reggie11: (Kindred)
[personal profile] reggie11
Part One

The cavern was huge. Soft light bounced and rebounded from the glittering walls and stalactites. In a place that should be as dark as obsidian, the phosphorescent algae covering the surface of the Lake gave it an unearthly, yet beautiful glow.

Giant shining roots as thick as the trunks of the largest forest trees wound their way from the water's depths, strangely thicker where they met the water, spiraling upward, through the rocks and earth, and tapering to a much thinner size where they grew from the base of the rather unassuming looking tree on the surface.

There are many different types of trees in this forest. Some are tall and majestic, some are just mere saplings, and yet others have wide branches providing a shaded canopy for life on the forest floor. But this tree is quite unlike anything that came before it, or that will ever grow in the future. For the majority of those who see it, it looks no different than myriad others. Only those with the special sight can see its true form. What looks like gnarled branches and ordinary leaves to most, looks far from ordinary to the Protectors. They see the glow running through her, which pulses softly, almost like a heartbeat. The leaves shimmering with colors that almost defy description. And those Protectors know that her roots span farther and deeper than any tree's possibly could or should, stretching as far and as wide as the forest, and reaching deep into the underground cavern which holds the Lake.

If one was to happen upon this tree, it wouldn't stand out. It looks like any other tree in the forest to all but the Fae and the Niaids. Not that any creature would be likely to stumble across this stand of trees. If someone happened along this way they would invariably find themselves completely turned around, their thoughts evaporating like mist, steered away by impulses they would be unaware of. They would reach their destination, but not in the way they thought they had. The only creatures in this part of the forest were the Protectors. Tiny, yes, but ruthless, and deadly in their mission to protect the Lake, and the Tree, at all cost.

The only beings who know of the cavern's existence keep it so well warded, so greatly protected, that it would take the presence of immensely strong magical ability to uncover it. Very few beings have that kind of magic, except for the Fae. And not even all of their kind possess enough magic, or command of it to break the wards.
The legend of their race--passed from generation to generation--was that long ago, soon after their race was granted magic from the Goddess, a young faerie, Fenn, who would go on to become the first king, discovered the underground cavern purely by accident. While exploring one of the many forests, he took shelter from a downpour in a tiny cave and observed a glow emanating from its depths. Following the strange light, he found the cave was, in fact, the opening to a vast underground space, more beautiful than he would have thought possible. In the center of the cavern was a Lake, the surface of which was glowing brightly as something beneath the surface moved through its waters. Wherever it swam, the water glowed in its wake.

Mesmerized by the sight, he flew closer to the water only to be brought up short when he found he was not as alone as he had thought. On the rocks to the side lay a beautiful female trailing her arm through the water, looking as forlorn as any creature Fenn had ever seen. She told him she was a Eudaemon, a guardian spirit, and after she told her story, Fenn had found both a way to help his people, and a purpose.

The Sacred Tree and the Lake which sustains it are the most important things of all within the Kingdom of Lux. The Tree is the reason the land is so fertile. The Tree is the reason the crops never fail. The Tree is the reason that faerie magic is the strongest of all. The Lake is the lifeblood of the Tree, and the lifeblood of their race.
Together the Tree and the Lake were the genesis of the powerful faerie magic, and for countless millennia the Tree has been under the protection of the Fae, each generation passing to the next the responsibility of not only tending the Tree, but of ensuring that its magic benefits all. It is a great honor for the Protectors.

J'red has not known war in his lifetime, but then he is a mere stripling, at only 174 cycles old. He may have lived his entire life thus far in peace, but he knows from his father's teachings that peace is a fragile thing. The last full scale war was almost a thousand cycles ago, before his father had taken the throne, but there have been at least two savage attacks since. The last was around 600 cycles ago, in which he lost two older brothers and a sister he would never have a chance to know. He is a Protector, the youngest son of the King and Queen. The P'dlek'i clan are the keepers of the Sacred Tree and Lake, and J'red has been trained for battle. Faeries may be diminutive in size but they wield some of the strongest magic in the known worlds.

An alliance with the Amazons provides the Fae with physical strength and some of the most superb battle skills in the land, while the Fae provide the Amazons with magic. It has also provided J'red with two of his three closest friends. D'neel and Gen'vieve are Amazon warriors, and they have been his best friends for the entire thirty four cycles he has known them.

When Jared had come of age at 140, he and his closest friend, Os'ric, had been sent for intense battle training with the Amazons. Every Protector was trained for battle by both the Protection Regiment, currently led by Commander J'ffrey of the Morg'n Clan, and the Amazons. As J'red was himself a son of the royal family, he was assigned to train with Gen'vieve, daughter of the Amazon queen.

