Wanderlust

Chapter the Fifth

David Lee

Blackrazor@rogers.com

"Hey!" Derryn yelped as he jumped out of the way of a small explosion of white light at his feet. It made a paff and scattered multicoloured sparks in every direction. Linnatiel laughed lightheartedly as she concentrated, forming another ball of white light in her hands, then sent it streaking towards Derryn. It moved faster than the last one; he had to roll out of the away to keep the...thing...from hitting him. They were in a large room with a flat, smooth floor and mirrored walls. Several other apprentices were in the room, practising casting strands of magic. Derryn had spent the last two days staying close to Linnatiel, talking to her and keeping company whenever he could. The elf certainly brightened at his presence, seeming both happy and relieved, as if his sudden appearances were something she had been waiting for.

Every so often, arcs of blue and green lashed out through the air, the mirror images creating dozens of magic strands. It thoroughly unnerved Derryn. Linnatiel, clad in a thick, gray robe, her long hair tied back in a ponytail, was practising as well. And using Derryn, who dodged helplessly at the other end of the room, as a moving target. "This isnít funny anymore, Linn!"

"Donít be silly, Derryn!" She called from her end of the practice room. "Itís only light; they wonít hurt." The elf was making rapid progress in her studies; it was only a matter of days before she advanced to the next level. Linnatiel laughed triumphantly as a light ball finally hit Derryn; sparkling droplets of red and purple splashed across his forearm as he gaped in horror.

"Get it off me! Get it off me!" He cried, frantically flailing his arms as some of the sparkles glittered to the floor, winking out of sight, while others clung to his sleeve. Linnatiel walked over to him and calmly brushed the sparkles away. His eyes grew even larger as he examined the ease in which she did so. The other apprentices had left the practice room, having enough for one session. The swordsman let out a sigh of relief. "Whew, that was a close one," Derryn breathed, twisting his good arm to make sure there were no sparkles left. His other was out of the sling, but it would still be a matter of days before he could wield a sword with confidence again.

"You were always so silly," Linnatiel said, smiling and clasping her hands together. "Thank you for helping me out today." Derryn waved a gloved hand in dismissal.

"Eh, it was nothing," he grinned. "Besides, what else am I gonna do around here? All of the...ahem...old ones are too busy for anything, Shusa rarely speaks, and Tareth is too busy devouring the Sanctuaryís supply of meat."

"I want to show you something, Derryn," Linnatiel said. She raised her hands to the ceiling, and closed her eyes. The swordsman scratched his head, puzzled, then gaped as thin, green strands of magic flew out of her hands and seeped into the corners of the ceiling. With a great rumble, the ceiling itself shifted, then slid away, revealing a massive skylight.

The sky outside the Sanctuary was a rich, deep blue, except now, several pinpoints of stars glittered. Soft, white snow fell gently onto the glass of the skylight, melting away. Linnatiel opened her eyes, and looked up. "Isnít it beautiful?" she breathed. Her eyes twinkled like the stars above.

"It sure is something, Linn," he said. After a moment, he turned to the elf. "Linn, Iím going away soon."

She looked at him and nodded sadly. "I know," she said quietly. "I donít know why, but I know." For a moment there was silence. "Iím going to miss you around here," she said again. "Youíve always been there for me..." Linnatiel reached out and took Derrynís hand, staring at it. She spoke without raising her head. "I thought we could stay together a little while longer. It takes some time to catch up on ten yearsí worth of missed friendshipó"

"How old are you, Linn?" Derryn asked abruptly in a conversational tone. Linnatiel let go of his hand and planted hers on her hips, glaring at him.

"What?!" She exclaimed. "Did you ever learn any manners?! You never ask a girl what her age is!"

"Weeelll," Derryn started, scratching the back of his head, "I wouldnít call you a girl, if I remember elf ages correctly..." This enraged Linnatiel even more. Practically snarling, she gave Derryn a great shove. Caught off-guard, the swordsman tumbled to the ground. He lay there, sprawled face up on the smooth floor. He didnít move.

