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Messages - Arandir

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1
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re: A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:33:02 PM »
Her hand turned in his, stroking her fingers tenderly against his cheek. "As I love you," she murmured in answer. "It isn't long now - just a few more days before we go back to Anarven."

"Perhaps you can explain the musical to me better then," he teased, still not completely understanding it. Elves didn't really do horror, after all.

She laughed. "I doubt either of us will ever fully understand Rocky Horror," she assured him. "But it's entertaining, and that's what really matters, isn't it?"

"I suppose so," he said, neither agreeing or disagreeing. She enjoyed being part of the theater, and that was all that really mattered, and it seemed he was going to join her again sometime soon. "Are you sure you don't mind me accepting Mataya's offer?" he asked her again. He didn't want her to think he was trying to interfere in her own career.

"Of course I don't mind," she said enthusiastically. "I want you to do what feels right to you, what you will enjoy doing. And I truly loved playing Marsinah to your Caliph in Kismet, a'mael. How often can a woman say she has sung one of the most romantic duets ever written with the man she loves?"

"We don't have to be on stage to sing to each other, melamin," he reminded her, a gentle rub of his thumb against the back of her hand and a soft smile on his face. He didn't break into song just yet, but there was always later.

She giggled, swallowing the last of her meal and setting the plate aside. "I know," she mused. "But it was a lot of fun to do it on stage. No acting required."

"Do you think they noticed?" he asked, eyes bright with amusement. It hardly mattered if the audience had noticed the sincerity in their singing and acting or not. They had received standing ovations every night, either way.

It had been a wonderful experience, nevertheless. "They seemed to enjoy it," Carina said with sweet mischief. "And we made Mataya cry every night, which is a definite success in my book."

By now, most people knew Carina and Aran were married. Even regular theater-goers probably knew by now, as they hadn't kept it secret. "Perhaps we'll be able to sing to each other again," he said, leaning close enough to brush his nose against hers.

"We can but hope," she giggled, tilting her head just enough to kiss the end of his nose. "It will be a relief to go back to performing in normal shoes, though. Those heels are terrifying."

"I hear there was a time when they were in fashion," he said, smiling in amusement as she kissed his nose. He knew time was running out, and she'd have to leave for the theater soon, but he wasn't ready to let her go just yet. "We'll have to make use of your break to work on another child," he teased.

"They still for some people," she laughed, though the sound faded into a shy giggle at his teasing. "Now that sounds like a wonderful use of our time," she agreed, nuzzling him for a moment.

He smiled, nuzzling close and touching another kiss to her lips. "And you're going to be late," he teased her, brushing yet another kiss to her lips and giving her a hint of what awaited her later.

"Not that late," she grinned, more than happy to linger in that kiss for a while longer. She had about half an hour before she'd have to run to get there on time, after all.

"I will always love you, Carina," he whispered against her lips, his fingers tracing the soft curve of her cheek. It didn't really need saying, and yet, he could never say it enough. He loved her more than life itself; more than all the stars in the night sky.

She kissed him once more, breathing him in with absolute comfort and security. She had never thought she would ever meet anyone who matched her so well as Aran did. He was a blessing she would never stop thanking her stars for. As she drew back,  a quiet burble made itself known through the monitor. "And that's my cue to leave, before she makes me feel guilty for it."

He had a feeling Carina would always feel a little guilty for leaving them behind while she spent a few hours with the theater. But he would join her there soon enough, and with plenty of people willing to help, they wouldn't have to worry that little Aluviel wasn't well cared for in their absence.

"Don't worry. I'll take good care of her," he promised, though he didn't need to. It was no secret that he adored their daughter and wasn't afraid of spoiling her a little.

"I know you will." Rising from her seat with another smile, Carina bent to kiss her husband once more before gathering her coat and bag. "I'll text you once I'm at the theater," she told him, as she did every evening when she was performing. "And I'll call you when I'm leaving."

Aran nodded, moving to his feet to walk her to the door. Alu could wait a few more minutes anyway. "Be careful and ..." He paused, before hesitantly adding, "Break a leg." It always seemed like a strange thing to say, but was supposed to convey good luck.

She laughed, knowing how odd he found that wish. "Thank you, a'mael." Squeezing his hand, she pulled open the door. "Have fun without me!"

He waved a hand, lingering at the door to watch her as far as his elven eyes could see, frowning a little now that she was gone, but secure in the knowledge she'd be home safe again in a few hours. "See you soon, a'mael," he whispered as she sauntered down the street with a confident stride.

Behind him, Aluviel's complaints at being still in her cot were getting more strident, demanding that someone come to get her out and have fun with her until bedtime. There were worse ways to spend an evening, after all.

When at last, he could no longer see Carina, he closed the door and made his way up the stairs to collect their daughter. For a few hours, it would just be father and daughter, and though Aran missed Carina, he couldn't help but savor this special time he had alone with his daughter, building bonds between them that he hoped would last a lifetime.

Besides, what daughter wasn't the apple of her father's eye? Aluviel would never doubt it.

2
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re: A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:32:43 PM »

"I wonder how they came to be in Anarven," he said, though it hardly mattered. After all, how had he come to be in Rhy'Din? Had it been his mother who'd sent him here, or had the mirror and the Nexus known this was the best place for him?

"You'd have to ask Luin. She might not even know herself." Setting her tea cup down, Carina moved to wrap her arms about him from behind, kissing the back of his neck affectionately. "It's in the past, a'mael. Luin's just ... edgy ... in the city."

Aran nodded, her embrace drawing him away from his thoughts and back to the world of the present. "The city is much ... different from Anarven," he agreed. Different wasn't quite the word he was looking for, but it would have to do. Comparing the city to Anarven was like comparing day to night.

"It's a very different energy," she agreed. "As much as I enjoy the city, I prefer our quieter pace of life in Anarven. I would much rather our children grew up in total safety there, but learn how to handle themselves on the streets here."

"How to handle themselves on the streets?" he echoed as he glanced her way, his attention momentarily drawn away from the omelet-making. "Do you think they will need to learn how to fight?" he asked, hoping the answer to that question would be no. Then again, it was better they knew how to protect themselves than risked being hurt.

"No, I don't think they will ever need to fight, though they should learn," Carina clarified for him, easing away so she didn't disrupt his cooking. "But there's a certain way of walking that you learn when you grow up in a city, an attitude that most people recognise and won't interfere with you when you're wearing it."

"I'm not sure I know what you mean," he said with a confused expression on his face. He hadn't grown up in a city - at least, not one like Rhy'Din - and though he understood the risks inherent in city life, he wasn't quite sure what she meant by her statement.

"Oh, goodness ... I'm not sure I can describe it." Carina frowned thoughtfully. "It's very straight-backed, walking with purpose, not obviously paying attention to the road or the people around you. You sort of cultivate a field of I don't have time for your nonsense and I will run you down if you get in my way. But it is very subtle. I could probably demonstrate it."

"You mean, walking with confidence? Like ... You know what you're doing and where you're going?" he guessed. He'd never really noticed anything different about the way Carina navigated the city, as opposed to himself or anyone else.

"Something like that, yes," she nodded. "Ideally, you want to hint that if someone tries to give you trouble, you'll give them more than trouble in return. And we both know that, for me, that is an empty threat, but the walk has always worked for me."

"But the city isn't really that dangerous, is it?" he asked uncertainly, as he slid the omelet onto a plate and added a couple slices of toast. He knew there were inherent dangers in every city, but appearing to be human seemed to help them blend.

"No more than any other city, I assume, but it's best to be prepared," Carina said, one shoulder rising and falling in a gentle shrug. "It isn't something our children will have to learn for a good few years yet, anyway."

At least, that much was true, considering the fact that they only had Aluviel right now and she had only recently turned two. "I learned to use a bow when I was eight," Aran told her. A little older for a sword, but not by much.

She smiled at him, sitting down at the table to eat the meal he had prepared for her. "I don't see why we shouldn't continue that tradition," she said. "It's a part of elven heritage, after all."

"What about you?" he asked, refilling her cup of tea and fixing it the way she liked it. In all the time they'd been together, that they'd known each other, they'd never really talked about this or whether they'd teach their own children to fight.

"Me?" She laughed around a mouthful, swallowing quickly. "I know how to stage-fight?" She offered him a slightly rueful grin. "I've never really needed to use a weapon. Adar protected us when we needed protecting, usually with words or magic. I don't think I've ever seen him actually use his staff as a weapon."

"I could teach you," he found himself blurting before realizing it was probably unnecessary. He set the cup of tea down on the table and took a seat across from her, fingers toying with his own tea cup. His past would always cause him to worry about her safety, even if Rhy'Din had never given him cause to.

"Really?" She looked genuinely pleased with such an offer, though he probably hadn't realized she might be. "I would love to learn how to use a bow," she admitted. "It looks like fun."

He chuckled a little. "I'm not sure I would call it fun, but I have heard some call it a sport." He didn't keep himself so isolated in Anarven that he didn't know that. "It is a challenging weapon, but shooting at a target is much different than shooting in battle."

"I doubt I will ever need to shoot in battle," Carina pointed out with another smile. "If it came to that, I would likely be hidden somewhere with our children. I know you well enough to know that."

"I hope you will never need do that, Carina," Aran said, perhaps a little too seriously, but to him, her safety and that of their child was a serious matter. "But I can teach you, if you wish," he repeated, mirroring her smile, his one of warm affection.

"I would like to learn," she agreed, nodding hopefully. "This is delicious, by the way." She was apparently hungry - half the omelet appeared to have been inhaled while they were talking.