Queen L'via was the fiercest leader in generations, and under her rule the Amazons had gone from strength to strength. In battle there were none more fearsome than Amazon warriors, but their numbers had been cut brutally in the last great war, when the tribes from the North had banded together to lay siege to the South. The South won, but at a terrible cost. The former queen had died in battle and, one by one, all but the youngest of her daughters had been captured, tortured, and raped, before being executed at the hands of the King of the Northlands. L'via had been overlooked by the enemy. Not yet completely grown, she had been tending the wounded during the battle that had claimed her mother's life.

The Amazons, the Fae, and the Sprites were all fighting on the same side, but they had been fighting under their own separate leadership, and with very little information about the strategy of each other's forces. The non-magical people of the villages who hadn't managed to hide were rounded up as slaves, their farmlands claimed by the Northern forces, the crops taken to feed the invading armies. The Fae, with the Tree's magic, withdrew sustenance from the farmlands, and all unprotected crops withered and died more quickly than the Northern armies could take them. But it wasn't enough. The King of the Fae knew the Tree and Lake must not be discovered, and though they had hidden most of the non-magical people, they couldn't possibly protect them all. The Fae needed brute strength and fighting skills on their side, and the Amazons needed magic.

He sent his eldest son and daughter to meet with young Princess L'via to suggest an alliance. Though she was loathe to leave the continuing battle to her people when she remained the only royal family member, she agreed to be taken to the king. The following discussion resulted in the alliance. Once the terms were settled, the leaders of the faerie clans strategized with the Amazons, and the battle tide was turned. The Amazons, with the addition of magic, were stronger, faster, and more deadly than they had ever been. Half of their number stayed to fight alongside the Fae to protect the land, the people, and their magic, while the other half, led by L'via and with an accompanying force of some of the strongest wielders of magic among the Fae, laid siege to the fortress of the Northern King. The numbers lost were devastating, but the Southern force captured the fortress and killed the King. He had no immediate heir to the throne, which created great political turmoil, until the council of the Northern races agreed to a truce.

Upon her return, L'via was crowned Queen. But the ranks of the Amazons were severely depleted. The truce was tenuous at best, and even without full scale war, there were always battles to be fought, when one race or another decided they wanted more land, more control, or myriad other reasons known only to the attacking party. Not all of the women could be spared for birthing, as fewer warriors would leave the Amazons even more vulnerable to attack. And there was always the birth of sons to contend with. Theirs was a purely female race; male children born were sent to the villages to be raised as the villages' own. Only the female children remained with their mothers, to be raised as Warriors or nurturers of future generations. It would take far too long to increase their numbers to a safe and comfortable level. With Fae magic, they were assured all future births would be female, and the lifespan of their race would double from 300 cycles to nearer to 600. L'via herself was granted a lifespan like that of the faerie race; she would live to at least 1000 cycles old.

Once each cycle, the Festival of Fruitfulness was held. Strong, willing men were collected from various villages throughout the south to participate. They would be brought, blindfolded, to an Amazon encampment, where for five days they were fed well and treated like lords, but were also forbidden to pleasure themselves. On the sixth day there were festivities and entertainment which would culminate in the Night of Fecundity, where the chosen nurturers and the village men would, dance, drink, and breathe in the sacred herb which burned in the bonfires, and the fertility ritual would take place. The seventh day was one of rest and recovery, before the men were returned to their villages and new lives would begin to grow in the wombs of the Amazon women who had been chosen to take male lovers during the festival.

J'red was among the Fae who would accompany the warriors to collect the men. Although Fae procreation was similar to parthenogenesis, they could easily sense the fertility of the prospective men, allowing the Amazons to take the most virile, and fertile of the male volunteers, to ensure the best chance of conception.
He loved the annual journey as it allowed him to spend time traveling with two of his best friends; they always got up to mischief when they were away from their respective clans. Gen'vieve and D'neel might be fierce, but they were always fun, and they adored J'red as much as he adored them. It was a pity O'sric couldn't join them, but he had his own assignment. They would see him as soon as they all returned.

J'red's eldest brother, D'vid, and the eldest Amazon princess, S'manth'a, were in charge of assigning which faeries would accompany which warriors. He doted on J'red and always made sure that the terrible trio (as he called them) of J'red, Gen'vieve and D'neel were sent on their mission together.

J'red had been told to rest up for his journey, and was lying sprawled across the top of a large pillowy mushroom, basking in the sun. Life in Lux was really good.
J'red was raised from his slumber by a large splash of water on his face, making him jump and splutter and almost fall off the edge of his chosen 'shroom. He swiped at his eyes and looked up into the mischievous face of D'neel, her wet hand held above him so the water droplets fell on his face. At his indignant squawk, she burst into musical laughter, joined by a giggling snort from Gen'vieve who stood beside her.

"You vixen! Don't you have anything better to do than try to drown innocent sleepers?"

"You, innocent?" she almost cackled. "You don't have an innocent bone in your tiny body."

"I'll have you know I'm the tallest of my clan. I'm almost a giant among my people!" J'red muttered crankily. He never was good with abrupt awakenings.

"Of course you are," Gen'vieve said soothingly, and he turned to see her smirk.

