Author Topic: Making Plans  (Read 345 times)


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Making Plans
« on: March 13, 2019, 06:31:07 PM »
Morning found Arandir and Carina going about their daily routine, just as they did every morning. The first order of business was always caring for Aluviel, who was the spitting image of her mother - at least, as far as Aran was concerned.

"Quel amrun, aierea," Aran greeted his daughter as he scooped her up in his arms and smooched her cheek, his eyes bright with pride and joy. Aierea, which meant "little one", had lately become his pet name for her.

"Adar!" The little girl declared happily, throwing her arms around his neck as he lifted her into his arms, her honey brown hair tousled from sleep. She planted a sleepy kiss on his jaw, nestling close and beaming as the smell of spiced porridge made itself known. Carina was already cooking breakfast.

He smoothed her tousled hair with his fingers while he balanced her against one hip. "Shall we go say hello to Naneth and see what's for breakfast?" he asked the little girl, though the smell wafting from the kitchen was answer enough.

Alu nodded with enthusiasm, gabbling quietly in her own approximation of both elvish and common. She was going to be bilingual, as they all were here in Anarven, but it was taking time for that to become coherent babbling.

"Melamin, look what I found! Isn't she adorable?" Aran said as he carried their daughter into the kitchen to greet her mother. "Do you think we should keep her?" he teased, grinning.

Looking up from the pot on the stove, Carina played along with a delighted gasp and a smile. "Where did you find her?" she declared teasingly, reaching out to tickle the little girl under her chin as Alu giggled. "She must have been under the rose bushes, because she is beautiful." She leaned in, kissing Alu's round cheek softly before also kissing Aran's lips with a smile.

Aran smiled brightly into his wife's kiss, as Alu giggled. "I found her in the nursery!" he declared. "How does the saying go again? Oh! Finders' Keepers!" he declared as he tickled Alu's tummy. "I guess you're stuck with us, aierea!" he teased her.

Alu squealed, arms and legs flailing as she cackled with laughter, the sound carrying easily throughout their little home. "Adar! Naneth, makey stop!"

Carina snorted with laughter, enjoying the sound of Aluviel beginning to make sense of her words. "All right," she agreed. "Adar, you should stop, or I won't feed you."

"You are no fun, Naneth," Aran complained with an exaggerated sigh. "Perhaps I should tickle you instead!" he warned, though that could cause her to knock the pot of porridge onto the floor. "What do you think, Alu? Shall we eat breakfast or tickle Naneth?"

It was almost disturbing quite how long it took for Alu to decide on which she would rather have. She patted Aran's nose fondly. "B'ekfas', then tick-tick," she informed her father.

Carina laughed, rolling her eyes. "Then someone needs to sit down at the table."

"Yes, dear," Aran replied obediently, though she was actually referring to Aluviel. He settled himself in a chair, with Alu on his lap, apparently reluctant to let her go just yet, though the little girl was capable of sitting at the table on her own.

It didn't take long for Carina to serve up three bowls of the spiced porridge, and cups of cold tea to drink with them. As she sat down, she reached over to tuck a napkin around Alu's neck. "Try not to cover Adar in porridge today, okay?"

"I am the Prince of Porridge!" Arandir exclaimed with a grin, as he took up his spoon and brandished it like a scepter, before scooping some porridge onto said spoon and offering it to Aluviel. It was just too much fun spoiling her for him to resist.

And spoiled, she certainly was. All the elves from Ilyethlin treated Aluviel as a precious miracle, and indeed, so she was to them. Proof that there was a future for them, somehow. But what was important was that life was as normal for her, a little princess, as it could possibly be, and that meant that she was fed and washed and dressed in good time each morning while her parents decided who she would be with until lunch.

"I'm supposed to be helping with the community baking today," Carina was saying as she tucked little socks on Alu's feet.

"Mm, I have a council meeting, but not until after mid-day," Aran said. "Will you be finished with the baking by then?" he asked, as he drew fond fingers through Alu's honey brown curls. Each task was equally important for different reasons, but if worst came to worst, Carina's mother was usually more than willing to take care of her grand-daughter for a few hours.

"I should be," Carina mused thoughtfully. "But if I am not, there are safe places in the big kitchens for the children. She won't be in danger, or left on her own."

