Point of View: Nate (Ignatius Elek)
NOTE: This short story takes place before Twilight’s Curse, book one in The Twilight Realm Series.
The air sizzled and popped and a moment later a small child stood in my study. It was a wonder she hadn’t landed on one of the many stacks of books and boxes that filled this space. My study was a cozy room, and I wasn’t a fan of house cleaning when my magic called me to the next book or to write down the latest record of what would one day be history.
“Royal Advisor Ignatius Elek, King Alistair is sending for you,” Cocoa stated with some urgency.
I paused from my writing and regarded the small face with a pointy nose and rosy cheeks. She was no child but a brownie. Secretive creatures that served in the homes of elves or other beings. Somehow their magic determined if an elf was good and that settled it for brownies. That was the extent of my knowledge of brownies, and I admit that not knowing more was a constant mild irritant that rubbed my thirst for understanding raw. Understanding, knowing, and recording history, is my magic. Not overly exciting, but it had served me well as the royal advisor of the kings throughout my very long life.
I gave the petite brownie a smile though my long beard probably made it look like a lip twitch. “Greetings, Cocoa. Is there a reason you felt the need to run ahead of the guard?”
Cocoa scrunched up her lips and one fist landed on her hip. “The king is sending for you.” She elongated the words as if that would make her meaning clearer.
“I understand that, but that still doesn’t explain why you felt the need to inform me before the guard. It is my position to advise the king.”
Cocoa rolled her eyes and blew out a puff of air. “When was the last time the king sent for you?”
I sat back in my chair and steepled my fingers. “I suppose that’s true. I daily visit King Alistair and Queen Calla in the throne room or the king’s office. They’ve never sent for me in the two hundred years that they’ve ruled.”
Cocoa nodded. Her eyes sparkled, thrilled that I was finally grasping that this was no ordinary summons. “Rumour has it King Alistair is being asked to remove a sentence of exile.”
“A sentence of exile.” The words slipped quietly from my mouth as my magic filtered through my memories. Paz Meir and Nazira, the original elven rulers divided the elven realm into five—Day, Night, Dawn, Twilight, and Light—and established their five children as the monarchs imbuing each with the magic from Vaim Na’quab—a spirit who took the form of a dove and was rumored to have bequeathed all elves with magic. Though it was no rumor as I was there the day Vaim Na’quab visited the elves when we’d first arrived in this realm. But that was well over a millennium and more ago. I’m quite old even for an elf, but my magic doesn’t deplete like the magic of others and so I live on. As does the magic of Paz Meir and Nazira within their descendants, the monarchs. There was only one couple who’d been exiled during the reign of King Alistair’s father, King Ithain. “Is it the Dions?”
Cocoa shrugged. “I suppose. Have you known any other who have been exiled?”
I chuckled. The brownie had never mentioned her age though I suspected she’d been around as long as me. “And so you rushed right over to find out?” I peered at the brownie and the rosy shade of her cheeks darkened. I’d never known her to blush. “Is it the brownie nature to gossip?”
Cocoa opened her mouth and a soft squeak popped out.
The floor sent a soft vibration like the ripple of a gentle tide. I live in a tree. All elves in the Twilight Realm do as they are imbued with magic through the working of elves with that particular kind of magic. The trees were still living and the soft vibration of the floor was the tree’s way of announcing a visitor.
“The king’s guard has arrived. I suggest you head back to the Royal Tree unless you’d like to reveal yourself and accompany us.”
I strode from the room, and a sizzle and a pop announced Cocoa’s disappearance. She was a good brownie, and I hadn’t meant to make her uncomfortable, but the question about brownies being gossips was inspired by my innate magic’s curiosity. The thought had never occurred to me before. But perhaps the delightful creatures, innocent as they are, did have a penchant for tidbits of hearsay.
The short hallway of my silent home led me to the sitting room where the door marker was etched into the wall next to the door. I rested my hand on the surface, it looked no different than regular tree bark, so unless an elf was familiar with the home, the marker would remain hidden. It mattered little. Tree homes were created to recognize the magic of the elves who lived in their homes, so the door markers would only respond to the inhabitants.
The door peeled back and Adothlin, one of the royal guards, stood just outside.
“Come in, Adothlin.” I waved into my small seating area.
The guard nodded. “I am here on behalf of King Alistair who requests your presence.”
I smiled though it probably looked like little more than a twitch of my long beard and mustache. “Oh, very good. Shall we be off then?”
“His majesty did express some urgency.”