"Now you're mocking me."

"Would I do that?" She replied, batting her eyelashes.

"Yes, you awful wench, you would, because you're a horrible person."

"Aw, but you love me."

J'red grinned. He could never be truly angry at either of his friends, plus he'd played much worse pranks on them. "So, to what do I owe the dubious pleasure of your company?"

"I'm hurt," remarked D'neel, a hand over her heart before she leered at him. "Pleasure from me is never dubious, I can assure you." She waggled her eyebrows.

This time, both J'red and Gen'vieve snorted. "Oh, you wish," Jared said.

"Nuh uh, true story, just ask my lovely Gen."

Gen'vieve flushed scarlet and eyed D'neel heatedly. "Not dubious at all."

J'red rolled his eyes. "Well if you two are quite finished eye fucking, you never answered my question."

"You're just jealous that with all the fooling around you faeries do, you haven't found your true mate, like we have. Lemme tell you, the sex is waaaay better."

Jared zipped up beside D'neel's head and pinched her ear as hard as he could. "My sex life is plenty good, thank you very much."

"Ouch, you little shit!" D'neel started batting the air trying to slap him away.

"Honestly, you two. It's worse than being around small children," Gen'vieve huffed. "Mother said we can set off a day early, if you're ready to go. I thought we could stop off in the Everclear Glade for a few hours of swimming. If we leave in the next hour or two we could make it there by nightfall and go swimming in the morning. We don't get to go to the waterfall nearly often enough. So what do you say? D'vid said it's okay with him, and that your parents won't mind."

At the mention of the waterfall J'red's eyes lit up. It was one of his favorite places. "Sure, just give me time to get my things. My pack's all ready, I just have to tell O'sric I'll see him in a few days. He's going to be like a troll with a sore tooth that he can't come with us."

"I think he'll be fine," Gen'vieve giggled, sharing a knowing look with D'neel.

He looked between the two of them. "What am I missing?"

"O'sric got assigned to accompany A'lona and Car'line, and we think he is lusting after A'lona."

"Oh good grief," J'red shook his head. "Trust O'sric to have a crush on someone who's thirty times his size, and not even the same species. Last cycle, he had it bad for a Dryad from the eastern quarter, and you know how their elders feel about interspecies romance. Plus, a faerie and an Amazon, how would that even work?" He screwed up his nose, causing both women to burst out laughing.

"You got me," D'neel shrugged.

"Well, I hope A'lona lets him down easy. A moping O'sric is painful to be around."

J'red flew off to grab his pack before joining the girls at the edge of the clearing. D'neel had already mounted Star, and each girl would take turns at riding while the other walked. He handed his small pack to D'neel who tied it to the pommel of the saddle, and he attached his bow and quiver to the broadsword's sheath strapped to Gen'vieve's back and settled into a comfy spot to sit in her soft, thick hair. It would take them many hours to reach Everclear, and it was too tiring for him to fly the entire way. Though he was close to both women, J'red always felt closer to Gen. It was probably because they shared the burden of coming from a royal family that they bonded so deeply.

The sun was warm and lulling but J'red knew better than to drift off or let his guard down. It wasn't that unusual for bandits, or some of the occasional disreputable creatures to wander into other territories. Attacks themselves weren't that common in these parts, but they also weren't rare enough that you could ever let your guard down, once you were out of your own territory. No matter, J'red always enjoyed the travel. He and the girls swapped stories and made jokes at one another's expense. It was always fun when they had time away from the pressures of family and duty. The day was passing enjoyably, and J'red couldn't think of anything he'd rather be doing, or anybody else he'd rather be doing it with.

The girls had just swapped riders again, with Gen'vieve once again on foot, and they were traveling in companionable silence. It was J'red's acute hearing that picked up on it first. It was a little in the distance, but he was sure he could hear cursing and a pained yelp. He tugged on Gen'vieve's hair, and she automatically drew her crossbow. D'neel whispered, "What is it?"

J'red whispered back, "Sounds like some trouble up ahead. Just keep your guard up and when we get in range, you'll need to stop so I can scout ahead. We don't want to alert anyone to our presence until we know who or what we're in for."

Both women nodded and they moved on, eyes and ears sharp. J'red tugged on Gen's hair again signaling for them to stop. She raised her fist and D'neel pulled Star to a silent halt. Star was a large mount, but he could be as quiet as a dormouse at the slightest tug on his reins. J'red looked up at D'neel who was scanning the area from her position of height on Star's back. She pointed to her ear and shook her head which told both Gen'vieve and Jared that even though she could hear something, she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.

They had moved off the roadway as soon as J'red had picked up on the muffled yelling and wouldn't have been seen by anyone who wasn't already aware of their presence. J'red moved into a crouch and tried to gauge the exact direction the sounds of distress were coming from. He could tell by the way Gen had cocked her head slightly that she could hear something but that it wasn't loud enough for her to make out properly. J'red slung his quicker and bow on his back before taking off at high speed toward the noise.

