Lavina led Sophina to a small village unlike any she had ever seen before. It was quiet and serene yet still very much full of life. She could see children playing older women hanging their clothes to dry, and men hard at work in the field. Sophina imagined a similar thing happened back in Halina but she hadn’t ventured outside of the castle walls enough on her own to tell. “So what do you think?” Lavina asked, leading the girl to a somewhat large building almost near the center of town. Probably not as extravagant as you’re used to but this place is my home.”
“It’s rather lovely,” Sophina said, bowing quickly. A sign of respect after reading “Clan Gray” on the sign post.
Lavina grinned. “I wouldn’t say lovely, but thanks. Come on in. We’ll need to get you some good and a place to sleep.”
“Thank you!” Sophina cried graciously.
“So, is this you starting a new life?” Lavina asked. “Because if so, we could really use a few extra hands around here.”
“I’m not sure, but for as long as I’m here I am happy to help.” Deep down Sophina knew this was all a dream. She wasn’t sleeping but this all seemed so perfect. One day she’d have to go back to her old life as royalty, marry the prince of Auguria and live not so happily ever after.”
“We would really appreciate that,” Lavina said. “Follow me, I want to show you something.”
No one seemed to pay any mind to the two girls who had walked through the compound. It was as if people didn’t want to challenge Lavina. “Are you their leader?” Sophina asked, as she walked up the dusty old staircase. “I mean, the way they look at you gives it away.”
“They call me their matriarch,” Lavina admitted. “For I have vowed to slay Elisha Van Winkle. I cannot back out on my promise now.”
“He really does seem like a nice person.” Sophina stopped talking when she noticed the small attic Lavina had led her to. “Are these my quarters?”
“Too stifling for you, mainlander?” Lavina asked with a smirk.
“No, o course not!” Sophina answered quickly, taking a seat on the cot that had looked as if it had been there for centuries. “Why are there so many books here?”
“In case you get bored?” Lavina asked with a shrug. “You are the first guest I have brought into my home. I hope that you do not make me regret that decision.”
“Of course not,” Sophina answered. “I will work for my keep. This, I swear.”
“Ok, good-” Lavina’s voice was cut short by the sound of someone shuffling up the stairs.
“Timothy?” Lavina asked, crossing her arms over her chest. She scowled at the young boy. “You should be in bed.”
“It is bright out, sister,” He said with a slight smirk. “I’m not tired.”
“Don’t give me that snark now that we have a guest,” Lavina said. She looked at Sophina. “This is my younger brother, Timothy. He is sickly, so he must remain in bed.”
“I am capable of walking up the stairs!” Timothy cried. “I am bored to death sleeping all day. There is no one to talk to and I have nothing but the walls to keep me company. At least the attic has books.”
“Well Sophina is staying here now so you cannot just come up here whenever you please,” Lavina scolded the boy.
“It’s okay if you’d like to come up and read. This is not my house, I have no claim to the rules,” Sophina said quietly. “Don’t stop your routine on my account.”
“But I do have claim to the rules,” Lavina said. “And I would like Timothy to stay in his room. The air up here is much more stuffy. He is going to breathe much better downstairs.”
“Tis’ better to have lived a short life fulfilled than not to have lived a life at all,” Timothy said, raising his finger in the air.
“Tate,” Sophina said in appreciation. “I am a big fan of his work.”
“Are you?” Timothy asked, his eyes brightening. “I love him as well! Maybe we can talk about his poetry when my sister is not being such a…”
“Finish that thought and I am dragging you back to your bedroom,” Lavina said. “You two can chat whenever you want. It will be good for Tim to meet someone of his er, intellectual capacity.”
“You are smart Lavina, but in military strategy and common sense. You have seen more of the world than I could ever dream,” Timothy said. “Which is why I have my books.” He walked to the large pile, picking the one from the very top up. “Lady Sophina, it was a pleasure meeting you. May I trouble you at a later time to pick up another book? I seem to go through these things fast.”
“Of course,” Sophina bowed her head.
“Lady?” Lavina snorted. “Just because she’s a mainlander doesn’t mean we refer to her as such. Here, she is like the rest of us.”
“Yes, just Sophina is fine.” Sophina bit her lip. “Er…what now?”
“Feed the woman,” Timothy told Lavina, poking her arm before grinning playfully at her. “Then would it kill you to sit in my room for more than a few minutes? It is so dreadfully dull in there on my own.”
“Yes little Timmy.” LAvina ruffled his hair. “Worry not, I shall be there.” She mocked his formal tone, but delivered a big grin. “Now please. Go and lie down.”
Lady Bethany stared at her high profile guest with the gaze of a tiger ready to pounce. “It was very nice of you to join us Sir Draknar,” Lady Bethany said with a sly smile. Briella watched in awe, studying the woman’s movements. She was playing the game and well. Briella didn’t think she could pull it off.
“Dragos, please,” The man replied. He leaned forward to get a better look at Briella. “This is not your daughter. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve come on my own then, rather than waste my family’s time.”
“Hold thy tongue,” Lady Bethany said carefully. “Briella may not be my daughter by blood, but she is a daughter of the royal family. We have adopted her.”
“A servant girl,” Dragos said, observing her elf ears. “Now, I didn’t peg you for a woman of charity, my lady.”
“Briella is no servant, are you my sweet?” Lady Bethany asked.