He shrugged at her compliment, that smile still on his face. "It's nothing," he said, regarding his cooking. He didn't mind cooking, and omeletes were easy enough. "Should we wait up for you?" he asked, reaching for his cup to take another sip of his tea.

"Put Alu to bed on time," she said. "I'll go in and see her when I come in, anyway. I don't mind if you stay up, though." She knew he would; he worried too much about her walking the short distance from the theater to go to bed before she was safely behind their locked front door.

"Of course, I will," he assured her, with another smile, though she probably knew that already. He always waited up for her, no matter how late she might be. Now that she was nearly done with her meal, he reached for her hand and drew it to his lips for a kiss. "Amin mela lle," he told her softly.

3
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re: A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:32:18 PM »
"I suppose," he replied, uncertainly. Of course, he supposed that one could strain their voice, too, if they used it too much. "Perhaps you're just gaining confidence," he suggested. She wasn't as shy on stage as she'd once been, that much was certain.

"Maybe." She shrugged one shoulder vaguely. "I just enjoy singing. I think if you find joy in something and do it enough, you're bound to improve, aren't you?"

"I suppose so," he admitted. "How does the saying go? Practice makes perfect?" he said, more statement than question. It was a saying he'd heard said among the human population, but it seemed to ring true. He smiled again as another thought came to mind. "But to me, you are already perfect," he said, leaning close to brush a kiss against her cheek.

She giggled softly, lifting her chin to answer that kiss with her own. "You are a little biased, a'mael," she pointed out, but no less fond for that. "I will never not be grateful for meeting you."

"Nor will I, melamin," he replied softly, savoring that kiss, as he did all her kisses. There had been a time when he'd first found himself in Rhy'Din that he'd thought he felt all alone; that he'd thought he'd never find anyone to share his life with, but all that had changed the day she'd accidentally tripped over him.

She smiled, leaning into him easily. "I suppose I should make something to eat," she mused. "I have to be at the theater in two hours."

"I can make something," he said, quick to volunteer. "What would you like?" He took another sip of his tea before setting it aside and moving to take a look in the fridge. He might have suggested grabbing a bite out, but Alu was still napping, and he was on parental duty tonight.

"Something quick and light?" she suggested, smiling at his sudden burst of motion and enthusiasm. She really didn't deserve Aran, but she would fight to the death to keep him. "You don't have to have the same thing."

"It's okay. I'll eat with Alu later," he assured her. He'd miss her while she was at the theater, but he couldn't follow her around all the time with a small child to tend to. "Hmm, what would you prefer? An omelet or a sandwich?" he asked, though she was not limited to only those options, if she had a better idea.

"I think I would prefer an omelet," Carina mused. "Do we have any ham to put in it?" She peered over his shoulder, studying the contents of the fridge herself.

"I think so," he confirmed, as he reached for the eggs and the rest of the omelet fixings.

He didn't bother to ask how she liked it or what she liked in it, as he knew her well enough to know the answers to those questions already. There was something that was bothering him, but tonight was no different than any other night.

"You'll call me when you're on your way home?" he asked. He never ceased to worry about her when they were in the city, not feeling quite as safe as he did back in Anarven.

"Of course I will," she promised him. "I'll stay on the phone right to our front door - it's only about ten minutes, sweetheart." Others might have found his reminder annoying - for Carina, it was just another example of how loved she was.

"I know, but ..." He frowned, knowing he was probably worrying over nothing, but they both knew the city wasn't as safe as Anarven. "I'm sorry, Carina. I know I worry too much," he confessed with a sigh as he pushed the fridge closed with an elbow, his arms full of omelet fixings.

"I grew up in this city, Aran," she reminded him in a gentle voice. "I know Anarven is about as safe as you could ever wish for, but Rhy'Din City isn't so bad. I promise you, I'll be fine. I know how to handle myself in this place."

"I know, but would it be so bad to ask Luin to escort you?" he asked. At the very least, when she was pregnant. Or maybe he'd ask someone to stay with Alu so he could escort her himself, if and when she was with child. Then again, he wasn't sure how long she'd continue working in that case.

Carina bit down on a laugh, not wanting to upset him with that reaction. "Have you ever seen her in the city?" she asked, trying to keep the amusement from her voice. "I'd be in more danger with her than on my own. She incites violence all over the place here."

He deposited the omelet fixings on the counter, brows furrowed at her reaction to his suggestion. "How so?" he asked, glancing her way momentarily and looking more curious than confused before turning to start cooking.

"She has a tendency to take offense at people just looking at her," she explained with a smile. "You don't generally see elves in full forest rig in the city, so she attracts interest. But she sees that interest as hostile, so she reacts with hostility."

"I'm sure she has good reason," Aran said, though he knew very little about Luin's history. Then again, they didn't need anyone instigating trouble for them, purposely or not. Anarven was a peaceful village, and he hoped it would stay that way.

"I think she might still have some instincts left over from before she came to Rhy'Din," Carina mused. "I don't know much about that, really - just that it was a life or death decision for them to leave. She apparently turned up in the forests outside Anarven as a child, with a band of other children with her."

"A band of children?" Aran asked, as he broke the eggs and whipped them together in a bowl before pouring them into a frying pan. That didn't sound good, and only left him with more questions than answers. "A band of children from another world," he murmured, reminded of his own world's history.

"Yeah." Carina sighed softly. "I never asked more about it. But all the redheaded elves in Anarven are Luin's people. Barely a handful of them."

"Then, they were all orphans," he said, though he assumed they'd all found homes in Anarven. He'd thought his own story was sad, but perhaps Luin's was even sadder.

"I guess so. But I don't think they consider themselves orphans," she offered hopefully. "They were taken in by families in Anarven, and most of them don't even remember their original home. They were very young, apparently."

4
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re: A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:32:00 PM »
"How can she know such things?" he asked, though it seemed a ghost would be capable of watching people unseen, hence possibly deducing their thoughts. "I was not sure of myself when I started at the theater, but she never spoke to me," he reasoned.

"I don't know. Maybe she thought you didn't need her, because you had me?" Carina smiled at him, kissing his cheek fondly. "Your uncertainties when we started at the theater didn't really have to do with acting."

"Perhaps not," he conceded with a small shrug, unwilling to dwell on the past, especially now that he'd found his happy ending with Carina. He had changed since those early days in Rhy'Din, gaining confidence and putting trust in his abilities. He smiled at the memory of those early days when the two of them had just met. "You were my first love," he told her, turning to brush his fingertips against her cheek.

"Only were?" she asked with a teasing lilt to her voice, easing close enough to brush the tip of her nose to his. "I haven't regretted being clumsy since the day it threw me into your lap."

"My only love," he was quick to correct himself, smiling softly back at her as her nose brushed his. "It's a good thing I caught you, or I may never have gathered the courage to say hello," he admitted.

"I'll always be glad you did," she promised, lips tenderly touching his in a soft kiss. "My parents and grandparents adore you, you know. You have so much more than just me and Alu to call family now, a'mael."

"And my people adore you, melamin," he told her, though she should already know that by now. It had taken some time for his people to get accustomed to Rhy'Din, but now that they were settled, he had more free time to spend with his own family and friends. "Your family is my family, and my people are your people," he added, touching his forehead to hers.

"Always," she agreed in a whisper, looping her arms about his waist as they lingered together, enjoying the easy embrace. "You know," she added in a thoughtful murmur, "the midwife says that I should be able to conceive again anytime now."

Aran arched a brow at that bit of information. "Are you saying you want another child?" he asked, the faintest hint of a smile on his face, as if he was trying to hide it.

She tilted her head, smiling impishly up at him. "I wouldn't say no," she admitted softly. "I'd like Alu to have what we didn't have - a brother or sister to grow up with."

"I would like that, too, melamin," he told her softly, fingers gently grazing her cheek and wandering into her hair. It might not happen right away, but it would happen. He brushed his lips against hers in a tender kiss, lingering a moment to enjoy the warmth of her lips against his.

She smiled into that kiss, breathing him in as they leaned into each other, always more than content in Aran's arms. If it hadn't been for the whistle of the kettle behind her, she could quite happily have stayed there, too.

"Tea time," she murmured, drawing back.

He drew a soft breath as she pulled away, an almost amused smile on his face. With Alu napping and due to wake any moment, there wasn't much time to indulge in lovemaking, but he'd make it up to her later.

"You might have to take some time off from the theater," he reminded her, though they'd been through this once before.

"But this time I know I can go back, when the time is right," she pointed out warmly, easing from his arms to lift the kettle off the heat and pour the water into the pot to steep. "I would like more children, as many as we may be allowed to have. More than one is a blessing in itself."

He frowned thoughtfully, not because he was worried, but because he simple wasn't sure how many children they'd be physically able to have. His people had been barren before coming to Rhy'Din, and he had only been born because his father had been human.

"How-how many do you think we could have?" he asked curiously. He supposed that depended on their longevity.

"I don't know," Carina admitted, curious herself. "The midwife seems certain that we have only slightly lower odds than a human couple might, and certainly higher than elves. I shouldn't think we would be able to have more than three, though, and even that seems ambitious."

"Each child is a blessing," Aran said, believing that without a doubt. He was half-elf, after all, and for elves, children were a rare blessing. "I will be happy no matter how many we have, even if we only have one," he assured her.

"I know," she promised, "and so will I. But there's no harm in letting nature make that decision for us, right?" She waggled her brows at him with suggestive mischief, laughing as she turned to pour out the tea.

"No, I suppose not," he replied, chuckling in amusement at her teasing. As far as he was concerned, she really was adorable, just like their daughter. Even if she didn't get pregnant, it would be fun trying.

Setting the pot aside, she handed him a cup of tea before lifting her own into her cupped hands. "Whatever you decide to do, we'll make it work," she told him fondly.

