Andrea watched in fascination as Mindeth murmured the last words of his prayer, and in response a glowing silver light coalesced into the shape of a hawk which landed on his gauntlet, the raptor covered in glittering feathers and with sharp, intelligent eyes. The priest’s full title was Mindeth the Valorous, she’d learned, and despite her initial hesitation he’d been relatively kind to her so far. The man whispered something in the hawk’s ear, then handed it a scroll tube. It nodded to him, then took flight, shimmering and almost disappearing into the clouds as it streaked toward the southeast.
“There we are. My order will pass the message to Esren’s Royal house, and we should be able to meet them once we reach Fort Alstad.” Mindeth replied, turning back with a smile. “I hope that things go well.”
“I have my doubts about that. But thank you for your rescue, and your understanding.” Andrea replied, taking a moment to curtsey to her rescuers.
They’d dealt with whatever problems the holy warriors had seen in the tower, many of which she had no clue about. Why the bottles on one shelf had needed to be burned, she didn’t know and she really didn’t want to know. In the end, they’d allowed her to fill a few pouches with some valuables, taken some themselves, then set the tower on fire before leaving.
In the end, she had a backpack with some coins and gemstones, as well as a few changes of clothing and the remnants of the meat pie she’d been cooking, and the clothing on her back. They were miles away from the tower, and she felt tired but exhilarated at the same time as she looked around her curiously, taking in the sights and sounds happily.
“Is something the matter, Ms. Esren?” Raela asked, the woman studying Andrea closely, and Andrea looked at her guiltily as the woman asked. “You’re looking around as if you’re expecting something.”
“Oh! Oh, no, I’m just… this is the first time I’ve been outside since I was kidnapped.” Andrea replied after a moment of surprise, shaking her head. “Tallet didn’t let me go outside, especially after the incident with the nightshade. He was afraid I’d try to get myself killed, or lead people into the tower.”
“Nightshade? What happened with the nightshade?” Calvin asked, looking startled as he paused in the middle of building the campfire for the night. The prince had regained his poise after his initial frustration, but Andrea had noticed how he’d grown slightly more distant than she remembered him being when he was younger. How the bright-eyed teenager had changed, though largely for the better.
“Well, I knew that nightshade was poisonous, so when I saw he had an entire jar in his laboratory, I ate all of it.” Andrea replied, shrugging and scowling. “That’s when the succubus he had ‘training’ me decided to tell me that I was immune to poisons. I was punished fairly heavily for the attempt, which was unpleasant.”
“You truly were prevented from leaving the tower for the last five years?” Raela asked, going back to setting up a tent. “That’s a rather long time to be cloistered away, at least for a human.”
“Yes, it was. While I could look out windows, it isn’t the same.” Andrea told the woman, shrugging. “Anyway, is there anything I can help with?”
“I think we have everything about dealt with. We’ve developed something of a routine over the last few weeks.” Mindeth replied, pulling out the things to start on their dinner. A moment later he continued. “Though I was curious about something. Do you know why Magister Tallet did all of this, anyway? It’s been something of a mystery ever since he kidnapped you, and I find myself curious.”
The other two paused to glance at Andrea, and she cleared her throat to buy a bit of time, setting down her backpack and slowly settling down on a rock, privately glad she’d had some clothing that was good for traveling. She brushed off the walking gown and thought for a moment before sighing.
“It’s… well, I do know. He talked about it a few times when he was drunk.” Andrea finally ventured, slightly hesitant despite knowing it wouldn’t hurt anything. “Apparently when he was young, he fell for my mother. He claimed that he tried to court her, but I have my doubts since Mother never mentioned it, nor did Father.”
“I’d never heard anything about that either.” Calvin agreed, and frowned. “I’d think that if he had, they’d have mentioned it.”