As he got closer, he could definitely hear shouts for help. The tone was instantly recognizable as Fae. J'red zoomed forward as fast as his wings could carry him until he had them in his sights.

Three Goblins were attacking the most beautiful faerie Jared had ever seen. The faerie was fighting like a wildcat but he was outnumbered, and he had been disarmed. He wouldn't stand a chance, alone. Goblins were vicious. They not only took great delight in hurting, and sometimes sexually molesting their victims, they were also known to sometimes eat them if they were hungry enough.

Quicker than thought, J'red retrieved his bow, nocked an arrow and released it. As it flew, he let out a piercing whistle to call the girls to his aid. His arrow hit the first of the Goblins in the shoulder and knocked him off his feet with a pained scream. J'red's second shot hit another Goblin in the thigh, loosening his hold on his captive who, even while obviously hurt and exhausted, continued to fight like a Manticore. Star came charging into the clearing, both girls on his back with their swords drawn, as J'red jumped into the fray, punching the last standing Goblin's nose with everything he had. It snarled and was about to try and sink his teeth into J'red when the arrival of the girls had it scrambling to run.

"Oh no you don't!" shouted D'neel as she flung a small weighted net over the retreating figure. Gen'vieve stomped forward and loomed over the two injured Goblins.
"Move and I'll crush you under my boot. Understand?"

One lay on the ground panting heavily, frantically trying to claw the arrow from its shoulder, but the other hissed at Gen'vieve who raised her foot off the ground threateningly. "I said, understand?" It stopped hissing but still glowered defiantly at her. However it wasn't stupid enough to move.

D'neel had already scooped up the writhing, netted third Goblin, which was doing its best to bite her. "You sink those pointy little fangs into me, and I'll snap you like a twig."

While all of this was going on, J'red rushed to the injured Fae who was covered in scratches and gouges, had a nasty tear in one wing and a chunk of flesh missing from a bite on his arm. He was shaking all over and obviously in shock.

"It's okay, you're safe now. How badly are you hurt? Do you think you can stand if I help you?"

The faerie nodded his head but when J'red slung the uninjured arm over his shoulder to help pull him to his feet, the faerie's legs gave way, almost pulling J'red down on top of him.

"I need some help here," he yelled.

D'neel deposited the third Goblin, none too gently, on the ground with the others for Gen'vieve to guard and rushed over to J'red.

The injured Fae regarded her with trepidation, and she couldn't blame him, given what he'd been through, and her enormous, by comparison, size. She knelt on the grass and spoke softly. "It's okay. I'm D'neel, and we're going to help you. I'm going to lift you and take you over to Star over there."

He looked at J'red who smiled and nodded, and J'red could see a little of the fear and tension melt away, but the poor boy was in obvious pain.

D'neel gently scooped him up, and Jared flew beside her so he was in the mystery Fae's eyesight. She grabbed the bedroll from its ties to the saddle and, as she was doing it one handed, Jared untied the knot so she could unfurl the roll on the ground. She laid the stranger on the soft material and spoke to J'red. "We need to check his injuries before we take him for help. We don't want to make anything worse. You brought supplies?"

"Of course," J'red nodded.

The stranger was sweating heavily, panting through the pain. D'neel passed J'red his pack as he went to his knees beside him. "I'm J'red. I'm going to check your injuries, but first I need you to drink this." He rummaged in his pack and brought out a small vial. "It'll help with the pain, it's Willow Bark and a few other herbs, spelled by our apothecary. Can you tell me your name?"

"I'm Jens'n." He grimaced, but drank down the bitter liquid from the vial J'red held to his lips. "Of the Ackl's clan."

J'red helped lower Jens'n until he was once again lying on his side, his injured wing drooping at an unnatural angle. J'red winced in sympathy, but began to check him over with an anxious D'neel hovering over them. He heard Gen'vieve's approach even before her shadow reached them.

"I shoved the little bastards under the net and pinned it with a dagger," she reported. "They aren't going anywhere, though I'm not sure the one you shot in the shoulder isn't going to bleed out before we can take them back to court." She gestured at Jens'n. "How is he?"

The magicked herbs were taking effect and the lines of pain across Jens'n's face were softening. J'red had begun with the wing, checked his ribs for breaks and was about to wash out the bite before he wrapped it. It was still bleeding quite badly.

"There's a large tear in his wing which needs to be tended to sooner rather than later. I don't think any bones are broken but there are a few cuts that need to be dealt with, and the bite is bad. I'm flushing it with calendula, and then I'll put some yarrow powder on it to try and stave off infection, but we all know how bad a Goblin bite can get. We need to get him back to court as quickly as possible. I don't have the necessary magic to heal a Goblin bite."

"What the hell are Goblins doing this far south?" Gen'vieve looked to D'neel. "None of this makes sense, and they," distaste twisted her features as her chin pointed to the captured creatures, "aren't talking."