"Whatever I decide?" Aran echoed, taking the cup of tea between his hands, but not yet sipping. Whether she was referring to the theater or to the possibility of another child, the decision wasn't just his to make.

"About the theater," she clarified with a smile. "Ultimately, it is your decision whether you choose to take the guest spot or not. But we are more than capable of making that work for us."

"Well, it is only a guest spot," Aran agreed, which meant it was unlikely to be too much of a commitment, and he was sure they'd find a way to work it out, even if they did have another child. He took a sip of his tea, a warm smile on his face at the thought of something else. "She said your voice is getting stronger," he told her, regarding Mataya's remark about Carina's singing.

She bit her lip, blushing at the secondhand compliment. "Well, my top notes aren't as reedy as they used to be," she admitted shyly. "I suppose the more you use your voice, the better supported it is?"

5
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re: A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:31:42 PM »
"You do not think the others will think it's favoritism?" he asked, with that worried frown again. He shifted Aluviel slightly in his arms as they approached the small house they used in the city when they needed to be close to the theater.

"Even if they do, it is her theater," Carina pointed out, shaking out her keys to unlock the door. "You're a former cast member, Aran. It isn't favoritism to invite you back to fill a guest spot recently vacated."

"I suppose it was only a matter of time before Josh and Dru had to leave the theater," he said, a little sad that their friends would no longer be part of the theater, but that didn't mean they couldn't still be friends. Though Aran was a prince himself, he did not have to carry the weight of responsibility that did their friends.

Ushering him inside, Carina smiled faintly. "It isn't as though they're going to disappear from our lives, Aran," she reminded him in a gentle tone. "They make a point of visiting us whenever they come up to Rhy'Din, and who knows? Maybe one day soon we'll be able to visit them in Tirisano."

"Do you think so?" Aran asked, uncertainly. There were no elves in Tirisano, after all, and he came from a place where there was so much hatred between the two races, it had caused a war.

"Yeah, I do," she said confidently. "They have a young population, and they recently completely overhauled their governing body. I think the people of that country are more than ready to start learning more about the world outside their borders."

"I have often wondered ..." Aran started, as he followed her into the house. "Why are there no elves there?" he asked. Had something happened that had caused the elves to leave Tirisano or had they never lived there at all? He found Rhy'Din history confusing at best, and though Tirisano was outside of Rhy'Din's borders, how was it that only humans had populated the place?

"Honestly, I have no idea," she admitted. "But apparently Tirisano was once a part of a larger country that had provinces strictly separate from each other. It probably comes from that."

"Do you think those provinces were once populated by different races before breaking apart?" he asked, as he moved toward the stairs that led to the bedrooms, so that he could settle Aluviel down for a nap.

"I think so. That would make sense, seeing the way Tirisano is now," Carina mused, setting her bag aside before following him up the stairs. "You know, I can't imagine a place where only one race has created the art and culture over centuries. It must be pretty unique there."

Aran wasn't sure what he thought about that. He'd been raised by elves and grown up in a place where elven and human cultures and settlements were kept very separate. Things were very different here in Rhy'Din. Even in Anarven, they welcomed races of all kinds, so long as they wished to live in peace. "We had our own customs and culture in Ilythelin," he told her. "There was a time when we were friendly with humans and even sought to help them." But that was long before he'd been born.

"Dru wants to make Tirisano as open to others as Rhy'Din is, but I think they're going to have to take it slowly," she said thoughtfully. "It's a big change for an insular community, and if it isn't handled right, it'll result in tension."

Or worse, thought Aran, though he didn't say that out loud. He fell silent a moment as he laid little Aluviel in her crib, leaning over to gently brush her hair back from her face, and tuck both her and her stuffed rabbit under a blanket. It was obvious from the tender look of affection on his face that he adored her. She would probably wake soon enough, but he'd rather she woke on her own than wake her before she was ready.

"Tea?" he whispered to Carina, once their daughter was tucked in for her afternoon nap.

Chin on his shoulder, arms tucked about him from behind, Carina took a moment to smile down at their sleeping daughter affectionately before she answered.

"That sounds wonderful," she whispered back. She only had a couple of hours before she had to get back for the evening's performance, but she did enjoy quiet times with Aran whenever she could get them.

He turned to face her, a warm smile on his face as he took her hand in his to usher her from the room, as quietly as he could so as not to wake their daughter. "I think she enjoyed watching you today," he told her as they exited the nursery and he led the way back down the stairs.

"I'm glad she feels comfortable enough at the theater to fall asleep," she said quietly, smiling as she followed him back down the stairs. "I guess Hortense didn't make herself known, huh?"

"If she did, I didn't notice," Aran replied. There were other ways they could have spent the few hours before Carina was due back at the theater, but there was no telling when Alu would wake, and they'd grown fond of the few moments of quiet the time afforded them.

"I don't think she would risk frightening Alu," Carina said, setting the kettle on the stove to boil. "She's very fond of our theater family, in her way, although she does not approve of Rocky Horror at all." She giggled quietly. "I think it's the men in corsets that embarrass her."

"Have you spoken to her recently?" Aran asked, as he went about gathering tea fixings from the cupboard. They didn't stay here very often these days, but it was still a home away from home.

"Not more than a greeting," she admitted. "The last time she made time to speak to me was when I went back to the theater after Alu was born." She smiled, fond of the theater ghost. "Apparently she's been spending more time near the offices during the day, because Mataya is so entertaining to watch."

"Oh," Aran murmured, frowning in thought. "She's never spoken to me," he said, wondering why that was, but then, there were some who had never even seen the so-called theater ghost and others who didn't believe in her.

Carina smiled gently at him, laying her hand on his back. "Apparently she only speaks to people who need her to," she murmured, kissing his shoulder. "It doesn't happen that often."

"Why would they need her to speak to them?" Aran asked curiously, glancing momentarily her way before turning back to set the cups on the counter.

"Lack of confidence, or insecurity, maybe?" Carina shrugged. "I don't know. She just seems to know when her actors need someone to talk to, and afterwards, you're less uncertain of things."


6
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re: A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:24:58 PM »
Carina laughed, shaking her head as she kissed Alu's cheek. "I'm fine," she promised Aran. "I've been falling off those heels all week - not when I'm dancing, just when I'm walking around. My clumsiness has exquisite timing."

"They are a little impractical," Aran said, having seen the shoes up close. Impractical was putting it mildly, he thought, but he understood they were part of her costume. "I do not understand the show," he confessed to her something he would not have admitted to Mataya.

"I don't understand all of it myself," Carina admitted. "It's rooted in the culture on one of the Earths in the 1970s, I think. There are a lot of cultural touchstones there that we just don't have."

"It has to do with an autumn festival, does it not?" he asked, uncertainly. He didn't quite understand the concept of Halloween, its origins or traditions. His own people had celebrated the autumn harvest in a very different way than did those of Rhy'Din, it seemed.

"I think so?" She didn't seem too sure about it herself. "I don't know. It's silly, and the audiences enjoy how interactive it is. So long as people have fun, I guess it doesn't really matter where it came from."

"I suppose not," Aran conceded. He knew the musical had something to do with old Earth films known as "B horror movies", but he wasn't entirely sure what that meant. "But you are enjoying the show?" he asked, as that was all that was really important.

"I am." Her smile assured him of that, at least; the costumes might have taken a little time to get used to, but inhabiting a character always helped. "Did the two of you enjoy your little glimpse into the chaos?"

Aran smiled, glancing briefly at the little girl in his arms. "We did, until someone fell asleep," he told her, though that much seemed obvious. "Are you ready to go home?" he asked, though home for now was the apartment in Rhy'Din Mataya had mentioned, until the current show had finished its run.

Carina nodded. "Oh, yes," she agreed. "I don't need to be back here for two hours or so." She stroked her hand over Aluviel's back, smiling when the little girl mumbled in her sleep before pressing her face closer into Aran's shoulder.

"Her bunny tired her out," Aran explained, though that was obviously not really true. He would have taken Carina's hand, if it were not for the fact that he was holding their daughter. He did lean closer, however, to touch a kiss to her lips. "I do not understand the play, but you were amazing," he told her quietly, even though it had only been rehearsal.

She beamed into his kiss, preening under his praise. "I am glad you enjoyed seeing part of it," she answered, shouldering her bag as they turned together to leave the auditorium. "Did I see you talking to Mataya?"

"Yes," he replied, falling into step beside her with a small thoughtful frown on his face. "She asked if I wished to return to the theater as a guest. With Josh taking a break, it seems she is short a performer," he explained.

Carina's face lit up brightly at this prospect. "Oh, what a lovely offer," she declared. "Would you consider it? I know you wanted to focus on Anarven and our family a while longer after I came back."

"I don't know," he replied, as honestly as he could. "I did not think I would miss it, but it was ... fun," he said, hesitating a moment before finding the word he was looking for. There had not been a lot of fun in his life, until he'd found himself in Rhy'Din and employed at the Shanachie.

"Fun is worth having in your life," she said gently. "No one would begrudge you a spot at the Shanachie, melamin. Anarven is thriving."

"Yes, but we would have to find someone to watch Alu," he pointed out. "Can you think of anyone who we would trust her with?" he asked, a teasing sparkle in his eyes as they both knew Carina's parents would love the chance to watch their grand-daughter from time to time.

She laughed. "There might have to be a schedule between my parents and my grand-parents," she said in amusement. One thing that was in no doubt was that Alu would always have someone who loved her to look after her in her parents' absence.