"Derryn?" Linnatiel said, clasping her hands to her mouth and peering over him. "Are you okay, Derryn?" Derryn suddenly began to chuckle, then laugh out loud. He clutched his sides and rolled on the floor, laughing. Linnatiel was more worried than angry now. "Whatís so funny?" she asked, annoyed. Derryn paused to sit up and catch his breath, and looked up at her.

"I was just thinking about...how defensive you are...about your age," he said, chuckling. "Even though itís natural for you. Youíre so cute when youíre angry, Linn." A wide smile grew on his face. Linnatiel looked at Derryn for a moment, then knelt beside him. She threw herself against him, twining her arms around his neck.

"Iím twenty, you big fool," she laughed against his shoulder.

"What?!" It was Derrynís turn to be baffled, both by her hug and her answer. "Thatís it?" Linnatiel snuggled against his chest.

"Is there something wrong with that?" she asked, staring up into his face. The light from the stars overhead shone in her green eyes. He was surprisingly content with the feeling of the elf in his arms, the warmth of her body. Derryn felt as if he would ache if she ever left his embrace; silently cursing himself, he put the foolish notion out of his head.

"No," he replied, meeting her gaze, "thereís nothing wrong with that at all. Itís just that...it feels like weíve known each other for much longer. I wish I didnít have to go," he admitted. Linnatiel shook her head, gripping his hand.

"Then donít," she urged. "Stay here. Stay with me." The intensity of her voice startled Derryn, but the look in his eyes was sorrowful.

"I canít. I have to go, and so does Tareth. Itís the wanderlust, the longing for traveling until weíve seen every nook and cranny in the world. Or until we die trying."

" ĎFialain ynala telthanen enshai lanailí," Linnatiel quoted in the elven tongue, somewhat sadly. " ĎStrength to defenders unborn, searching for the darkness unseení." Derryn looked startled.

"Youíve heard of this before?" he asked. The elf sat up with a sigh, her legs draped across his lap, her head resting on his shoulder.

"You have no one to fight, Derryn Drakelight," she said. "You will search the world for evil until you find it. You have no choice; itís in your veins. It has been an obscure elven prophecy, but it comes with good and bad omens. The bad omen is that there is evil coming. The good news is that we already have our hero to fight it." Linnatiel said the last words with a smile touching the corners of her lips.

"But Iím no hero," Derryn protested. "And I donít want to fight any evil; Iíve had a lifetimeís worth of Nightcloaks. I just want to protectó" He cut himself off when he saw the elfís amused look. "Why didnít Velena say anything about this?"

"Because she doesnít know about the prophecy, Derryn," Linnatiel said, almost matter-of-factly, toying absently with his shirt collar. "It is an Elven prophecy, and we like to keep to ourselves."

"Iíve noticed." Linnatiel looked up and smiled at Derryn. "And it seems thereís a lot about you elves that I couldnít even begin to guess about."

"Half the fun of being with Ďyou humansí is just watching you," the elf returned, her eyes bright with laughter. "I could just watch you forever, and never be bored."

"Half of the trouble of being with elves is puzzling out their every move," Derryn retorted with a casual smirk. "The other half...is wondering how anything could be as pretty." He found himself blushing as the words left his mouth. Waste! Where in the bloody Waste did THAT come from? Linnatiel laughed to herself and hugged the swordsman tight.

"Not bad for your first piece of romanticism," she giggled. "Though a Princess should receive better." Derryn gaped, his face flushing.

"Of all the nerve, Linn! The last thing I would have expected from you was a haughty noble-born quip!"

"You know I didnít mean that, Derryn." The elf looked at him, innocently wide-eyed. "Iím not that kind of person. At least, not to you." The swordsman resigned with a sigh of contentment when someone coughed awkwardly at the entrance to the room. Nadia stood at the doorway, observing Derryn and Linnatiel with a wide grin, who were both shocked.

