Tea with the Baroness – September 3rd, 488

Emmeline was brought out to the Baroness’ stables by one of the house servants, one of the guards and with their ladies in waiting, Lady Ana of Derrienport (Rivanon’s second cousin by Lord Arles), Lady Melisende de Tierney (Rivanon’s cousin by her aunt Lady Delphine de Tierney, recently arrived from Adera), Lady Amelie de Gamache, and Mademoiselle Mirel De Garin. A litter with two servant awaited Emmeline. They all went into the garden field and set down a picnic. After some small talk and gossip, the Baroness asked, “My Lady de Cerisey, you had wanted to talk. What would you like to discuss?”

“Ah! I had hoped for a chance to explain why I was gone so long,” Emmeline said. “Unless you already know?”

“Ladies, give us a moment,” Rivanon said. Then picked up and along with the others gave Rivanon and Emmeline privacy. “Please, go on.”

Emmeline explained the situation with the sea hag and the damage it had wrought, as well as the immense effort done for Kalista in terms of her testing by Revan and its decision to recommend the visit. She told Rivanon this was one place even Jocelyn and her child could be safe from bounty hunters.

“We have since dealt with that sea hag. But travel remains as perilous to me and to Typhon as ever. After I give birth my intention is to shore up my defenses at the Vale and then confront and tear down anything remaining that threatens all I hold dear. Part of doing that means I’ll need to visit the city of the elves.”

“It does sound difficult. It is my duty to remind you that as a condition of allowing settlement of outsiders at the Vale is that they come to the defense of Uzec if it is attacked. That extends to the whole of Northmarch as well. Without that guarantee, father will be placed in a difficult position with the Duke,” she responded. “That said the new warden of the Lower Calder valley is Sir David d’Arrisey and it is his patrols that could help you. The duties work both ways. I would reach out to him to keep an eye out for strangers in and around Cerisey and the east.”

After a sip of tea she added, “but you were saying something about an elven city. I’ve heard legends and many names for it since I was a child.”

“Unfortunately, my lady, not one single soul has expressed interest in settling in the vale or anywhere here.” Em looked glum. “Nor do I expect any will be interested from the elven city.” She sighed. “The defense of the vale and my holdings is on me, so that means I just have to get stronger and bolster my allies. Like you.

“Your father is far more successful in that area. He told me there may well be a lot of refugees looking to resettle and he want them in the Calder valley.”

Rivannon replied, “Well, the Vale is quite small. It could perhaps support a few families, but not entire villages. That said, Cerisey could support more folks of the settling or farming variety. There are a couple of abandoned manors nearby that could house knights to support you. And the forest to the east upon the mountains could support woodsmen, or maybe even elves. As per my father’s orders, no one can settle in the Cairn Lands north of you.”

She added, “my only reservation is the people here are very paranoid right now. There is every reason to believe the goblins will be back this winter. It is only a matter of when. Strangers could be welcomed or reviled. It is a question of circumstances. What refugees did father say he was sending?”

“I thought he was speaking of Malith refugees. I have reason to believe that someone seized power in Malith and is simply slaughtering or driving out all those who opposed him. They are stuck in a pretty bad situation and that can make them desperate. I think the Margrave believes that if they had a way out of their situation, they would be a good people.
“But really, it could be any refugees anywhere. They are people that have lost their homes and have no clear way to get food or shelter. It will make any people desperate and dangerous when you consider whole families that can’t provide for themselves are being turned away by people who have room under their roofs and food in their pantries.”

Emmeline smiled. “And yes, I believe his intention is to settle people in the Calder valley. But I agree my lands could serve as home to many more people. I just don’t have them yet. My lands can be harsh and there are surely easier places to live. But I’m working on that, improving the health of all the crops, and there is a stronger, cleaner, and more bountiful water source for people now. I’ve improved Cerisey’s public facilities and have in place a way to build on that going forward. I’m hoping it will be an attractive place for people to live.”