"The council is to discuss the recent attacks on the village," Aran told her, with a worried frown. "The scouts should be returning soon with news," he added, a little worried about those who had yet to return, especially those he considered friends.

"Were there any attacks last night?" she asked, now carefully setting soft boots onto Alu's feet as the little girl lounged in her father's lap, toying with a shiny ribbon she had stolen from her mother's sewing basket not too long ago.

"No, thank the Gods," Aran replied, feeling a mixture of relief and worry. They wouldn't really know how serious the threat to the village was until every last scout returned with news, but he couldn't help but worry, especially now that he had a family to worry about. "Let us hope it was a random attack."

The soggy end of the ribbon was slapped against his cheek as Alu looked up at her father. "Adar sad?" It was difficult for the toddler to understand why no one was sleeping very well at the moment, or why Hal and Luin weren't around to make faces or tickle her when they talked to her parents.

"No, aierea. How can I be sad when I have you and Naneth to make me happy?" he said, brushing the soggy ribbon away from his face. "I am just missing Hal and Luin and hoping they will be home soon," he told her, without mentioning his worry, as she was too young to understand.

"And I'm sure they will be," Carina added firmly, refusing to show her own concern to either of them. "Luin has probably tied Hal to a tree somewhere for teasing her."


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« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2019, 06:31:40 PM »
Aran furrowed his brows at her suggestion. "Why would she want to do that?" he asked curiously and just a little naively. He couldn't imagine why Luin would want to do such a thing, unless ... His frown deepened as he tried to sort that thought out.

Carina caught his eye, her smile kind but just a little suggestive at the same time. It had been quite obvious to her for over a year that there was something far deeper than friendship between their friends, but no one could force it on them.

Aran raised his brows in a questioning glance her way. The friendship between their friends had not gone unnoticed, but he had assumed it was nothing more than that. "Don't be silly, melamin. If there was something between them, we would know." Wouldn't they? Did she?

"Whatever is between them is unspoken," Carina pointed out, moving to her feet. Alu tipped backward, watching her mother stand up, and fell bodily into Aran's lap. Carina laughed. "Silly person."

"Are you certain?" he asked, distracted by their daughter as she fell into his lap. He laughed as he caught her. No matter what troubles might be worrying him, he could always count on little Alu to lighten his heart. "It seems we are all a little bit silly today," he said, since he'd just accused Carina of the same thing.

"I am certain, yes," Carina assured him, smiling as he brightened up. The sound of voices from outside made her glance up. "It would appear that someone wants us."

"When do they not want us?" Aran murmured, mostly to himself, as he moved to his feet, easily lifting Aluviel into his arms. "Shall we see what they want, melamin?" he asked, gesturing for Carina to lead the way to the door.

Still chewing on her stolen ribbon, Aluviel grinned toothily at her father as he lifted her up. Carina rolled her eyes, wiping her hands clean as she opened the door to find out what was going on outside their little house.

Aluviel was obviously the apple of her father's eye, and neither made any secret about it. Aran followed his wife to the door to see what was going on outside. Their day, it seemed, was about to begin.

Of course, not every day began like this. As the younger family stepped out into the village, it was to find the elderly Velm, hands on her hips, red in the face, bellowing at the apparently newly returned Hal and Luin.

"... worried sick about you both and you show up all loved up and bonded without a care in the world?!"

Hal held up one hand up, as if to silence the elder and allow him to speak, while his other hand clasped Luin's, not looking like he was likely to be letting go anytime soon. "If you would only listen ..." he argued, unable to get a word in.

"What's this?" Aran asked as he and Carina stepped up to find out what all the fuss was about. "You're back! Where have you been? We have been worried sick," he continued, looking between the pair and echoing Velm's words.

"We had to -" Luin began, but Velm was already shouting again.

"They stayed out in the dark, in the danger, just to get themselves bonded on a whim!" the human woman declared, apparently furious.

Carina bit her lip, trying not to smile at the expressions of outrage, delight, and guilt all around her.

"My prince," Hal started, turning to face Aran, obviously giving up on the over-emotional human female. "We tracked the creatures to a cave, where they engaged us in a fight. We had no choice but to stay away until we could be sure none of their kind would follow us here."

Aran frowned at the news, and saw that Velm was only angry because she had been worried about their friends. "Velm, perhaps you could take Alu for a walk while we discuss the situation with the scouts." It was not really a request, but he hoped she'd agree.

