Excerpt from the very beginning of Reborn! FULL first chapter!
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– Archenon –
– Archenon –
The castle was Archenon’s home, and it was his cage. To be confined within marble walls, however grand, was at odds with his Wild Elven nature.
He stood before Rhonja. She was his warden, but also his friend. On this day, however, he was her subject, and she was the High Queen of Aradria. They were not equals, nor had they ever been.
“Please—I beg you. Let me go.” Archenon braced himself. His pointed ears dropped backwards, and he knelt before the High Queen in the Great Hall of Êvina. An intricate braid of ebony hair lay heavy along his spine. The piece of parchment crunched in his hands, folded and read so many times that it had begun to crumble.
The High Queen looked down on him. “You know I can not.” She smoothed out a fold on her silky dress. It hugged her slender form, mirroring the blinding hall in its purity. Her hair, shining like starlight, wafted about her shoulders.
His emerald eyes met hers from the bottom of the half-moon staircase leading up to the white throne. A vast mosaic of Her Majesty’s Royal Crest lay fixed in the wall behind her—four petals aligned to the cardinal points held each other under the protection of a circle representing Spirit, the High Queen’s element.
Archenon swallowed hard. “I have given you my life, and now the last tie to my heritage is to be torn away. Is there nothing I can say to make you change your mind? I want to see my mother one final time.”
Rhonja had never reciprocated Archenon’s feelings, but he thought she cared for him enough to allow this one request. She was the epitome of hope for her subjects, yet she would crush his.
“You do care for me, don’t you?” he sighed, inhaling the fresh scent of blueberries from Rhonja’s perfume. It was a bittersweet reminder of his former home.
“Of course. I treasure you,” she replied, her brilliant gaze a calm ocean at twilight. But her words were scant comfort.
Shafts of light pierced between the half-drawn lilac drapes hanging over the arched windows. Elegant pillars of creatures, cunningly carved, held up the vaulted ceiling. Gryphons, Mermians, dragons, Elves and other beings stared at him with marble eyes. It was as if they fought to keep the very building from crashing down on him. More than ever, the immensity of the white hall felt intrusive and distinctly foreign.
Archenon was afraid he would never belong anywhere. Not here, in this land where the trees were few and the waves lapped around every edge of the border. Not even in his first home, deep in the woods of Elfen Greenwoods, in the realm of fire. Far from an easy thing for an Elf to admit, and he shivered with a sudden fear.
Rhonja lowered her chin. “I understand you miss your mother, Archenon. It still does not change the agreement I made with her when she chose Êvina as your home.”
Her words cut him. Archenon remembered that day all too well, and he knew that what she had said was no mere reminder. It was a rebuke.
Archenon had arrived at the castle shortly after his coming of age. More than three centuries had passed of his apprenticeship since then. Now, crumpled in his hands, he held a message informing him that his mother was dying.
“Why will you not use your powers to help me? Your Highness, I would do anything you ask.”
The radiant shimmer of Rhonja’s skin flared a shade brighter than usual. Archenon held his breath, awaiting her reply.
She leaned forward, but the distance between them had never been as apparent as it was in this moment.
“You have made significant progress controlling your sorcery, but allowing you to travel, even with an escort … there is no telling what would happen. I would be reckless to grant you this sentimental wish.”
Archenon’s fingernails dug into his palms. Despite all Rhonja had done for him, she was also the cause of his suffering. It became clear that in her mind he was but a boy lost in the dark and she the High Queen of Aradria: Rhonja, the Drothnûil Êvina – a beacon of light.
Rhonja shook her head. “No, you still have too much to learn, my dear Archenon.”
“Then perhaps you might send someone to aid my mother? You could call upon the Queen of Ûnda to cleanse her body of the disease, or perhaps the King of Caradrea could breathe life into her as her spirit departs with the sickness?” It was a feeble request, but Archenon had few options. “Perhaps you might consider aiding her yourself?” His final words were almost a whisper.
Though she was no sorcerer, as the wielder of Spirit Rhonja had much experience in foreseeing the most probable turns of events, even if she could not predict the future with certainty. Rhonja knew how to shield herself, and others, from harm, more than any other living being in Aradria. Surely, she could help.
The High Queen sighed. Her hands gripped the armrests of her throne, a position she often took when meting out judgment. “I cannot simply meddle with life and death whenever it suits me. The monarchs must not interfere with the circle of life. You do not know what you ask, and for that reason alone I cannot allow you to leave. Nor will I call upon anyone to aid her.”
Archenon leaped to his feet, assuming his full height. He wanted to plead, to cajole, to threaten, even. But if she would not listen to his words, perhaps he could sway her some other way? The ability to enter the mind of another was an art form few possessed and even fewer learned to control.
Archenon enjoyed this practice and, over time, had come to master it. Once he had managed to tunnel into someone’s subconscious, it would forever be open to him, and Archenon could venture there again as he pleased. As long as the person still drew breath, they remained an open book to him.