Rivanon nodded, “The key is not the people. It is the second leader. You see, you need a first leader, a knight, priest, merchant, gentleman, who you can inspire others to join him, be they freeholders or no. But the second leader you get is the one who is key. That second leader joining the first in settling builds momentum.”

Em chuckled, “I already have someone who is my second for the village and surrounding alods, and another person for the Vale. I haven’t any use for more. Even if I did, I don’t understand why any of the people you mention would lower their station socially or financially to my level for any reason. How would that work?”

“Lower? My dear Em, you are the mistress of a Baron. A recognized mistress who has the Margrave’s ear, who is known as a hero in the valley, who is respected as a mage, and is the close confidant of the Baroness. I’m sure you can in time find people who seek your favor. But note, only I can grant fiefs near yours, but you can recruit to the village for certain.”

Emmeline looked thoughtful. “I haven’t spent enough time in Uzec. Despite my best intentions, I’ve been away far too often. I suppose the good news in that area is that I simply won’t be running all over half the periphery for a while.” She smiled. Em imagined Roland wouldn’t hesitate to have her locked up until she gave birth if he thought she might do something so foolish.

“Since this year is going to be hard, with a harvest coming in and a shortage of strong young men to help, the least I can do is organize some little bright spot at the end of the day for people to look forward to. What that should be I don’t know yet.” Emmeline thought about that for a moment, but nothing immediately sprung to mind. She shook her head and continued.

“I also want to volunteer whatever aid to you I can provide, beyond just my baronial obligations because, whatever my current condition, it will never stop me from being able to lend magical assistance, advice, or even just a social advantage for those you feel might need the help.” Em knew Rivannon’s social skills to be formidable, but a baroness could not hold the hands of those under her, rhetorically speaking.

“Well, I could use you in a different role. More formalized. Elemix is my father’s wizard. I can get his advice and value it, but in the long run he is beholden to father and I am beholden to my father’s agreements, at least until he returns. So, that said, would you be mine? Elemix is caring about the Upper Valley and the goblin threat. I need someone close to the land to advise me in Uzec proper and represent me to the people when I cannot.”

Emmeline smiled. “I’d be honored, my lady. So long as your father approves, of course. I consider my magical skills to be humble but you know I love to interact with people. Does this mean you expect to be away from Uzec?”

“From time to time I will be in Derrien, but for the most part I will be here. Father originally wanted me to take Calder Keep, but after the battle and after much talk with great-uncle the Duke we concluded that Father, as the March Lord, should command the outlying district, while I work on the older areas. In the mean time I will hold both, with Axiney as my lieutenant up north. In the mean time I intend on spending most of my time traveling all around Uzec and the North, from village to village, and getting to know my people, as you showed me. Now, I won’t be singing too much, but it is good for the people to meet me. I’m afraid most know me as either one of the heroes of this winter, or the ruthless kinslayer of the Summer Tournament of 477.”

“That’s a good move on your part,” Emmeline agreed. “It won’t always be easy to win die-hards who tend to wallow in drama and tragedy, but you are well equipped to handle them.” She smiled. “Part of me very much would like to go with you on that. But alas. Until I deal with my own challenges, it is not safe for anyone to travel with me. For this reason, I’ll be taking Kalista with me whenever I can. When I can’t, I’ll likely either return to the Vale where I know I can be well defended and hidden, or fortified in Uzec castle or my home… if my home is ready for occupation, and assuming Renee will be available soon.”

“Do you need more scouts or guards near the Vale,” she asked.

“I’m of two minds on that. I feel vulnerable there. But at the same time drawing more attention to the Vale will not aid its hidden nature. But on the other hand, I have no defenders of Cerisey and if anyone is looking for me, I’m sure they would try to find me there. And I do intend to go home. I do not want the people of Cerisey to feel I don’t care or am never available to them.”

