CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: The Queen's Garden

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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: The Queen’s Garden

Story froze, all her previous bravado gone in an instant. She slowly turned and took in the form of a female elf that could only be Queen Eánna. She was flanked by the elf whom Eídolin had sent off earlier. The queen was taller than Eirnin; Story noticed most of the other elves were taller than him.

Eirnin is short for an elf?

She had long, wavy hair, which fell well below her hips, and was pale blonde scattered with red and gold highlights that glittered in the light. Her forelocks were pulled back into a braid that entwined around an intricate wrought-iron circlet that rested on her brow. Unlike every other elf Story had seen, the queen had no ailach. She was dressed in a simple, sleeveless, white shift that reminded Story of the sort of clothing the ancient Egyptians used to wear. The only ornamentation on the dress was a low-slung belt on her hips that had a panel of fabric hanging down the front with twelve different symbols embroidered in gold on it.

The elf clan symbols.

Story realized two things: one, she was gawking, and two, everyone but her was kneeling before the queen. She hastily got down on one knee and bowed her head. This elf was not someone who Story felt like she had to show respect for, but someone she wanted to show respect for.

A soft hand slipped under Story’s chin and raised her eyes up to meet the Queen’s. She smiled down at her, filling Story with peace and calm.

“You kneel to no one, Ailesit.” The queen pulled Story gently to her feet and then turned to the others. “Eáchan, thank you for looking out for our well being. We know you would never purposely seek to interfere with one to whom we have given a mission.” Her tone remained gentle, but even Story could hear the blatant rebuke in the queen’s words.

Eáchan’s face colored, and keeping her head bowed, she answered in a meek voice. “No my queen. I would never... I just did not think—”

The queen cut in, still keeping her voice soft. “Perhaps next time you will try to think. You and Eíswin may go now.”

Eíswin’s dark skin made it impossible for Story to see if he’d blushed in embarrassment too, but his body language made it obvious that he was mortified. The two lead clan leaders and the six behind them rose to their feet, bowed, and hastily exited the corridor.

Story turned back toward the queen and found she had pulled Eirnin up to his feet and was greeting him in the same manner Eilath and Eirnin had greeted each other in Stoneybrook, one hand on his shoulder, the other clasping his hand firmly. She leaned forward and whispered something in his ear. He laughed softly and nodded in response.  

Releasing him, the queen turned to Eilath and, still smiling, said, “Please, get up. Thank you for helping Eirnin on his… oh—” She stopped abruptly once Eilath raised his head. Her eyes widened momentarily in recognition and then flicked over to Adair who was peeping out from behind her father shyly.

Story hoped that the queen reacted better to the “traitor” and his daughter than Eáchan had.

She shouldn’t have worried.

Turning smoothly to the elderly clan leader, the queen gestured toward Eilath. “Eídolin, this elf and his daughter are clan of your clan. We all owe them our thanks for aiding the Ailesit in her journey, and they will be treated as our most honored guests.”

Eídolin nodded and gestured at the female elf behind him who shared Eilath’s silver hair and clan tattoo. Eásphor, Story realized. Eásphor indicated that they should follow her, and Adair, with a quick wave at Story, obediently did so. Eilath looked at the queen with solid yellow eyes one last time before inclining his head in a final respectful bow and followed his clan leader out.

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