Blowing out sharply through her nose, Velm glowered at the newly bonded couple for a moment before forcing a brighter expression onto her face. "Of course, Aran," she agreed, holding out her hands to take Aluviel onto her hip. "Let's go and make magic, little one."

"Be good for Velm, sweetling," Aran told his daughter, kissing her cheek before handing her over. He waited until the woman was out of earshot before turning back to the pair of elves. "Come inside," he told them and turned to allow Carina to lead the way back inside the house, so that they could talk without the entire village watching.

The toddler waved to them over Velm's shoulder as she was borne away. Carina rolled her eyes, sighing at the unexpectedly loud start to the public day, and headed back toward the house. Behind them, Luin squeezed Hal's hand, feeling guilty for the worry they had inadvertently caused.

"Tea?" Aran asked, as they stepped back inside the house. The village was just waking, and there was no point in creating a fuss.

"Thank you, my prince," Hal replied, formally. Though they were friends, it was hard for him to think of Aran as anything other than the leader of their people.

Carina glanced over her shoulder at them as she filled the copper kettle, setting it over the fire to boil. "What happened to you out there?" she asked in concern. "We were expecting you back before nightfall, but no one even knew which way you had gone."

Hal exchanged a glance with Luin before answering that question. He waited until Aran waved them both toward the table before pulling out a chair for Luin and then taking one for himself. "As I said, we tracked the creatures to a cave, but they must have caught our scent and attacked us. We had no choice but to kill them," he said, though he didn't really regret it. "We were covered in their blood, my prince - vile stuff - so we decided to wash at the falls and spend the night there to ensure we wouldn't be followed." That was the short of it, but not the whole story.

"We have already spoken to the morning patrol," Luin added, sitting down obediently. "They will restock and conceal the cave again."

Carina sighed. "That isn't the reason we're put out with you," she pointed out to them both. "Anything could have happened to you and we wouldn't have known."


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« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2019, 06:32:00 PM »
"I'm sorry, princess," Hal said, turning to Carina and looking sincerely apologetic. "It could not be helped."

"Perhaps we should do something to rectify that in the future," Aran mused, though he didn't say what that something might be.

"There are spells, I believe," Luin offered quietly. "Cantrips, even. Simple things, but enough to send a message." She looked over at Hal worriedly, deciding to forge on with what they had discovered. "We think the creatures that attacked were gnolls," she told them. "But we had no opportunity to question any of them. I think ... I believe it may be time to contact the druid."

Hal arched a brow, the first to react to Luin's suggestion. Now that they were safely indoors and out of view of the townspeople, they could relax with those they considered friends. "The druid?" Hal echoed. "What do you wish him to do?"

Luin shrugged. "He knows these woods better than anyone," she pointed out. "He can probably identify what those creatures are, and let us know if there are any others out there. For the right price, he might even help us ward the woods around the village."

"That is a sound plan, Luin," Aran remarked, as he moved over to help Carina with the tea. He might be a prince, but Hal and Luin were guests in their home. "Do you know where to find him?" he asked, as he set out a bowl of honey.

Luinithlas nodded wearily. "He makes his home in a burrow he carved beneath a blasted oak in the heart of the forest," she told Aran, shaking her head. "He doesn't appreciate visitors."

"What about visitors bearing gifts?" Carina suggested. She'd heard of the druid, but had not met him. Until she and Aran had moved to Anarven, she hadn't even known he was a gnome. "We can spare some unleavened bread and little luxuries he can't get out there, surely."

"What is he?" Hal asked, looking between the trio. He hadn't been in Rhy'Din so long yet that there was nothing he didn't know. He had not known what gnolls were, until only a day or so ago, and now here was the possibility of another race of creatures he was unfamiliar with.

Luin and Carina exchanged a glance, but it was the redhead who answered.

"He's a gnome," she explained to Hal. "Slightly taller than most hobbits, tend to have a slighter build than them and almost always have big bulbous noses. They have an aptitude for tinkering. And they're usually either cantankerous or merry."

Hal furrowed his brows as he tried to imagine the description Luin was giving him. "This Rhy'Din is a strange place," he murmured, probably not for the first or last time.