Archenon concentrated. A slight tingle spread from his spine to his forehead. He pushed at Rhonja’s barriers, but, as he always had with her, he faltered. The strength of her mental shield nearly knocked him back to his knees, but Rhonja did not move a muscle. No matter how skilled he had become, Archenon could not enter her mind.
Taking a deep breath, his eyes bored into Rhonja’s. His next words hissed through gritted teeth.
“From the moment I became your apprentice, I have done everything required of me. I speak your language, wear your clothes, and sit tirelessly by your side. I can control my powers. If you take away my last chance to see my mother again, I swear I will never forgive you.”
– Rhonja –
Rhonja believed Archenon. No matter what she had done for him in the past, there was no mistaking him.
The Wild Elves fascinated her. For all their fierceness and longevity, the Wy-alfen-Iliath were so often like children, unable to foresee the consequences of their actions. They approached everything with passion and loved with an abandon that knew neither age, nor gender, once they came of age. If Rhonja could be certain of one thing with Wild Elves, it was that no matter how much time passed, they never forgot. And despite his mixed heritage, Archenon was still a Wild Elf at heart.
His dark skin was tight against the muscles on his sinuous body. Serpentine decorations of black markings adorned his flesh, visible just above the neckline of his tunic. Rhonja admired his loyalty to his kin. Whenever Archenon made a breakthrough with his sorcery, he added a Wild Elven tribal tattoo on his skin, bearing witness to his new accomplishment. It was his way of paying homage to the hunters from Elfen Greenwoods.
It’s not what he wants, but if he cannot join them in the flesh, then at least he will be there in spirit. Rhonja hoped Archenon found comfort in that. There was a possibility her answer might change him. Even so, she had good reasons for her refusal.
She struggled to hide the unfamiliar sadness that had crept into her spirit. She did not desire Archenon’s resentment, but she was not a god. Nature must run its course.
“The tribe’s shaman will ease her pain. Then, as she withers, she will eventually become the source of new life. Take comfort in that, my dear Archenon. Such is the natural order. I will release you from your duties so that you may have time to grieve, but my answer is final.”
Rhonja averted her face as her heart fought her mind. From the first moment she had learned of Archenon’s existence, some part of her had cared for him, and her adoration had grown throughout the centuries.
She did not possess the same romantic feelings Archenon held in his heart, however. To her, he was family. Taking a deep breath, she suppressed an oncoming surge of tears. Archenon’s sorrow and anger burned as her own, but sorcery was extremely treacherous, even if wielded with the best intentions. The image of smoldering flesh she had seen in Archenon’s spirit when he first arrived was never far from her mind. He had already made grave mistakes. And once touched, darkness could never be far from the surface.
Rhonja arose from her white throne. Afraid she could hide her emotions no longer, she hurried out without another word, leaving her young apprentice alone in the Great Hall.
– Archenon –
A terrible weight pressed down on Archenon’s soul. Fuming, he watched his queen through hardened eyes as she swept out of the hall.
Rhonja had betrayed him. Could she really care so little for his wishes and yet so much for those of people she had never met? She never hesitated to aid her subjects when they needed her. When the shadow plague engulfed the city of Beregend, she’d been there to ease the passing of the dying. When the Fiery Mountain reduced Vulkan village to clusters of cinder, she had sent her own guards and stonemasons to help rebuild.
Archenon wanted to scream, but instead his mouth twisted into a hard grimace. He turned and stalked out of the throne room.
A group of castle maids huddled in a nearby doorway. Upon spotting him, their voices faded to whispers. He studied their doll-like faces.
It was hard not to compare himself to the people of Êvina. They looked nothing like him. He towered over them by at least the height of half a man. His skin was dark, while theirs echoed the white marble of the castle.
The seams of Archenon’s man-made clothes cut into his flesh, and the woolen fabric left him overheated and uncomfortable, but there was no use complaining. He had to abide by the High Queen’s wishes. Bound by his mother’s promise, he was, despite Rhonja’s refusal, forever at her service.
He could not betray his mother’s word. The Wild Elves would never accept him back into their tribe if he did. They would burn away his tattoos and cut his hair, then release him into the woods before hunting him down like an animal. It was the punishment all oath-breakers received.
Like all his people, Archenon was naturally hot-blooded and, when given the choice, wore as little as possible. As such, it was not appropriate for Archenon to walk the halls of Êvina looking like the Elves of his tribe. In this moment, however, he did not give a Linden’s last nut to keep up appearances for these short-lived creatures.
He tugged at his clothes, pulling free the drawstring at his waist. One by one, garments fell to the floor until only a pair of black silk shorts remained. The maids were undoubtedly watching him, even if they should not.
No matter how much the Êvinians sought to teach him their ways, he would not forget his heritage. Especially not now. Flinging wide his chamber door, Archenon strode through as the heavy oak crashed into the wall. He slammed it shut behind him. Alone at last, he stood stock still in the middle of the room and breathed. Each inhalation was deeper than the last.
Without warning, he sprang across the room and punched a fist into the wall, again and again and again. He heard the snap of his breaking bones but did not care. Eventually, Archenon’s breathing slowed, and his eyes closed as he crumpled to the marble floor. On the wall, a red streak dripped slowly against the pristine white.