Letter to the Duchess
The day would be remembered by Aurei forever and it lasted deep into the night, with the festivities moving over to the Muddy Boot as evening approached. She sat and chatted with the people of town, yet it was different now. Perhaps it was the presence of the King, but everyone seemed much more respectful and somewhat reserved around her. Haroldris won many hearts that day by his personable, humorous conversations with his subjects. But even more impressive was Haroldris’ faerie queen, whom everyone in town fell completely in love with by the end of the evening. The young lady told many stories of her people and captivated everyone with visions of Elven adventures.
Even Pinel was in a joyous mood, chatting with everyone and even at length with Aurei about his uncle’s final days. By the time the wonderful - yet sad- day had ended, it was only a few hours before the dawn. Aurei lay on her bed in the Inn’s cellar, exhausted and her mind full of things to ponder, but before she ended the day, she felt she had to finally read the letter addressed to her by Gamel that she had put aside due to the chaos of the last few days. So breaking the seal, she opened the letter and began reading the note penned by the Duke’s own hand and dated 4 years prior:
My dearly loved daughter, Aurei:
I am not a well man, I know that my health is failing and I fear that I may not be able to care for myself much longer. I am writing this while I still possess my facilities. If you are reading this, I know you have found the chest I had hidden. It is full of armor and weapons found around the time we found you. They are Drow weapons and armor and some are of extraordinary workmanship which I am told are very valuable. They are yours to do with as you like, I feel you have a right to them.
I cannot tell you how pleased with you that I am. You have grown slowly into a very charming, beautiful woman and I know that you will have no trouble making for yourself a very happy life. I intend for you to inherit The Muddy Boot upon my death. If it were within my power to grant it to you, I would name you as my successor as Duke of Westmark. You are certainly the most worthy candidate I know of; though I fear King Haroldris could possibly have inherited his father’s dislike of Elves. Time will tell, and I promise I will plead your case to him. If by good fortune and the grace of Yesh, you do succeed me as Duke, I ask you to remember that only a bestowed title separates you from the common folk of the town. It means nothing other than the responsibility to govern your town and protect the King’s interest. Never think of yourself as noble. Your openness with the people of the Inn is what will make you a great Duchess if you are given the title.
Your mother and I were always very proud of you, especially how you have adapted so well to living among humans. You have been a perfect child, and while you may not be my daughter by blood, you are certainly that in my heart and you are loved dearly. There is something I should tell you about, which I have never told anyone, not even your mother, and it concerns you. I have told you about how the Faesidhe Elves were very curious about you and how they had spies watching the town and the Inn in particular. As a result, we kept you secluded and your mother would not let you out of her sight for the first year of your life. In the evenings, she would retire to our bedroom in the Muddy Boot with you. You would sleep in her arms until I had closed up and cleaned the Inn, which was always late at night. Often we’d sleep at the tavern rather than at the Keep so you would not be disturbed while sleeping. One late evening, a bit over a month after we brought you into our home, I had an exceptionally messy tavern to clean up and it was quite late before I climbed the back stairs to our bedroom. I don’t know if I was exceptionally quiet that night or not, but when I came to the door to the bedroom, I found it slightly ajar, which alarmed me as your mother always kept it firmly secured, especially after dark. I heard whispered voices in the room and I could tell they were not speaking Common but some sort of Elven. Not knowing what to expect, I quickly but silently swung the door open and rushed in, to find two figures standing over the bed, one holding you. I had just drawn breath to yell out when one of the two looked up suddenly and out of no-where he produced some sort of wand, which he pointed at me. Suddenly I was paralyzed. I seemed to be frozen on the spot, able to breathe, but that was all. I could see and hear everything, but I could not utter a sound or move a muscle. They were two tall Elven men, both with the silver hair that the Faesidhe possess. They both wore Wizard’s robes and were obviously spell-casters. They stood by the bed and your mother lay there asleep –I am very sure it was an enchanted sleep that they had cast upon her so that they could examine you freely.