Aran smiled and clapped a hand against his friend's shoulder. "You will get used to it ... eventually," he assured the elf. He glanced over at Luin, eyes bright with mischief at something he'd noticed, but had yet to remark on. "Is there something else you'd like to tell us?"

"Be glad he isn't a firbolg," was Luin's amused response to Hal's comment, chuckling as Carina spluttered out a quiet laugh, pouring the tea out for them all. She raised a brow innocently at Aran's query. "Only if it is possible to build or procure a cottage of our own."

Aran glanced at Carina curiously. "Didn't your father mention that a few new cottages were nearing completion?" he asked her, though he already knew the answer to that and was just enjoying teasing their friends.

Carina's lips twitched into a faint smile as she finally moved to sit down. "I do believe there was something about furniture and furnishings being spoken about at the last meeting," she agreed teasingly.

"Perhaps I should speak with your father," Aran glanced at their friends again, a slight smirk on his handsome, young face. "There's no rush, after all, is there?" he further teased their friends, while Hal glowered, holding his tongue only out of respect for the prince.

"My prince," he started, trying hard to contain his annoyance. "I know we should have approached you first, but ..." He glanced at Luin, and his expression softened. "We have said our vows and are bonded. We could not wait any longer."

Luinithlas' expression also softened, her body unconsciously leaning toward Hal as he looked at her.

Carina's smile deepened as she glanced at Aran. "Why would you think you need our permission to commit to one another?" she asked gently. "So long as you are happy, that is what truly matters."

Aran smiled and went back to the cupboard to fetch something better than mere tea - a bottle of elfwine he was saving for a special occasion. "This calls for celebration," Aran said, holding up a hand to silence them before they had a chance to protest. "It is not often we have such happy news," he said, tugging the cork from the bottle and filling their glasses with wine, rather than tea.

"There is no need to make a fuss," Luin began, shushed when Carina waved her hand at the pair of them.

"One drink is not making a fuss," the half-elven woman said firmly. "And neither of you will be scouting today or tonight, because you will be settling into a new home. I just have to find out which one is now yours."

"I only wish to know what took you so long," Aran teased further as he handed each of them a glass. "To friendship, family, and everlasting love," he said, raising his glass to toast the newly-bonded couple.

Hal was looking a little sheepish now that the prince and princess were not only toasting their happiness, but them a new home. "Diola lle," he told them both as he, too, lifted his glass.

"To a life lived well," Carina added, and Luin didn't need to add anything more, raising her own glass to touch the delicate rim to three others before taking a small sip of the elfwine. She knew it had an interesting effect on humans, but she wasn't sure whether it had the same effect on elves. She didn't often drink, after all.

She needn't have worried, since they were all of elven blood. Aran touched his glass to that of the others before taking a sip, looking rather pleased with his friends' romance, but there was still the matter of the village's safety.


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« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2019, 06:32:24 PM »
"I would like for the two of you to visit this druid," he told them. "Once you are settled in your new home, of course," he added.

"I will talk to the women," Carina offered. "We'll put together a package of gifts for you to take to him. Perhaps he'll be more inclined to answer our questions if we sweeten the pot first."

"In the meantime, we will double the guard around the village and set traps and illusions to ensure we are not attacked again," Aran said. Though he'd have to speak with the council about it first, he knew they'd want to do whatever they could to keep their people safe.

"We have enough people to keep us safe," Carina agreed, "and there were no attacks last night. Perhaps the group you found was the entirety of them."

Luin frowned worriedly. "Perhaps," she mused. "But I would feel better if we could ward the village somehow."

"I will mention it to the council," Aran promised. He knew a little magic himself, but the council should know of someone who had better knowledge and skill of such things than did he. Aran frowned thoughtfully. "I do not wish to start a war with these creatures, such as the one we escaped," he confessed.

"I know a little bit about gnolls," Carina offered quietly. "They're not organized enough to start a war, and there aren't enough of them to sustain one. If they're raiding settlements, it usually means they're hungry. We might even be able to ally with them, if they are prepared to protect us in exchange for a regular supply of food."

Hal frowned at what Carina was telling them. "I am not so sure they will want to ally with us when they find out we killed eight of their fellows," he said, though it was the gnolls who'd attacked first and given them little choice but to defend themselves.

"Perhaps they need not know," Aran suggested, though he knew that went against the elves principle of honesty.

