The Front Gates of Angabar, Alfheim
Alva cradled Steinar's head in her lap; his eyes looking to the heavens, closed though they were. Tears fell ever so gracefully down onto his profile, they glistened in the dying embers of their fight. Demons were ebbing away with the tide of defeat swiftly moving behind them. All those that had been in close proximity to Steinar had turned to ash - Alva had never thought his magic could be so very powerful. Having obliterated over half of the opposing force, he had saved them all from certain death. The lordling sighed, making Alva worry the tiniest bit more, and shuffled around - repositioning his body. "Alva," Steinar whispered as his head turned sideways, as if wanting to look at her, as if knowing she was there.
Alva breathed in sharply. Her tears flowed a little more heavily towards the ground. It was all that she had to prevent herself from crying out. Her name came again, "Alva!" Ragnar's voice snapped at her. He was standing over them, those eyes darkened by the shadowing of his face from the dying light. Set in a grim line was his mouth, his brow was knitted together. What a foolish thing to do - worry about her worrying bout Steinar. And yet, she welcomed it, cherished it. No one had loved her in such a long time, that she was beginning to forget what it felt like.
"He did it for me, didn't he?" at that, her voice wavered and she knew that her strong and stony armour had cracked. "he shouldn't have! He should never have done such a thing! What mad foolishness drove him to-" Ragnar embraced her; another thing that no one, not in a hundred years, had done before. Apart from Steinar. The lordling had smelt of musk and cinnamon spice - Ragnar smelt of blood and metal. Alva remembered when she had first met the Captain of the Fireshields, a distant relative her parents had said, but she knew that he had taken an immediate liking to her. Those feelings of yours never faded, did they Ragnar? I'm sorry, I'm being all to cruel at this moment - but I so desperately need... She was interrupted at the drawing of swords.
Clang, clang, went the blades as they struck each other. Ragnar was on his feet, where Mikken had already prevented two Gaurdsmen from killing Alva. My own men, Alva thought in horror as she watched Ragnar and Mikken defend her from the attackers. My magic causes such madness, Alva knew that. She always refrained from exhausting her energy on it. "Stop this now! As your captain, I order you to-" Mikken had begun the order, however stopped as soon as a Guardsmen threw a spear at him.
"You foolish men, how dare you!" Now Ragnar joined the shouting, "Can't you see? All she was doing was helping Lord Steinar? You must be blind if you see only a demon."
"Fire always wants to burn, to burn means to destroy, and to destroy is only what demons do," a rather tall male Elf spoke up from the left. His white armour was washed all in red from the battle. His cloak torn and ragged. And beneath that helm, Alva had no doubt his eyes were wide with the mad fear of fire. "If she were to live, this-" he implied the whole of their surroundings "-would start all over again! Would you be that selfish?" he shouted at them. Mother, I'm scared, that was what she had said the last time this happened. When her own kind turned against her, for something that had been around for ages and yet, only recently, had they begun to fear it. "You swore to protect this realm, Sir Mikken. And you, Captain Ragnar, this fortress. Yet; you let this female inside our walls and death descend upon us all."
Where's father? She had been only a child, young and innocent at the age of fifty. Alva remembered now, that night... her mother and she waited in the throne room, where her father had left them. Left them to deal with the rioting outside. The commoners were in uproar over being ruled by an Elf with fire magic, while at war with demons who possessed the same tricks. But that next time she had seen her father, was when his head had been chucked at her mother's feet. Alva had frozen to the spot. Watched as the lower Elves had taken her mother, stripped her of the beautiful onyx necklace Alva's lord father had given her mother for their anniversary. The jewellery had been cast aside, as too with her mother's clothes and petticoats. She had been stripped naked and thrown over the walls. And the guards let the commons do such a horrendous thing to her mother. When they had been meant for the protection of her house. House Firefly.