She replied, “You do have duty to your people. But you should spend more time. On the Vale, I’m afraid most everyone in Uzek knows something is going on in the Cairns, something dangerous. The lightning storm this winter, the rumors of hags, the rumors of druids, your association with Cerisey, all of it has created rumors. We know for certain one hag found it. We know for certain the Wizard’s Guild, or at least certain members of the Guild know of the Vale’s existence, if not its exact location. Every person in Cerisey knows you and Riok go up into the mountains. Some know which path your take. Others know of Zoe when she comes down to the village and the fact she is a healer and midwife is no secret. When Silverleaf was there it was quieter. Now my outriders say that strangers come over the Eastpass and through the high forest routinely. The same half-dozen people, one of which was spotted in eastern Derrien as well. The Vale is on the edge of being an open secret. Any tracker who is worth their salt could find it.”

Emmeline rubbed her face and looked stressed out. “Zoe is personally very strong when in the Vale itself and I have confidence she can defend it against unannounced or hostile visitors up to and including something on the level of a night hag on a giant wyvern. I’d rather not tip that hand to anyone else, my lady. It’s all I’ve got. And besides, that strength is restricted to the Vale alone. Knowing this, what do you recommend?”

“No offense to you and yours, but I don’t know if I trust this Zoe or her friends. They have avoided any reach-out by the Aarithines to coordinate helping the villagers in the area and avoid our patrols. It has me concerned. Also, now there is a magical power that none of us controls here in Uzec. That lack of control bugs me my friend.” she said.

“Many magical powers are under no one’s control, actually,” Emmeline pointed out. “Consider the sorcery and priestly magic users that led the goblins as well as all that and more magical powers from roving mercenary bands, bandits, and rogue adventurers. All of which my friends and I have engaged and defeated on our own behalf as well as on behalf of Uzec. So, this is not unusual. But in the case of Zoe, much of her power is tied to the vale. Others you mention have always been here. Only now, at my urging, do they help the people and avoid conflict with Aarithines. If you wish to meet with them yourself to determine their status as ally or enemy, I can make certain they know this,” Emmeline offered.

Rivanon nodded, “Yes. That would be ideal. Silverleaf was a rogue and unpredictable scoundrel when I was a child. My father couldn’t stand people like him. But once he went to the Mother Tree he became a new person and father at your urging chose to trust him, and Silverleaf in turn offered his fealty to help Uzec when we are in need. I need the same guarantee from Zoe. The Vale and the valley south of there is yours by Father’s fiat. I honor that, but either Zoe must honor what you and Silverleaf agreed to with my father, or she must depart. That means bending a knee.”

She added, “The little I know of druids of old is that they never bent their knee. And so far she has ignored my messages. I understand that perhaps she is waiting to speak to you first and is of course reluctant to go far given the delicateness of the Vale. I understand that. So I am willing to go part way to the village. She must come to me there. Perhaps later I will visit the Vale.”

Emmeline nodded. “Your father said the same. He’d left it to me to ensure the same conditions were in place, but I will ensure Zoe understands you need to speak with her directly. She already understands the importance of the Vale and that it does not exist without Uzec’s protection. Therefore I don’t anticipate this becoming an issue. She is also my midwife, so please be assured I will be speaking to her about this soon. When would be most convenient for you to make the trip to Cerisey?”

“In the next week. I will be having Elemix, Typhon, a squad to troops and a cadre of workers go north to set up a more permanent outpost. While they are away, I should have time to join you. So, let’s say I would arrive on the 10th and you head out earlier to prepare?”

Emmeline nodded. “Done, my lady.”

“Another thing to ask. Father told me of a strange woman who wanders these parts for the last couple years. Her name is Morgan. She appeared here again in June briefly and reports came in that she or someone like her has been seen at the far end of Mirrorlac near the ruins of Azenkhuul. Given the strife other strangers have caused, should I be concerned?”

“I think you should be. Not necessarily about Morgan, but rather why Morgan is here. I have spoken to her on at least one occasion and she made it clear to me that she is drawn to events of “historical” importance. Meaning, when she appears, there may be good reason to believe something important will happen soon.” Emmeline went a bit further to say, “So it would pay to be vigilant, my lady. Especially in the areas that woman appears near.”

