She stood silently looking out over the parapet at the sunrise, the cool wind whipping her long silvery white hair behind her as she breathed in the early morning air. She had not slept long, not even two hours, and her dreams seemed troubling to her, so she finally gave up, dressed and went over to the Keep so she could behold the dawn. In her mind she replayed the words in her father's letter, especially the parts about the Drow raid, the fruit of the great tree and the interest the Faesidhe had shown in her while young. Obviously they had considered her someone worth eliminating. She suspected she knew the reason, though fear of the consequences of that reason kept her from fully thinking about it. So she stood there troubled for nearly an hour as the sun rose over the eastern hills, sending the world into another day. A rustling beside her made her turn and find, to her surprise, Queen Eioldth, dressed in her green Elven riding cloak.
"You are up early, Duchess Aurei. Do you enjoy watching dawn break?"
"I'm usually sleeping at this time, Your Majesty. I trust you slept well?"
"I rested very contently. I suspect, however, that you did not?"
Aurei sighed and related to the young queen the contents of the letter from Duke Gamel. Eioldth listened intently, letting the girl finish before speaking.
"Aurei, I think you know why the Faesidhe are so interested in you. They know that your mother ate of the fruit of the Faesidhe tree before your birth. The spell they cast upon you as a baby, it would seem, was one used to test the Faeness of a being."
"It is the essence of all Elven and fey creatures. Humans and Dwarves do not possess it, yet it is not something that can be defined. The Faesidhe tree is the heart of all things fey in this world. The spell told them that you were filled with this essence. Only those who have eaten the white fruit of the tree are so filled."
"But I didn't eat - my mother did."
"Yet she carried you in her womb and you shared her blood. It is obvious that this was why she was pregnant - it was so you would also receive the effect."
"So you think that means…" she did not want to state what she now was beginning to understand already.
"It means that you are most likely immortal, Aurei. Just as I am."
"What?!" Aurei was uncertain she had heard the Queen correctly.
"Oh yes," Eioldth said casually, "I was one of the last of my people to be selected to eat of the white fruit. My selection was not popular in the Council of the Ages and this contributed to my people's banishment. I was too young, they said, though the decision of who eats of the fruit is not made by the council, but comes to the priests in dreams before the white fruit appears. I am 723 years old, Aurei, and have appeared as youthful as I am now for about 625 years, when I reached maturity."
"Yesh preserve me!" Aurei said in wonder.
"You must keep this secret between us, for only the King knows."
"Then you will long outlive him!"
"Yes, sadly, it is true." The spark left the Queen's eyes as she considered this reality.
"What about your baby? Will he or she be immortal too?"
"I'm not sure. If the baby were totally Elven, it would. But he or she is only half-Elven, and was conceived long after I ate of the fruit when I was a child. So you see that the Barons were probably very wise in keeping me off the throne after Haroldris' death, for I could reign a very, very long time."
Aurei's head spun at the thought of it all.
"So you think that I am… immortal too?"
"I know that you are, Aurei. Faesidhe can sense the effects of the fruit of the tree and you radiate it."
"Oh no." she said shaking her head, "I don't want to live forever. Not while everyone around me grows old and dies."
The Queen smiled sympathetically, "I share your feeling. But understand that the effect of the fruit does not grant you immunity to death from misdeed. Sooner or later death will find both of us, Aurei, but we both have to figure out how to live until this happens to us."
Aurei shook her head, "It's too much, your highness. Too much. I hate death, seeing dear people die in front of my eyes. It is horrible. I'm afraid, your highness."
"What are you afraid of, dear child?"
Aurei thought for a moment of watching everything crumble around her while she stood by unchanged, "I'm afraid of being alone. Of being the only one left in a world without anyone I know."
Eioldth took her hand, "You need not worry; there are a number of others who have eaten of the white fruit. Remember that you know me and I am your friend. Trust me, Aurei, you will never fully be alone."
The Drow girl nodded, only slightly comforted by the Queen's words. A moment later their conversation was interrupted by several of the guests in the Keep joining them on the parapet.
The morning was spent preparing meals for the guests. It was late morning when the King and his bride climbed into the royal coach.
"We head west, into the Faesidhe forest" the King told Aurei as she stood beside the carriage.
"Into the forest?!"
"I want to make contact with the Faesidhe" the King explained, "It is somewhat dangerous, though I don't think they will kill us, but they will honor my position. I want their king to know that I have taken a fae wife and desire peace between our people. I hope this will be the start of a closer, warmer relationship with the Faesidhe. At least they will see that I am being upfront with them. We will be taking another diplomatic trip following our journey into the forest, so we will most likely not be returning through Westmark. But we will see you again, soon."
"May Yesh be with you, your Highness."
"And with you. Goodbye." The King gave a word to the driver and the royal carriage was off, with his knights riding along side as guards.
The King was not the only one to leave that morning. Thorm had extended his stay due to the funeral of Gamel, so he had to head northeast to finish business with his people. He swore he would return within a month or two with the weapons and shields he had pledged for her arming of the town. She asked the dwarf to get for her estimates of cost for suits of chainmail for 500 humans and he promised he would do so, but that the price would be rather steep. She had an idea on how to pay for the order, though she did not yet say anything to Thorm about it. Shortly after the King departed, Thorm and his party headed east, to catch the road north into the mountains a few miles east of town.
Pinel had decided since the King was going into the Elven forest to meet with the Faesidhe King, he would instead visit Dullerm and Hommael before heading back to King's Reach. There would be no new business for the Barons until the King's return anyway, and by visiting the Duchy of Dullerm, he would be cementing useful ties with nobles. Duke and Lady Frampbrum seemed less than thrilled to host Pinel and his family, but were very generous and put on a convincing show of delight. It was nearly midday by the time the large group of coaches, made up of the entourages of the Dukes of Dullerm, Southgate and Aegoppa as well as Pinel and his brood said their goodbyes and took the east road out of town a few miles in order to catch the longer road south to their homes.
Aurei watched each group depart, sorry to see many of them go, but at the same time glad that maybe now she would have some peace so she could process all the changes that had transpired. Putting on her serving wench dress, she went back to work as soon as the last coach disappeared from view.