"By the name of my house, and my right by marriage, I order you to bow before your High Lady!" Eerika commanded them from the back of their group. She was composed now, as to before where she had been all tears and hysteria. The Guardsmen, though reluctant, kneeled to her - along with Mikken and Ragnar. "Lady Alva is under my protection - no one will harm her, otherwise it will be counted as high treason and your fate shall be a most unpleasant one." Deepening their bowed heads, Guardsmen, left and right obeyed. Eerika moved listlessly past them, to her guard and the Captain. She whispered in Mikken's ear for a while - most likely to give orders - and then carried on to where Alva supported Steinar.
"My lady, I'm sorry-" Eerika shook her head at Alva's words and smiled kindly. Those blue eyes shone, glistening with tears. Patting her shoulder, Eerika comforted Alva, respecting the fact that she held Steinar, the lady's own son. "I could stand by no longer, I had to do something. Besides - he deserves to know," Alva felt the colour immediately drain from her face, "What I mean to say is - with all due respect - that your son, High Lord Steinar, has the right to know of my true identity. It would be a grievous thing to leave him in the dark for much longer."
"Lady Alva," Eerika spoke, her words soft and polite. Mikken and Ragnar trailed over, waiting just behind where Eerika was kneeling. Her white clothes had stayed clean until now, the light chain mail was dotted here and there with mud, the jacket slashed on one arm and sprayed with blood. "Lady Alva, I believe you have fought well and hard enough, it is past time you rested." Without having realised, Alva was worn-out and weak after the three days of fighting. Mikken took Steinar away from her. Alva wished that she had the strength to protest, nonetheless, could do nothing but sit by. Hauling the lordling over his shoulder, Mikken strode off towards the castle. Eerika kissed Alva's gore-splatted forehead and went away too, not before resting her hand on Ragnar's forearm and nodding, however.
"Lady Alva," always so polite was her Captain Ragnar, "do I have your permission to carry you to your rooms?" In response, she meekly nodded. Taking her up in his wide and muscular arms, Ragnar carried on after their companions into Alva's home.
Her Bloody Home.
Everything was the same in her room. The four-poster bed, with its fire red and black satin covers and drapes. The mahogany vanity table and matching chair. The glass door in the corner, which lead to a closet filled to the brim with beautiful gowns and stylish breeches, or lace nightgowns and light cloth for training. The mirror barrier on the right which lead to a wash room. Never mind the four other rooms - a games room, a small private library, a dining room and a drawing room. "Did you miss it?" Ragnar asked, his warm breath tickling her hair as he spoke.
Too tired to talk, Alva nodded her reply. Knowing that it was misleading, she snuggled closer to Ragnar's chest as he walked through the many doors and plopped her down onto the bed. Feeling so stiff and dirty, as if she had been trapped in a cage for a thousand years, she squirmed slightly. Alva somehow felt free, no more lies on her chest, she could be who she was born to be. Lady Alva Firefly, Ruler of the Southern Quarter, Protector of the Fortress of Angabar and User of the Magic of Fire. Such a horribly long title. Breaking her thoughts was Ragnar, who had been intently staring at her. As if Alva were a freak or some miracle - she supposed she was a bit of both. A miracle to have survived, a freak to have lived.
Pushing herself up, Alva returned the Captain's gaze. Their legs touched slightly as she opened her mouth to speak. "Could you ring a maid for me? I need to wash all of this dirt off." Although she was meant to behave and act like a lady, as was her birthright, she found it awkward and bizarre. Utterly foreign after the century of being a mere captain. "Ragnar, please?" he stepped back immediately, remembering something shocking. Bowing he nodded and moved away to the servant's staircase. Just as his hand touched the exquisitely hidden door, Alva had to ask the question. "What were you thinking of?"
Pausing, Ragnar wondered whether he should tell her or not. A sigh sounded, boots squeaked against the marble floor of black, with accompanying white veins. "I was thinking of how much I missed you - on those first few days I would ride around trying to find you, with no luck. I was thinking of how good it is for you to be back - everyday, since you left, I have dreamed of this moment. However, most of all, I was thinking of how your beauty has grown, how you have stayed the same fierce warrior and of how much I love you, my lady."
Maybe that was what she had been dreading, when her truth would inevitably come to light. Those three words: I love you. "Ragnar..." Alva began, knowing full well that his love could never be returned. Knowing that she would probably have some sort of arranged marriage with a man she would be ever cold to. How cruel could life be?