“Hmm. So she is a portent of things to come? We should probably question her.” Rivanon said. “Azenkuul is an empty ruin of jumbled hallways, crushed chambers, and the den of monsters if you go deep enough. It was ransacked by Eteria long ago and hundreds of adventurers, looters, and graverobbers have stripped it bare, or died trying. Why would she be interested in an empty ruin? Even the dwarves don’t want it anymore. Most dwarves, that is.”

“I really haven’t any idea. I can only suggest that sometimes a critical point of history has little to do with what thing is where, but rather who comes and goes in a place. For example a meeting of powerful people, a wheat field that becomes instead a field of battle, a humble hideout that saves the life of a hero. I would not be surprised if Morgan herself didn’t really know but only somehow gained the impression something important was to occur in a place. I don’t know how this works with her.”

“So, I need your advice here. Do we question her and her motives or not?” Rivanon asked.

“At first I was very concerned. I was suspicious she was someone attempting to influence events that she supposedly had arrived to witness. However, I’ve never been able to find any evidence of maliciousness or attempting to overtly influence events. Even so, I would counsel caution when it comes to Morgan. She seems to hold many secrets, and may wield unknown magics, though she has never tipped her hand as to what, if any she does wield. I find it unlikely in the extreme that she is anything short of very capable of protecting herself.

“To me, she is like one of those black river-birds. Curious about what goes around them and always watching, but not a threat unless directly aroused. I believe Typhon and Elemix may have more positive things to say about her. I remain cautious and I think you should, too.”

Rivanon nodded, “We’ll keep an eye out, but be cautious. The problem is that no one can track her. She arrives and then she is gone. The few townsfolk who interact with her are three shop clerks, one innkeeper and his staff, and the three of you. Does she have an interest in you three?”

Emmeline said, “Not us three at the moment. I believe she has an interest in Typhon, though. Because of what she might do.”

Rivanon replied, “The whole dwarf vengeance, dragon flute, brother vengeance thing?”

“I’m not sure, but I think it might have more to do with what Typhon does with her brother. He is a growing power in the north and his influence is wide. Or maybe it’s all of this combined. I don’t really know. I only know she has never had much interest in me, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.”

“Very well,” she said. “we will be vigilant. Now on to a couple questions on your two ladies. I saw Amelie briefly this morning. At least I think it was Amelie. She seems to have taken on a touch of Thalassan fashion and sophistication. Your doing?”

“I made a friend over there named Trieza D’Este. Although Amelie and she aren’t close as far as I know, there may have been some influence. Amelie was alone in Thalassa for far too long since I couldn’t take her with me to visit the elves.”

“Trieza? You do know she is my second cousin? My mother’s cousin’s girl. She’s the yin to my yang, part of her father’s new family now I suppose until she escapes. Her mother lived with my uncle Rhiva and his family at the family estate. You and I went there shortly after we first me when I had fencing practice with my Savonian teacher. Trieza’s more akin to your grandmother than my mother – or her mother for that matter.” Rivanon said with a smile. “Can’t imagine the adventures those two had. Amelie is likely quite the sophisticate now!”

She paused pensively and then added, “Em, I thought she had a thing for Elemix? She told me awhile ago that they were an ‘item’. Kept my distance from that, but still, I think she really liked him.”

“As far as I know that hasn’t changed. But I haven’t seen Elemix in months, the same as Amelie,” Emmeline said. “On a personal level, I like Trieza very much. Not only has she taste, but she is an excellent actor. Once she decides what she wants, I believe she will attain it. And for now that appears to be an old friend of Elemix’s and mine, Brennic. The same young wizard that was up here over the summer.”

Emmeline smiled. “It also means, as a side note, that Trieza is no longer hotly pursuing Elemix, leaving things more open for Amelie — in case El might have second thoughts.” She chuckled as she added, “I really am watching El’s back as best I can, even if I’m not there in person. I think he and Amelie would make a good match.”

