Back again, and here we go with the next part of Bound to the Flame.
I was kind of surprised by the response this story has been getting. I started it just for fun. I never really expected people to like it so much. But there we are, we never expect some things that maybe were inevitable in the first place… Iris has been telling me that I am the next Tolkien (hmph! I’m not half the author Tolkien was!), and coruscantbookshelf has been wanting to know more about Rowan, and then there’s Sheikiah, who has been kindly doing artwork for this story (thanks so much, Sheikiah! 🙂 It’s all awesome!!!)
Anyway, a big thank you to everyone for your kind support. I couldn’t have gotten this far without all of you, your notes, criticism, what have you. I hope you enjoy this part! 😀
Bound to the Flame
No sooner had she gone than rowan turned and addressed the seemingly empty room. “Well, that was… interesting,” he laughed merrily. Fortaine materialized from the shadows.
“Indeed,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m amazed that she was able to cross the wards at the border at all…” He pursed his lips. “Perhaps she possesses a latent magical talent?” Rowan shook his head.
“No, she’s no Wielder,” he said. “She doesn’t have the aptitude for spells, merely a mild ability to heighten her senses and a talent for evasion and secrecy. Her mind was not easy to touch, though my intuition was strong about her.” He laughed. “Apparently, even heightened senses were not enough to alert her to our Rangers’ approach.”
“It’s no laughing matter, Rowan,” Fortaine reproved him. “If she can pass the border wards, it’s possible that others could do the same.” Rowan sobered slightly.
“I agree. If you would inform Father, please, I will speak to the Queen.” Fortaine nodded, slowly, aware that this was what had to be done, but still hesitant.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right? I can sense your exhaustion, Rowan.” The younger man nodded, face set.
“I’ll be fine, Fort. This concerns the safety of our people.” Fortaine nodded again and left. Grasping his staff, Rowan struggled to his feet. He limped off to the Council chamber, leaning heavily on the staff, where his mother was in conference with the elders.
Arriving at the council room, Rowan drew in a deep breath and straightened his tunic and cloak. He frowned awkwardly down at his leggings, painfully aware of how informally he was dressed, but there was no time to change now. The Queen must be informed, immediately. Quickly, he grabbed the extra circlet he had hidden behind a statue for ease of speedy formal dress and centered it neatly on his head. One of the two knights on duty outside the Council chambers, Angus of Margrave, coughed, to cover up a small laugh. Rowan smiled wryly back at the man, then, drawing in a deep breath, he nodded to the two honor guards. Working together, the two knights shoved open the doors. Rowan straightened up proudly, attempting to make his leaning on the staff a little less obvious, and walked through.
As a child, he had always found the massive long oaken table in the Council room somewhat intimidating, even when all the Elders were not seated there. Even now, it was hard not to enter without an involuntary shudder. But Rowan controlled his instinctive response and strode confidently forward, though he was forced to lean somewhat on the staff for support. All the Councilors rose in respect, somehow becoming still more intimidating by that small action that should have made them less so. Two young women, the representatives for two of the farthest provinces, and to whom Rowan had never been properly introduced, tittered a little at his casual garb, but otherwise, there was complete, absolute, and awe-inspiring silence. Rowan swallowed a little, bowed in return, and moved to Melilana’s side. “Mother, may I have a word with you in private?” he asked boldly. Melilana stood, pushing her high seat back.
“Of course, Rowan. If you will excuse me, my lords…” She bowed gracefully, and led Rowan out of the room. The doors boomed shut behind them. Melilana gripped Rowan’s arm and led him to a deserted, curtained alcove. She pushed Rowan down into the cushioned seat and drew the heavy curtains shut. Rowan instinctively lowered his hand and a small spark hovered between them, lighting up the dim space. Melilana gripped Rowan’s arms, searching his dark eyes with lighter, tawny gold ones. “Rowan, what is it? Are you unwell?” Her eyes betrayed deep concern. Rowan shook his head, leaning heavily back against the cushion of the seat. Melilana frowned. “Oh, sweetheart. You really shouldn’t be up.”
“I have to be, Mother,” Rowan gasped. “I just received a report from one of our Ranger patrols, and had to question a prisoner. Somehow, she got over the border and through our wards. I think she may have been able to unconsciously enhance her senses and to slip through the protective wards, but she had no aptitude for spells or conscious magic use. I sensed her intentions; she had no idea that she had, in fact, crossed our border, and she was only curious about us in the first place. She had no ulterior motive, so I ordered that she be returned to the border of Arethwyne and there be set at liberty.” He turned large, dark, troubled eyes to face the queen. “Have I made an error in judgement, Mother?” he asked, mistaking her contemplative silence for disapproval. It was sad, Melilana thought. He was painfully insecure, self-distrusting. She sighed.
“Why are you asking me, Rowan? You are old enough to be entrusted with the care of the kingdom, by our laws, and you are in command of our border patrols. You are old enough to make your own decisions, I think.” Rowan gave a low sigh. Melilana smiled. “I trust you to keep our kingdom safe, Rowan,” she said, sitting down next to him. “Who was it who made it over the border?”
“The princess of Arethwyne,” Rowan replied.
“I can see why it was a good idea to have her released,” Melilana said gravely. “We don’t want war, and according to our Rangers outside Ertraia, the other kingdoms’ mood is ready to take any excuse to attack us.” Rowan sighed.
“But about the borders, Mother… what is to be done?”
“I understand your concerns, Rowan. The weakening of the border wards would seem to point to a gathering darkness… from the inside.” She took a deep breath. “I understand that you managed to force mytar into the visible realm.” Rowan hesitated for a moment, then nodded.
“It seemed as if it was thick… and still gathering. What are we going to do about this mysterious threat?”
“I will have to discuss it with your father and my advisors,” Melilana said. “It seems that, despite our precautions, we still have not managed to entirely protect Ertraia. We may or may not call on you to give a detailed description of both events, what you saw and did. But I promise, Rowan, if the Council and my advisors do not agree with me that this is, in fact, a very serious and weighty matter, we will investigate it on our own account.” She smiled, a little self-consciously. “In the meanwhile, Rowan, please, just rest. We still have the Kingdoms’ Accord to deal with in a few weeks, and we’ll have to travel to the Cremlegged for it… This is the first time we’ll meet formally with representatives of the other kingdoms since I was a child. That alone should tell you just how important this is.” Rowan nodded, slowly. “And for goodness’ sake, please stop hanging your circlet on St. Brigid’s cloak folds. You won’t be able to get away with that when you’re king.” Rowan grinned mischievously.
“When I’m king, I don’t plan on wearing one at all, except when absolutely necessary, and in the case of a threat to national security they’ll just have to excuse me.” Melilana laughed as she hugged him, pressing his face into her dress.
“Silly boy.” she said fondly. “You’re just like your father.” Rowan smiled sadly, choking back a sob, hurriedly composing himself again. Melilana could see the incipient self-deprecation behind the swift, mercuric movement of his normally stoic temperament. She cupped his face in her hands. “Have I told you yet today how much I love you?” she murmured. “I probably don’t tell you nearly often enough.” Wordlessly, Rowan clung to her, and she clung to him. He, the son, needed her desperately; she, the mother, needed him, in ways both the same and different. Melilana sighed and held him closer. Some days, you just needed family to get you through.
Thoughts? Criticism? As always, it’s very welcome. 🙂 Thanks for reading, and God Bless!