Eversby was different to all the other kingdoms that Mary had visited. Each kingdom had had a lavish palace, a series of houses, all surrounded by a pleasing ample of nature. Eversby seemed under-developed and barren in comparison.
The weather was searing hot. Mary squinted and raised her hand to her forehead as the midday sun hurt her eyes. She shrugged off the cloak she was wearing and put it around her head so that it could be guarded from the sun's powerful rays. The company had left the ships at the harbour and had progressed to continue the journey on foot - led by Owayn's party.
The land reminded Mary of Syria. Mariqah had taken Mary to Syria on occasion, to meet and negotiate things with old friends. Mary knew it wasn't terrain or weather that Mariqah had enjoyed.
Being accustomed to Normandy and Britain, Mariqah was acclimatised to unpredictable but usually wet or cold weather. The land she had loved and lived upon was hilly, with plenty of shrubs and greenery, and forests were not completely uncommon.
The desert, on the other hand, was the complete opposite - with a consistent searing heat, little chance of rain, scarcity of water and very limited shrubbery. And the never-ending similitude in scenery - sand upon sand upon sand - wasn't exactly splendid. Although Mariqah had spent a substantial (and perhaps stoical) amount of time in the desert, she had never learned to love it.
But, over the years, Mariqah had travelled with Mary to a number of different places and, although Mary's tastes were similar to her deceased carer's, the desert was not something she could not handle. Mary was grateful for the experience now, though she may have complained and questioned its importance at a previous time. She found herself thinking more of such instances, now that things had to be handled on her own. Mary had never been ungrateful for Mariqah's presence, but she couldn't say that she had never begrudged the woman for some of the things she had done.
As with the Earth-realm deserts, a number of tan-coloured tent-like structures were set around Eversby. Livestock roamed around freely, grazing on whatever small patches of dry grasses they could find, while the people went about their work - taking almost no notice of the strangers. Owayn waived everyone past the guards - who wore yellow livery, accented with red - and led them to a slightly larger tent. Those who could fit went in, while the others stood impatiently outside in the unforgiving sunlight.
Within the tent, elf-children chased a small dog around the feet of a large, bearded man. He wore a simple kilt-like cloth around his waist, held up by a thick belt on which hung a large, hilt-bejewelled sword. He wore an animal-skin over his shoulders and stood as the company entered. As they did so, a woman also emerged from behind a partition. She was debatably the most beautiful woman Mary had ever set eyes on. Her countenance was pale - much opposed to the solid tan of the man - and she had blue marks under her eyes and upon her brow. Her hair was exceedingly black, held up by an intricate golden band. She wore a dark, one-piece ensemble, held at the waist by a gold belt on which hung a simpler sword than that of the man's.
Ead, who stood at the front of the company, inclined his head and said, “Lord Ragnarr, Lady Etain.”
“You have travelled far,” said Lord Ragnarr, “Please, rest. Those of you who are needed here, stay. Those of you who come only in companionship, explore my lands and find some means of comfort. You are granted my protection and that of my wife,” Ragnarr regarded Owayn as some of the former inhabitants of the Guild dispersed, “You may leave, Owayn. Call for some food and water for our guests.”
“As you wish, my lord,” Owayn bowed and removed himself.
Ead beckoned Mary next to him, Tostig following closely behind her and they took their seats.
Lady Etain looked at the people before her. Pirate Captain Ethelbald of Ery, Gwyn the Witch of Greenloch, Ead the Thief of Skye, Tostig the Assassin of Skye, and a human girl she did not recognise.
“Where is Mariqah?” Lady Etain asked Ead.
“Dead. Murdered,” Ead replied bitterly.
Both the Lord and Lady of Eversby raised their brows, before looking at each other.
“Under what circumstances?” asked Lord Ragnarr.
Lady Etain looked far more distraught, “Mariqah is dead?” she almost mumbled, her face stunned.
Mary took another moment to wonder at her aunt's reach, her impact. Mariqah hadn't died quietly, it seems she hadn't quite lived quietly either.
“It is a matter we have come to discuss with you,” said Ead, as servants came in and set down food and water before them all, “but we bring a representative, her adoptive niece: Mary FeCamp,” he gestured to Mary.
Lady Etain regarded Mary, the marks on her face glowing, “A pleasure to have met the heir of the mercenary that saved the life of my child.”
Mary wanted to say that it was a pleasure meeting the Lord and Lady of Eversby, but it wasn't an honest sentiment, so she said nothing. Honestly, Mary felt awkward and homesick. And sad. Oh, so very, very sad.
“Continue, Thief of Skye,” said Lord Ragnarr, “What is your decision concerning our offer? And what is the story concerning Mariqah's death?”
Ead began telling Mariqah's story from where he understood it to have begun - when she was kidnapped by Tostig under the influence of the Witch-Queen of Skye. He narrated the tale from then until the point where Mariqah had gone after the Witch-Queen during the siege on Skye, which had caused her demise.
All the while, the Lady of Eversby kept her gaze on Mary.
“And so,” Ead concluded, “we seek to concede the Guild to Eversbian rule and accept your Pardon; that, in return, we might receive your aid in overthrowing the Witch-Queen. We would be grateful of your support.”
“Is this all?” asked Lord Ragnarr.
Captain Ethelbald spoke up, “The mercenary made mention o' the possibility that Britney FeCamp might try t'lead the elvish back into the Earth-realm.”
There was a pause before Lady Etain said to Mary, “Do they speak true, child?”
Mary nodded. There wasn't anything more to say.
“And,” continued the Lady, “do you truly seek to see the Witch-Queen - who the Thief of Skye has detailed to be your mother - put down?”
Mary's eyes pricked with tears. Her mouth trembled and she looked up at the glowing face of Lady Etain, “Britney FeCamp killed Aunt Mariqah. The woman who never loved me murdered the only woman who did. I have never taken pleasure in ending a life, because I was taught that life is precious - no matter how corrupt. But because of what Britney FeCamp has done, Britney FeCamp must die. It doesn't matter that I am her daughter - she never saw me as such, but Aunt Mariqah did.”
The glowing stopped, and Mary collapsed onto someone's lap, breathing heavily, her body shaking.
“Peace, peace,” whispered a withered, but honeyed voice, “Be calm, Mary.”
“Gwyn...” Mary realised.
Lady Etain straightened and said to her husband, “The girl has spoken true. This must be discussed. We must send word to Aesc at the In-Betweener, Ragnarr. The humans cannot afford to be dominated by elves.”
Lord Ragnarr nodded, “Indeed,” he cleared his throat and then said, “You are my guests until I and the Lady come to a decision. Please make yourselves as comfortable as possible and do not hesitate to ask for service.”
There was silent assent before everyone rose. Tostig and Gwyn helped Mary to her feet.
“What... what did she do to me?” Mary asked.
“It is said,” Gwyn smiled, “that the Lady of Eversby can make one give-up their inner-most feelings; simply on a look, a sentence, a question. Until today, I had believed it to be a myth.”