J'red tuned out the conversation even though he was just as perplexed as the girls; Goblins never ventured south of the border. After treating the bite wound and wrapping Jens'n's wing close to his body, he made him drink a long swallow of water. The Lake water he always carried when he traveled would go a long way to healing the injured faerie, and in combination with his own magic, the only injuries Jens'n would still have by the time they returned to the royal court, would be a semi healed wing tear, and the bite, which J'red wasn't equipped to deal with. He tapped into his magic and held his hands above Jens'n. The glow began immediately, bathing J'red in a warm golden light shot through with sparks of myriad shades of blue, green and brown. He felt a jolt and a sense of home which momentarily startled him. He shook it off to concentrate again. As J'red's aura flowed from his hands and surrounded him, Jens'n began to glow a beautiful green with sparks of varying green hues, a touch of gold with deep crimson swirls. J'red gasped aloud.

When he finished, Jens'n was heavily asleep and most of the cuts and abrasions had already healed. He no longer had the gray pallor of someone in agonizing pain, but his cheeks were flushed in the first signs of fever from the Goblin bite.

"Did you see that?" He asked, his gaze still on Jens'n, his mouth agape.

"See what? Your healing mojo? Seen it before, J'red. You Fae are real show offs," D'neel replied with real affection, even through the mocking tone.

Jared turned and looked at her like he'd just seen the Goddess herself. "No, not my healing. Did you see his aura?"

"Yes, it was beautiful," Gen'vieve said, "So is yours. All faerie auras are lovely."

"No, you don't understand. You know how our auras reflect our eye color?" Both women nodded, still not comprehending why J'red looked so dazed. "Mine is gold which is only in the royal line, but the other colors match my eyes. My parents say they've never seen a multicolored aura before, just as no one has ever seen an eye color like mine before. But even though my eye color is some strange quirk of nature, my aura matches. Jens'n's aura was shades of green, which is how it should be, but did you see the gold and crimson?"

"I'm guessing it's not because his eyes are bloodshot?" D'neel said, earning herself an elbow in the ribs from Gen'vieve.

Any other time it would have made J'red laugh, even with an injured Fae on their hands, but this was so huge he could barely comprehend it. "He's one of the Kindred."

"The what?"

"From a Fae prophecy. I can't remember the whole thing. It was something Mother told all of us when we were little."

D'neel sniggered.

Jared rolled his eyes, "Very funny. When we were children."

Gen'vieve glared at D'neel. "Go on, J'red, what did the Queen tell you?"

There's a prophecy that's been handed down through generations about the two faeries who will be the saviors of our race. Their joining will bring peace in a time of massive upheaval. I honestly can't remember the rest, but one of the faeries mentioned had an aura which would be as beautiful as a Ruby. The aura would be crimson. No faerie auras are crimson, because they match our eye color, and no faeries have crimson eyes. The only difference in auras is the royal gold, though according to the lore some of the ancients also had silver." J'red gestured to the injured Fae. "It's him. He's half of the prophecy. We have to get him back to my parents as quickly as possible. I'm sorry, D'neel, I'm going to have spell Star."

She screwed up her nose. "He's not going to like it, but if you're right and this boy is as important as you say he is, then Star can suck it up. He's a warrior too, he can take it. But Gen can tell him, I'm not going to have him so aggrieved with me. I'm the one who has to groom him every day. Deal?" She looked over at Gen'vieve who looked pained for a moment before nodding in agreement.

"Okay, you get Jens'n ready for travel," Gen'vieve spoke to J'red first before turning to D'neel. "And you go get the netted nasties into a bag. I'll go tell Star the bad news. If he kicks or bites me, you're kissing everything better for the next month." She steeled herself and stalked over to the horse.

J'red regarded Jens'n in complete awe; this beautiful boy was going to be their savior. He shook his head, it also meant that something bad was on the horizon. He also couldn't help but feel a pang in his heart that this beautiful Fae was destined for greatness at the side of another faerie, who was also destined for the same. J'red had been breathless with a fierce wave of longing from the moment he laid eyes on Jens'n in peril. He had jumped into the fray to protect him because he couldn't help himself. He could, and should, have dealt with the Goblins from a distance using his archery skills. His father would have been furious had he seen him leap in to use his fists. J'red was royalty and even though they were all trained in battle, the royal children were not meant to put themselves at unnecessary risk. They had the responsibility as leaders of their people.