"But do you think she'd miss us too much?" he asked, with a brief but loving glance at their daughter all nestled against his chest. In truth, they wouldn't be away that much, especially if he were only performing as an occasional guest, whenever he was needed.

"I think it may be good for all of us to have a little time apart from time to time," Carina mused. "It would only be for a few hours at a time. I am sure my parents would happily live in the city for two weeks at a time during performances."

"I would only be a guest performer," he told her. At least, for now. It was the best of both worlds, really, as the saying went. That way, he'd be able to partake in the shows from time to time, but still have time for his family and his people. "I don't know why I didn't think of it before," he admitted, with a bit of a chuckle at himself, but at the time, he had thought it more important to be there for his people who had newly arrived in Rhy'Din.

"I could probably make a guess," she said, still smiling. "Whatever you do, you throw yourself into it with everything you have. It would never have occurred to you to think you could also do something else while helping our people settle in."

"No, I suppose not," Aran conceded with a faint smile. At present, he had thrown himself into being a father, but now that Alu was no longer a baby, this parenting thing was getting easier. "But how do you feel about it?" he asked, needing to know whether she'd mind him sharing involvement in the theater company with him.

"A'mael, I want to see you happy," Carina reminded him fondly, producing her keys from her bag as they turned down the side street that held their little house. "If this would add to your happiness, then of course I'm right behind it."

"I am happy, melamin," he assured her, frowning faintly. "I did not think I would miss the theater, but watching you on stage, seeing how happy you are, reminds me how much ... fun it was." There was that word again - fun. There was almost no translation for it in his language.

"Then I think you should at least give it a try," his wife told him fondly. "Mataya wouldn't ask you if she didn't think you were more than good enough to be on her stage, you know that."


7
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re: A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:24:40 PM »
"Have they?" Aran asked, already feeling pangs of envy at the thought of Mataya arranging for a small company to play in Tirisano. There was no question that he missed the theater, but he had not thought to ask if he could return. "Would you truly welcome me back?" he asked, curiously, though there was no reason to think she had lied to him about that.

"Without a second thought," she assured him. "I know you have an apartment here in the city that you use when Carina's on stage, and I can hook you up with a babysitter for nights when you're both performing if you need one. I miss hearing you sing, Aran."

Aran frowned again, this time feeling a mix of guilt and embarrassment at Mataya's confession. "I have been busy, but my people are mostly settled now," he told her. His main duties these days involved being a father, more than a prince.

"You should do what you want to do, Aran," 'Taya told him. "Not to please me, although I am very easy to please. We'd love to have you back, even in a guest slot. But it is your decision to make, no one else's."

He glanced at the stage, where his wife and some of the friends he'd made here were practicing for that evening's performance.

"I do miss it," he admitted quietly, mostly to himself. He'd never realized how much he might miss it, until he was no longer going to rehearsals and performances, except as Carina's husband and a member of the audience.

Mataya watched him for a moment, absently smoothing his daughter's hair from her face. "Think about it, okay?" she suggested. "You don't have to make a decision right here, right now. Talk to Carina about it and let me know."

"Yes, I will have to speak with Carina," Aran admitted.

It was a tempting offer, but he could not give Mataya an answer until he spoke with his wife. Arrangements would have to be made for their daughter, but he had a feeling there were plenty of people who would be more than happy to care for her while they were busy with the theater, including Carina's parents.

Mataya was careful not to let her delight at this hopeful response be too overwhelming, limiting herself to a happy smile.

"I look forward to hearing from you, then," she said, glancing up at the stage and then at her watch. "Looks like they're going to finish up with plenty of time for dinner before the curtain rises."

"Thank you, Mataya," he told her with a warm smile. "I appreciate the offer and will consider it," he said, which was almost as good as saying yes, though he did have to discuss it with Carina first.

"It's my pleasure, Aran," she assured him, grinning as Alu let out a deep sigh and cuddled into her father's chest, hugging her rabbit close. "Looks like someone might need to get out of here for a little bit."

Aran glanced down at his daughter, his smile deepening, and one hand absently stroking her back. "She's had a busy day," he explained. It was apparently hard work watching her mother audition, but she seemed content enough to nap against her father's chest.

"She's beautiful, Aran," Mataya said softly through her smile. "And she looks so much like you, too. No chance anyone would mistake who her father is."

"Do you think so?" he asked, brows arching upwards. He'd been told that before, but he wasn't too sure. He thought she looked like Carina, though their daughter's hair was lighter in color and closer to his.

"Yeah, I do. But I think she's got her mom's eyes." Mataya's smile softened at his expression. "She's a pretty sweet mix of the both of you."

"Thank you," he replied, his smile bright with the pride and joy of parenthood. He had never understood the depth of a parent's love until he'd had a daughter of his own. "She brings so much joy to our lives."

"That's the best part of having children," Mataya agreed. She squeezed his shoulder once again, moving to stand up. "I should get back to work. Don't be a stranger, okay?"

He would have stood, too, if it was not for the small child resting contentedly against his chest. He smiled in agreement at her statement, as well as at her welcome.

"Thank you, Mataya. You are a good friend. I will have an answer for you in a few days," he assured her. He had always thought of her as his superior, but he was starting to realize that she was also his friend.

"I'm a delightful force of nature, according to my family," she corrected him cheerfully. "Take care, Aran. Talk to you soon!"

With a last bright smile and a wave, Mataya slipped back toward the back of the stalls and the door out of the auditorium, leaving him to consider what had been said as the rehearsal broke up on stage.

Unable to argue with that, he only chuckled as she departed. He had come here to watch Carina practice, but it seemed he would be going away with something more to think about. He waved a hand toward the stage to get Carina's attention before carefully moving to his feet, little Aluviel still napping in his arms. He didn't really understand what the show was all about, but he could still appreciate the absurdity of it.

Thankfully, it hadn't been a full dress rehearsal, so his wife only needed to change out of the ridiculous high heels before hopping down off the stage to join him.

"Well, at least we know if it goes wrong again we can just keep going," she said cheerfully, leaning up to kiss his cheek.

"Are you all right?" he asked, looking just a little concerned. "I saw you trip." Thankfully, Mataya had proved enough of a distraction that he hadn't rushed onto the stage to make sure she was unhurt.


8
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / A Few Changes
« on: October 23, 2019, 08:24:23 PM »
Not every production goes smoothly. At the Shanachie, as with many other theaters across the multiverse, sometimes the performers were asked to arrive an hour or so earlier than they would for the next performance, to run through what had gone awry the evening before. Today was one of those days.

Mataya De Luca, owner and sometime performer when she could be talked into it, stood in the back of the stalls, watching the swift run-through of two of the musical numbers with a practised eye. A quiet giggle caught her attention, and she let her eyes slip toward a figure seated in the stalls, a toddler on his lap. Oh, yes. She'd been hoping to catch Aran for a quick chat.

The giggle was coming from little Aluviel - Aran and Carina's daughter - who had just turned two in June and who was half-elf and half-human, like her parents before her. It seemed the giggling was in part due to the silliness taking part on stage, but mostly due to the fact that her father was silently imitating the actions with his daughter's stuffed bunny.

Smiling at the little scene, Mataya pushed herself from her lean against the back wall, making her way toward the father and daughter. Her hand gently touched Aran's shoulder as she slipped a couple of seats along the row behind him.

"Hello, stranger."

A few years ago, Aran might have been startled by the interruption, as gentle and friendly as it was, but he had come a long way since his arrival in Rhy'Din some years ago. Instead of a startled expression, he only smiled, pleasantly surprised to find Mataya herself greeting him.

"Mae govannen, Mataya," he greeted her in his native language. "You remember Alu," he added, regarding his daughter.

"I do," Mataya agreed, leaning over the back of the seat to gently tweak Aluviel's nose. "Getting prettier every time I see her, too." The toddler beamed, holding up her rabbit to have his nose tweaked as well, which Mataya was more than happy to do. "You're looking well, Aran," she added, smiling at the half-elf warmly.

"As are you," he replied, not only because it was polite, but because it was true. He hoped he was right in his assumption, as he thought it impolite to pry. "Carina has been so excited to get back to work again," he said, smiling warmly. She hadn't had a large part in the recent production of Mary Poppins, but had played the lead role in My Fair Lady back in July.

"That voice of hers just gets stronger and stronger," Mataya told him, deeply approving of the very musical young family she insisted she had brought together just by employing the pair of them. "How is your voice doing these days? Not missing the theater?"

There was a brief small flicker of a frown on his face at the question. Either he was confused by the questions or troubled by them.

"My voice has not changed, Mataya," he told her, unsure why it would. Even without training and practice, he was gifted with a naturally perfect tenor voice.

Laughing quietly, Mataya patted his shoulder. "I always manage to confuse you, don't I?" she said. "I'm wondering if you would like to be a guest here again, Aran. Josh is taking time away, since they're expecting their first."

"A guest?" Aran echoed, looking just a little less confused. "But I did not audition," he pointed out. Then again, she had invited him without a formal audition once before, and it was her theater; hence, she could do whatever she wanted. "Did Josh tell you to ask me?" he said, a little suspiciously.

Josh and Dru had told him they were taking time off from the theater and had even gone so far as hinted that Mataya might be looking for someone to take Josh's place, but Aran hadn't thought much about it.

"As a former cast member in good standing, you don't need to audition," she pointed out to him. The suspicion in his voice and face made her laugh quietly. "I may have suggested to him that you would be my first choice if you were interested, but I didn't think he was listening. I genuinely think he was expecting me to throw him out for needing to take time with his family."

Both Josh and Aran were not only juggling a wife and family, but royal duties as princes of their respective nations and people. It was why chiefly why Aran had left the theater a few years ago, to focus on helping his people settle in Rhy'Din, but that had mostly been accomplished by now.