"They're more animal than anything," Carina mused. "I doubt they will care much about the ones already dead. They would be more concerned about what we intend to do the survivors, I believe."

"And how are we to communicate with them?" Aran asked, though perhaps that, too, was where the druid came in. He'd heard rumor that some druids were able to communicate with animals, but he wasn't so sure about gnolls.

"I would assume that Nesgrim knows how to communicate with them," Carina shrugged. "Or perhaps my father does, though he has not practiced his druidcraft for a long time."

"Nesgrim?" Aran echoed, brows arched upwards. "The druid?" he asked, assuming that was who she meant, as he'd never heard that name mentioned before.

"So, you are saying we treat them like dogs and hope they do not bite the hand that feeds them?" Hal asked, unsure if he liked this plan.

Luin shook her head to Hal. "No, she is saying we make an ally of Nesgrim the druid and ask him to discover the gnolls' purpose in being here," she told him gently. "And perhaps find out if they would be willing to protect our home against anyone else in return for regular food and healing."

Hal furrowed his brows at her, not really seeing the difference, but he held his tongue, due to his respect for the princess. "Very well," he said. "When do you wish us to leave?" he asked, turning back to Aran, though he had already suggested they not leave for a day or two.

"Are you so eager to leave so soon, when you've only just returned?" Aran countered, a bit of a smirk on his face.

"I would have thought you'd want to pack your belongings and settle into your new home," Carina added with a smile of her own, sipping her wine.

Luin glanced down at her own glass, biting down her smile briefly. "We don't have a new home yet, melonamin."

"You will by the end of the day," Aran was quick to promise. The newly-bonded couple needed the privacy of a home and took precedence over others who might not have such a need as yet. "Carina, can your father speak with the builders and see what is available?"

"Yes, of course," Carina agreed. "I'm sure the bakers can live without me for an hour or so. All I'm there for is to carry things to the ovens, usually."

Luin laughed at this. "We could speak with him ourselves, if it will cause you trouble."

Aran grinned. "I'm sure," he agreed with his wife. "It shouldn't be difficult to find you a small house, one that can be added to later, if needs be." He took up his cup, looking to his companions with a cheery smile. "Drink up! This is cause for celebration!"

"And I'm sure Velm will calm down enough to congratulate you in a few years," Carina added in a teasing murmur. "Twenty, at most."

"I do not understand why Velm is upset," Hal admitted with a frown.

"Perhaps because you cheated her out of a wedding feast," Aran suggested, though he was only guessing. "But she will get over it eventually," he echoed Carina's statement.

"I think it is probably my fault," Luin admitted awkwardly. "I did, sort of, adopt her when she came to Anarven as a child. I think she thinks of me as family."

"Perhaps you should go talk to her then," Aran suggested, looking between the pair. "Both of you," he added. If Velm considered Luin family, then she needed to get to know Hal better and vice versa. "And then perhaps you should speak with Carina's father, so that he knows what kind of house would suit you."

"We could, certainly." Luin looked to Hal curiously. "If you would like to, that is. I could do it alone if you would rather, m'emel."

Hal reached for Luin's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "We are together in all things now, melamin," he pointed out, a soft smile on his face.


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« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2019, 06:32:43 PM »
She closed her other hand over his, her smile brightening her face as she did so. "Then we shall pack our meager belongings and go to speak with Velm," she said firmly.

Carina grinned over at Aran. "I'll talk to my father in the meantime," she volunteered.

"I am sure she will understand once you explain," Aran said, hoping for the best, though he did not know Velm well. He wondered how it felt to have practically raised a human child only to watch them grow into more of a grandmotherly figure. He did not envy Luin the fact that Velm would grow old and die, in what might seem like the twinkling of an eye to an elf.

"I am sure she will," Luin agreed. "Like her father, she has always been a little ... fiery." She chuckled faintly, squeezing Hal's hand. It appeared that Luin's connection with Velm was a little more complex than a simple guardian position.

"You are the one with the red hair," Hal pointed out, bringing her hand up to his lips for a kiss - a brief display of affection, almost as if he'd forgotten they were not alone.

Aran cleared his throat, to remind them of that fact. "It is settled then."

Luin raised her brow, smirking at Hal's comment. Her fingers gentled in his grasp, thumb stroking over his lips as Aran cleared his throat.