Well, his father would be nothing but proud that J'red had saved someone who was invaluable to them all. And even though it probably wasn't the smartest idea he had, considering the overwhelming pull toward Jens'n, he would offer himself up to provide protection. He was a trained Protector and of royal blood, so the job would fall to his family anyway. If it kept him closer and gave him a chance to get to know Jens'n, then that was a bonus. He knew he was setting himself up for heartache, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. He'd never felt so drawn to another Fae in his whole life, and they hadn't even spoken yet, beyond Jens'n giving his name.
J'red heard Star whinny loudly and looked over to see Gen'vieve jump back to avoid a kick. He had repacked his bag, except for the pouch he needed, and Jens'n, still unconscious, was ready to be carried over. D'neel had a bag full of hissing and growling Goblins held at arms length, her nose screwed up in distaste. He couldn't blame her, Goblins reeked worse than rotting meat. He could see their blood seeping between the skins here they were stitched together to make the bag. He didn't care if they died on the journey, as long as one of them made it. They only needed one to find out why they were here, and what was going on. He probably should feel guilty about not caring; all life was sacred to the Fae. But who knows what those horrid creatures might have done to Jens'n if their group hadn't happened upon the attack. He shuddered, thinking of it.

The bag of Goblins was strapped on the saddle with a warning from Gen'vieve to keep still and cause no trouble, because she still had no problem fixing the situation with the heel of her boot. D'neel mounted Star first and leaned forward to whisper soothing words in his ear. Gen'vieve lifted Jens'n into J'red's arms before she made short work of packing up the bedroll and fixing it to the saddle. Then she took Jens'n from J'red and placed him into D'neel's hands where she held him close to her flat belly. Gen'vieve swung herself up onto Star behind D'neel.

"Everyone ready?" J'red asked.

Star's angry snort and the girls' determined expressions was all the answer he needed. He poured the contents of the bag into his hand and circled the air above Star, sprinkling the glittering powder while muttering the spell under his breath. Once finished, he settled again in Gen'vieve's hair. "Let's go."

When D'neel gently kicked Star's flank he began to gallop. They all held on for dear life as the landscape blurred into something entirely unrecognizable. Within minutes, the scenery came back into focus and the royal forest was right in front of them. Star came to a shuddering halt, and Jared quickly flew forward to take Jens'n into his arms, well aware of what was coming. He flew with Jens'n out of the way as both women stumbled from Star's back, falling to their knees and retching onto the grass. Star too bent forward, heaving. J'red felt awful for them. Faerie travel was impossibly hard on the non-Fae but the effects didn't last long, thank the Goddess. It was only ever used on others in times of emergency, and from the heat which emanated stronger by the minute from Jens'n's body, this certainly counted as an emergency.

J'red was torn. He wanted to make sure the girls and Star were okay but he had to get help for Jens'n with the utmost urgency. As though she read his mind--and he sometimes wondered if she actually could--Gen'vieve wobbled to her fee,t using a tree to support her weight.

"Go. We'll be fine. Get him to your healer. We'll bring the Goblins as soon as we can get within two feet of them and not throw up from the smell. GO!"
J'red flew straight to the palace through the magical barrier which kept it from view, shouting to the guards to allow Gen'vieve and D'neel access to the clearing as soon as they arrived and to summon J'ffrey.

He'd barely gotten through the main door when he heard his sister, N'yah, gasp. "Goddess, J'red, what's happened? Who is that?"

"I need to see father, it's urgent. But I need the healer. It's a Goblin bite, a bad one."

"Quickly, go to the great hall. I'll fetch Father and the healer."

As he flew toward the great hall he could hear his sister's shouts to the staff to fetch the healer at once while she flew toward their father's chambers.

It was his mother who arrived first, alerted by the shouting. "J'red!" She flew straight to his side, running her hands over Jared, and her gaze over both boys, as only a mother could. "Are you alright? I heard N'yah yelling about Goblin bites." She seemed satisfied by his answer that he was, in fact, unharmed, and immediately turned her full attention to Jens'n, who now completely glistened with sweat. She deftly removed the poultice from his arm, hissing in sympathy. "You did well, my love. The fever is great but the poison from the bite itself has not eaten away tissue. Fetch me some water."

J'red filled a pitcher with water from the fountain and poured some into a goblet, handing it to the queen. "Get onto the table and hold him against your chest." He did as he was told, and his mother began to gently slap at Jens'n's face. "Do you know his name?"

"It's Jens'n of Ackl's Clan"

"Come on, Jens'n, you need to wake up and drink." She pushed the goblet to his lips and began to pour Lake water into his mouth. He coughed and sputtered a little and groaned, trying to move away from the onslaught. "Jens'n!" She snapped. "Drink. You must drink!" Although a lot of it dribbled over his chin and down his chest, he managed to swallow at least half of it.

There was a sudden commotion as his father, the king, and the healer arrived at the same time. The queen moved aside to take her husband's hand as the healer took her place.

"How long ago was he bitten?"

"Less than an hour," J'red answered.

Heyer'dahl the healer examined the wound, and smiled. "No damage that can't be fixed, thanks to your quick thinking, young J'red."

J'red wished he felt the healer's confidence when Jens'n looked so abysmally ill.

"Get the red and the dark blue pouches from my bag and stir the contents of both into a goblet of water."

J'red rushed to do as he was told, quickly handing over the mixture. The healer began to chant and the liquid glowed a deep violet. "I need you to hold him steady, this will be unpleasant."