"His life has changed since becoming Prince Consort," Aran pointed out, though Mataya likely knew that already. He wasn't sure exactly what kind of responsibilities Josh and Dru had to manage in the neighboring country of Tirisano, but he had a feeling it kept them busy.

"So I hear," she agreed quietly. "But there'll always be a place open for him here, if he wants it. Same goes for Dru, although I get why she won't perform again. All it would take would be one photograph, and the scandal would be immense for them."

"Scandal?" Aran echoed, looking a little confused again. Even after a few years here, Rhy'Din could still be a little confusing. "Why would there be a scandal?" Dru was a sovereign in her own nation, but she was just Dru Granger here in Rhy'Din.

"A ruling monarch taking time out of her duties to perform on stage in another country would cause no end of unrest at home," Mataya explained with a regretful smile. "Tirisano doesn't have the same culture that we do here in Rhy'Din - they don't have musical theater, or any race other than human. Josh and Dru are working on that, but it's going to take time."

"I see," Aran murmured.

There was that frown again, this time thoughtful. His people hadn't known theater either, until they'd come here, but he and Carina had introduced it to them and encouraged their patronage of the Shanachie and other theaters in Rhy'Din. His answer was mostly in reply to the mention of scandal, though. He didn't need to worry about such things, now that he and his people were settled in Rhy'Din. He privately wondered if the people of Tirisano were prejudiced against elves and other races, but was too polite to ask. Josh and Dru had never seemed to be, but he wasn't sure that mattered.

"Do you think they will miss it?"

"Honestly? Yeah, I think they will." Mataya sighed softly, glancing up at the stage as someone took a fall from their heels. She smirked faintly at the laughter this entailed before returning to the conversation. "But it doesn't mean they'll stop visiting here, or stop coming to the theater. They've already asked if I can put together a small company to introduce musical theater to Tirisano, so they obviously have plans on that score."

9
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re:
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:37:59 PM »
"That is all you wish?" Aran asked, brows arching upwards as he came to a halt not from the little gnome's home. He had expected him to demand payment in the way of gold or gems or perhaps some rare artifact, not simply peace and solitude.

The little druid turned back to face him, one bony finger pointing down at the ground at his feet. "Four hundred years I've tended this soil, cared for this land," he declared. "Not long now. Heh, new druid needed soon! See what you do then!" He cackled for a moment, coughing into his wide palm.

"Are you ill?" Aran asked, coming a single step closer, his expression turning compassionate. He knew a little healing; not so much as some of those among his kind, but he was not afraid to help those who needed it.

"Hehehe, can't heal this, elf boy," the gnome told him with confident amusement. "The Mother calls. Part of the natural way, so 'tis." He sobered, letting out a long sigh. "Peace should be mine before I go. So many voices, so many intruders. No peace."

"What if we could bring you such peace?" Aran asked. He wasn't sure yet how it might be accomplished, but he was willing to try to find out, whether the solution mean magic or some other means. He felt a twinge of sympathy for the old gnome, who only desired a little peace before he died. And yet, there was still the matter of the gnolls and the captive drow.

For a moment, the old gnome looked his age, small and wizened and tired of life. "Give much, I would, for peace at the end," he said wearily, shaking his head.

Luin glanced at Hal, uncertain if she should interrupt with the idea in her mind. Perhaps she should wait until Aran had responded himself.

"All we ask is for advice ..." Aran said, trailing off a moment as he glanced to the trees in search of the hummingbird. "What will happen to the drow when you are gone?" he asked curiously, wondering if it was even necessary to bargain for her release or if it an inevitability.

Nesgrim let out a dismissive huff of breath. "Spells die when I die," he said. "Tree dies. She wears tree, she dies. No more drow." His laugh was definitely unpleasant.

Aran frowned again. He wasn't sure why he cared so much about either the gnome or the drow, but it wasn't in his nature not to care. "If we can give you the peace you so desire, then will you tell us how to keep the gnolls from the village and free the drow into our care?"

Nesgrim scowled. "How?" he asked warily.

Luin saw her chance - she was the only magic user here. "We can create a barrier, with magic," she offered in a quiet tone. "One that will allow the animals and the plants to cross freely, but nothing and no one else."

Aran glanced at Luin, brows arching upwards. He had considered a similar solution to their gnoll problem, but how long would such a thing hold up and how hard would it be to keep in place?

"There you have it," Aran said, turning back to the gnome. "What do you say to that?"

Nesgrim scratched at his bald patch thoughtfully. "You magic, red?"

Luin shook her head. "I'm learning," she told him. "But we have mages and wizards who could do this."

The gnome frowned. "Gnolls easy," he admitted, waving a hand. "Three days, you come back."

"And the drow?" Aran asked, hoping he wasn't pressing his luck, but whatever her bloodline, she was clearly an elf, and he could not in good conscience leave her to die.

The gnome's frown deepened to a scowl. "Drow dies," he said irritably. "Less evil in the world when she does."

Luin sighed, her eyes seeking Hal once again. They could possibly steal the little hummingbird, but how could they change her back and get that circlet from her neck?

"That is not what you said," Aran pointed out, turning the druid's words back around on him. "You said we could pay for her freedom, and the price is your peace. Those are the terms of our bargain."

The sharp eyes narrowed above the scowl. But the prospect of a peaceful end was too enticing, and though he didn't know Aran, he knew Raniel would not send a liar. "Fine, she too," he grumped, waving his hand. "Three days, gnolls gone. You keep promise, drow go with you then."

"You have my word as Prince of Ilyethlin," Aran replied, though Ilyethlin was no more. "We will return in three days. Now, please return our weapons so that we can leave you in peace," he told the druid. They might need them in case they ran into the gnolls on the way back.

"Take 'em." The gnome jerked his head toward the collection of weapons stacked by one of the large roots. He muttered to himself as he stumped back into his tree house, slamming the door behind him.

Luin rolled her eyes, sighing. "It could have gone worse."

"It could have gone better," Hal muttered, now that the druid had left them alone. He went to the cache of weapons to retrieve his bow and his sword, while Aran's eyes drifted once again to the trees in search of that elusive hummingbird.

"What do you know of dark elves, Luin? Are they really evil, as the druid claims?"

Strapping her weapons back into place, Luin considered the question. "I know that the drow are evil, but they are also matriarchal, and no drow female would ever meekly consent to being collared like that," she said thoughtfully. "Most dark elves in Rhy'Din don't conform to that mould - that's why they're here."

"They are refugees, like us," Aran said, more statement than question. He wasn't sure if he included Luin in that statement, as he wasn't entirely sure of her history, but he assumed she was alluding to something like that.

"Or outcasts," she agreed quietly. "I don't feel a sense of evil from this one. She didn't even look us in the eye." Above them, the hummingbird flitted in and out of the branches, unable to come down, it seemed, without the gnome's instruction.

There was that pang of sympathy again, and Aran frowned, as he watched the pretty thing flit about in an attempt to free herself. "We will come back for you in a few days, little one. I swear," he promised her quietly. "And then, you will be free."

Whether the little hummingbird heard or not did not truly matter. What mattered was that the promise had been made, the bargain struck. With luck, in just a few days, they would have both peace with the gnolls and a new member of their sanctuary home. Yet all they could do now was wait, and hope that Nesgrim was true to his word.

10
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re:
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:37:38 PM »
"Oh, that red one's too flighty with her arrows." The gnome waved his staff, and the vines hoisted Luin just a little higher off the ground. He cackled, turning back to Aran. "Prince, he say?"

"I was a prince once. It no longer matters. That place is no more. Here I am just another of Rhy'Din's refugees, though I do my best to keep my people safe." Aran glanced over at his friends and frowned, assuming the druid did not trust them because of their weapons. "If they put their weapons aside, will you let them down?" he asked, as politely as he could.

Nesgrim considered this, then nodded, the movement dislodging a few leaves from his wild hair.

"Girl!" he yelled, his cracked voice uncomfortably loud in the stillness.

There was a suggestion of movement in the shadows of the oak's branches, and a small hummingbird swept down toward them, transforming at a snap of the gnome's fingers into a diminutive dark elven woman. Her clothing was ragged, but had once been finely made, her hair silver-white against stone dark skin, and around her neck was twisted a circle of those same vines. The gnome banged his staff on the ground, and that circle tightened for just a moment before loosening.

"Weapons. Take 'em."

The dark elf nodded, keeping her eyes downcast, and moved to take the weapons from the hanging elves - first from Luin, and then Hal.

Aran's face betrayed first astonishment at the transformation, then confusion at the elf's presence here, and then his brows furrowed in annoyance at the realization that she was most likely - for whatever reason - a prisoner of the druid. Though he tried not to show it, that rankled him a little. He had seen a few of her kind in Rhy'Din and though she was darker skinned than his own people, she was obviously of elven blood.

"Who is she?" he asked, as he looked back at the druid. "And why is she here?"

The gnome scowled, spitting at the dark elf's bare feet. "Drow," he muttered. "Murderers, thieves, all of them. Womenfolk the worst. Earning her life is what she is doing."

The elven woman slipped past, stacking the weapons carefully out of reach. As she straightened, Nesgrim thumped his staff against the ground again, and where the dark elf had stood now hovered the hummingbird once more.

Aran had been of a mind to give up the knife he'd hidden inside his boot, but the elf had collected the weapons too quickly for him to do so, and he had decided he did not trust the gnome enough to give up the only weapon the three of them might have between them. "You have proof that she has done these things?" he asked, even though the matter of the elf wasn't what had brought him here.

"Don't need proof," Nesgrim muttered, waving the hummingbird back into the branches above them. "Drow. All drow are evil."