I nodded and let the door roll shut behind me. The walk from my home to the Royal Tree wasn’t far through the rich forest. The trees were thick and foliage hung in a heavy backdrop of varying shades of green. The air hung densely with magic which created a comfortable pulse of energy that mingled with my own. I suspected all elves felt the magic and were soothed by it. It was our life force that sustained our longevity. There were only two reasons elves died. We were either killed, which seldom happened, or someone used their magic to depletion. Perhaps I was so long-lived because my magic thrived on knowledge, understanding, and being a history keeper. As my magic drank up information, my soul was satisfied.
We reached the Royal Tree. The majesty of the ancient feat of nature, which had stood longer than my home and received nurturing sustenance from the royal family, overwhelmed the small opening in the forest. It also thrummed with the welcoming presence of Royal Magic. The magic, unique to the royals, was a gentle feeling that settled my soul and made me favorably disposed towards the royal family. The magic was not used to control the populace, but I suspected it worked to keep the realms at peace with each other, the citizens at peace with their rulers, and the peace of society as a whole.
A creak and jingle drew my attention from the Royal Tree.
“What is that?” I asked.
I followed Adothlin’s gaze into the forest and saw two beautiful horses both the color of soft butter chained to a wooden contraption on wheels. The horses were pulling a large box the size of a small room or perhaps a large closet. My heart nearly stopped beating at the audacity of someone who’d killed trees and chosen to use noble horses—meant to carry a rider with pride—for such a mundane task. I sucked in a sharp breath.
Adothlin scowled and tipped his head towards the noise. “That is the Dions. Apparently, the Night Realm elves do… this.” He waved at the wooden box and horses.
I shook my head. Land and animals, all life was sacred to elves. Wood would only be used when fallen due to storm or age, it was never simply cut without purpose. And horses were to be ridden, not forced into chains like slaves. I sneered at the approaching wheeled box and two pale green eyes set in a child’s face peeked out at me beneath a shuttered window. A moment later the eyes disappeared, and another sterner set of darker green eyes looked out and caught my own.
I spun and headed towards the Royal Tree. The door slid open. I nodded at the brownie standing at the door. No doubt only I could see him. The brownie, Sand, nodded back and then took his post back outside the Royal Tree as the door shut behind me. There was another brownie, Bark. standing just inside the door. I knew them well and for whatever reason, perhaps because I was so long-lived and well known to the creatures, they’d shown themselves to me.
“Here to see the king?” Bark asked.
“I was summoned by the king”
Bark waved towards the right of the massive staircase. The steps of the stairs had flat surfaces for steps but were otherwise entwined branches that supported the sprawling upwards structure that led to the higher levels of the Royal Tree. No doubt personal rooms of the royal family. I’d never been that way except to the King’s office on the second floor. On the first floor to the right of the staircase, that Bark was pointing to, was a doorway that led into the royal hall or throne room. Depending on its purpose, the name changed. It was the royal hall when there was a function like a ball. It was the throne room when the monarch was receiving guests.
Though I didn’t see a brownie at the throne room door, I assumed one was there to open and close the door as I entered the expansive room. King Alistair and his wife, Queen Calla, were seated on matching thrones at the front of the room. Their seats had been carved long ago from wood that had fallen during a particularly severe thunderstorm and been struck down by lightning. The legs were like roots planted in the flooring and then vines wound up the sides creating armrests. The seat and back were carved out of wood and padded. Up from the back of the thrones was the appearance of branches reaching up and then tilting forward with a canopy of leaves growing over the heads of the king and queen.
On the floor in front of the throne, Crown Prince Phoenix, a mere teen of thirteen, and Princess Zyanna, barely six, engaged in a simple game of chase. The crown prince was doing a good job of running slowly so his much younger sister could catch him. She shrieked with delight when she grabbed the back of his shirt. He turned and scooped her up in his arms. To the side of the thrones was Zyanna’s nurse. She had dark hair and fair skin like a Night Realm elf but had lived in the Twilight Realm for centuries and faithfully served the royal family.
I reached the front of the room and folded over into a court bow. “Greetings my king. Greetings my queen.” I turned to the young royals. The crown prince stood still and held his sister, who was too young to understand court procedure, wiggled in his arms. “Greetings, Crown Prince Phoenix. Greetings, Princess Zyanna.”
“Welcome, Royal Advisor Ignatius Elek,” Queen Calla spoke in a steady voice. She glanced at her husband and patted his hand. “If you’ll excuse me, I will join Princess Zyanna and her nurse.”
I bowed again and waited as mother, daughter, and nurse left through a doorway off the dais. That left the Crown Prince, the king, and me in the room.
