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Carina Cox
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:14 am    Post subject: Life Reply with quote

The posters were everywhere, even in the Marketplace. A single fist, raised high; the words stating that Humanity First was just the first step, extorting the populace to Stand Together. Raniel considered the one put up outside the apothecary shop he shared with Amara thoughtfully. This area was predominantly human, yes, but the poster itself was ambiguous. Was it for, or against, segregation of the races? Without knowing the intent behind it, the elven druid couldn't make a clear decision about this supposed Temple of Divine Mother. And without knowing the intent, it was better not to have it outside his shop, where it might well endanger himself and his wife, not to mention their daughter and her husband. Very carefully, he picked the poster off the wall, and crossed the street to stick it firmly in place on the nearest trash can. That should do it.

Arandir was a nervous wreck lately. It was little wonder considering all the conflict that had been stirred up by the elections lately. As much as he'd tried to hide it, even Carina had noticed something was wrong. For starters, he'd been waking up screaming in the middle of the night with nightmares brought on by memories of the racial hatred and bloodshed he'd witnessed on his own homeworld before escaping to Rhy'Din. She knew a little about his history, but he was always so inconsolable after waking up that she was never able to get a rational explanation out of him. Whenever she tried to bring the subject up, he'd turn deathly pale and look like he was about to be sick, and so, it was like a sickness slowing eating away at his sanity.

It was Carina who'd suggested he visit her father, who might have some remedy for his ills or at least something that might help him sleep. He knew she was worried about him, and so he'd agreed. He didn't want to make her worry, but he didn't know how to stop it either. Why did he deserve to live when so many others had died? That was the question that kept eating away at his conscience. What had happened after he'd left, after his mother had pushed him through the mirror? Were all his people dead or did some of them still live? The questions haunted his days and nights, every time he saw a poster for Humanity First or read an article or heard an interview, he wanted to scream in anger and rage at what had been done to his people - what humans had done to his people. It had been nothing short of attempted genocide.

And yet, he didn't hate humans. He didn't hate anyone. He was half-human himself, fathered by a man he'd never had the chance to meet. He just wanted to live in peace, and he wanted other people to do the same, but he couldn't ignore the past any longer. One way or another, he had to know what had happened to his people and if there was any way to help those who might have survived.

And so, he found himself at the apothecary shop, needing more than just a potion to help him sleep.

"Hey, elf."

Straightening, Raniel turned to find himself faced with three belligerent looking human men, all scowling at him. Over their shoulders, he could see Amara in the doorway of their shop, watching with wide, worried eyes, but his attention belonged to the trio that had interrupted him. "May I help you?" he asked politely, leaning back as a particularly noisome fist was shaken close to his face.

"Why'd you move that?" the first man demanded, pointing to the poster.

"Yeah, scared people'll come to their senses and kick you out?" another said.

Raniel took a step back in a measured fashion, aware that there were more eyes on him than on them. "Gentlemen, this is our home," he pointed out. "When we allow fear and hatred to turn it into an ugly place, it is no longer fit for any of us to dwell in."

"You're not welcome here, knife ears," the third man said, his words punctuated with the silken hiss of a sword being unsheathed.

Raniel sighed wearily, raising his voice for the benefit of the watchers. "Gentlemen, if you attack me, I will be forced to defend myself. I do not want to hurt you."

"We'll end you!"

With a roar, the first man raised his sword, and Raniel moved. With the grace and speed given him by his own gods, as well as years of training in the woodlands of his home, he stepped under the threatening blade and jabbed the side of his hand into the first man's throat, just deep enough to make breathing painful but not impossible. As the first man staggered, gasping for breath, the second found his wrist caught in the elven druid's grip and twisted until he let go of his own sword, spraining the limb in the process. And to add insult to injury, that hand was then used to punch the third man squarely in the stomach, neatly disarming him, too. It was all over in barely ten seconds, and Raniel stood up, dusting the dirt from his robes.

"Could someone help them, please?" he asked politely. "I do not think they would appreciate me laying hands on them to cure their ills." He raised his head, his eyes catching sight of Arandir, and he smiled, stepping over the groaning bodies to greet his son-in-law. Behind him, smirking neighbors - both human and not - moved to disappear the unruly trio's weapons and set about getting them back on their feet.

"Aran, come inside," Raniel said, laying a gentle hand on the young half-elf's shoulder. "Is Carina not with you?"

Aran froze in his tracks as he watched the conflict take place before him. Though over in seconds, it was still hard to watch, not because he feared for Raniel's life, but because it was more proof that maybe Rhy'Din wasn't as safe or as peaceful as he'd thought. He only stirred again when he felt Raniel's hand on his shoulder and he saw the neighbors dragging the trio away.

"Why did they do that? Why do they hate us?" he asked, turning a confused and fearful expression to Raniel, his face pale and his hands shaking. He wasn't a coward by any means, but he did not understand this kind of hatred.

"They're afraid," Raniel told him gently, recognizing the signs of trauma in the young man beside him. "Whenever politicians begin to try to separate the races into them and us, fear begins to take hold. Fear of the differences; differences they can see, and the differences they imagine. Most people can recognize that fear as irrational, but if their fear is stoked too far, or their bravery challenged by foolhardy companions, fear can turn to anger, and it is the anger that creates the destruction." He studied Arandir's face for a long moment. "Come inside, hinya. You seem in need of peace."

