“Should you be drinking like that at your age, Elutheria?”
“It’s a little late to play Daddy now.” I turned to look up at Prince Auren and swore inwardly. I had heard there was a strong resemblance, but to see him with the same blue eyes and auburn hair, even the same nose, was a surprise to me. The only real differences were in my arched eyebrows and slightly pointed ears, an inheritance from my Elven mother.
“I’ll have what she’s having,” Auren said as he joined me at the bar. “Why didn’t you come to the embassy?”
“Because I had no interest in seeing you.”
“That’s blunt enough,” he laughed.
“I find it’s easier to cut straight to the point. What do you want?”
“I thought I should meet my daughter before she leaves to battle Trolls.”
“No, really, why are you here?”
“Aureliane won’t speak to me until I’ve at least attempted to reconcile with you.”
“We’ve never had a relationship, so there’s nothing to reconcile.”
“I tried that argument, but she insisted that you not only needed a father, but that I should acknowledge you.”
“Maybe when I was younger, but not so much anymore. You must either really love her or need her support at Court.”
“A bit of both, to be honest,” he chuckled. “What about you?”
“No. Since the accusations and trial, I’ve avoided that sort of thing.”
“Father almost disbanded the Order in Enlen and banished any of the nobles involved. Fortunately Lia stopped him.”
“No wonder Praetor Winterfury is so concerned about bringing me back into the fold. There’s always something political.”
“Aren’t you a little young to be this cynical?”
“Consider my parents.”
Auren laughed, “Point taken. Will you at least allow me to make amends? Come back to Enlen with me and join your family.”
“I’m committed to Brellen for the foreseeable future. As you know, I leave in the morning with the Ninth Legion and the local chapter house.”
He nodded, “Yes, the trolls. We’ve been having a few problems with them as well.”
“Brellen has had peaceful trade with the Dra’a for generations until recently.”
“Listen, the offer stands. When this mission is over I want you to come to Enlen and meet your family.”
“What about the High Priestess?”
He reached into his cloak and pulled out a travel-stained letter. “I’ll let her tell you in her own words.” Auren drained his cup, “I’m expected at the castle. Aelwere is an old friend. Stay safe, Elutheria.” He kissed me on the forehead.
“May the Mother’s Light shine on you,” I replied quietly as I stared at the letter. “Thanks, Bir.” I fished a few coins from a pouch on my belt to pay for the drinks.
“Are you all right, Lou?”
“Yeah, it’s just been a really weird night, Bir. Good night.”
“Sleep well, lass, and be careful out there.”
Not paying attention to where I was going, I headed for the door and bumped into someone.
“Easy, there, sweetheart.” An arm caught me before I fell.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention,” I looked up into a smiling, handsome face with a pair of aqua eyes.
“No harm done! Can I buy you a drink?”
“I’d like to, but I’m leaving in the morning and I have to prepare.”
“That’s a shame. I hope we bump into each other again some other time.”
“Have a safe journey.” He still held onto me.
“May the Mother guide you.” I couldn’t tear myself away. I’d never believed in love at first sight, but something about the handsome stranger made my heart beat faster.
“Are you sure I can’t buy you that drink?”
“I really have to go.”
“At least tell me your name.”
“Lou. You can usually reach me through the Mercenary’s Guild.”
“You’re a mercenary?” His eyes widened in surprise.
I laughed, “Yeah.”
“Hurry up, Tailen!” A group of men shouted to the man holding me.
“Lieutenant Tailen?” I asked.
“Yes. Have we met?”
“We will in the morning. I’m Elutheria, but my friends call me Lou. My friends and I will be joining you.”
“I’ve never been happier to go on a mission. I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
“In the morning.” I smiled as he released me. Maybe this assignment won’t be so bad, I thought as I went next door to the guild hall.
“Hey, Theran. I’ll be heading out on a job in the morning.”
The lean Elf pulled out a ledger. “Which one?”
“Assignment from the king to combat trolls in the south with the Ninth and the Order.”
“Any changes to next of kin or other instructions?”
“Um,” I thought about the letter in my pocket. “Yeah, actually. Send everything to Auren Dodlean of Enlen. Any money gets divided between the Temple of Iphesta and Miss M’Veren’s Orphanage.”
Theran made the entry in his ledger. “Do you authorize a withdrawal for dues and your room fees when or if they come due?”
He added the note. “Sign or make your mark.”
I signed my name, “Thanks, Theran. I’ll leave my key in the usual place in the morning.”
“Be safe, Lou.”
Nodding I went upstairs to my room. With a measure of relief I closed the door and sighed. “First things first,” I said as I put the High Priestess Aureliane’s letter on my desk.
I went through my pack, taking only what was necessary and locking the rest in my trunk. I also took the time to inspect my armor and sharpen my sword. Only when everything was ready to go did I sit down and open the letter.
Dear Sister Elutheria,
First I would like to offer you a long overdue welcome to the family. King Henrik and myself have both followed your career with interest. We are both very proud of all that you’ve accomplished and are eager to bring you home where you belong, though I would understand any hesitancy on your part.
I truly harbor no anger or ill-will toward you. I would never hold the child accountable for the actions of the parents. There’s also the manner in which you’ve acquitted yourself, making your own life based in the very principles that I, myself, hold dear.
Now to important matters: right of succession. With the official acknowledgement of both King Henrik and Crown Prince Auren, you are third in line for the throne until such time as Auren and I have children. Regardless, I want you to consider yourself part of our family. Our children will be your brothers and sisters. I know it’s too late for me to ever be a mother to you, but I would like to be your friend. As we are also cousins, I hope it’s not out of the question. We will respect whatever choice you make.
May Iphesta bless you,
I reread the letter several times before carefully considering my reply.
To Her Highness, Princess Aureliane, High Priestess of Iphesta at Lester, Enlen:
Thank you for your letter and kind words. I must confess that I was very surprised to see His Royal Highness. I never expected to be acknowledged and I’m still uncertain how to react or feel.
As to the right of succession: I would never presume such a thing. I’m sure there are others more capable than I.
His Royal Highness also expressed a desire for my return to Enlen. For the foreseeable future I am committed to a mission for King Aelwere in the south. The Troll menace is spreading and I am pledged to Brellen’s defense. Perhaps when my service is over I will have the leisure and opportunity for a visit.
Until then, May the Mother guide your way.
I read over the letter, sealed it, and went to bed. However instead of sleeping, I found myself staring at the ceiling.
“Oh, Mother,” I sighed, “what’s happening?”
Let’s just say that Auren has experienced his own mortality.
“I’m sure the High Priestess’ influence didn’t hurt anything.”
She was angry with him for how he’s treated you.
“It might’ve been nice to have her for a mother.”
She’s still family and she’s opened her heart to you.
“And I’m honored. I know she has no ulterior motive, but what of Henrik and Auren? The same cannot be said for them. What do they want from me?”
Now is not the time to worry about that, child, now is the time for sleep. Dawn is but a few hours away.
“You’re right, of course.” Rolling over onto my side I curled up and closed my eyes.