I tried everything I could do to move, but I was unable to do anything. The two Elves were speaking something softly in their tongue that I could not understand. One of the two mages pulled some sort of vial of clear liquid from his robe and poured it into your mouth then returned the empty vial into a pocket as they stared at you. In desperation, I prayed to Yesh to protect you, for I could see that the two Elven mages were using some potion to try to learn something about you, as a blue glow covered you and they stood there motionless, watching you as if expecting something to happen. After what seemed like an eternity, the glow surrounding you suddenly turned brilliant white, so bright that it filled the entire room. Through my squinted eyes I could see that this greatly troubled and angered both mages and they looked at each other for a moment, then one nodded to the other one – the one who pointed the wand at me-- and the second pulled from the folds of his robe a long dagger.
I knew they meant to kill you and in my mind I screamed out in desperation ‘Yesh, save her!’.
The one Elf with the dagger had just raised the wicked thing to strike you as the other one, holding you, held you out like a chicken about to be slaughtered. All at once there was a brilliant blue flash of light that was even brighter than the earlier white light. The two Elves twirled around to see the cause. From behind them and directly in my line of sight I saw her. She was a majestic woman, the most gloriously beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life. She seemed to radiate white light. She was tall and regal, with long flowing blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. For a moment I was absolutely lost in her glory, as were the Elves. She seemed human, or nearly human, though I saw her ears were slightly pointed as if she were a half-Elf. She wore a very fine shimmering shirt of bright silver chainmail and pants and boots of some strange material and craftsmanship that I have never seen the likes of before or since. She carried a white staff like an Arch-mage with a shining white gem set in its head. For a long moment the Elven mages stood there agape and she seemed to be waiting for them to be able to react. Suddenly they did, the one with the dagger and the wand pointed the wand at the lady, but suddenly white fire engulfed his hands and he screamed – or he seemed to, for there was no sound to be heard in the room, though I have no idea why this was so. The wand and dagger fell from his hands and the lady held up her staff and suddenly he was thrown violently back against the back wall of the room, knocking over tables, but again without any sound. The one holding you seemed to scream but no sound escaped his mouth. He grabbed you up and held you in front of him as if to ward her off with your tiny body. But there came a third flash of light and all at once, behind him, stood a dark haired man wearing clothing similar to the lady and also carrying a white staff. Before the Elf could spin around to see this new threat, the dark haired man simply wacked him hard on top of his head, with a rather amused expression on his face as he did so. The Elf crumbled to the floor but not before the lady – with lightning quick speed- had swooped you out of his arms.
Suddenly I could move again, and at the same time I was aware that sound had returned, though the room was almost normally quiet. The beautiful lady stood there smiling sweetly down at you, gently rocking you. I started to say something and she looked up at me and made a ‘shh!’ sound. The dark haired man came forward, walking past me with a nod and a friendly smile, but without a word. I was so amazed at the whole situation, I didn’t know what to do or say.
"Isn’t she beautiful?" the lady said in a whisper to the dark-haired man.
"Yes indeed. Drow girls usually are, but this one seems exceptional." He too was whispering, "I wonder what she will look like when she has grown up?"
The lady looked at the dark-haired man with a bit of amused annoyance, it seemed and said in a rather motherly tone, "Drake – don’t do it-"
But Drake –I assume that was his name- just brushed her off and waved his hand quickly in the air, said about three or four strange words and suddenly there appeared some sort of magic vision in the middle of the air. I could see it as if I was looking at it through a window. There was a crowd in the great hall of the Keep though I could not recognize any of them. Before them stood a tall beautiful Drow lady—and I realized immediately that I was seeing a vision of what you would one day look like. As I write this, I can tell you that it was indeed correct. The vision had no sound, but you were addressing the people of the town. It only lasted a moment, then faded away and the dark-haired man named Drake turned to the lady, who was frowning slightly at him as he said, "See, Grandma, no harm in that. She is going to be breathtaking."