The queen rushed to hold Jens'n's face in her hands, N'yah and a porter held down his good arm while J'red and the king held a leg each. Heyer'dahl held the injured arm with one hand while he poured the glowing liquid over the wound with his other, chanting a spell that could barely be heard. The moment the liquid touched the wound Jens'n bucked against their hold and let out an unearthly scream. J'red felt his gut clench at the pained howl. But in less than a minute, Jens'n stopped struggling and went limp.

"Will he...will he be okay?" J'red croaked.

"He'll be fine, thanks to your quick field work. Look, my boy, the bite is already mending."

True to the healer's words, J'red could see the redness surrounding the bite fading, and the flesh already beginning to close. He almost fell to the ground in relief, and it was only his father's strong hands gripping his shoulders that kept him standing.

"His wing has been damaged as well. Can it be healed?"

Healers could work wonders with flesh wounds, poisoning and injuries, but injuries to faerie wings were often difficult to repair. Heyer'dahl rolled Jens'n to his side and closely examined the tear.

"Well, he won't be flying for a week or two, but this will heal just fine. I can rejoin it, he will just need to give it time to strengthen again."

The healer went to work on the wing while J'red told his parents and sister about how he and his Amazon friends had come upon the attack, and how he had shot and captured the Goblins, adding that Gen'vieve thought that at least one of them might die from the injury he inflicted with his arrow.

The queen asked the very same question the girls did. "Why in the name of the Goddess would Goblins be around these parts? We haven't had a Goblin sighting in the south for nigh on 600 cycles."

It was his father who answered with steel in his voice. "I intend to find out when the warriors bring us the prisoners."

"Father, there's something else you need to know. Can we speak more privately?" J'red asked, nodding toward the healer and the porter who was assisting him.

"Are the warriors bringing the Goblins?" N'yah asked. Jared nodded in the affirmative. "Then I shall go and wait for them and organize the guards to take them to the dungeon."

J'red gave his sister a grateful smile, and she kissed his cheek. "My little brother, the hero." She winked and flew off in the direction of the gates.

"Should we speak alone, or should your mother accompany us?" The king asked.

"I think you both need to hear this."

They stepped into the private chambers at the side of the dais where the thrones stood. J'red told the king and queen everything that had happened when he had used his magic to activate his aura, and Jens'n's. His mother's hand flew to her mouth and she gasped loudly. His father's eyebrows shot up to his hairline.

"And you are certain of the crimson and gold? It wasn't just a trick of the light, perhaps?"

"I'm very certain. Both Gen'vieve and D'neel saw it too. It was so beautiful. It's him, isn't it Father? He's one of the prophesied pair?"

"It would seem so." The king sat heavily into a large armchair, running his fingers through his silver white hair. The queen just looked shell-shocked. "And he was alone?"

"Yes. He made no mention of anyone else. Why?"

"He and his clan obviously have no idea of his importance or he would never have been so far from home without an escort. Did he say why he was so far from home?"

"He was so injured and frightened, the only thing he managed to tell me before he passed out was his name."

"We shall need to speak with him at length as soon as he's up to it. I need to find and reread the scroll. It's been a while since I looked at it, and I can't remember all the details, just the fable version we used to tell you children. Some of the facts were changed to make it a bedtime story. As you were the last child we told the story to, it's been at least 160 cycles since I've even thought about it. But I do know it bodes not well for us. The prophecy spoke of the pair being our saviors--which means there is something our entire race needs to be saved from."

When Jens'n awoke it was in a bed that felt like lying atop a cloud. There were silken drapes pulled across floor-to-ceiling windows where slivers of bright sunshine shone through. Turning his head, he saw a vision that made him think perhaps he had died. One of the loveliest faeries he had ever laid eyes on was curled up on a huge overstuffed armchair, long legs hanging over the edge and a halo of light surrounding thick, tousled, chestnut hair that was glowing. He realized then that it was a shaft of light from the crack in the drapes shining onto the boy's head. He had a chiseled jaw, pink bow lips, and golden muscular arms and chest. He wore leather pants fitted to strong thighs on legs longer than Jens'n thought possible for a member of their race. His wings were tucked around, almost blanketing him. His heart beat faster and he felt such longing it made Jens'n draw in a sharp breath and the boys eyes fluttered open. Strike that. He wasn't just lovely, he was exquisite!

"You're awake!" Came the deep, sleep rough voice as the long-legged faerie scrambled off the chair to his side. "How do you feel?"

"I'm-" He cleared his dry throat. "I'm, um, good. Confused but good."

The boy laughed and the sound was like the rumble of thunder before a storm. It made him feel lightheaded.

"Do you remember what happened? I'm J'red. You were attacked by Goblins. My friends and I came to your rescue."

It all came back in a rush then. The fear, the pain, seeing the boy before him fly to his rescue like vengeance itself, firing arrows at the enemy and then tending his wounds. The journey and the mission. The mission! Jens'n tried to sit up quickly and was overcome by a wave of dizziness. J'red gently pushed him back down and then lay a cool hand on his forehead.