King Alistair motioned to the seat next to him. “Phoenix, come and join me.”
The young prince settled into the seat beside his father and rested his calm eyes on me. While only a child, it would be many centuries before the crown prince would take over the throne, but for now, his father did have his son attend certain royal duties to groom him for the position. It was a wise move. The more the young prince experienced court life, the more comfortable he’d be when it was his time to take over the throne.
King Alistair focused his steady gaze, so much like his son’s, on me. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course, your majesty. How may I be of service?”
The king cleared his throat. “During my royal father’s reign, there was a resistance. I believe you are familiar with the details?”
“Yes, your majesty. It was the Dions, Lord Leski and Lady Serena. They instigated a rebellion of sorts against the royal family citing the need for less royal oversight. Your father attempted to make peace with them, but his efforts were futile. As a result, the Dions were exiled to the Night Realm. It was not that King Ithain wanted to push our troubles onto the Night Realm but believed the Dions had become too comfortable in their position and titles, of which they were stripped, and sent to start over in the Night Realm.”
“You’ve a good memory.”
“It is mine to keep.”
“It has recently come to my attention that they’ve returned and wish to seek a pardon with the Twilight Realm.”
Immediately my magic churned in my gut, and I knew that if the king made this decision, it would not be wise. I carefully considered my words and waited until my magic felt peaceful regarding the most appropriate response. King Alistair was a trusting and kind ruler, but he was still the king, and I had learned, during my centuries of service, to always treat the reigning sovereign with diplomacy.
“Are you considering a pardon, your majesty?”
King Alistair perched an arm on an armrest and leaned to the left. “It has been 500 centuries, I believe.”
He looked to me for confirmation and I nodded.
“Then it would be wise to consider.”
My magic swirled in an unsettled mess. I swallowed being extra cautious with my response. “You are a gracious ruler, but I am not sure a pardon is the best course of action with the Dions. What is to say they won’t use this opportunity to cause more trouble for the royal family?” I stole a glance at the young prince who remained silent in his seat though he was distracted with the throne and ran his fingers over the elegant woodwork on the armrests.
“They are of the Twilight Realm. Should they be banished for life from their home?” There was no anger in the king’s tone.
“I understand. I urge caution. I fear the Dions are not being truthful about their reasons.” I actually couldn’t support this last claim, but I’d come to trust my magic and the instincts it provided as I searched for wisdom in how to advise my king. It had been a long time since my magic last surged with displeasure. It was in the days of Nosh Dem. I shuddered at the memory. He was an elf who’d experimented with his magic and manipulated it until it was no longer the pure magic of Vaim Na’quab. He rose up against Paz Mier and Nazira until he and those loyal to him had been driven into the Northern Wastelands at the highest tip of the Night Realm borders. Nosh Dem and his followers have not been spoken of since, and due to the barrenness of Northern Wastelands, it is believed they died long ago. There are those today who speak of Nosh Dem and the great battle led by Paz Mier and Nazira as myth and legend. But I was there and thanks to my magic. I remember.
The king studied me, and I held his gaze waiting for his decision. “I will hear them out. They arrived as you did and are waiting. I ask you to remain in the throne room as they plead their case.”
I nodded. “Of course, your majesty. I am here to advise.” There was still a chance the king might reject their claim and I could reason with him some more.
King Alistair returned a broad smile. “There is always the royal magic. It will protect us and subdue any who rise against the royal family.” He looked over at his son.
I wanted to believe my king and share in his optimism but the royal magic, as powerful as it was, would not protect him from a dagger. I shook the morbid thought from my head.
King Alistair nodded and the invisible brownie stationed at the entrance to the throne room opened the door. A simple procession of Lord Leski, Lady Serena, and a small child with large round green eyes peeked from behind the folds of her mother’s skirt. Those eyes, so innocent and curious took in the large room. As they drew closer, a lock of the child’s hair fell over her shoulder. It started as a soft blond so similar to the Twilight Realm elves and slowly darkened in an ombre effect to black tips. My breath caught in my throat. While some elves did have two-toned hair, I’d only ever seen hair like this on one other, Nosh Dem.
“Welcome to the Twilight Realm and the Royal Tree,” King Alistair spoke in a loud and steady voice that filled the empty room.
Lord Leski and Lady Serena both lowered into a court bow.
“Thank you for permitting us an audience,” Lord Leski spoke. His voice was smooth but inwardly my magic shuddered, trying to rid itself of the silky sick feeling that trailed after his words.
