “I hear also that you would follow her and watch over her rather than greet your host. Peculiar, is it not?”