"Don't try to sit up just yet. You've been very ill with fever from the poison from the Goblin that bit you."

Jens'n raised his arm into his line of vision. There was a furrow and shiny skin where he was bitten but the wound was healed. Goddess, how long had he been unconscious? Had he failed so badly in the mission he was sent on?

"How long have I been here? I must go. I am set to find the Pad'leck'i lands and must speak urgently with the king. Please, help me up, and if you can point me in the right direction I must be on my way. I will petition the king so that you may be thanked properly for your bravery."

"Oh, I think I can help you out with that. Just stay put until I can get some food into you. I promise you shall see the king."

Before Jens'n had time to protest, J'red was pulling a cord, and a bell tinkled. An older faerie entered through the doorway. "Yes, master J'red?"

"Could you tell my father that Jens'n is awake?"

"Of course." The faerie smiled brightly. "He should be here directly. He's been waiting just down the hall."

"And Mo, can you see to some food being sent up?"

Her bright smile got bigger and she flew off at speed.

"J'red, I really don't mean to sound ungrateful. You saved my life, and I have no idea how to even begin to thank you, but I've been sent as an emissary to give the king urgent news, and I really must go."

Once again Jens'n struggled to get himself upright, and then a very regal looking much older faerie came through the chamber door.

"He's awake!" J'red was almost bouncing.

"Yes, I can see that," said the older man with the hint of a laugh.

"Jens'n of Ackl's Clan, this is my father, Ga'len of Pad'leck'i Clan, King of the Fae."

Jens'n was at once struck speechless and completely mortified. He was sent with ominous news of the utmost importance, was stupid enough to allow himself to be attacked, and now he was meeting the King while lying in bed! He bowed his head as low as he could manage, completely humiliated that he was unable to bow in a manner befitting meeting the king. "I'm so sorry, sir. I'm humbled to be in your presence. It's a great honor to meet you."

"Goddess, man, you'll do yourself an injury if you keep bending your neck like that. Please, there is no need for that here. You are a guest in my home, and you were attacked on my protected land. It is I who should apologize to you."

At that Jens'n's head snapped up, unable to believe what he was hearing.

"I hope it goes someway toward making up for it that it was my youngest son who came to your rescue. His mother and I are very proud. His quick action saved you from possibly losing your arm. It looks like all that training did somehow penetrate his incredibly thick head."

"Faaaather!" J'red whined from beside him. "Stop embarrassing me."

"Oh, I fear you usually do a good enough job of that on your own, son." The king winked at Jens'n, who began to think he was actually still unconscious and having some weird fever dream. "Now, if you feel up to it, do you mind if we ask a few questions?"

"Yes, I mean no, Sire, I don't mind at all. But first I have news of utmost urgency. I was on my way to speak to you when I was attacked."

The king motioned for J'red to bring him a chair, and J'red pulled one for his father and one for himself to the side of the bed. The king sat and motioned for Jens'n to continue.

"My father is chief of the Ackl's Clan. We sometimes assist the people of the village of Fairwater. One of our clan overheard a group of humans talking. A member of the group had just been to the Northern lands to deliver grain, and he spoke of much talk that is being generated from just outside the citadel walls. A new king was crowned this six moons past as I'm sure you are aware."

The King nodded and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees.

"There is talk that the new king is planning a large scale attack against the Southlands. He is said to be incredibly vicious, ruthless, and single minded. He has been having meetings with various tribe leader over this past moon." He swallowed audibly. As if the news he was delivering wasn't bad enough, it wasn't nearly as terrifying as the next part. "The city people are discussing the king's sanity. They say he is obsessed with an old legend that few from the North had heard and even fewer believed. They say he is fixated on the legend of The Sacred Tree and what he called the Lake of Immortality, and that he will stop at nothing to prove their existence and to wrest control of them. My father feels we may be on the brink of another great war."

At the mention of the Tree, J'red pulled in a shocked breath and his father paled. They had heard the new King of the North was vicious and many said he was also as mad as a wounded snake to go along with it. The existence of the Lake and Tree had never really been acknowledged outside of the Fae realm for thousands of cycles, except for once, almost 2,500 cycles ago, a faerie by the name of Zach'riah became angry when his affections toward the eldest daughter of the then king were not returned, and he was ejected from the Protectors because he was deemed lazy and unworthy. In his bitterness, he was the only faerie ever known to have broken the sacred code and told their secret to all and sundry. Thankfully, due to the fact that Zach'riah's had developed a fondness for ale, which is quite toxic to faeries, and is known to cause erratic behaviour, most creatures dismissed his words as the ramblings of poison induced madness. Most, but not all. And a myth was born.

This was a very grave situation indeed. The king may have been able to pass this off as idle chatter among an unhappy realm, but after J'red discovering that Jens'n was one of the prophesied pair, he was certain that this was no mere gossip.

Part Two

June 2016

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