Carina chuckled, looking to her own husband. "And while we are doing all this, what will you be doing?"

"Taking a nap," Aran replied with a grin, obviously teasing. "I will likely reclaim our daughter from Velm and entertain her, until midday, when I must meet with the council. Or we could take her with us to visit your mother, while we speak with your father," he suggested, which sounded even better. "But either way, you are not baking."

Carina laughed, batting Aran's arm pointedly. "I think that last one sounds like a better idea," she agreed. "And no, I do not think I will be baking today."

"Well, then, whenever you are ready, a'maelamin," Aran replied, before draining the contents of his glass and moving to his feet. "Shall we?" he asked, of his wife and his friends.

"Diola lle," Hal told the prince and princess again, with a respectful nod of his head as he stood, drawing Luin up with him.

Gently tugged to stand, Luin paused, sharing a grin with Carina before bowing her head respectfully to Aran. "Highness, Carina. Thank you both, very much."

Carina waved away the thanks. "Oh, shoo. We would do as much for anyone in love."

Aran was not accustomed to being referred to in such a way, as he was not really royalty here. He wasn't the Prince of Anarven and there was no returning to Ilyethlin, even if he wanted to. Luin wasn't even of Ilyethlin blood, but he accepted the respectful nod and address without argument, more for her sake than for his. "Congratulations," he told them both again, a warm smile on his face. "We are both very happy for you."

"Perhaps Alu will have a little friend sometime soon," Carina added teasingly, knowing perfectly well that this was conversation Hal and Luin could not possibly have had yet.

"Eventually, perhaps," Hal replied, with a sidelong glance at his companion, whose hand he was giving a gentle squeeze to again. "Shall we go in search of Velm?" he asked the three of them, since Aran and Carina needed to locate the woman so that they could reclaim their child.

Luin nodded, letting the others lead the way. For some reason, she deferred to them easily, whether because Aran and Carina were pseudo leaders and Hal was her elder or for some other reason.

Strangely enough, both Aran and Hal would have been just as happy to defer to Luin and Carina, as they had lived in Anarven longer than them, but neither argued the matter. It wasn't long before the couples parted ways, with Hal and Luin going off with Velm, while Aran and Carina swung Alu between them on their way to see her grandparents.

The little girl's cackling delight echoed around the bustling village as they went, drawing indulgent and fond smiles from everyone they passed. Alu was currently the youngest child in Anarven, the only child born of anyone from Ilyethlin in many years, and as such, she could get away with an awful lot. Thankfully, however, her parents had reasonable control over her. Most of the time.

Alu was a happy-go-lucky child, for the most part - one who was well loved by everyone and had never known sorrow or hardship - and that was the way her parents intended to keep her, for as long as they possibly could. It was no secret that she was the apple of her father's eye, and the bright smile on Aran's face was proof of it.

"Shall we go say hello to your grandparents, Alu?" he asked, as they wandered that way, nodding and waving and smiling to the other villagers as they passed by.

The toddler nodded enthusiastically. "Go see Ada an' Nanin?" she asked, as though clarifying it with her father.

Carina glanced down at her daughter, absolutely certain that her parents would be delighted to see them both.

Few days went by when the little girl didn't see one grandparent or the other, but there was no mistaking how her they adored her and enjoyed spoiling her with attention; and it allowed Aran and Carina to go about their chores and duties without worrying about their daughter. "Maybe Nanin made some cookies. What do you think?" he asked her.

"Lunch cookie?" Alu asked hopefully, bouncing along between them, secure in the knowledge that neither one of her parents was going to let her fall so long as she was holding onto them.

"Lunch and then a cookie, but not a cookie for lunch," Aran teased, winking over at Carina. He had changed since they'd first met; his whole life had changed. He was more confident now and far happier, and it was in good part because of her.

The Cox's cottage was instantly recognisable even from a distance, thanks to the abundant gardens front and back that scented the air all year 'round. Raniel and Amara's herbs and medicines were still sought after, even after the closing of their shop in the city, and they did a brisk trade via mail to and from the city itself. But they always had time for their daughter and son-in-law, and the little ray of sunshine that was Aluviel.


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« Reply #5 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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« Reply #6 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."


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« Reply #7 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.


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« Reply #8 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.