"It would please us if in an hour, you would join us in the Ďcommon roomí, as Waymaster Rathos calls it," she said. "A parting feast is being held for the Lord Drakelight,óno, not you!óDerryn, and the Northerner." With a quick step, the amused apprentice disappeared from the doorway.

"I could use some food," Derryn grinned happily, swinging his legs out from under Linnatiel, then taking her hands and helping her to her feet. "In the meantime, Iíll think of some flowery poetry to sweep you off your feet with." Linnatiel laughed at his comment, linking her arm in his.

"Polite and charming," she mused. "Maybe you are more the knight than you seem."

**

Nadia Fathara stood in the middle of the immensely tall and large feasting chamber, and observed the chaos about her. She wore a green skirt and a white blouse, with a sash of embroidered gold over black draped over one shoulder. That was the mageís dress outfit; for a female apprentice of the green rank, at least. Her red hair, hanging just above her shoulders, was neatly parted from her face, and framed her oval-ish face.

There were two great fireplaces at either end of the chamber, not yet lit. The walls that stretched almost endlessly into the dark ceiling were decorated with murals and tapestries. Several coats-of-arms hung above the hearths, with pairs of swords crossed behind them. Large, well-furnished round tables were spread across the area of the chamber.

Work hands of the kitchen were scrambling about, preparing hurriedly for the parting feast of Lord Adakran Drakelight, and to a lesser extent, Derryn Drakelight. Nadia simply could not imagine the scale of such a gathering; there were so many faces of nobility and stature to be here. Lord Drakelight was a name everyone knew; as a leader of the Templar, a general and a hero in every right. Waymaster Rathos was seldom seen by many people at once, so his being here was a cause for occasion. Mistress Velena, the head of the Northern Sanctuary, perhaps held the most prestige of them all. Nadia had only seen her once in all the time she had been here; the Mistress was short, but held an air of grace and stature that overshadowed the tallest knight. And Linnatiel, the Elven Princess-Heir who was taking refuge in the Sanctuary, and apparently had the potential to weave magic.

The apprentice shook her head when she thought her elf friend as a Princess. Linnatiel didnít seem like one to Nadia; she seemed too...girlish when they were together. Nevertheless, the elf was an honest and trustworthy friend, not at all what Nadia expected. But there would be enough happening tonight for her to ponder. The mages and apprentices, numbering almost a hundred, were to attend.

A hand suddenly clapped on Nadiaís shoulder; she jumped and whirled around to peer up at a tall, young man in a red uniformed shirt, dark dress pants and the same black sash as her; he also had the same red hair as her, although short and somewhat spiked. Intense brown eyes were set into a face that looked stony, yet smooth. "Youíre getting in the way, Nadia," he grinned, his dark eyes twinkling with amusement. "Youíre practically standing in the middle of this mess." Nadia frowned at his tone and playfully elbowed him in the ribs, making him wheeze.

"I am not, Valaan," she said curtly. "The commotion is just...interesting, thatís all." Nadia felt she wouldnít have to make an excuse for her older brother. He was several levels ahead in magi training; it only be a matter of months before he became a full-fledged Spellweaver. Valaan was a gentle person, the type you never expected to be angry, or get into a fight. Yet in the mage duels that were compulsory in advanced training, the red-haired mage became a ruthless fighter, never relenting until his opponent was soundly defeated.

"Itíll only be a little while before the others arrive," Valaan said. "Waste, itís about time we got a break from all this training and studying."

"I thought you didnít mind all the work," Nadia said. "Or did trying to impress Linnatiel get you all exhausted?" Amusement curled her lips. Valaan waved the notion away.