Rivanon mused, “And here I thought he was hotly pursuing me! I’m just kidding. Or hotly pursuing Giselle Alix-Aubrey. I thought those two would hit it off amazingly. Both are adventurers, both are committed to the Guild, both are strikingly self-assured with an underlying sense of duty. This is no criticism of Amelie. I mean, she was a childhood friend of mine, and I once knew her well. But she’ll want to start a home and have babies. I just don’t think Elemix is the settle-down type. But I could be wrong. And I could be wrong about Amelie. She had her betrothed die last year. Amelie does have another year of mourning before she should marry, but one can court until then. No rule against that. But since she’s been with you I wager she’s changed a bit, and Trieza likely had an influence.”

“That’s possible. I did try to keep her well away from danger. And near as I can tell, apart from the extraordinarily uncomfortable trip in livestock crates for the trip home, it was a positive experience.”

Rivanon replied, “What?”

“I will do whatever is necessary to protect…” She made a point of rubbing her belly. “It was necessary in order to be hidden from the horrors that would have pursued me over the sea.”

“I suppose I’d be the same way some day. But my friend, I’d get the Navy! And maybe when that day comes I will be able to do that for you and me.” she replied. “Your child is my brother and shares my blood. Once that child is born, we are family.” she added.

Emmeline smiled and nodded. “One day soon I will deal with that which pursues me. But not until I give birth. Not until I know everything is safe will I take the risk.”

“We’ll do what we can. I still offer you guards if you wish. While I hear that Renee has taken ship for Breven, I am less comfortable with you just being protected by your Kalista. I think it is fair that I should be concerned. That said, you must make the decisions you wish. If I was my father, I would simply confine you to the North Tower until the baby came. But of course, I’m not my father. But he would never forgive me if you were not protected. Name anyone you wish. Anyone at all. And I will have them at your side. I insist.” Rivanon said.

“I’m happy to accept the guards. Thank you my lady. As my time draws closer, I’ll also like to have my midwife nearby so I’ll probably retreat to the Vale at that time. I feel safest there and at my strongest with Zoe and Kalista nearby. Well, at least in my mind I am,” Emmeline said. “Until then, I do agree I’ll need help until Renee arrives. In addition to my ladies in waiting of course.”

Emmeline thought about it. “I don’t know who to ask for. I don’t really know who or what I might to defend myself from, except in vague terms. And a curious development seems to have surfaced. On my way home to Uzec, Elemix contacted me and informed me that Tyanites may be about, intent on protecting the Vale or some such. I have not asked for, nor want any attention from those bloodthirsty, murdering criminals. Somehow I don’t think I get a choice in that. But if they are about, maybe that narrows down who to ask for to guard me?”

“We need to get Renee up here. Problem is Typhon Né also wants her time. Renee is quite the prodigy and knows the area well. Oh. You probably don’t know. I’ve named the Sister as the First Ranger for the Upper Calder valley and made her a citizen of Uzec. She and Elemix are leaving to establish a more permanent outpost and I’m planning to have her report to Lord Axiney. She has agreed. Given her background, I’m granting her several rooms and an apartment in Calder Keep, plus covering her daily expenses. That said, you’ll have two of my personal guard, plus Zoe, Kalista, and eventually Renee. I would feel much more comfortable if you stayed at the Castle until the last possible moment.” she said.

Emmeline blinked, disconcerted. She really relied on Renee and had thought that as a guardian for wizards it wouldn’t be so easy to lose her service in the future. While she worked that out in her mind, she responded to Rivanon’s last remark. “I know, my lady. But it will be that much harder to make it all the way to the Vale if I’m that far away from it.”

“But the Vale has no living quarters save a small hut. You may be able to resist the cold, but the rain and snows will still affect you. You could still catch cold or worse. The others will have to be in tents, etc., and are more vulnerable. If you stay at your manor, can all of them stay there? If the idea is to protect you, and then get you to the Vale to give birth, I’m sure we can make sure that happens to minimize the opening to danger. We’ll get a litter, a wagon, a sleigh, or I’ll ask Typhon to carry you.” Rivanon said.

“We can also do what we can to protect the Vale simultaneously. That said, father has lost two boys. I hate to be self-interested, but for my father’s sake I cannot let that happen again.” she added with deep concern.

