Thieron muttered under his breath from the moment he left on his assignment until he got to the edge of the Elven Empire. There, he tuned into the ambience that always seemed to surround Elven lands, to see if he could find a trail that would lead him to Gerolth’s daughter, Serena.
If everything worked, the way it should, Thieron thought this could be a very fast trip in and out of the Emperor Lariel’s world. However, if Serena was blocking everyone from finding her, it would take a lot longer. As she had been raised amongst her Mother’s people, he knew anything was possible. All he wanted was to go in and grab the Princess, so he could return her to her parents, and then spend some time being lazy. He figured he deserved some time to lay back and soak up the sun. Surely, that wasn’t too much to ask after everything he had been forced to do lately.
Thieron soon discovered Serena had set alarms across the entire perimeter of the Elven Empire, in case her father might send one of his Guardians. It was something he hadn’t expected and wasn’t too pleased about. This complicated matters more than he expected.
Serena had heard what happened with her sister, although she tended to believe only half of what she had been told. She decided that when she got the story from Chania in person, she would know what to believe. Until then, she would take the tales that were buzzing around with a grain of salt. The part that she tended to believe was that Chania wasn’t happy with her Guardian Life Mate, and this was because she could feel her anger through their twin bond. She wasn’t very pleased about this and she blamed Daeron. Chania deserved to be loved, for she felt her sister had been left alone for too long. It was her belief that friends were one thing, and even necessary, but family was everything.
Thieron had found out about Serena’s traps by accident when he came close to triggering the first one he ran across. She had been canny in the way she had set it up. She had tuned the alarm to go off only if it was compromised by one of the Guardians. He had spent a full day trying to figure out how she had done it. The only reason he had bothered was because he had watched another Male Elf walk right through it without problem. As he thought about what she had needed to conjure the spell needed to create the traps, he wondered how she managed to figure out all their special abilities. She would have needed those to set them into the alarms. At times like this, he felt he could really use the help of some of T’Harris’ talents, to figure out a starting point to counter the traps.
T’Harris often told him if you found the first trap set by a fellow Elf, the thread that connected the rest would lead you to the others, and eventually to the maker. He said there was only one direction to take, and this was from the beginning. It made it faster to find what you were looking for. If you started from the middle, it only gave you a fifty-fifty chance of going in the right direction. For some obscure reason, T’Harris was always able to tell the differences, and know which way to go. That Elf would have enjoyed the challenge of what Serena had done, for it showed how skilled she was. To Thieron, it just meant that the two were equally sneaky, or they wouldn’t be able to second-guess each other so well.
Thieron’s first chance of showing he believed he could be every bit as canny as Serena came when he ran into a pack of Elven Children playing by the river. Children were gullible, at least this was what he believed, but they often noticed things adults didn’t. It was a good starting point, especially since he didn’t dare use a seeking spell with all these traps floating around. It would have been too easy to trigger one of them if the two conjurings clashed.
“I wouldn’t touch those if I were you,” a small child around the age of eight addressed Thieron, as he reached out to pick a few berries from a bush.
“They are nothing special,” Thieron replied. They looked like grapes to him. He couldn’t see any problem.
The child looked at him in a studious manner, and then gave a nod, as if to say she had figured out why he couldn’t see the same things she did.
“You must be one of the Guardians of the Empire. I am S’Lea. You nearly triggered one of Serena’s traps. It will only work on one of the members of your squadron. Serena made sure the rest of us would be safe from those she set up.”
“You know the Princess Serena?” Thieron asked.
“Everyone knows Serena,” S’Lea made her comment sound like something he should have known, if he wasn’t a Guardian.
Thieron wasn’t sure how it happened, but he felt very exposed, when S’Lea’s friends gathered around her. They whispered between themselves, while they shot glances at him, the way people do when they are sharing secrets that they don’t want you to know anything about.
“So,” Thieron asked, as he crouched down to make himself less intimidating to the young Elves. “Do you know where I might be able to find Serena?”
One of the little boys tilted his head to the side, as he rubbed a forefinger over his top lip, and then asked. “Who are you?”
“You are right, I should have introduced myself first. My name is Thieron.” He added a bow from the waist, to add a little flare. Children could be so impressionable, was the thought that followed up his action, as he watched them all smile at him.
“That is the name of the one she thought they would send after her,” S’Lea whispered in the background to one of the other girls.
Someone, Thieron thought, had been telling tales about him. He had a feeling he knew whom too. He could only wonder what she had told these innocent children.
“So, what did the Princess Serena say about me?” Thieron asked.
“Nothing we couldn’t figure out for ourselves. You are rather transparent,” one of the boys replied.
There were nineteen children in all, eleven boys and eight girls. They were in sad shape, and he could only imagine what their parents were going to say when they saw them. They looked like they had all been playing in the mud. They were also wearing looks on their faces that gave him the impression that they knew something no one else did. In this case, he presumed that someone would be him. It made him feel very uncomfortable, and he noted how this wasn’t quite turning out to be as simple as he expected.