"Donít be silly, Nadia. I work hard and succeed because I can," he explained. "Donít take me for one of those wide-eyed yellow-robes who oogle her at every opportunity." The tall red-robe snorted. "The fools. But donít get me wrong; the Princess is a fine young lady." Nadia could almost punch Valaan in the nose. Not only did he not fall for her trap, but he dismissedódismissed!óit, and managed to sound conceited at the same time. When Valaan was younger, Nadia could taunt him at any time with the subject of the crush that he had on some girl. Now that he was older, he was a lot more stern and serious. Some things just werenít fun with him around. "Besides," Valaan continued, "doesnít Princess Linnatiel have that insane Dare-In or other?"

"I wouldnít call Derryn insane," Nadia said, tugging her sash into place.

"If facing down five Nightcloaks isnít insane, you just tell me what is." With that, Valaan gave her shoulder a squeeze, then took his place in the hall. The feast was starting.

*****

Derryn found himself seated with the most peculiar mix of people at the grand chamber. There were a great many tables arrayed around the hall, and the "big table", as some called it, was at the far end. That was where all of the respected personalities sat, including Derrynís father, Velena and Linnatiel. Rathos and Shusa were there as well; Derryn had not seen any of them in a while. They were talking quietly amongst themselves. To his chagrin, he supposedly didnít fit in with them. He quickly dismissed the matter; he never saw himself as a high lord anyway.

Tareth sat on his right, a massive figure that almost blocked the right side of Derrynís view. The Northerner was clad in some kind of dress armour, a red, short-sleeved tunic under the steel plates strapped to his body. To his left sat another tall man, though not as tall as Tareth. He wore a crimson uniform, with a black sash embroidered with gold. He had short, spiked red hair and the light of intelligence in his eyes. The hair reminded Derryn of Linnatielís friend, Nadia.

The others seated at the round table were mainly Templar officers, commanders of troop regiments. They all wore the battle armour they brought with them; steel plate mail with high, circular collars and round shoulder pieces. Most were dented and worn, but gleamed with polish. The faces were hardened, with more than one bearing ugly scars, yet they laughed, drank and spoke merrily with one another. Derryn hefted his own mug of ale, gulped down a mouthful, and set it down as the alcohol worked its way down his throat. He glanced over at Tareth, who was sitting unusually comfortably in his chair, which was pushed back to allow his long legs to stretch out. "Youíre not drunk yet, are you?" Derryn muttered, downing another mouthful of his drink. "I intend to be, from all this boredom." The swordsman glanced around; there was talking from all around the room, and the aroma of hot food filled the air.

"Take solace in the fact that we will not be here after tonight, little master," Tareth chuckled, folding his arms across his chest. "As good as the food is here, I am glad to leave. Any sooner, and I might have had to tear down a wall to escape."

"Not the best of ideas, Northerner," the red-haired man suddenly said. Derryn was startled; even he spoke more than the stranger at this table. "You may end up freezing in the blizzard, perhaps the moment you stepped out."

"Blizzard?" Derryn said curiously, then remembered the dark, flurried sky that lay beyond some of the windows of the Sanctuary. "I thought no one knew where this place was."

"No one does," the man said, taking a sip from his mug. "If you somehow managed to find a way out of the Sanctuary, you would have to survive the ice, snow and winds that could carry off a cow." The man gave a start when he saw Derryn and Tareth staring at him. He sighed, and spoke again. "Forgive me for not introducing myself. I am Valaan Falthara, mage-apprentice of the Sanctuary. You may or may not know my sister, Nadia." The slight raising of Derrynís eyebrow indicated he had. "A mischievous little nit, she is," Valaan said smugly, then twisted his head around to make sure she wasnít listening. His voice dropped lower. "But then again, all siblings are."

"Iíve heard of you," Derryn said; he had sometimes overheard scraps of conversation from the other apprentices. "Much of it is pleasant, especially from the girls." Valaan chuckled at that.

"So I have a reputation, and so far it precedes me," he said, smiling. "But I do not listen to the others. They are too young to realize the importance of their actions. Too often do they get carried away with their romantic notions. Spellweaving is my calling, and I heed it." Valaanís gaze settled on Derryn. "And you, Derryn Drakelight, have a name that is often echoed in the hallways of the apprentices. From what you did three days ago, I would not be surprised. Some would call you crazy to do what you did, fighting like the devil. But then again, people from all walks of life converge at the Sanctuary."