“Nor I,” she said. “That’s actually why I want to be at the Vale to deliver. If an enemy is watching, and they always are, they will strike when I am the most vulnerable. That is during or immediately after I give birth. But at the Vale Zoe and Kalista will be at their strongest. Then when I have gathered my strength once more, I will return with the Baron’s son.”

She stared into the distance. “There is something you don’t know, River.” She forgot formality for a moment. In her mind they were just two friends again, one she’d trusted with her life and who had trusted her the same way. “But Roland does know this. It’s time you do, too. I am having twins. One is Roland’s son. We will name him Henry. The other will be my daughter and she will be named Lara, after my mother. But she must remain at the Vale she will also be Mara reborn. And Mara’s spirit is tied to the tree. If I deny her that connection, I am sure she will become a wonderful human girl. But no more. Perhaps I will fade, too, or perhaps not. But if I instead nurture her connection to the Mother Tree, she will become stronger. Not like she once was. She will be as mortal as all things of this world are. It was her wish.

“Mara has given me the opportunity to help far more people than I ever could have on my own. She’s made Typhon and Jocelyn’s dream come true for them. And her gift to El is the only reason Elemix, Renee and I survived that night attack on the goblin camp and lived to rescue the baron’s party and help save Calder. I was fated to bear your father’s child, but it was again Mara’s gift that has blessed me with twins.

“Mara has left her fate in my hands, knowing that it would by my choice whether she would continue in some form as a dryad, or to become human. She never attempted to sway me one way or another.”

Emmeline looked at Rivannon. “My Lady, I believe my greatest contribution to this world is to preserve the Vale and make it a shining beacon of the very best of humanity and fae alike. To achieve this, I believe I have to let my daughter be with the Mother Tree. I don’t know what will happen or how, but I will do anything to ensure both of my children will not just survive but thrive.”

Rivanon sat in silence for a moment. Slowly she said, “So what you are telling me is that Mara is using you and Father’s child to reenter the world? You don’t see the problem with this?”

Em shook her head. “No. She is that child. In fact, I have reincarnated many times as well. This I know now for a fact. Would you say I use my mother to reenter the world?”

“Of course not. What you are saying is that Henri is a new soul and Lara is an old soul – the spirit called Mara, literally reborn. This… this is too much to handle Emmeline,” the normally calm Rivanon said.

“When you decided to do this, did you consult with anyone whether is was the right thing to do? I’m not questioning whether it is or is not, but did you think about the long-term consequences of doing this? You already have hags after you. You have a dark god or its minions interested in you. The Tyaanites want to ‘help’ you and who knows what form that help will take – I could say the same about your druid friends as I believe they have their own agenda. There is already an Aarithine Inquisitor snooping around and they do not like rivals. And the Guild! Does the Guild know? I bet the birth of what they see as a godling will interest them. They will want to control her or barring that destroy her if they see her as a threat.”

“And what really saddens me is that you knew this the whole time and never bothered to tell me until we were 2 months away from the birth.” she added with a sense of hurt. “I mean, I thought you trusted me. Or is it that Mara doesn’t trust me? She made that very clear, though you, the one time I visited the Vale.”

She was clearly frustrated.

“It is not a matter of trust, but a matter of connection,” Emmeline said in attempt to sooth Rivanon’s feelings. “A connection had to be forged for Silverleaf and then later for Zoe. I was born with it, and Elemix is a blood relation. But not Typhon, and not you. She couldn’t reach you.

“And the decision remains mine. If I keep her with me, then all of this is over. Roland would accept her in an instant, I know it. She would just be a normal little girl. Maybe the Vale’s Mother Tree retains some fraction of her, but probably nothing I can reach or contact. I haven’t been able to, though I still have my powers so perhaps the part of Mara’s soul that is part of the Mother Tree is simply sleeping and cannot become conscious again. Mara left the final decision to me. No strings. No promises. No begging and no manipulation. Maybe she already knew what I would choose, but I didn’t. And don’t yet. I won’t truly know until the day my children are born.

“But I can tell you I have learned a lot since the start of summer. And I’m focused on the long game, my lady.