“No,” Briella responded, as they had practiced. Kind, sweet and soft spoken. “I am Lady Briella of Ragnarok. An Elven princess taken in by Lady Bethany’s kindness. She has reformed my primitive ways.” Everything that Lady Bethany had told her to say, she would utter. No matter how insulting they were. She was in no position to argue, when this arrangement could benefit her whole village.
“A true exotic beauty,” Lady Bethany pointed out. “And the only surviving heir to the throne of Halina.”
Dragos placed his drink down firmly on the table, the contents of his glass swishing around. “Has something happened to Lady Sophina?”
“It is terrible!” Lady Bethany wailed, throwing her arms into the air. Briella inched backwards, eyes wide. This wasn’t part of the plan. “She has turned her back on this Kingdom and with a heavy heart her Father has cast her out.”
“That’s unacceptable,” Dragos said. “Why would she do such a thing?”
“She said things I cannot repeat and refused to marry you. She wished ill things on the people of Auguria,” Lady Bethany cried. “Lady Briella is the future of our people now. If you wish to continue our alliance, she is the one you shall be marrying.”
“I am Lady Briella of Halina now,” Briella spoke. “I promise that I will do all in my power to keep both of our best interests at heart.”
“I will speak to my father about this,” Dragos said, sliding his chair backwards and standing up. “Lady Briella.” Dragos bowed. “It was a pleasure meeting a beauty like you.”
She could feel her face heat up. “Likewise.”
“Lady Bethany, thank you for your kindness,” Dragos said. “I shall return, hopefully asking for your daughter’s hand in marriage.” He glanced at Briella, a slight encouraging smile. “Until next time.”
Elisha stretched his legs out on the floor. What a strange day it had been. That human woman was peculiar, no doubt from a neighboring nation with an outfit as pristine as hers. She had dressed as only a sophisticated person attempting an adventure would. And by adventure he had meant a stroll through the forest on the back of a horse. “Elisha.” A pink haired male sat down by the unlit fire, looking affectionately at his dearest friend and confidant. “You’ve had such a rough day you’ve forgotten to light the flames?” He teased. The man snapped his fingers, causing the logs in the fireplace to burst into flames. “It is a shame the people in the lower lands don’t have such a contraption.”
“I’ve tried to share my knowledge and advancements with them time and time again to no avail. Humans do not want our help. Especially no tthe ones in this area,” Elisha said.
“Lavina Gray,” Lucis said, all knowing. “She is still chasing you over a family vendetta? The war is over.”
“To her, it is not. I met a quite peculiar human girl in the forest today. She seemed ignorant to the supernatural but also the world she had found herself in. No doubt someone of noble birth at the very least. I had tried to see why she was wandering out in the open as she was, but our friendly Vampire extermination service appeared with a not so friendly entrance. I had to leave, lest I be at the butt end of her rage once more.”
“You can kill her with a snap of your fingers. She holds no candle to your abilities,” Lucis said, turning his head to get a better look at the all powerful vampire. “Yet, you do not.”
“Violence is never a good option,” Elisha said. “I am trying to bridge our people together, not tear us apart any further.”
“Sir!” A young squire bowed his head quickly, shuffling into the room. The two men looked up at him. “A man wishes to see you. A vampire no one has seen before. He says he is not from the area.”
“Allow him entry,” Elisha said, brow raised. Lucis readied his wand in case it was someone unsavory joining their little party.
The man entered the room with the grace of a commoner, and he dressed like one as well. His arms were well toned as if he had been doing a lot of heavy labor. He was the complete opposite of Elisha’s buttoned up and refined picture of grace. “Sir.” The man bowed his head. “Thank you for allowing me entry into your sanctum.”
“And how did you find us?” Elisha asked, standing and dusting off his dress pants. “Did you sense us?”
“But of course,” The man said. “My name is Altiere Endar and I am a traveller. I travel from place to place, seeing all that the world has to offer.”
“And you’ve found us,” Elisha said.
“I did indeed. I am shocked at the sight before me. Back where I am from, there are very few vampires left. We have been executed first by other supernaturals and then finally by humans. By the time my people saw it was foolish to fight each other, it was too late,” Altiere said.
Elisha bowed his head. “My sympathies.”
“Thank you,” Altiere replied. “It was centuries ago. I am only now healing. I suppose I am wondering if you’ll allow me to stay here. I want to be among people like me. The humans are not so…accepting.” Altiere frowned, lifting his shirt slightly to show a burn mark at the base of his waistband. “They said the next time they saw me, it would be a burning at the stake.”
“My home is open to you,” Elisha said, motioning to the building behind him. “THis is a sanctuary for all. If you harbor resentful feelings towards the humans and wish to harm them, I cannot in good faith allow you to stay here.”
“They burned me,” Altiere said, a tinge of despair in his voice. “Followed me from a market I was refused entry to and burned me with flaming prods…It is hard not harboring resentment.”
“That is understandable,” Elisha responded. “You are allowed to feel the way you do, but I ask that you not reciprocate the hateful action. While it may seem that a majority of the humans you meet are distrusting and not accepting of us, you will see that there are a few who ought not be be lumped in.” Elisha lifted a hand to his heart. “The first step is forgiveness. Forgive those who have hurt you. The next step is to find those who want to help you. Can you do that?”
Altiere nodded. “Yes, it’s my dream to live in a world where all people are tolerant of each other. A place where people are happy. But perhaps it is not the time now.”
“Perhaps not,” Elisha agreed. “That is why they say patience is a virtue. We have the luxury of growing through the ages, while the humans have to worry about passing their hatred down. We will see their mistakes and change.”
“Change,” Altiere muttered. “I’d quite like that.”