"I did what I thought was necessary," Derryn explained. At that, Tareth threw his head back and laughed out loud, startling half the table.

"Most humbly spoken, little master!" He boomed. The barbarian was cut off as Derryn lodged his elbow in the other manís ribs. He simply did not understand Tarethís sense of humour, however often it was directed at him.

"He is right, Derryn," Valaan said with quiet seriousness. "You fight with skill equal to five times what you make it to be. Princess Linnatiel is lucky to have someone like you watching her back."

"Indeed, Master Drakelight!" A soldierís voice agreed across from Derryn. He was a stocky man, with wrinkles around hard, blue eyes. A closely cropped, blond beard jutted from a stiff, square jaw. A deep scar was etched across his nose. Yet, despite his stony face and scar, he bore a wide grin. "I am Master-of-Arms Panor. We," he gestured to his armoured comrades, "Have heard much about your exploits, and let me say it brings me great pride to know that you are on the side of Drakelight Keep."

"The old animosity between the factions is beginning anew," another knight muttered darkly. He had jet black hair down to his cheeks, and his face was long and chiseled, as if stretched down along his skull. "Drakelight Keep has always held them together, but talk of these Nightcloaks is unsettling everyone. We cannot serve the Castle divided." Derryn knew that the Templar state was made up of six or so major Keeps that provided warriors to defend the Royal Family of Ryth. The Family not only meant the King and Queen, but every blood relative of both sides of royalty. It was these noble kin that ruled over every city of Ryth; the villages were left to maintain themselves. It was just the King and Queen who resided in the Castle Cathanin in the southwestern region of Cathania, but to refer to the Castle meant to refer to the entire royal bloodline. It was necessary for a military force such as the Templar to protect the Castle, for it was they who kept Ryth in order. "We will need every honourable hand that can wield a sword, for the dark times ahead."

"Skill and influence such as yours will be needed, Master Drakelight," Panor said gravely. "Perhaps you will return with us to the state?" Before he could answer, something slammed down on a table loud enough to silence the entire room. Linnatiel stood at her table, her chest heaving, fists clutched knuckle-white at her sides. Even when she was furious, she could look as regal as any Queen. Her green eyes flashed with rage as she looked directly at Adakran. Directly.

"Even I," she said quietly, with more than a touch of venom in her voice, "Would not treat my son as such." Linnatiel glanced briefly in Derrynís direction Ėhe thought he saw the glistening of tearsóthen swiftly marched out of the hall, the folds of her dress swishing about her. Derryn stood in the silence that followed, gripping the hilt of his sword in frustration, and strode to the main table.

"What in the Waste just happened?" He demanded. Shusa looked away; Rathos bowed his head. Only Adakran and Velena looked directly at him.

"We told her where you were going and why," Adakran said simply. His voice held no regret or shame. For once, Derryn knew his father was right in speaking so.

"Waste. WASTE!" Derryn cursed. Now he had a hell-bent elf on his hands. "I will go talk to her."

"It is best that you should," Velena said calmly. "We have no way of calming, let alone controlling her."

"If she gets her hands on a quarterstaff," Shusa said quietly, "you had best leave her alone. For your sake."

Without another word, Derryn turned on his heel and rushed out of the door which Linnatiel left.

 

"Linn!" Derryn called down the hallway. "Linn!" As he quickened his pace to a jog, he saw a swift shape dart up a curling stairway. One of those stairways would lead into any place in the Sanctuary; it was not hard to get lost. He began to run, and bounded up the stairs. When he reached the top, he stared at the spectacle.