“Exactly.” Andrea nodded and smiled, looking at her hands, having taken her human appearance for the trip. “He let it fester, though, and it got to the point that apparently he was behind several of the assassination attempts on my father, in the hopes that Mother might fall for him in the aftermath. Obviously they didn’t work, but no one ever figured out that he was the one behind the attempts. Still, he started building his tower ages ago, but didn’t know when he was going to use it. In the end, he finally snapped shortly after I went to him for magic lessons, and he learned that I was going to be receiving courtships soon. Apparently I looked a little too much like my mother when she was my age. He couldn’t stand the thought of someone else getting ‘her,’ not again, and went a bit mad. There were days when he called me by Mother’s name.”
“Oh. Ick.” Raela murmured, wrinkling her nose as she stepped away from the tent and pulled her helm off, revealing snow-white hair done up in braids that were neatly coiled and pinned under the helm. “That’s not what I expected.”
“Unfortunately, I can readily believe it, and it explains why no one saw it coming.” Calvin added, shaking his head in disgust. “I almost wish I had a chance to kill him again.”
“Don’t let your anger get to you, Sir Hovar.” Mindeth interjected gently, shaking his head. “The man is dead, and hopefully the damage he’s done has come to an end as well. What was done is quite bad enough. There’s no need to allow him to continue to influence the world even now.”
“A fair point.” Calvin admitted, pulling out a dagger and concentrating a moment. Andrea saw the blade glow slightly, and when he flicked it at the pile of wood a bolt of fire lashed out and ignited the kindling. He watched the fire start before asking. “So, Andrea? What do you plan to do, since you won’t have a title anymore?”
“I… I really don’t know.” Andrea replied after a moment, looking at the crackling flames and sighing softly, looking at her hands. “Truthfully, a lot depends on how my parents react. I suspect it won’t go well, though. Mother is… superstitious, and Father tends to side with her. With Phillip as the heir, he won’t want the chaos that my return in this state would cause, if my memories are anything to go by.”
“Isn’t that a touch pessimistic?” Raela asked as she started unbuckling her armor, but glancing up at Andrea, who thought she saw a flicker of concern in the woman’s silver eyes. “I would think that they’d welcome you back after everything else that you’ve been through. I do know that some families tend to be harsh, but I hoped that it would be different with you, especially since they were promising your hand in marriage to the one to rescue you.”
“Really?” Andrea asked, her eyebrows rising, and she noted that Calvin’s face colored slightly.
“Indeed they did. Your hand in marriage, as well as a thousand Corvallian crowns.” Mindeth replied, shaking his head. “And you forget the difference between the Orders of the White Host and those of noble houses, Raela. The reaction of most elven houses would be to demand the death of the victim, regardless of their innocence.”
The explanation made Andrea twitch, one of her deepest worries suddenly brought to the fore. She relaxed ever so slightly as the paladin frowned at her companion and spoke tartly, though. “I hadn’t forgotten, Mindeth. There are extremist factions even among the White Host, but my order is not among them. I will not allow an innocent to be slain out of hand, no matter what species they may be. Not while they are under my care.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Andrea said softly.
“As am I.” Mindeth agreed, smiling as he continued. “Now then… do you have any issues with a simple leek soup, Andrea?”
“Actually, I have the meat pie I was making for dinner tonight. I’d offer to share, but considering what I said about poisons, it’s probably best that I don’t.” Andrea declined, shaking her head as she pulled out the cloth-wrapped pie from earlier. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but who knows? And it isn’t as if you’re going to trust me completely already. I know that I wouldn’t.”
“A fair point.” Calvin admitted, eying the pie speculatively for a moment before. “I didn’t know you could cook.”
“Tallet couldn’t, and was too lazy to learn, so he made me.” Andrea replied simply, shrugging again. “I’ve changed, and not just physically.”
Andrea didn’t miss the looks that the other three exchanged and suppressed a sigh, instead taking a bite out of the pie. The mutton and rabbit mixture had turned out better than usual, she noticed, though that could simply be the sweet taste of freedom.
Now she just hoped that Raela was being honest about not allowing anyone to kill her.