"I know, my lady, you need not say what you are bound to. I cannot have you, and you will never love me." Ragnar turned back around, to the door and his escape from the stifling hot room. "Just know, that whatever you ask of me, I shall do. If it were for me to gain the favour of a suitor for you, to kill the man who has caused you pain or to fall on my sword and die for you - I would do it. And I would do it with all the love I have for you, never forget." With his final word, the door softly shut on her.
And so, Alva waited, waited for the maid to come with hot water, waited for her body to be clean... waited for the pain to stop. But mostly, she waited to see Steinar again.
Steam rose off of the water's surface from the bronze tub. It wafted up to the white ceiling, rimmed with gold leaf and tiny ruby gems. In the middle was the bath, two doors in front and behind it. Having the bronze material as the bathtub, they fit in quite nicely - yet were horribly heavy to open. Standing by diligently was the maid, her black knee-length dress, with white cuffs and collar, looking like a dark void in the extravagant room. She waited to see if Alva was okay to be left alone. "If you have other duties to attend to, you may leave." The maid smiled, dimples showing on her rosy cheeks. She curtsied and left through the door in front of Alva.
After a while, night fell, leaving Alva in immersed darkness. Thinking of the candelabra in to the left of her, Alva stretched out an arm and watched as flames slowly flickered into reality and life. She had to let go, otherwise her magic would only feed them beyond her power to contain - and the whole castle would be burnt down. Sinking beneath the water, she cut off the ties and let the candles feed her fires.
The water was murky with rose oils and lavender flowers. Alva's dark hair floated symmetrically around her face. It cascaded across her eyes, blocking the beautiful flames' light from penetrating the water and creating the most amazing colours. Rising up through the external layer of water, Alva knelt in the bathtub. The water only just touched her shoulders, yet covered half the length of her hair. Reluctant to leave the warm water, she lay back down on the metallic bottom.
Footsteps echoed outside the door which led to her room. Alva quickly faced the door, worried who was out there. Plus she was in the state of undress and wouldn't do well in a fight at the moment. Is it one of the Guardsmen? Alva felt her heart rate increase, Have they come to finish the job they didn't get to earlier? The footsteps shuffled closer to the door. Maybe Alva was being paranoid, but really she didn't feel safe anymore. She felt free but not safe. "Alva?" she sighed at Eerika's voice, "Are you in there?"
"Yes, my lady," Alva sunk back down in the bath. Her relaxation time was over, if Lady Eerika needed her she would go. "I shall be there in one moment, my lady." Climbing out of the tub, water splashed around her pale legs as she clutched a red robe between her shaking fingers. Pulling it over herself, Alva concealed her naked form and hurried over to the door. Eerika waited patiently on the other side, her platinum blonde hair half over one shoulder, the rest falling down her back. Wearing a blue knee-length jacket, her eyes were more vibrant than ever, glistening with gleeful sparks.
"Alva, I'm glad you're alright," Eerika smiled that same sad smile she had earlier, "Come, let's get you dressed. You must be freezing; how long have you been in there?" Alva let the High Lady take her, dragging the younger Elf by the hand to the closet which was filled with so many clothes that Alva couldn't recall any of them from the many years gone. Although there may have been one, it had probably faded by now, anyway. "What a dreadful state this is in! Alva, where was you acute attention to cleanliness?"
"I'm fearful to admit I only discovered it a few decades ago." Alva sheepishly half-smiled at Eerika's rather pointed question. The High Lady clucked her tongue and moved forward, further into the small room. Everywhere lay gowns and breeches, with jackets and boot, scarfs and gloves. Picking up at least five gowns, Alva hung them back on the golden pole that stretched across one side of the closet. Eerika followed suit, folding some riding breeches and training clothes, then putting around three pairs of long boots back in the cupboard. When the room was all tidy, Alva turned to her lady, who was handing a night gown to her.