I was amazed that he addressed her as grandma, for they seemed to be about the same age and I think I shifted slightly or something, for the lady seemed to notice me then and smiled kindly, saying to me, "I’m sure you are very confused, Duke Bugley."
I was too afraid to speak, so I just nodded.
"Do not be afraid, Gamel, we are here in answer to your prayer."
"Are you angels?" I whispered in fear and awe and the two looked at each other and laughed softly.
"She might be close" Drake replied, motioning to the lady, "I’m not close enough."
"Don’t be afraid, Gamel, we are not angels… exactly. We’re sort of watchers." She said to me, coming forward and holding you out to me.
"Your daughter is special, Duke Bugley, more special than you know. Do you know why these Faesidhe mages were here?"
I shook my head, but the lady smiled and said, "I think you have a little of an idea – Drake and I know all about how you found her in the Elven carriage out by the millpond dam. And I know you have learned that her mother was killed during part of a Drow raid upon the Faesidhe’s Great Tree. What you don’t know is why the Faesidhe are so curious about her or why they were here tonight. Would you like to know?"
I was almost scared to say yes, but I did so and she seemed pleased by that. She turned to Drake and pointed to the unconscious Elves, saying to him, "Take care of them, won’t you dear? Take them back to the Clearing of the Ages and leave them there. We’ll have a talk with their ‘wise men’ tomorrow."
Drake nodded, "Yes Ma’am." And he waved his hands at the two Elves and the three disappeared in a flash of light.
The lady turned back to me, "He’s a dear boy, really, rather curious like his great grandfather unfortunately, though in most ways he is like me."
I didn’t know what to really say, so I said something somewhat stupid like, "Is he your son?"
She smiled sweetly as if I’d given her a great compliment and replied, "He’s my great grandson."
"Great grandson?!" I exclaimed, "Impossible!"
She again smiled, flattered, "Why, aren’t you a charming man! Thank you! But yes, he is my great grandson, and we are both very, very, very old. I’ve lost count how old I am, and if I told you my estimate, you would not believe me, but that is not important right now. What is important is your child. You are most noble, Gamel Bugley, in adopting a Drow child, for most of the race are wicked and evil. She, however, will not turn out like that and is destined for many great things."
"How do you know?" I asked, but she just smiled knowingly and ignored my question, and continued speaking to me.
"Her mother was one of four Drow women who ate a piece of white fruit from the great tree in the Elven forest. Three of these four women were killed by the Faesidhe, and her mother was one of those slain. Their mission was to eat of that fruit and three of the four were pregnant when they ate. One died with her unborn child. The second one gave birth in the coach where you found this child – then died from her wounds and loss of blood. This was the mother of Aurei. The third pregnant Drow – who was a sister to Aurei’s mother— delivered your child. Yet the Coach they had stolen slipped off the road near the great Elven River due to rain eroding the roadway. The coach and Aurei were swept downstream, while the remaining pregnant Drow managed to swim to shore. This remaining Drow buried some of her party near the shore and then travelled south to try to bravely start a new life on the surface world for her and her unborn daughter."
"Lady, how do you know this?" I asked, amazed.
"I am a watcher" she replied, "I know many things. But you must hear what I just said to you, Gamel. Three of these Drow women were pregnant when their group reached the Faesidhe Tree – this is no coincidence, this was part of their plan."
I was confused and simply asked, "Why?"
"Because" she said, "if their mission was successful, both they and their unborn child would obtain immortality when the mother consumed the fruit."
I was amazed at what the lady was saying to me and voiced my amazement.
"I know it sounds incredible" the lady replied, "but that is why the Faesidhe so jealously guard the great tree – it was created for all races, but now only the Faesidhe enjoy its holy fruit. The two Elves who invaded your Inn tonight were trying to determine if anyone survived the raid. They are probably only now learning about the other Drow mother and will of course be tracking her to try to kill her and her unborn daughter -- for the Drow time of maternity is two years in length and she has yet to give birth. When the Elf mages learned of Aurei’s presence here, they quickly would also learn about the conditions that surrounded her rescue. No doubt their fears were verified when they learned about the Elven Coach that she was found in and that prompted their dispatch. They were trying to determine if this child had received any of the magic from her mother’s consumption of the fruit."