Luin snorted. "Not all of them are," she objected. "And you're keeping her as a slave!" The vines lifted her higher, as though in warning.

"As all gnomes are stubborn and hot-headed, I suppose," Aran countered, though he knew very little of gnomes. "It is wrong to keep her imprisoned, and even worse to keep her as a slave," he said, his voice low, but not threatening. He was frowning at the thought of it, reminded too much of home, where elves and humans hated each other so much they had nearly destroyed themselves.

Nesgrim snorted, the motion blowing his beard and moustache out for a moment in a cloud of midges. "You want her free? You pay me."

Aran frowned, unsure if he should continue with the bargaining when the elf was not the reason they had come. His first order of business was the gnolls. "You have our weapons. Set my friends free," he said, his voice even and undemanding, but not leaving much room for argument either.

The gnome grumbled, but tapped his staff on the ground once again. The vines holding Hal and Luin abruptly released them, letting the pair drop to the forest floor sharply.

"What do you want?" Nesgrim demanded, turning to stump back toward his tree home.

Hal was quick to roll to his feet, and he moved to help Luin to hers, though he didn't want to lose sight of his prince. Aran glanced over at his friends as they were so unceremoniously dropped on the ground, but seeing that Hal seemed to have things well in hand, he turned back to the gnome, stepping forward to follow, but not getting too close.

"We seek knowledge," Aran replied. "Our village was attacked by a pack of gnolls and we would seek a peaceful way to prevent another attack."

"Gnolls, eh?" Nesgrim paused, half-turning back toward them. "Food or fighting. Both is best."

Luin rolled her eyes, grateful to Hal for helping her up. "This is getting us nowhere," she murmured.

"We don't want to make pets of them," Aran pointed out. "But we need to ensure the safety of the village." He did not think he needed to point out that innocent lives were at stake should the gnolls continue their attacks. "I would prefer a peaceful solution, rather than one of violence."

"Why should I help you, hmm?" The last syllable was a sharp huff of breath pointed directly at Aran. "What do I get for sending them on? I have duties, responsibilities. Drow to feed." He shot an angry glance into the branches over head.

Aran bristled a little, but hoped the gnome didn't notice. He might have pointed out that the druid got the satisfaction of saving innocent lives, but somehow he didn't think he'd care. Lives lost might just mean fewer people to chop down trees and hunt animals in the forest. And he wouldn't have to feed the drow if he let her go free, but somehow Aran thought this argument wouldn't go over well with the gnome.

"What is it that you want?" he asked, wondering if perhaps they could strike a bargain.

"To be left alone," Nesgrim grumbled. "Gnolls and drow and elves, all asking, asking, asking, needing, wanting, taking. Quiet and calm is what I want, no more voices interrupting the Mother."

Luin tilted her head, frowning curiously. She wished she had a means to communicate with the prince without Nesgrim hearing - she thought she could see a means to give the old gnome what he wanted.

11
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / The Bargain Struck
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:37:20 PM »
The heart of the forest was a good day's journey on foot from Anarven, along tracks that were little more than game trails, deep into the overhanging greenery. The deeper the three petitioners went, the darker it became, more overgrown, more wild. More eyes watching the three elfkin as they passed into territory that did not feel welcoming to those who were not animals of the forest. Luin kept her bow nocked as they passed into a clearing that seemed choked with vines, frowning at the barrier.

"What now?" she asked her companions softly. "We dare not cut at the greenery here."

"You met him once," Hal pointed out. "Perhaps he would recognize your voice if you called out to him," he suggested.

"I think perhaps you should put your bow away, Luin," Aran said, feeling eyes on them and not all of them friendly, but it seemed to him they were only being watched for now, as if someone was deciding whether they were friend or foe.

"I do not like to unprepared in case of trouble," Luin objected softly, but she did put up her bow, albeit with no little reluctance. She glanced over at Hal in concern. "What should I say?"

"You do not walk into someone's home with your weapon drawn," Aran pointed out. "Tell him ..." Aran frowned, wondering suddenly why he didn't just speak for himself. He stepped forward into the middle of the clearing, leaving Hal and Luin at his back and cleared his throat. He was a Prince of Ilyethlin; that had to count for something.

"Vedui!" he called in a voice that he hoped sounded friendly. "We are elves from the village of Anarven, seeking council with the druid Nesgrim. We mean no harm. We only wish to speak with him, if we may. It is a matter of utmost importance."

For a long moment there was nothing. Nothing - no sound of birds or animals, no whisper of wind through the trees. Then a ripple seemed to pass through the vines that barred their way, a mass of coiling, shifting greenery that parted with invitation to show the way toward the very heart of the forest. Luin couldn't help being suspicious.

"Be wary, highness."

"We must all be wary," Aran warned his companions. "Do not draw your weapons. It might be seen as an act of aggression, and we are here on a peaceful mission."

Hal exchanged a glance with Luin, looking as wary as she was. He wasn't sure he liked this; it could easily be a trap, but he had no choice but to do as his prince commanded.

"I'll go first," Luin volunteered, moving with silent care over the moss-covered ground to pass between the rippling vines. She did not like it one little bit, but if this was the only way, then this was what had to be done.

Aran went next, with Hal taking up the rear, in case they were attacked from behind. Though he did not have a weapon drawn, he was wary and alert for any sign of attack. Though Aran was nervous, he had to hope they were not walking into a trap. Certainly not a trap set by gnolls, in any case.

That hope was misplaced. As soon as all three of them were between the vines, the greenery moved, uncoiling, wrapping tendrils about arms and legs, lifting each of them off the ground to pass them as though from hand to hand through the trees, deeper into the darkest part of the forest. No amount of struggling could free Luin's hands or feet - indeed, the more she struggled, the less dignified the position in which she was being carried. By the time they reached an eerily lit clearing around a massive oak in which was set a small door, she was upside down.

All three of them were caught off-guard, but none of them called out in terror.

"Luin! Stop struggling! It will only make it worse," Hal urged, though he was just as alarmed as she was. He had quickly learned that it was useless to struggle.

Of the three of them, Aran seemed the most calm, almost as if he understood this was of the druid's doing. He could not very well blame him, knowing he had good cause not to trust them. Hopefully, he would listen to reason; he could just as easily have denied them entry, but he had not. He only hoped this wasn't a trap.

Frustrated and annoyed, Luin let out a huff of breath, forcing herself to relax as she dangled, long hair brushing the ground beneath them. This was not the best position in which to be assessing the druid. The grand oak they had been brought to was far larger than any other in the forest and, as they watched, the door set into the trunk swung inward. A small figure stumped out, all white beard and hair, branch-like horns worn like a crown, scraps of hide covering the nut-brown body. He peered up at them suspiciously.

"Well?" he asked, his voice reedy and impatient.

Hal held his tongue, though his patience was waning. He was no more pleased than Luin at their predicament, and it was difficult to keep either of his companions safe when he was so tangled up in vines as he was.

"We have come to speak with you and to ask for your help," Aran replied, unable to do much more than that, as he was as tangled up as his companions.

"What's in it for me?" the gnome demanded. He was very old, and obviously very isolated from sentient company. There was little regret in his poor manners, however. "You, boy ... you're Raniel's new whelp?"

Aran clenched his jaw in annoyance, though he held his temper in check. "I am called Arandir. Raniel is my wife's father," he explained, trying not to get too annoyed with the gnome's lack of manners. "I take it you are the druid Nesgrim. We have come to ask for your help. We mean you and your forest no harm."

The gnome nodded thoughtfully, leaning on a staff that looked as though it was nothing more or less than a sapling that had volunteered itself for this task. "You're little Carina's mate." He waved the staff, and the vines released Aran gently onto his feet. The gnome turned to Hal. "You, what are you?"

Hal blinked at the druid, wondering why the little gnome didn't know what he was. It seemed obvious enough. Or did he mean who? "I am Haldreithen, Royal Guard to the Prince of Ilyethlin," he replied, perhaps a little too seriously and a little too honestly. "And that is Luin, my mate. You have met her once before."

12
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re:
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:34:03 PM »
Carina considered this, biting down on her initial flash of fear. The last time they had been separated, he had come back a changed man. "Well, you do have a certain rank," she mused. "Do you agree, though? You don't have to go if you don't wish to, just because my father suggested it."

"I know, but ..." Aran frowned thoughtfully. He didn't want to leave his wife and daughter, even for a few days, but he also had a certain responsibility to his people, and he couldn't always expect someone else to do things for him. "Your father seems to think I should speak with the druid myself. Perhaps he is right," he said, with a small shrug. "What kind of leader am I if I always send others to speak for me?"

"One who knows how to delegate," Carina pointed out with a rueful smile. "No, I understand. But if you do go, I want you to take Luin with you. I know she isn't one of yours, but she's known to Nesgrim, and she won't interfere with the negotiation."

"I will likely take them both with me," Aran agreed, regarding their friends. Hal had once been a royal guard and Luin was familiar with Nesgrim. It made sense for them both to accompany him.

"Good." Carina nodded, relieved that he wasn't proposing to go into the woods alone to talk to a grumpy druid. "You will likely be out for a night, then. Even if Nesgrim doesn't give in and offer you a place to sleep for the night, you will have to make camp before returning."

"Yes, I thought it would be best to take them with me," he said, especially considering the threat of gnolls in the area - a threat Hal and Luin had already faced. "I only hope he sees fit to help us," he said, looking doubtful.

She stepped closer, drawing her fingers gently against his cheek. "Have faith in yourself, dear one," she murmured. "You can do this. I believe in you."