“You have permission to make your case.” The king extended his hand with an open palm.
“Thank you, your majesty.” Lord Leski glanced at his wife who nodded then re-positioned their daughter to stand in front of her. The child made no noise.
“Many centuries ago, my wife and I acted foolishly towards this realm, our home, and were banished to the Night Realm. While we made a home for ourselves and began our family,” he pointed to his daughter. “We never forgot the Twilight Realm. Our hearts have changed, and we have longed to return so we can raise our daughter, our Zoe, in our own land.” Lord Leski turned his eyes to the king. His face read such sincerity even my own heart was moved except for the roaring unease of my magic. “We humbly ask for the privilege to live in the Twilight Realm once again. We do not ask for our privilege or stations to be returned. We will find our own way.”
King Alistair looked over at me. His eyes were eager and his face was bright. I offered a slight shake of my head. I couldn’t give my consent to this request no matter how sincere it sounded. Every spec of my magic screamed that the Dions were not to be trusted.
The king’s brow darkened and lowered. He bunched his lips in a frown. I’d given my counsel and now the final decision rested with him. The wait wasn’t long and a part of me had already guessed the king’s decision, but another part of me hoped he wouldn’t make a mistake for the realm. King Alistair held too much esteem for the royal magic and the loyalty of his citizens.
“I will grant you a pardon,” King Alistair’s words rang throughout the room.
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. The air was pulled from my lungs, and I stumbled back but quickly found my footing.
Lord Leski winked at Lady Serena and she nodded back. There was something off about what passed between them, something victorious. My magic churned more upset than ever. This wasn’t good. I’d have to speak with the king and try to convince him to set boundaries around the Dions or maybe order them to live away from the Royal Tree. My mind was spinning with words of counsel for the king that I missed the departure of the Dions. The doors to the throne room thudded shut and brought me back to the present.
King Alistair let out a sigh. “I know this is against your counsel, Royal Advisor Ignatius Elek, but I believe it is the right decision.”
I opened my mouth trying to find the right words. My magic was still swirling and spinning leaving me light-headed. “I understand, your majesty.”
The king rested his hands on the sides of the armrest and stood. “Your king thanks you for your service.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
The king and his son strode through the doorway next to the dais, and I was left alone in the cavernous room.
My spinning magic slowed and my breath returned. I was able to regain my bearings. I walked to the doors and they opened. Not seeing a brownie, but certain one was there I said, “Please tell Cocoa to meet me in my home.”
I nodded to Bark and Sand as I left the Royal Tree and whispered the same request knowing Cocoa would get the message.
I turned and saw Adothlin, the royal guard who’d brought me to the Royal Tree. He waved at me. He was coming around the side of the Royal Tree and jogged over to me.
“I’ve no business knowing what the meeting was about and it is above my station to ask, but my magic’s not sitting right with me and well…” he shifted his weight. “Before the Dions went inside, the Lady was inspecting the Royal Tree and I think she was working some kind of magic.”
My eyes narrowed. “Can you describe it?”
“I can do better, I’ll show you. I was just inspecting the Royal Tree and well, come here.” He waved me towards the door and crouched down. He pushed aside a few wisps of grass and pointed to a mark at the base of the tree. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was small and round. I frowned.
I pointed at the mark to confirm I was seeing what Adothlin wanted me to see. “Is that it?”
“It is. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I know she was using magic only it wasn’t warm like Twilight Magic. It felt cold and slimy.”
I reached out and touched the spot on the tree but didn’t sense anything. If the magic was foreign, I doubted I’d feel it with my magic. This is where my magic for knowledge, understanding, and keeping records failed me.
“What is your magic, Adothlin?”
“It’s strategy and intuition. I can sense things about others and am good at reading situations then determining the best course of action.”
I patted the elf on the shoulder and stood. “Perfect for a guard and soldier.”
Adothlin puffed out his chest. “Thank you, Royal Advisor Elek.”
I pulled at my lower lip for a moment as I considered what would be best for the king. He hadn’t taken my advice and now both this guard and I were concerned about the Dions. “Who is in charge of the royal guard?”
“Then I’m going to ask you to double the guard around the royal tree.”
The man shifted closer. “Is there something I should be concerned about?”
I studied the man’s face and while I wouldn’t break the confidence of the king, I knew I could trust Adothlin. The wisdom in my magic sensed the integrity of this young elf.
“I’m not sure, but my magic is also troubled, and our duty is to first protect the royal family.”
“Understood, sir. It will be done.”
