Chapter the Fourteenth
Derryn looked out the porthole of the ship's cabin: dark, except for the starlight that reflected off of the sea's gentle waves. The swordsman sighed contentedly as he gently rocked Linnatiel in his arms. They were both in the sleeping cot of the cabin, a wide, amazingly soft hammock with equally warm covers. The elf Princess was snuggled comfortably against him, still in the clothes she wore during the day.
She was exhausted, and Derryn could understand why: she spent almost the entire day talking to all the Elves, and getting caught up on what had happened in the past several weeks. It was also the first time in a long while that Linnatiel had spoken Elven.
Earlier in the day, as Derryn watched her converse with the Elves, he noticed how she reminded him of the Linnatiel in Elithanor. The first time they had seen each other, Linnatiel held the blade of Derryn's own sword against his throat. Linnatiel, the Princess, the heir, the protector of her people. The swordsman pointed out the similarity to the elf, and she simply responded by kissing him on the cheek, saying, "You know I'd never act that cold towards you, Derryn."
With Linnatiel, Derryn was never sure. For the time being, she was content. It was when she was angry that Derryn had to tread softly. "Fickle Princess," the swordsman whispered softly, stroking her hair. Linnatiel had changed him so much, and caring for her was the best he could do to repay her. Derryn ran a finger along the lobe of her long, pointed ear. Funny, he thought, how such a simple thing could set the two lovers so far apart.
Earlier in the day, Linnatiel told the Elves about her feelings for Derryn. Predictably enough, she got a mixed reaction from them; one soldier on the deck even went so far as to draw his sword at Derryn, who responded in kind. The entire crew began to argue as Derryn faced down his challenger. The elf was agile in his pacing, but Derryn knew he was the better. They never had the chance to fight, as Fintaal broke up the commotion. "He is casin'nath!" The Waymaster hissed at the young soldier. "There will be a time to ask questions, but we are above this!"
"But Master," the soldier protested fervently, "A Rythian—!"
"Derryn is as noble as any of us, even more so," Fintaal said calmly. "If I ever hear talk like that from you again, I will personally demerit you. Understand?" The soldier sheathed his sword and lowered his head.
"Yes, Master," he said, then turned and walked away from the deck. Fintaal turned to Derryn, who still stood in a side stance, gripping his sword with his rear hand.
"There will be no more threats," the Waymaster said, laying a hand on Derryn's shoulder. "Put away your weapon, it gleams so!" Fintaal chuckled before continuing. "I must speak to you later. Expect a visit later..."
The cabin door knocked softly. Derryn was in a difficult position to get up, so he called out, "Come in." The door opened, and Fintaal strode in. He was an elf of great bearing, every bit the chivalrous knight and mentor. The Waymaster stopped at seeing Linnatiel sleeping in Derryn's arms, then sighed and quietly pulled up a chair to the hammock.
"She insisted," Derryn said softly. "She said she didn't like sleeping alone on sea voyages." Fintaal nodded.
"The Princess is afraid of oceans and seas," he explained. "One of the few things she is afraid of."
"Are you sure we should be talking? We might wake her up."
"It is all right. Your concern is not needed; after all that has happened today, she will be in a deep sleep. Her breaths are long and deep." Fintaal reached out and touched Linnatiel's cheek, then looked up at Derryn. "I am glad she is not hurt." The warrior elf briefly narrowed his eyes. "She HASN'T been hurt, has she?"
"Of course not!" Derryn said, glaring back. "I would never hurt Linn. Never." He gave Linnatiel a squeeze, and the elf Princess mumbled something and nuzzled her face into his shoulder. "The thought of her hurt makes me sick."
Fintaal leaned back in his chair and ran a gloved hand along the elegant scabbard of his sword. "I see. There is no doubt, then. My faith in choosing you as a casin'nath has been renewed. I am relieved. You are a good person, Derryn."
"Why did Master Sinvrael choose me? Why was I so important?"
"Desperation, child. The wind that was Wynell was beginning to stir, and even with so many able guardians, he and I both feared for Linnatiel's well-being. Sinvrael realized that outside of Vellucyn, Linnatiel would be powerless, so we needed—she needed—a protector from Ryth. You were the most obvious choice; Linnatiel was not scared of you, and you were both children. But...I did not know the bond between the Princess and her guardian would become...something more."
"I did not foresee it, either," Derryn said. "Perhaps Linn did. She was always a step ahead...it's just that...we became more than friends. My need to protect her was more than for a friend. She became my life, gave it purpose. A long time ago, I wanted freedom. I yearned for something then, but I didn't know what. I hate to sound cliché, but I think I found it. I found her."