Thieron exchanged stares with the young boy he had spoken with briefly at the beginning, and decided it was unlikely that he would get anywhere with him. It made him wonder about his preconceived views about children in general. Had he ever been this savvy about what was going on around him during his formative years? He frowned as he tried to remember. That had been a long time ago, much longer than he figured.
The young lad gave him a crooked smile, and then spoke again. “You will have to forgive us, we keep forgetting how easily most of the elderly can be led.”
“That is alright. I keep forgetting that Elven children are not quite as innocent as they look,” Thieron returned. He wasn’t very impressed with being labeled as elderly, but he figured they wouldn’t like being told that they weren’t innocent. In a case like this, turnabout was fair play.
“You are learning,” the Elven boy returned. “I am Liethriel, of the house of Eagle Claw. My aunt is the High Lord General Gabriella Eagle Claw.”
“I have seen your aunt in action, she was impressive,” Thieron admitted.
“You were at the battle?” Liethriel spoke reverently.
“Tell us about it,” a younger lad pleaded, as he came forward. His eyes were wide with wonder, and he was wearing a sword Thieron thought should never have been given to a child. Then again, he was an Eagle Claw.
Thieron got the impression that these children would have all been able to handle that sword expertly. There was a knowing about them that they seemed to wear like a mantle. He looked at the younger boy, as if to ask about this, and received a grin in response. It was S’Lea who gave him the answer to the question that was bothering him.
“You have run into a nest of Eagle Claws, and yes, we do like to stymy those that come upon us unannounced. We really would like to hear how our aunt made out in the battle though. She had this look about her before she left that reminded us of a deer in trouble.”
Thieron decided he could do this, but he would use what he knew to bargain with them first, one piece of information for another.
“I will expect you to reciprocate after,” Thieron warned, as he began his tale. “I not only saw General Gabriella Eagle Claw lead her troops into battle, but I also made up a part of her arrowhead charge when we went into battle.”
As Thieron finished talking, he noticed the look of awe on the faces of the children, and he smiled. This was going to definitely work. He had them in the palm of his hand. They would tell him anything he wanted to know. He was certain about this.
“Was she as impressive in battle as she is on the practice field?” The older child asked.
“I don’t know what she is like on the practice field, but in battle, I have never seen anyone come close to doing what she could. The enemy singled her out. They knew who was in charge, and they intended to cause disarray amongst our troops by killing her. The thought behind that tactic is if the leader of the army is gone, they stand a better chance of coming out on top.” Thieron explained.
“They wouldn’t have gotten close enough to Gabriella to hurt her. She is too good with her swords to allow anyone through her guard,” one of the girls crowed.
“They managed to injure her horse, and it went down while Gabriella was still riding it. As she was thrown from the saddle, she somersaulted in midair and landed in a fighting position. Within moments, she was surrounded by enemy warriors. Despite that, she continued to issue orders and direct the battle, even as she met their challenge,” Thieron continued, with his voice only sounding loudly enough to hear if they were straining to do so. It was a tactic he had been taught a long time ago. The idea was to pull the audience in, and it worked perfectly.
“I knew Gabriella could do it, even as she was saying we were not to give her too much credit for something she had not done yet,” another of the children chimed in.
“It wasn’t without a cost. You do realize that. She came close to getting hurt, or worse, if it wouldn’t have been for one of my fellow Guardians. T’Harris stopped what might have been a killing blow, and then beat the warrior that would have struck her from behind. When the man laid on the ground, he moved to face another, and then another.”
There was a swift audible intake of breath from all the children and, as they leaned forward to listen to more, Thieron continued.
“General Gabriella Eagle Claw continued to fight on, and was soon lost in the crowd. Another Elf resembling her, healed her horse, and they rode off together.” Thieron finished.
“That would have been Cambria,” a smaller girl spoke aloud.
“You like Cambria because she is a Tratchar like you,” one of the older boys sniffed, making it sound like he was used to picking on the girl.
“I know a good thing when I see it,” came the response.
Before things got out of hand, Thieron intervened, “Now, I told you what you wanted to know. It is only fair that you return the favor, as I mentioned before I started.”
The children exchanged a look of indecision, and then nodded, as if in agreement to something predetermined. The Guardian was within his rights, and he had told them a good story.
“What do you want to know?” The eldest boy asked.
“Where is the Princess Serena?” Thieron repeated.
“At this time of the day, she could be anywhere. The most likely place for her is with the Unicorns. You do understand that I can be wrong about this. It is only a guess.” The young lad answered.
“Well, under the circumstances, I understand, and you are probably right. The Princess would be up and around by now and she could be anywhere,” Thieron stated.
“Exactly,” the young man replied, then led the crowd of younger Eagle Claws away.
Thieron heaved a sigh, and wondered if he should even bother looking amongst the Unicorns. They had given him less information than he had shared with them, and he was willing to bet it was misleading. He could tell they were firmly on Serena’s side. She was their Princess. The Eagle Claw motto could easily include her, and they would follow that rule. ‘For the King and Elven Empire’. The reputation of that family extended to every Elf, nook and cranny in the Empire, and he had once been a part of it. He should have remembered that.
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