"Has she?" I asked, very fearful of the answer.
"Yes", the lady nodded rather grimly, "She has indeed. You know what this means, do you not?"
I wasn’t completely sure, but I nodded, "Immortality?"
"Yes – she will stop aging upon reaching maturity – IF she reaches maturity, for the Faesidhe will mark her for death for the abomination. I have warded her with my glyph and any mage who tries to kill her will sense it and know that she is under my protection until she has grown to a woman. But it will not offer any real protection for her, and I would not be surprised to find assassins hired to kill her. You must guard her very well, Duke Gamel."
I was spellbound by the news and not thinking clearly, blurting out, "But if she’s immortal, then she can’t die!"
The lady took my arm to stress the importance of her words, "Duke Bugley, your daughter is immune to the harmful effects of aging and probably all diseases, but she most certainly can be killed either by accident or by dark deed. Do not think she is safer because of this news; rather that she is in great danger, for the Faesidhe are the worst enemies of the Drow and this is –in their minds- the most serious abomination. They will not forget her."
"How can I protect her?" I asked in horror. I will never forget the lady’s response:
"I do not think the Faesidhe will try to kill her within the boundaries of your Duchy – at least not by conventional means. They may try to arrange an accident, but since I and Drake know of this attempt, and when they learn of my glyph, they will hesitate to try what they have tonight. But the glyph will be lost when she becomes a woman, so you need to keep her close and do not neglect to train her in weaponry. Do not tell her of her enchanted nature until she is old enough to understand the consequences of it. She deserves as happy of a childhood as she can have among humans – even humans that love her. Her childhood will take you into very old age, Gamel, and you may not see her become a woman, but rest assured that Yesh the Creator does not allow such powerful magic to occur without it fitting into his greater cause, and she will most certainly fit into some great plan."
I swore to the lady that I would protect you with my very life and she smiled at my words, and said, "I know you will. She is very fortunate to have you as her father. Tomorrow morning this will all strongly seem to you to have been a very strange dream and there will be no evidence to contradict this feeling, but I urge you to follow my advice and protect this child."
"I will" I said, and once again I asked, "Lady, please, I beg you, tell me who you are."
She just smiled sadly and gently took you from me and placed you beside your still sleeping mother in the bed. She then turned back to me and said only one more word, "Sleep". The next thing I knew I was waking up in the morning light and your mother had already taken you downstairs with her to oversee preparations for breakfast. There was no sign of the events of the previous night in the room and just as the lady had said, I began to feel that it had been just a dream. But it remained with me, Aurei, and though I don’t know if it all actually happened or not, I do know that no further attacks were made upon you by the Faesidhe, though they did seem to monitor you from a distance and would occasionally come into the Inn and ‘suggest’ that I should let them take you with them, though I am sure they did not really think I would do that. After some years, even that ended. I have tried to teach you some skill in arms and I know your mind is strong and alert, so I will simply leave this tale at that, though I would caution you to always be wary of being watched. I have written to you more than my old hand can handle, but I will add that the armor and weapons in this chest are certainly of Drow manufacture and matched some of what the white lady told me in my ‘dream’, so it may be wise to try to learn if what she told me was indeed the truth. May Yesh surround you with His protection and mercy, do not mourn my passing, my dear child, for I hope to see my dear wife again and I know I leave you with many close friends. Remember me with happiness and know that I love you.
Aurei stared at the letter still in her hands, his words seeming to echo in her head. Thought it was filled with an abundance of things to ponder, she could not help but dwell for the moment on the thought that this would be the last message she would get from Gamel. The gravity of that knowledge made her blink back tears and she laid there rereading the letter several times, not so much so she could understand what he had told her, but to just hear his ‘voice’ again. It was many hours before the exhausted Drow girl fell asleep.