It was like the skylight Linnatiel showed him, only more magnificent. The room he was in was like an observatory, a glass dome all around. He saw the gales and flurries that whipped around the eternally dark night sky. For a moment in between the gusts of snow, he thought he caught a glimpse of mountain peaks. He almost felt the chill of the air, had he not known the dome was there. The room itself was completely circular; the floor was smooth marble, the same as the main chamber of the Sanctuary. He spotted a silhoutted form at the other end of the room. "Linn?" He asked cautiously. "Itís me, Derryn." Her back was facing him.

"How could you?" she said accusingly, never turning to face Derryn. "I thought you were smarter than this, Derryn."

"What are you talking about?" Linnatielís voice grew colder, like the sky overhead.

"You let people send you off to a place youíve never even been before, fighting something you donít even understand. Only you, and not one more." Derryn tried to interrupt, but she continued. "A place where thereís certain to be danger, and you donít even flinch!" Linnatiel raised her voice. "You always think youíre invincible. Always! And even then, you didnít even tell me where you were going!"

"Iím sorry, Linn," Derryn said, sighing. He took a step forward; Linnatiel stiffened.

"Donít come any closer." There was a pause before she spoke again. "Why do you always do this? Rushing headlong into something that may as well leave you dead. Why?"

"I canít help it!" Derryn found himself shouting. "Itís the bloody itch in my feet that I have to go somewhere! Itís the voice in my head that tells me that staying in one place wonít do me any good! Bloody Waste, why donít I just go and do something useful while Iím at it?!"

"You go where people would tell you to go!" Linnatiel retorted. "Even when they know the dangers as well!"

Derryn took another step forward, and lowered his voice. "Linn, Iím not a child. I know what I get myself into. If I can help these people, then itíll be worth it. Would you rather me stay here, and twiddle my thumbs?"

"What I want," she said, unmoving, "is for you to see with your own eyes. Think of yourself, for once. In the end, it may be yourself who ends up losing." Derryn took several more steps towards her. She didnít try to stop him.

"I know how to take care of myself, Linn," he said, almost to her back. "Iíll be fine."

"How will I know," she replied slowly, emotions taking over as she choked, "if Iím not there to see?" She still did not turn. Taking a deep breath, Derryn stepped forward once more, and slowly folded his arms over her shoulders, clasping his hands together at her collarbone.

"If you want," he murmured quietly into her golden hair ĖWaste, it smelled so good!ó"You can come with me. I wonít try to stop you." Derryn saw their reflection in the glass. Him, a tall, brown-haired lordling, embracing an expressionless, yet beautiful lady. Their shapes were distorted by the howling blasts of icy wind. It seemed mystifying. A long silence followed. Linnatiel sniffed, and she finally turned around in his arms. Her face was clear to him now; her eyes were red, and tears streaked down her cheeks. Her gaze wavered as he met it with his own. Her lower lip trembled; he knew she was trying not to cry again.

"I love you, Derryn Drakelight," she whispered. "I have always loved you. Iíve come close to saying it, so many times, but I could not. You might have left me behind as you continued to wander. You might have scorned me, for who I am, and who I will be. I have played this scene out so many times in my head I could not keep count. Every time has been different, and there is only one result that I desired." Her eyes seemed to plead to Derryn, her green eyes so deep, that screamed when it meant to whisper. "It is your choice now, Derryn," Linnatiel said quietly. "Choose, for me." The swordsman held her for what seemed like forever, as he gazed down at her. At length, he spoke.

"I donít know what you have thought, or what you have imagined, but here is what I choose. Princess Linnatiel di Vellucyn, I love you with everything I am capable of. If I wander, I will not spend a day without you by my side. I have long argued with myself whether you are a friend or a lover." Derryn held her face in his hands, a thumb stroking her cheek. "But for now, I want you as both. Can you be both?"

A small smile grew on Linnatielís face as she slipped her arms around his waist. "I will try, Derryn," she whispered again. "For you, I will try." With that, she lifted her chin, and Derryn lowered his head to kiss her. He closed his eyes against the snowstorm around him, which seemed to quell in its howling, and thought only of Linnatiel.

-January 28, 2002