Waning crescent of the Deep Snows (on or about Kaldmont 27, 997AC)
We parted ways at Rifflian, the Baron continuing north to his holdings, with Saoirse and the ranks of Silva’s Army (who spent the entire two days’ trip until Kelven arguing over whether they were to be called ‘The Defenders of Threshold,’ ‘The Company of Maidens,’ or ‘The Handmaidens of Petra.’)
Silva pressed something into each of the girls’ hands, whispering in their ears as she kissed each on the cheek before we departed down the gangplank, while Aurora watched with a frown. They had had their own arguments, growing so heated at one point that thunder growled in the low-hanging clouds that still clung to the skies, though I felt no inclination of the weather to turn wet or stormy. More than one of the Grand Duke’s sailors made the sign against witchcraft, when they thought one or another of the twins was not looking their way.
Saoirse and Sera’s parting was a bit more tearful, and I did my best to push the feelings that welled up through the bracelet to the back of my mind.
Although I was expecting a greeting of some sort from the Order, the half score Greenwardens waiting at the dock came as a surprise.
“Marcu.” He did not incline his head, and Breregon’s smile was not welcoming, but wolfish.
My blood ran colder than the Waterholde.
“No,” I said, as I felt the glowing warmth begin to radiate up my arm, touched with an echo of my own fear. The heat abated, but did not entirely dissipate. I inclined my head to the Hierarch’s aide.
“I did not expect such an escort,” I said to him.
“Fewer than six could be bested by magic. I decided to take no chances.” Breregon rested his hand a bit too casually on the hilt of his sword. He glanced behind me. “Your companions are welcome to stay at the Swan, if they wish to wait for you.”
Aurora stepped to my side, Silva to the other, slipping beneath the silvery lead.
“We would speak with the Hierarch, and will accompany Thorn.” Aurora put a heavy emphasis on my chosen name.
Breregon hesitated, but only slightly. “The Hierarch is… otherwise disposed,” he sniffed. He lifted a hand — not the one on the pommel of his sword — and turned to go.
“Then we will have to interrupt his council,” Aurora said. I shivered at the layer of frost she’d lathered over her tone.
The Hierarch’s aide turned back, arching an eyebrow. “I do not think you understand,” he said, slowly. “He is cloistered. With the Elders, and will be until the turning of the new moon. He left strict instructions that they are not to be disturbed. Under any circumstances.”
“They no doubt deliberate the importance of the disappearance of one of the wandering stars,” Aurora said, speaking just as slowly, her inflection a perfect mockery of Breregon’s tone. “We will save them the puzzlement. Besides, we have need of your Hierarch’s expertise in potions.”
The Greenwarden’s jaw dropped. He took several tries before he could speak. “You will not disrupt a Conference of Druids to ask for a mere philter!”
Silva coughed, and I could nearly feel the heat of Aurora’s gaze as she looked aside at her sister. The silver-eyed twin waved off her concern, but we both saw the spots of blood upon the handkerchief before she folded it away.
“You will take us to your Hierarch,” Aurora said. The words rang with a steely note of command.
Breregon seemed not to hear it. “I know your kind’s secret,” he sneered. “You are a copy. A shadow. And I do not leap at a shadow’s beck.”
“If you know our lore, then you will know that ‘my kind’ do not sicken.”
The smug defiance slid from the Greenwarden’s face as he looked from one twin to the other.
“Did I hear her rightly, Thorn?” Ana asked.
“She doesn’t need a druid,” Gilliam whispered. “I knew a man in Landfall who had a recipe for the best hangover cure. Some Dwarven firebrandy, a shot of Shire pepper oil, and a twist of lemon. Works wonders for coughs, as well.”
It was less than an hour’s hike to the Moot’s Grove. Four great oaks grew in a depression between three hillocks, one at each point where the hillocks met, and another in the center of the small bowl, forming a nearly complete dome of branches and leaves. One hillock was shorn and weathered into steps, which also served as seats whenever a Moot was held, which hadn’t been in mine nor the current Hierarch’s lifetimes. Nowadays, the place was used for secluded meetings, when Hierarchs and Elders of the various orders came together for discussion or debate.
Breregon led the way in silence, save the occasional order to one or another of the Greenwardens accompanying us, or to speak with another warden at the various checkpoints along our route. We met with crossed pikes at the Grove’s entrance. The Hierarch’s aide engaged the two guards in a long and heated discussion. He gestured our way several times, but the pikes did not part. Finally, he threw up his hands, storming back towards us, shaking his head.
“They will not bend,” he said. “And it is not as if they do not know who I am.” He looked down at the twins, and shrugged. “You will just have to wait for the new moon, as I said earlier.”
Aurora and Silva glanced at each other for a long moment. Silva seemed about to speak, even managed to start to say something before her sister raised a finger, golden eyes smoldering. Silva frowned, then heaved a world-weary sigh.
Aurora crossed the path, and the pikes closed before her. I did not hear the exchange, but the girl made a few rather expansive gestures, the first towards the grove, and then another in the direction of the greater Radlebb woods. She tapped her foot, and the antlered helms turned toward toward each other. One of the men shouldered his pike, turned, and walked stiff-backed into the grove. He returned perhaps ten minutes later, retaking his place on guard, snapping to attention as the Hierarch approached just a few steps behind.
He did not look pleased, as he looked down at Aurora, and then up over her head, towards the rest of our group.
He looked… older. Weary. His eyes hardened as they swept over me, and again, I felt the chill settle in my stomach, as a sheet of ice forms over a river, or lake. A ghostly tingling of the same sensation crept up my arm from the bracelet, and I felt Seraphina’s hand slip into mine, giving a squeeze.
I swallowed, but dared not look away from the Hierarch. His jaw clenched, beneath his graying beard, and he gave the slightest of sighs, his shoulders drooping ever so slightly. His grip tightened on his staff of office, and he gestured for us to follow him, not glancing behind as he retraced his steps into the Grove.
Breregon glowered at Aurora, who smiled sweetly up at the man, no trace of smugness in her features, but a glimmer of it dancing in her eyes.
“Did she threaten the Hierarch with fire, or was it lightning?” I asked Silva.
She gave the slightest of smiles. “Dvitaya,” she said.
Both. I should have guessed it.