"I am glad you two are happy," Fintaal said, "I want nothing more than for the Princess to be safe and well. Tell me, Derryn, did she say anything...odd to you lately? Perhaps something in Elven?" Derryn was puzzled for a moment, then remembered the words Linnatiel had said to him in Inah, remembered the fire in her eyes when she professed her love for him on the ship's deck.
"I...I don't know if I should say, for her sake," Derryn said softly. The Waymaster leaned in closer.
"Nothing will happen to either of you," he said. "I just want to know. I give you my word as a Waymaster that I will tell no one. I must continue to keep Linnatiel safe, now that she is back with us. It is a task I have not been able to fulfill for a long time." Derryn nodded slowly.
"She said..." He looked down at the sleeping elf in his arms. She didn't stir from her slumber. "She said... hathein...ushalla...litania ellai." Fintaal nodded.
"I see," he said. "It is that strong. Not much can be done."
"What does it mean?"
"It means that Linnatiel will freely give her mind, body and soul to you, should you ask for it. It is the equivalent to one of your marriage vows, Derryn." The swordsman's eyes widened. Fintaal rose from his seat. "Excuse me if you will, noble casin'nath. I must plan for the days ahead. Good night." The Waymaster swept his cloak around himself and strode out of the cabin, closing the door behind him.
"Waste," he cursed softly. "I didn't know her feelings were...I mean, marriage...Waste..." He hugged Linnatiel tight. "I'd never ask for any of that, Linn," he whispered in her ear. "You know that."
"But I love you, Derryn," Linnatiel murmured. The swordsman was surprised a second time.
"Hmm?" The elf slowly opened her eyes and peered up at him, an overwhelmingly innocent expression on her face.
"You were awake all this time?!"
"Well, not awake," Linnatiel said matter-of-factly. "Maybe resting my eyes?" Derryn shook his head.
"Always one step ahead," he sighed. Linnatiel laughed.
"Master Fintaal approves of you. Waymaster Sinvrael may adopt you as his apprentice sooner than you think."
"You're...not mad at me, are you?" Derryn asked nervously.
"Why would I ever be mad at you, casin'nath?"
"For telling Fintaal what you said. I thought...it should have been kept between us." Another sweet laugh answered his awkward reply.
"You would have had to be told what those words meant, sooner or later," Linnatiel said. "And now that you do?"
"Now...I don't know, Linn. I have feelings for you, I really do...but I don't think I feel as strongly as you do, yet. I don't know how to reply to your words." Linnatiel pulled the covers over the both of them, and kissed Derryn on the cheek before snuggling against his chest.
"I am sorry if I confused you," she said quietly. "I will wait until you are certain. I will wait until you feel as strongly as I do. I am truly tired now, Derryn. Let's leave this until another time."
"Alright, Linn. But I just wanted you to know that—" Derryn stopped himself when he realized that Linnatiel had fallen asleep again. The elf's slow, deep breathing was enough to convince Derryn that she was really asleep this time. He hugged her protectively, closing his eyes. "— I care about you," the swordsman finished, sighing.
For a good part of the morning, Derryn wandered through the many rooms of the Elven ship; at least, those that were accessible to him. The hallways were well furnished, with red velvet carpets lining the floors and exquisitely wrought lamps set into the walls. He encountered a great many Elven lords and ladies, each overbearing in their grace, stature and raiment. They all seemed to be dressed in green, white and colours of fire. The Elven lords wore light armour and war gear under their robes, a sword strapped on each's waist or back. The younger Elven ladies bedecked themselves in blindingly dazzling jewelry, and wore dresses with bodices cut low enough to make Derryn flush whenever he saw them. The older women were dressed considerably more conservatively, although no less wondrously. The elaborate elegance of Elven garment was unmatched in Derryn's eyes. He made sure to bow deeply whenever such a member of nobility passed him in the hallways of the ship. He must have been a humble sight: a Rythian barely out of his teens, dressed like a commoner and bandaged like an infirmary patient.
It was a while before Derryn found a library on the sea craft, which was an odd thing no doubt, but the swordsman had grown accustomed to such things. As he stepped in, he smelled the incense burning in the different corners of the room, which was as large as a suite. Soft, cushioned and immensely appealing couches were the only pieces of furniture in the room. Bookcases filled with tomes of indecipherable writing lined the walls of the library. It seemed to be made for travellers who wanted to rest for the day.
Derryn flopped into one of the couches, sighing deeply with relief. He could barely tolerate the presence of the Elven nobles. He seemed to be in a completely alien world, where all the inhabitants looked down on him. "Waste," he muttered.