I strode through the forest and headed home thinking about how to protect the king against his own decision to permit the Dions to return. Perhaps Lord Leski and Lady Serena would do nothing but my magic warned me against such false optimism. No. The Dions were up to something.
I reached home and had barely settled back in my office before the air sizzled and popped and Cocoa appeared.
“Well?” She had her hands firmly planted on her hips and a wide grin on her lips.
I almost felt bad about the reason for calling her here.
“We need to talk.”
“Oh.” Cocoa’s voice lowered and she settled in the chair across from me. “It didn’t go well then?”
I rubbed my face wanting to rid myself of the ominous feeling my magic generated. “No, it did not.”
“Then what would you have me do?”
“I fear the royal family may be in great danger.” I let the words settle on her.
She swallowed and nodded.
“We will make a plan.”
“The brownies will protect the royal family. Never underestimate the power of nurture.”
The way she said those words, despite the child-like voice, there was steel in the statement, and I knew the royal family would be safe with the brownies. I just hoped that whatever the Dions had planned, we’d stay at least one step ahead.
* * *
I rested my hand over the door marker of my tree and entered when the door peeled back settling in the comfy chair in my sitting room. I usually favored my office, but not today. My heart was heavy and my mind troubled.
Over the past few months since the Dion’s request for a pardon, Captain Adothlin and I had worked quickly to create the sanctuary for the royal soldiers and guards in the event the Dion’s attempted a revolt again and succeeded. There was a safe tree for the elves and if needed, we could take the royal family there as well as other elves to keep them safe. Captain Adothlin and I both wondered if the measures were too extreme, but the safety of the royal family and the Twilight Realm were our prinority.
I’d also been keeping an eye on the Lord Leski and Lady Serena. I had yet to catch another glimpse of their Zoe and wondered if the child was even theirs. Aside from her green eyes, which was a common eye color for elves, she bore very little resemblance to her parents and reminded me so much of Nosh Dem.
The Dion’s had been busy building a fortress made of stone and had even sacrificed living trees. The thought sickened me and Captain Adothlin had first sent a guard to speak to the Dions and then soldiers. Neither were very successful in their attempts to persuade the Dions and both groups returned confused about the interactions with the Dions.
Today my magic had been particularly unsettled and right now I was thankful to be home but couldn’t calm my troubled thoughts. And so I sat ignorant of the comfortable chair and the safety of my tree waiting and hoping my magic would return to its peaceful state. It did not.
I’m not sure how long I sat like this, but as the hours wore on and the night grew late, my unease only intensified. And I waited.
When the air sizzled then popped, I was not surprised when Cocoa suddenly appeared.
“Royal Advisor, the Royal Tree has been breached,” Cocoa said in a rush of words. She yanked at my arms through the urging was useless.
I immediately rose. “The royal family?”
“Princess Zyanna’s nurse had taken her. My brownies are guarding the prince’s chambers, but the king and queen’s chambers were swarmed with those loyal to the Dions. Soldiers or guards from the Night Realm.”
“Take me to the prince.”
Cocoa grabbed my arm and a moment later we were inside the kitchens of the Royal Tree. A small army of brownies were busy with their regular nightly tasks of preparing breads for the next day. Though there was tension in the room. And the bread seemed to take an extra beating as air bubbles were being worked out.
I turned to Cocoa. “What of Captain Adothlin and his guard?”
Cocoa shrugged. “I don’t know. My focus was the family and then I came to you though I trust the captain is doing his duty. Or…”
“Or they let the Dions in.”
I folded my arms. “Cocoa, you dare question the loyalty of the king’s guard?”
She shook her head and her eyes grew wide. “No! But brownies are loyal to the family they serve and the royal tree cannot be entered by any but the royal family and the brownies who serve here.”
I exhaled and remembered Captain Adothlin revealing the marking made by the entrance by Lady Serena. What magic had she used to weaken the magic on the Royal Tree? Despite my curiosity, I pushed the thought aside. My focus returned to the prince.
“Then we will not accuse the captain and his guard until otherwise proven. Prepare your brownies to secure the route from the prince’s room to this kitchen. I’ll bring him here.”
“We will protect you and Prince Phoenix.”
Cocoa turned to the small army of brownies. I knew they had some magic and were loving creatures by nature. They would do what they could to protect the prince.
I left the kitchen and raced up the stairs to the prince’s room hoping I wasn’t too late.
* * *
This story is a work of fiction and is part of The Twilight Realm Series.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed, A Royal Pardon. Are you curious to learn more? Then check out Twilight’s Curse, book 1 in The Twilight Realm Series.