“I know now that the doors that sealed away the shadow fae have been cracked open and some have escaped into this world. It’s very likely there isn’t a single light fae with the power to turn back what I know will one day come. That may be coming right now while we watch the Periphery consumed with the flames of war. This Vale and the people of Uzec and Calder are going to be a vital beacon of hope. I feel it in my bones. It’s not going to be easy — we have to overcome the pitfalls of human prejudice and expectations.” She was speaking of the druids now, though Rivanon had no way of knowing that apart from the faraway look in Emmeline’s eyes.

Rivanon replied, “I trust your intensions Emmeline. In any event I will have a demigod as a sister. How does one discipline such a child? I guess I would tell you what my Great-Uncle told me. If you cause it, you own it. Meaning this all falls on you. Good or ill my friend, good or ill. But the last thing this Barony needs is strangers – magically powerful strangers – constantly coming in and trying to capture, espy, destroy, or corrupt the Vale, the Tree, and now Lara, Mara, you know. I don’t have enough men to protect everyone. I just don’t.”

Em didn’t know how to take that, so she nodded slowly. “Okay.” She’d have to find somewhere else to go. “I’ll figure it out.”

“That’s why I want you to stay in town as long as possible. When the time comes, I can escort you with a dedicated group, instead of permanently stationing men in Cerisey or the Vale. If the enemy attacks then, they have to fight us all.” She added, “besides if I am to have a new sister and brother, regardless of the circumstances, I’d like to be there. ”

“My lady, I need to visit Cerisey and the Vale. I’ve been away for too long.” Emmeline smiled. “May I do that before you lock me in your father’s tower?”

The idea of trying to make that journey, probably while she was in labor, terrifying. She’d be utterly helpless if trouble came. So. If she could not go to the Vale, then she’d have to bring the Vale to the castle.

Rivanon slightly smiled back, thought for a moment, put down her drink, and replied, “I think it will be save for you to go to Cerisey. I will send the two guards I promised. Then you return where you can be protected – those are my father’s orders and yes, he really did consider locking you up. He loves you, but thinks you are too reckless. He is justifiably concerned given his past two stillbirths. When you are two weeks from giving brith, we can secretly escort you to the Vale if that is your wish. I’m not happy about that, and I’m sure father won’t be either, but especially given what you told me perhaps it is for the best.”

A messager delivered a pair of notes for Rivanon

She paused, read the notes and then said, “Looks like Elemix and Typhon have set up an outpost near Azenkuul. Good.” Emmeline could see there was a touch of new concern on Rivanon’s face – almost undescernable compared to her concern about Emmeline and Mara/Lara/Henri.

“Interesting choice they made, isn’t it? The same place Morgan has taken an interest in.” Emmeline nodded. “As I said. Where Morgan is seen to be lurking, something important will happen.”

“It is the logical choice. An outpost that far out can observe movement from the Garn’s Pass on the north side of the mountain. There is no report that they encountered her, just a few wildmen bandits. No casualties,” she said. “But,” she said while looking at the other piece of paper, “I don’t want to frighten you, but you should know that besides this Morgan woman, a pair of strangers were sighted by a woodsman up by that old Eterian Hate shrine – the one you found last year on the far side of the Cairn Lands over the Eastern Spur. The forester said that they were two older men who simply ‘melted into the air’ and disappeared.”

“Perhaps you should go now to Cerisey and conduct your business while we follow up with this? It could be nothing. You know how the locals easily get spooked given last year’s attacks.” Rivanon said.

Emmeline nodded. “I will do that and return as you say, my lady.”

Rivanon stood up and gave her a hug. She said, “Off with you then my friend, you have been gone from for far too long and sooner you visit the Vale the sooner we can continue our conversations, and perhaps play some music together, perhaps even in disguise for one of the villages.” She added, “I have to think further on the news you gave me. It is equally beautiful and troubling. But I will try to look at all aspects. If you learn more, please let me know to help me settle my mind.”

Emmeline nodded and smiled. “I will. I mean to try to learn more. I need to in order to make the right choices.”

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