For everything he'd accomplished, he was still sometimes that orphaned half-elf, feeling a little lost and alone without the love and support of his own family to help him. At least, he had Carina and her family and their friends to turn to when he was unsure of himself. "You sound like my mother," he said, smiling a little at the memory of her. She'd sacrificed her own life so that he could live, so that he could bring their people to safety. How could he ever live up to that?

"I'm your wife," she reminded him fondly. "The mother of your daughter. And I love you, so much. I wouldn't be me if I didn't believe in you to the bottom of my heart. I know you can do this, Aran."

"I will try, Carina," he told her, drawing her into his arms, more for his sake than hers, perhaps. "And I will come home to you. I promise," he assured her. After all, he wasn't going to battle, except with words, and if they ran into trouble, he'd have Hal and Luin with him. There was no one he trusted more.

"Not bleeding this time, I hope," she murmured, curling her arms about his waist as he drew her in close, resting her head against his shoulder. "The sooner this is settled, the better, for all our sakes."

"I hope not, too," he replied, holding her close. He had no intentions of dying; he still had far too much living to do. "Hal and Luin need a day or two to rest. We will go, then. I will speak to the council today and inform them," he said, though he doubted she cared much about that. "Perhaps you should stay here with your parents while I'm away. It won't be long."

"Remember to bring Luin and Hal back here so they can find out where they are going to be sleeping tonight," Carina reminded him with a smile. "Naneth and I can put together a package of food for them."

"I will," he promised. "I am happy for them," he said, circling back to their earlier conversation. Things seemed to be working out nicely. He only hoped this Nesgrim would be able to help them negotiate peace.

"So am I." Carina's smile warmed as she lingered in his arms. "Luinithlas has been quietly hoping for quite some time, but she didn't know how to broach it with Hal. I wonder what finally broke the silence."

"Perhaps it was danger," Aran suggested. Perhaps one or the other of their friends had decided to speak up about their feelings before it was too late.

"Perhaps." She laughed softly. "I don't think we will ever know, though. They are awfully secretive - I wouldn't put it past Luin to try and hide being pregnant if it comes to it."

"She will not be able to hide it forever," he pointed out, smiling with the thought of it. "What about you, lirimaer?" he asked. "Would you like another child someday?" As enamored of Aluviel as he was, he was hoping to have more than one.

Carina's face lit up in a bright smile. "I would be delighted to have another child someday," she assured him, wondering how long he had been thinking about adding to their little family. There didn't seem to be any biological reason why they couldn't have more children, after all.

"Alu will be two years old in a few months. What do you think she'd say about a little brother or sister?" he asked, brushing her hair back from her face as he met her gaze with a bright smile of his own.

Her face tilted toward his touch. "I think she would be happy to have a brother or sister," she murmured contentedly. "She's the youngest in the village right now by several years. Having someone close to her age to play with would be a good thing. Don't you think?"

"I do, and it might give our people hope," he said, though that didn't mean he expected them all to choose to mingle their bloodlines. In time, he hoped just being in Rhy'Din would cure his people's inability to conceive.

"I'll even let you be the one to tell Mataya I'm pregnant when it happens this time," Carina teased him. She could still remember being half-throttled in the theater owner's delight on their behalf.

Aran laughed. "She might harass me into performing again," he said, though he doubted it. If anything, she was likely to do little more than tease him. "I miss the theater sometimes. It is where I met you," he said, a soft smile on his face at the memory of it.

She laughed affectionately at the memory. "Possibly the only good thing my clumsiness has ever brought me was the opportunity to ask you out," she admitted impishly.

"You are not clumsy, melamin," he assured her, and even if she was, it only endeared her to him all the more. "Amin mela lle," he whispered, touching his forehead to hers.

Whatever challenge it was that was facing them, they'd get through it together. That's what family was for.

13
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re:
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:33:34 PM »
Raniel's stern expression softened easily at this news. "At last," he muttered. He'd been waiting for that to happen; he had high hopes that the union between Hal and Luin would prove to the Ilyethlin elves that they were not as barren as they believed. "A home for a new pair, then. Do you expect children from them?"

"I ... do not know," Aran replied, with a moment of mild hesitation. "I would assume so, eventually, but I do not know when." He was hopeful it was possible. It had proven so between himself and Carina, but neither was of full elven heritage. Children were blessing to both their peoples, but he had no idea if or when the pair might be so blessed.

"Then a home with provision for that future, perhaps?" Raniel asked, moving further into the cottage. From the kitchen came the raucous sound of the women of the family apparently dismantling the oven, by the sound of things, and loving every second of it.

Aran only glanced momentarily toward the kitchen, one brow arching in curiosity, but not bothering to ask what might be going on there. "Yes, I think that would be best," he agreed, though that seemed obvious enough.

"Well then, let me see ..." Raniel bent over a desk under the window that overlooked the busy front garden, flicking through the collection of papers and blueprints piled and scattered across it. He glanced over at Aran with a faint grin. "Amara is supposed to be installing a second stove for our alchemical needs, but it would appear she may have decided to put your daughter in it instead."

"My daughter ... in the stove?" Aran said, sounding alarmed, his head jerking in the direction of the kitchen. Why would she put her granddaughter in the oven, and even more perplexing was why Carina would allow it.

The giggling was definitely coming from all three of the women in the kitchen, big and small alike. That, at least, would suggest that nothing wholly untoward was happening. Raniel lifted a sheet of parchment from the mess on his desk, scanning it thoughtfully.

"There are a couple of cottages ready for habitation," he said thoughtfully. "One inside the stockade, the other outside for the time being. We were going to expand the stockade once more of that outer area is built and prepared."

"I do not think they would mind that," Aran said, a little distracted by the sounds coming from the kitchen. He was worried about taking homes away from other people who might be waiting for them, but he trusted Raniel to handle such matters. "Would you excuse me a moment?" he asked, drifting toward the kitchen.

Raniel chuckled, waving him away as he cross-referenced the details of the two home ready to be lived in. In the kitchen, Aran found his wife and mother-in-law laughing uproariously at the sight of his daughter upside down in the top of an empty and unattached wood burning stove, her little face painted in a wide grin visible upside down through the glass front.

Aran paused in the doorway, looking from one to the other and finally to his daughter inside the stove. "What is going on in here?" he asked, interrupting their laughter, unsure if he was more alarmed or amused by what he was witnessing.

"Oh! Uh ..." Carina glanced at her mother, her smile more than a little guilty, and reached to lift Alu out of the cold stove.

The toddler beamed, waving her hands at Aran. "Alu cookie!"

"You eat cookies, Alu; you don't become one!" he said, though he was trying hard not to keep the scolding tone from his voice and not look too alarmed. He did trust his wife and mother-in-law and knew they meant no harm, after all. He might have even laughed, if his nerves weren't already on edge from the whole gnoll problem.

"Alu nummy!" his daughter insisted, lunging at him. Carina had no choice but to lurch with the movement and hand Aluviel over, or lose the little girl onto the slate floor.

That did bring a smile to his face. "Yes, you are nummy, but you are still not a cookie," he told her smooching both her cheeks as his scooped her up into his arms. He'd had no choice really, but the adoration he had for his daughter was clear to see on his face. "Perhaps Nanin will give you a cookie, if you ask her nicely," he said, the suggestion meant both for the child and the grandmother.

Aluviel pouted for all of half a second before her squealing giggles filled the kitchen again as Aran kissed her cheeks. "Lunch, then cookie," she reminded her father, proving that she did retain information on occasion.

Carina snorted with laughter, glancing at her mother encouragingly.

Aran chuckled. "Yes, of course," he said, remembering that he'd been the one to tell her that in the first place, though sometimes he couldn't help but spoil her. He looked to Carina and nodded his head toward the door, indicating there was something he needed to talk to her about and that he didn't really want to do it in front of her mother. He wasn't sure why it mattered when she was going to find out sooner or later, but he wanted to talk to Carina first.

Carina caught his glance, nodding a little in answer. "Alu, why don't you help Nanin make lunch?" she suggested the toddler in his arms. "That would be fun, wouldn't it?"

Aluviel turned big hopeful eyes onto Amara. "Alu make nums?"

Amara glanced over at the couple and smiled. "Go on, shoo! I can see you two need to talk. Alu and I will make lunch, won't we, sweetling?" she said, reaching to take Alu from her father's arms. She was not only the apple of her parents' eye, but her grandparents, as well.

The toddler nodded cheerfully, hugging her arms around her grandmother's neck as Carina and Aran slipped from the kitchen. Raniel was still muttering over his desk, so they ended up stepping out into the back garden, where vegetables and flowers vied for space and sunshine in the growing warmth of spring.

"What is it, a'maelamin?"

Once out of earshot of the others, Aran seemed to relax a little, though the expression on his face was a serious one. "Your father seems to think I should be the one to speak with the druid," he told her, bluntly, which meant he'd have to go away for at least a day or two, though he didn't think it was far. The real question was who was going to accompany him.

14
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re:
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:33:17 PM »
"If you know him so well, perhaps you should go," Aran suggested, still uncertain who would be paying the druid a visit. "I was of a mind to send Hal and Luin. Do you think I should go instead?" he asked, his uncertainty betraying his youth and lack of experience, despite being of noble blood and bearing.

Raniel considered this for a moment. "I think you should, yes," he said thoughtfully. "And I think whoever goes with you should defer to you as the prince. Nesgrim will delight in having someone of royal blood asking for his assistance."

Aran frowned. "This is a serious matter, Adar. I have no time or patience for stroking the man's ego when our people's lives are at stake," he told him. While perfectly willing to go meet with the druid and ask for his help, he was not looking forward to begging.