"I think this will keep you warm tonight," It was one of the less provocative ones, all white and flowing to the floor with solid material. No lace, just a gap in the satin held together by silk rope, zig-zagging up and down. Taking off the robe, Eerika helped Alva climb inside the simple night ware. Along with a red floor-length jacket, which was placed over her shoulders, the materials whispered comforting secrets against her pale skin. "You look absolutely stunning - even if it's only for sleeping in." Eerika mumbled into her ear as she studied the reflection of a ghost - Alva's ghost. There, in the silver mirror, was the woman who had died that night one hundred years ago.
Alva turned away, unable to see her former self made anew any longer, she looked to Eerika. This female Elf before her was the only remnant of family that she had, and now they could act like it in public situations. The secrets and lies were all gone, brushed away by the storm that was the battle of yesterday. "I think it is time that I should rest now, my lady. That is, if you do not mind or wish to speak to me." Alva flicked her eyes up to Eerika, black and blue joined together across the frigid air.
"My matters can wait until you are ready," Eerika said softly, as if trying to prevent the waking of some new born babe. Taking hold of Alva's hand once more, she brought the young Elf to her bed. Plummeting down beneath her weight was the mattress and all its covers. Red and black contrasted as Eerika held them up to let her slide in. Once she had settled down beneath the warm satin layers, Alva closed her eyes, wishing for sleep to come. "I'll stay until you are resting, my child." And so she did - though very short it was.
Alva opened her eyes to sunlight, pure and simple streaming right onto her face. Caught up in tousled sheets were her legs as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. The black drapes drifted in the slight breeze of morning. Aftermaths of battle had dispersed within a single night; maybe this realm was becoming whole once more. She so dearly hoped so, as she climbed from her bed and peered out of the glass window. Her bedroom faced the wall on the third floor of the castle. She could see to the almost-end of the Silken Road. But what she loved most was seeing the daily lives of her people inside the fortress' walls.
Men were training in the yard, at least one hundred metres away to the right. The stables housed all of their war horses, all dark black and brown. They whinnied as a stable boy came over with a barrel full of hay - maybe some treats for his favourite beasties. Some kicked at the doors to their stalls, wanting their breakfast. Chuckling, the stable boy dropped some hay down onto the ground inside, which the horses tucked into greedily. Alva smiled delightfully. It was so nice to be home!
A knock came at the door, which Alva rushed to meet. "My lady," it was Ragnar, his sword strapped to his hip, the dark sheath contrasting with his long red jacket. His breeches were white, with dark boots covering them up to the knee. Bowing, Ragnar waited for Alva to say he could rise - which she had clearly forgotten to. "I'm sorry, my lady, I can't stay like that forever," the Captain stated, rising without permission, "The Lady Eerika expected you down in the main hall, an hour ago. She admits, no one was here to wake you, but neither had she expected for my lady to sleep for so long."
Alva immediately felt embarrassed. Of course there would be things she would have to attend to. How could she have ever hoped to just sleep for a whole day? "I'm sorry, I'll get changed into my uniform-" Alva had hurried back into he room and already gotten to the glass door of her closet. To the side of it, on the inside of the small room, was a bell. She pulled the cord for a maid to come and help her change; when Ragnar appeared out the corner of her eye, his back turned to where she stood.
Calling over his shoulder, he reminded her, "Alva, you are no longer the Captain of the Guardsmen but the Lady of the Bloody Fortress and Head of House Firefly. You cannot and must not change into your uniform - you must be in the appropriate manner for the re-introduction to House Elverssen and their accompaniments." He almost turned to face her, but then remembered the servant had come and started to undress her. Silk petticoats were soon on her, with a few other undergarments and finally a white gown that was green at the hems. The servant fastened a brown belt; sturdy and wide in berth, around her waist. Then a cloak draped over her shoulders, cascading down in white and green tones.
When Ragnar saw her, his eyes widened and she knew it was so harsh that she smiled brightly to ask, "What do you think? Am I of approving standards now?" Alva twirled, such a girlish thing to do. Ragnar stayed quiet, his face pale - which she knew only happened when he was annoyed. Stopping and surveying him, Alva adopted her old personality back. She would need it; to rule. "Ragnar...?" her voice sounded like a pin, dropping in the eerie silence.