"Sana shilai?" a high, sweet voice asked. Derryn jumped out of his seat and looked around wildly. An Elven woman suddenly emerged from behind one of the bookcases. She was one of the younger nobles, possibly around Linnatiel's age (but matters of that sort were never certain). She wore a light blue dress with a snug bodice, and every movement she made caused a light chiming sound from her jewelry. Her hair, which was worn up, was blonde with a tint of auburn. Curly, reddish locks framed her smooth cheeks. Dark blue eyes stared inquisitively at Derryn. The swordsman gulped hard.
"Gah! I mean-I'm sorry...I...uhh..." Derryn's cheeks burned hotly. "I'm Derryn. Derryn Drakelight." He stuck out his hand.
The woman coyly pressed a finger to the side of her lips, as if in thought. "Derryn kal-na? Hatheila sal-tan sitai." Derryn nervously scratched the back of his neck as the Elven woman took his hand and curtsied gracefully, smiling. "Ullein tharsein?" she asked.
"I can't understand you," Derryn said, shaking his head.
"Ullein tharsein?" the woman persisted. Derryn shrugged. The elf moved closer to him, smiling and placing her hands on his shoulders. The swordsman could smell her intoxicating perfume. If he was clueless before, he was mind-boggled now.
"What are you doing?" Derryn asked. The woman pressed herself against him and tilted her chin upwards, closing her eyes. "Hey! Wait a minute! You're going a little too fast here!"
"There you are, Derryn," Linnatiel said, appearing in the doorway of the library. "I've been looking all over for—" Her eyes widened at the spectacle, then narrowed in chagrin. She crossed her arms menacingly. Derryn's eyes nearly bulged out of his skull.
"It's not what it looks like, Linn!" He protested, waving his arms frantically. He tried to pull himself away from the Elven lady and ended up tripping, sending himself sprawling across the floor. The woman giggled to herself.
"I see you have met Lady Kaila," Linnatiel said, staring down at Derryn. She glanced at the other elf. "Say hello, Kaila."
"Hello!" The woman called Kaila said cheerily, coyly clasping her hands behind her back. "Nice to meet you."
Derryn was about to go insane. He picked himself up off the ground and clutched his head with both hands. "What in the Waste is going on here?! First, all she does is speak Elven, then she comes onto me, then..."
"I told you I would try, Linnatiel," Kaila said with a mischievous grin.
"I didn't think you had the guts for it, Kaila," Linnatiel replied smoothly. Kaila cocked her head to one side and smiled.
"It seems we both had something new to learn today," she said. "I am rested now, so I must go about my business." Kaila curtsied to Linnatiel. "Until next time, Princess." She winked at Derryn. "Farewell, Derryn." The swordsman gaped as the ravishing elf slipped out of the room. Linnatiel turned her venomous gaze on him. Derryn backed away, shaking his head.
"I didn't do anything, Linn! It was all her fault!" The Elven Princess uncrossed her arms and sighed, tucking a lock of golden hair behind a pointed ear.
"It's all right, Derryn, I know," she said, sitting down on a nearby couch. Derryn stood there, feeling like an idiot.
"Yes. Lady Kaila is an especially devious girl. She was waiting for you."
Derryn scratched his head. "I'm...not sure I understand."
Linnatiel rested her hands in her lap. "Kaila and I are childhood friends, and rivals at the same time. A long time ago, we made a contest of who would be the first to find a husband." The elf's cheeks reddened slightly. "When word of you spread across the ship, I guessed Kaila would come and try to seduce you. It's a hobby to her, in a way. I should have warned you beforehand. It would have made your stay a little less painful." Derryn quickly shook his head at the remark. He stood before Linnatiel and lowered himself to his knees.
"I must admit that being surrounded by Elves, royal Elves no less, has been a struggle for me," he said, "but it is not something I don't want. If I ever want to go back to Vellucyn, I will have to learn to adapt to your ways. I will feel welcome in due time." Derryn took Linnatiel's hand and clasped it in both of his own. "Don't ever think I don't want to be with you. Anything is worth being with you. Even if I'm clueless, or a klutz, or banged up like a training dummy, I'm your clueless, clumsy, banged up training dummy." Derryn looked down, abashed. "And...I hope you'll win Kaila's contest."
Linnatiel's eyes widened, brightened by the red in her cheeks. "Do...you mean that, Derryn?"
"I...don't know...I guess it's too early right now. But...if you win, I just want it to be me who's helping you." Linnatiel drew Derryn close to her, stroking his hair and holding him tight.
"I want it to be you, too," she whispered in his ear.
-Wednesday, May 29, 2002