"Then you will not get his help," Raniel told him easily. "Aran, you cannot always stand on your personal principles or hold to your pride in such a case. You need his knowledge, at the very least. You will have to swallow your pride to get that. Not everyone responds to reasoned argument."

"It is not about my pride, Adar," Aran argued. "I do not have a problem asking for his help, but I do not think I should have to grovel when people's lives are at stake." He exhaled a sigh, in mild frustration. "I do not understand people sometimes. Why would he not want to help? There are innocent lives at stake - women and children. If he does not wish to help, he is no better than those who attack us," he said. The world was very black and white to him; there were no shades of gray.

"Indeed?" Raniel's gaze grew sharp. "And what will you tell him when he asks if the wood for our stockade was given freely by the trees, or taken from them with axes? What will you tell him about the hunters who take lives to sustain the lives of the village? He is a druid, Aran, much as I once was. His care is given to the natural world, to the animals and plants that were here before any of us and will remain long after we are gone. He does not see why he should do as you wish when you kill and mutilate his charges without a second thought." There was a certain amount of passion in Raniel's voice - he had lived much of his life as a druid; he understood that perspective far more deeply than he let on.

"My people do not take without thanking the trees and the animals for their sacrifice," Aran pointed out. "We only take what we need and we make sure to replenish what we have taken. We plant trees in the spring and do not hunt the females or the young. We do not take from nature without thought, like those who attacked our village. I understand they are merely trying to survive, and I do not wish to start a war, but we must do what we can to protect our people." Aran's voice was equally passionate, and his concerns were not only for his own people, but for that of the entire village.

"Aran, you cannot stand in front of him and make demands," Raniel said sharply. He held up a hand to keep the protest from coming. "I know, you do not see the demand you are making. But consider for a moment, if you will. You stand before me, a man you know, and you state that if he does not agree with you, then he is wrong and as bad a being as the gnolls that have already attacked. How then is your visit to him not a demand? You cannot expect the whole world to share your views, and you cannot insist that the one person who may be able to help you agrees with everything you do and say."

Aran sighed again, his frown deepening. "Our children's lives are at stake here, Adar. If he does not understand that or value their lives, nothing I say or do will matter." He dropped his gaze for a moment, his expression turning more sad than angry. "I do not wish to kill. I would prefer to live in peace with other creatures and races. I do not wish to be like the people of my world - killing anyone and anything who got in their way. These gnolls, or whatever they are, are only trying to survive. They have families and young to feed, too. I would prefer a peaceful means to this conflict, but I have to think of the safety of our people. If I must grovel at the feet of this druid to obtain that, then I will do what I must."

"That is what you should tell him," Raniel said quietly. "Be respectful to a gnome who has lived more than a hundred years in this forest, Aran. In your place, I would emphasize how little you wish to actually harm the gnolls. He has distaste for needless slaughter, as you may well imagine."

"As do I," Aran insisted. He had come from a place where there had been too much senseless violence and wished only to live in peace here in Rhy'Din, but sometimes peace was hard won. "Too many lives have been lost already," he said quietly, though he was not talking about lives lost here in Rhy'Din so much as back home in Ilyethlin.

"Nesgrim is difficult, but he is not totally unfeeling," the elven man told his son-in-law. "He simply lives alone, deep in the forest, and feels that people like us look down on him. He is prickly and can be unpleasant, but a little effort to be respectful and kind will help immeasurably."

"I do not look down on anyone," Aran pointed out further, especially not someone who commanded his respect as the druid did. He did not even look down on the gnolls who had attacked the village, though he would do everything in his power to protect his people.

"And yet you propose to prove this to him by demanding his aid in exchange for accepting that he is not a bad person," Raniel said, deliberately breaking this down to a ridiculous conclusion. He knew Nesgrim, and he knew that was how the gnome would take it. He was trying to prepare Aran.

"I did not say I would demand his aid. I only do not understand why he would not freely give it," Aran argued. There was a clear difference between the two, as far as he was concerned.

"No one has to justify themselves to anyone else in this world, Aran," his father-in-law said gently. "Let Nesgrim have his opinions, his reasons. You only wish his aid."

Aran sighed again. "Why do I have a feeling I am not going to like this?" he said, though there had never been any guarantee that being who he was going to ensure never having to do anything distasteful.

"Because not everyone is pleasant or easy to talk with." Raniel patted his shoulder. "Now, you simply said you had news. I am assuming that was the bad news."

Aran blinked, almost as if he'd been so preoccupied with the bad news that he'd completely forgotten about the good news. His expression softened, a smile touching his face.

"The good news is that Hal and Luin have bonded," he told the elder elf. "I was hoping you would know of a suitable place where they could make their home."

15
Motley Menagerie of Myriad Marvels / Re:
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:32:59 PM »
As Carina and Aran approached, Raniel looked up from one of the herb beds, his tattooed face creasing in a warm smile as he brushed the cold earth from his fingers.

"Amara," he called into the house. "We have some little birds come to visit."

Aran chuckled upon hearing his father-in-law's remark. "One little bird anyway," he pointed out. "See? She's even flying!" he said, as he and Carina swung the little girl into the air between them.

Raniel chuckled as Alu squealed in delight, reaching out to catch her at the crest of her swing and toss her into the air, settling her on his hip without a second thought. His smile turned to Aran and Carina with warm delight.

"Come in, come in," he said, elven ears twitching toward the cottage. "You are always welcome here."

Even now, Aran was grateful to hear those words and grateful the people of Anarven had been so welcoming, not only to him but to his people. At long last, they had a place to call home where they could live in peace and hopefully, raise families.

"Diola lle, Adar," he told the man who was the closest thing he had ever had to a father. There was business they needed to discuss, but not in front of Aluviel

Raniel smiled, clasping Aran's arm fondly for a moment. He had said that first day they had met that he would consider Aran his son for as long as his life was entwined with Carina's, and he could not have asked for a better man to love his daughter.

"Amara should have the kettle on," he said, waving them both inside. "She will be pleased to see you."

It was a little strange that they'd already had a glass of elfwine before it was even lunchtime, but there was good reason for that. "We have news," Aran said, both of the good and bad variety. There was business they needed to discuss, too, but not in front of Aluviel.

"I can see by your faces that you must have," Raniel agreed, bending to set Alu down and give her a gentle pat. "Nanin is in there, little bird." The toddler giggled and headed off in the direction of the kitchen, yelling at the top of her lungs for her grandmother.

Aran smiled as he watched their little daughter toddle off. "She is such a joy, Adar," he told the other man. "We are very fortunate," he added, a hint of worry in that smile. "I hope she only ever knows peace in her life."

"There is no reason to think she will not," Raniel pointed out, tilting his head toward them both. "These attacks ... you have reason to believe they will continue?"

Carina shook her head. "We don't know, Adar," she told her father. "We will have to investigate."

"Hal and Luin returned this morning. They believe it was gnolls who attacked the village. Do you know anything about these creatures?" Aran asked, trusting the older elf's wisdom.

"Gnolls?" Raniel frowned thoughtfully. "Canine bipeds, generally pack creatures under the command of a shaman but can be manipulated by a clever cleric of a different race. They tend to fall on the evil side of the spectrum."

"Evil," Aran echoed, his frown deepening. "Do you think these gnolls can be bargained with? I do not want to start a war, but we must find a way to stop them from attacking the village."

"From what I know of them, ending their leader and chasing them from the land with a show of force would stop the attacks," Raniel mused. "I have never heard of gnolls negotiating a peace."

Aran looked over at Carina, who had been fairly quiet up until now. "We were considering talking to the druid, to ask his advice," he told him, though he wasn't sure if the druid would be much help or not.

"Do you think Nesgrim would help us?" Carina asked her father, meeting Aran's eye for a moment before speaking.

Raniel sighed thoughtfully, scratching his eyebrow. "He's a grumpy old man by now," he commented, "but he does appreciate visitors, in his own way. Take him some sweets and tell him I sent you, and he'll at least hear you out."

"We cannot risk them attacking the village again," Aran said, that worried look still on his face. He did not want to risk one villager's life, nor did he want to lose any scouts or guards, but this situation had to be resolved, one way or another. "Hal and Luin tracked eight of them to a cave and killed them, but I fear that is not the last of them."

"No, a pack is usually more than twenty," Raniel agreed with Aran. "I concur - Nesgrim is our best chance of driving them away without bloodshed, but we should prepare the village. Either we may have to meet the beasts in force ourselves, or call upon the city to provide assistance."

"I am going to recommend to the council that we double the guard," Aran said. Though he was Ilyethlin's prince, he was not a prince of Anarven or even of Rhy'Din, and he was not solely in charge here. Everything went through the council, though he assumed that if it were a matter of life and death, he could at least charge his own people with protecting the village.

Raniel nodded. "I can plant the suggestion that the mages and magic users build up wards, protections, and potions, in case of need," he added, patting Aran's shoulder companionably. "Nesgrim should be amenable to a polite approach, though."

Carina smiled faintly. "He sounds incredibly grumpy, Adar."

"Should we go bearing gifts?" Aran remarked, only half joking. He wasn't sure what a reclusive druid would want in exchange for his help, but perhaps Raniel did. "Have you met this Nesgrim before?" he asked the elder elf.

"We will be bearing gifts," Carina said firmly, laughing at the sound of a louder laugh from their daughter in the kitchen. She slipped away from them to join her mother and daughter, leaving the men to talk just a little longer.

Raniel rolled his eyes in amusement. "Nesgrim and I have butted heads on occasion," he admitted. "He leans more toward chaotic than most druids, and his actions are often selfish, but if approached in the right way, he will do anything he is asked to do. You will have to stroke his ego a little."

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