Dornata dips her fingers in the crystalline water, but no ripples form. Nothing disturbs the perfect, serene pool. Reflections glimmer on the still surface. The trees curve in shapes as if crafted from stone. The leaves and branches sway in a warm, soft breeze.
This place is so quiet. The calm reflects the stillness in her heart. It seems she is meant to be here, almost as if it’s home.
But does she have a home? Does she belong anywhere?
Dornata cups some of the clear water in her hands. It is so pristine, it could have filled this pool for a millennium. Yet there is not a fragment of dust across its liquid expanse. With hesitant hands, she raises the water to her chest and gazes down to a shimmering reflection of herself.
She fears her sadness will taint the pool. She gazes on her light colored eyes and white, almost silver hair. The water makes her reflection sparkle. Pain and memory wash from her youthful skin. Like nothing of the past two cycles had happened, and Phillip was still with her, and her children had never brought her so much... worry.
Lowering her hands, she lets the water stream down her fingers back to its source. It was just an illusion. She knows the truth, the dark lines that have taken up residence beside upon her brow and cheek, the shadow that has swallowed the sparkle of her eye. The water may show something of the past, but only romances the present.
Time passes slower in the elven wood. Dornata knows part of her truly does belong here. Maybe that’s why she decided to travel here with her mother, instead of going with Gakulisan to find Gifij and Tezart in Nautica. It was out of the question traveling with Corban to where he was going.
Folashia sits on a smooth gray boulder, beneath columns of golden sunlight filtering through the asnian leaves. Silver dust drifts around the gnarly, ancient trees, giving them an ethereal glow.
Her mother seems perfectly at peace in the strange wood. It has been several decades since Folashia last saw it, abandoning her home to take the hand of a humble wood smith.
Dornata shoulders her pack. The brown mares that were given to them by Prince Jessue graze lazily near the pool. She would almost prefer to walk the remaining distance to the elven capital, to be closer to this majestic beauty.
Folashia follows her lead and gathers her supplies. They still have a day’s ride until they reach Kinesh, the elven capital, deep in the heart of the forest.
A faint sound disturbs the pervasive silence. Incredibly fast, it approaches the women before either has a chance to act. The object whizzes closely by Dornata’s head and hits a tree behind her. Folashia and Dornata turn to see a silver arrow embedded half way in the tree’s bark.
Dornata searches the forest for the arrow’s shooter, and reaches for her knife when she finds them. Riders, five of them, come towards them at a gallop. They are dressed like soldiers, defiantly elves. Light metal armor molds against their chests and arms, and their helms shine white under the sun, fashioned with vines and leaves. The soldiers slow to a stop in front of the pool. They don’t seem to be aggressive, and Dornata stays her hand.
One rider leads his steed a few paces forward. The white stallion shakes its head, adorned with similar silver armor. The leaders has a robust form, thicker than what Dornata expected of an elf, with long, thick brown hair.
“I do apologize,” the leader states after examining the two women, “I mistook you for an escaped prisoner.”
Dornata knows enough of the language to make out his meaning, but still, she is glad her mother responds.
“No offense taken, defender of the forest. We are traveling to Kinesh.”
Dornata tries to replace the knife without the soldiers noticing it. Something touches her back. She’s disoriented a moment, thinking it is her mother, but sees Folashia ten spaces to her right. Someone is behind her. She starts to turn around, but a firm grip wraps around her stomach. Then something cold and sharp touches her neck.
The elven soldiers shout and Folashia screams. Dornata doesn’t breathe, afraid to move. The leader of the soldiers dismounts.
“Noklay, let go of her.”
“Get back! I’ll slit her throat!”
The man’s hot breath brushes across Dornata’s shoulder, but it makes her feel cold. She considers plunging her knife into his leg, but his blade reminds her of her position.
“Dismount!” the man commands.
Dornata’s mind races, trying to understand. This man obviously is not with the soldiers, but he speaks elven.
“Noklay, just let her go.” The leader holds up his hands in peace.
“Dismount I say!”
The soldiers reluctantly comply.
“Now, hit your horses. Do it or she dies!”
“Sir?” The soldiers stall.
Dornata flinches as the man pushes the knife into her skin. Tear drops of blood run down her neck and onto her shirt.
“Do it!” the leader orders.
They hit their horses, making them jerk and dash. Dornata watches the horses gallop out of her sight. She is disoriented, but has sense enough to realize the stranger is using her as a shield.
“This plan won’t do you any good Noklay. You have the entire royal guard after you. Just surrender.”
The stranger laughs. “Seems like this plan is doing me just fine.” Dornata is swung around like a sack of fabric. “Now, stay back!” The man jerks her by her shoulder, keeping the knife at her throat. Dornata doesn’t know what he’s doing, until she hears her brown mare.
“No!” her mother cries.
She’s lifted onto the saddle, and the man mounts behind her. He grabs the reins and kicks the horse in the side. The mare starts to gallop into the woods. Dornata listens, but she hears no hoof beats follow.