"I think that you aren't wearing your family's colours at all - this is the place of House Firefly. Smoke and flame. That was what your father always said. Have you been away for that long, my lady?" the despair permeated his voice so gladly, it was heart breaking. Alva opened her mouth to respond, but no words came. "Never mind, " Ragnar shook his head, "We need to go and see Lady Eerika." He grabbed her wrist and pulled Alva out of her rooms and down the hall. Stumbling to keep up, Alva tried to wring her wrist free of his large hand.
"Let go!" she hissed as they past Steinar's door. Halting, Ragnar turned and finally dropped her wrist. Just there, just over there, was her lord. Her young lord who had so desperately protected her. She was just by the door, so close to opening yet so far to seeing him. There was no doubt in her mind that he was still resting. "Is he alright in there? Could you tell me, so that I could come, if anything happened?" Alva glanced down at the gilded handle, then back up to the rearing horse and its flaming mane. Was it so typical that she had chosen her elder brother's rooms for the man she cared for?
"I would obviously do anything you asked of me - have you forgotten already, Alva?" Ragnar took a step closer to her. His dark eyes, the same as hers, so mysterious yet telling her everything at the same time. He always wore his heart on his sleeve, and that was something he had to control. The door opened suddenly, interrupting their thoughts. It was a nurse. She looked between them with an annoyed intent in her eyes. A raised eyebrow and the two knew they were supposed to move on.
"I'm sorry Ragnar," Alva told him as she trailed after the Captain. The Captain of her protectors. Feeling awkward, she carried on for a while in silence. Ragnar, ignoring her apology, did not inquire after the reason why. Almost running down the staircase, they approached the set of double doors with a carven Phoenix. They had been reinforced after the demons had torn them down, now harbouring steel hinges instead of meek iron ones. "Ragnar I'm sorry that I am so cruel."
He looked at her in such horror. Knowing he would never understand, Alva had told him at the precise moment where he would not be able to reply. And that was the most selfish thing she could have done. For not letting him reply at her own fear of what he would say - was that nothing but malice intent? Never mind now, Alva thought as the doors opened out further for her to observe all those who stood in wait. They faced her, and kneeled down to the floor. Ragnar let her go. She was on her own now.
The main hall held all the inhabitants of the fortress. Like all the other rooms, the floor as black marble. The walls held red flags from bronze bars, emblazoned with the crest of Alva's house with silk threads. The walls were whitish-grey, expanding down to the dais where the age-old Firefly throne rested. People lined the surfaces of the room with a humming buzz. All of them wore their finest clothes: silks and satins of many tones and colours, with polished boots and glistening jewellery. Alva could not falter now.
Travelling down the aisle,that was created by a lack of people, Alva kept her eyes trained on Eerika. The High Lady stood on the dais, next to her father's red throne of ruby, and held out a hand for Alva to take as she ascended the set of stairs. Her cloak ran round her as she turned to face her audience. Eerika held Alva's hand aloft in the air, their eyes meeting for a mere second before the High Lady addressed the male and female Elves. "My subjects! This is your Lady Alva of House Firefly. Though you may believe what you will, I can assure you she has been under my protection for the last century and is now ready to take the throne that is her birth right." Many tendrils of mumblings and secrets and rumors travelled around the hall. "Proceeding on," Eerika quietened the room once more, "she will be coroneted in the following week as your liege lady and ruler. There will be no protest - this is my final, official, declaration for my term of rule. As for my other plans, you will have to wait for what I have in store."
With that, the crowd burst into uproar. They would not have someone who they thought a demon as their ruler. Why would they? She had caused enough damage already. Giving her power could only bring more potential for harm. They would never allow this. Ragnar was suddenly at Alva's side. How long had he been standing there and I hadn't noticed? Alva wondered as Eerika lightly touched her arm to follow. Ragnar and her disappeared, following the High Lady into an anti-chamber. However thick the walls were though, they could not quieten the sound of defiance on the outside.
Only now did Alva begin to feel afraid.