The great hall of Wuhnravinwel had a vaulted ceiling and was filled with sunlight from tall slender windows that were flanked by heavy drapes. It filled the entire top level of the keep, and long trestle tables ran the circumference. Braziers marked out a path from the huge double doors. It was petition day, and a line of people waited outside the hall for their turn to walk the path to the Countess on the dais. There were some knights, lesser lords and handful of the household also in the room. Either there to watch or working quietly. Six leanyodi and a handful of men, including the Chief Advisor, Pontikel, who took the time to glare at me when we arrived, were close to hand. We handmaidens all wore matching blue silk and thick kohl on our eyes with a streak of white painted across our cheekbones just beneath our eyes. The Countess’s white streak enveloped her eyes to symbolize the blindness of justice. Her face was not powered to oblivion today, but her lips were again painted dark and her gown was so dark it looked black until the sunlight hit it.
Though the Countess would rule Wuhnravinwel after the marriage, the schedule was packed as if her people never expected to see her again. This wasn’t true, as Ilya Terr of Linden lived only a few day’s ride away, and technically each retained rulership of their own holdings after the marriage. But half the people who entered the hall didn’t have a question or dispute for the Countess to settle, they just came to look at her and offer a gift. They brought whatever they had, and the gifts ranged from flowers or grain, to bolts of cloth or beads, to chickens or even cattle. Some of the people were solemn and funereal, others practically danced with happiness. The end to a blood feud was, I supposed, emotionally very complicated. The Wuhn were largely olive skinned, with black or brown hair, but I noted with some surprise that there were a few who had slightly darker skin and pointed ears that hinted at the blood of the Terrim elves. Had every Wuhn half-elf come to see the Countess off for her wedding?
Galo and I stood behind the Countess as she accepted her gifts and settled the occasional dispute. The other leanyodi inventoried and sent each gift off to appropriate parts of the fortress. Very occasionally the Countess would speak to us or ask our opinion. But mostly, we watched. Pontikel sat beside the Countess, surprising me with his silence throughout most of the proceedings. When he did speak, he was predictably curt, but usually he had an insightful question. Druskin spent most of the morning standing to Galo’s right, taking breaks to prowl around the room and speak to the knights or others of the household.
Lunch was a surprisingly informal affair. Petitioners were shown out for a time, the doors to the hall were closed, and the household gathered at the long tables to eat. The Countess gestured for me to sit across from her, the other leanyodi settled like flocking birds all around us.
“What do you think of all this, Zephra?” asked the Countess, accepting a goblet from a servant.
“I think that your people are very fond of you, Grofnu. And some are frightened by this treaty,” I replied.
The Countess nodded gravely. “They are. We have been spilling blood over the springs for generations. No one knows what it will mean to share them.”
“I didn’t expect to see so many half-elven here.”
Servants settled platters of meat and steaming root vegetables and cabbage on the table. I breathed in the delicious aroma.
Before answering me, the Countess lifted her hands and prayed, “The blessing of Eloi and his servant Tirien, our protector, rest on the food from this land.”
We began to eat. After a moment the Countess said, “There aren’t many. I believe all of them have visited Wuhnravinwel since news of the treaty.”
I supposed it made sense. Elves didn’t live underwater, so they had much more opportunity to mingle with mankind. Most nymphs didn’t live entirely underwater, either, but they didn’t have large kingdoms on land. When I was a child, every one of the cities around Daiesen Bay had nymphs and half-nymphs among its subjects. Elsewhere on land, nymphs had mostly small holdings, hidden enclaves, hard to get-to places…the kingdom Under Daiesen was the largest I knew of, and…well…it was under Daiesen Bay. I studied the Countess, once I might have been in her place. I was surprised at how foreign the idea felt now. Even my sister, who had once been engaged to a prince, before our lives were upended, had married for love in the years since. I ate for a moment, trying to decide how impertinent I could be on my first day.
“I can see the question, Zephra,” said the Countess. “Ask.”
I glanced up at her sharply. It wasn’t that she knew I had questions, she was looking at me, and I felt seen. My own gift of seeing was so small as to be inconsequential most of the time, but the Countess had a stronger gift. Nymphs knew water, elves knew trees, and mankind knew things they should not. I set down my fork. “What is your opinion of the treaty and the marriage?”
“I believe it is a good thing,” replied the Countess without hesitation. “I am tired of shedding blood over water and agree with my King that peace will come through shared blood and shared water.”
“Have you met the Lord of Linden?”
She smiled, her teeth bright white against her dark lips. “I met Lord Ilya Terr during the treaty negotiations.”
One of the leanyodi, Brell, broke in with a grudging tone, “The Lord of Linden is well to look upon, at least.”
Several of the others smiled, but Galo shot Brell a silencing look.
“He carried himself well,” said the Countess, “I think he is good.”
I glanced at the other leanyodi. “I want you to know that I appreciate the honor it is to serve you in this manner, even for a short time.”
“This peace is of the utmost importance,” replied the Countess. She looked at Galo, “To that end, I have asked Galo to show you the letters that were waiting for me when I returned to Wuhnravinwel after the treaty was signed. You will go after the audiences for the day.”
“Very well,” I bowed my head. “I also needed to speak with you about a good time and place, both here and at Gar Morwen where I can meet with Quilleran every day without arousing suspicion. I thought, perhaps, I could be sent to the library every evening?”
“The library?” laughed the Countess, “Every day? I’ll be planning a wedding, not a war.”
“But,” put in Galo, “She doesn’t need to be doing research for you, my lady. She will want to meet as openly as possible with Quilleran to make them less interesting to everyone. Could she be teaching him a language, perhaps?”
“Maybe…” I frowned. “I am not fluent in Terrim.” Since he obviously did not need lessons in Angari.
“Teach him about our customs and genealogies, then,” said the Countess, “Or pretend to,” she added when she saw skepticism in my eyes.
“That would work,” agreed Galo. “The library has histories for each tribe, you will not run out.”
“Then it’s settled,” the Countess lifted her glass, and just like that the conversation was over.
Special thank you to my Patrons, I am so grateful for your support! Thanks for coming on this journey with me.
Share Zare with your friends and we will be a merry company.