It seemed the same had been true on his homeworld, or so his grandfather had told him. What they were afraid of, Aran didn't know. His people had only ever wanted to help those who shared their world. What was there to fear? He stared after the trio as they were led away before turning back to Raniel again and nodding his head in silent agreement.

Drawing the young half-elf into the shop, Raniel gestured for him to continue through to the workshop beyond, pausing to reassure his wife fondly that no harm had been done. Their neighbors knew them to be fair and honest, and to never turn away anyone who needed their help. They were safe.
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Carina Cox
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

With Amara calmer now, he followed Arandir into the workshop, ushering the young man into a seat by the hearth as he set a kettle to boiling over the fire. "What is it that troubles you, hinya?"

Arandir came to a halt before the fire, watching as the flames danced in the hearth, lost in thoughts and memories of his childhood and his home. He was still young, even for a half-elf, sent away from home before he'd been fully prepared for the journey. It was only when Raniel ushered him to a seat, woodenly following, barely aware of his surroundings, that he spoke. "Fire and blood," Aran replied quietly, his thoughts still far away, even as he fingered the amulet at his throat.

"Hate and love," the druid countered just as quietly. "Two sides of the same coin, opposing forces than cannot exist, one without the other." He drew up a chair beside Arandir, reaching to lay his palm against the young man's brow, offering a soft prayer that some kind of peace be given to his daughter's beloved.

Aran didn't really feel any different, despite the prayer the elf offered up, except for a slow feeling of warmth that seemed to come over him, as peaceful as a summer's day, but even that was not enough to dispel the darkness that clouded his mind and pained his heart. "I know what I have to do," he said quietly, his gaze still watching the flames dance almost hypnotically in the hearth. "But I'm not sure I can do it."

Removing his hand, Raniel considered Arandir for another long, quiet moment. "It is in you to do whatever you set your mind to," he told the young half-elf firmly. "You are young, Aran, but you are firm in your heart and mind, strong in body, steadfast in soul. And you are not alone. Although ..." He looked askance at his son-in-law. "Talking to Carina would help you more than keeping her fearful for you."

"I don't know what to tell her," Aran admitted sadly, brushing an errant tear from his face. He seemed torn somehow, afraid of hurting her, but unable to forget who he was. He turned his head at last to face Raniel, letting him see the pain and the heartache, the fear and the worry, the grief and even the anger, but where there was once uncertainty, now there was determination. "I have to go home. I am their prince and they need me."

"The truth is always better than a kind lie," Raniel told him. "Though it is harder to share, it becomes an easier burden when those you love help you to shoulder it." He rose, pouring the boiling water into a pot and crumbling camomile into it to steep. "And what will you do, when you go home? The is no point in opening that door unless you have a plan to follow through."

"I know why I was sent here now. I was sent here so that I could make a place for them to follow, but how can I bring them here to this place when there is such hatred?" He said all this with tears in his eyes and a grievous heart. It had only come to him recently that this was his purpose, that this was what he'd been sent here to do - to open the door so that his people could have a place where they could live their lives in peace, but there was more to it than that. "They are dying, Raniel. They were dying before the humans started hunting them. I've seen it in my dreams, night after night. I am the first and the last. The first of a new race, the last of the old."

"Arandir, this unrest ... it is just a phase," Raniel told him with the confidence of a man who had lived through all of this too many times to count. "It rises and falls, but it will not last. When last it happened, this home of ours was torched, destroyed. I, myself, was beaten more than once. But what did you witness out there? Three strangers challenged me. No one spoke in my defense, but no one blamed me for what I did to protect my own. The only way to fight such hatred is to integrate with those who do not understand your ways. Our neighbors know us. The next time someone comes to my door seeking to harm me and mine, I will have defenders, because they know I would defend them." He poured the tea into a cup, pressing it into Arandir's hand. "How many of your people would follow you here?"

Aran was barely aware of the cup that had been put into his hand, even as he listened to Raniel's words and considered his question. "I don't know. A few hundred. Maybe less. I hear them calling me at night, crying out for help," he told the elf, unable to hold back the tears that streamed down his face, the tea cup shaking in a trembling hand. It had to be the amulet that connected him to his people, that allowed him to hear their cries for help, but why now?

Raniel considered this thoughtfully. "Would your people be happier outside the city?" he asked curiously. "Not another nation, or even more than a couple of hours' travel, but outside the city walls. Would that suit them better than to squeeze into the communities here?"

Aran wiped the tears from his face and took a small sip of tea, his hands still shaking but doing his best to contain and control his emotions. "I don't know," he replied again, unsure if they would prefer a settlement of their own or if they would prefer to integrate themselves into city life, if the city would have them. "I have no land nor the means to buy land. They are a peaceful people, Raniel, but they will not go down without a fight."

"You may not need to buy land, hinya," Raniel told him. "I think, perhaps, it is time you met Carina's human grandparents. They are a part of a community who thrive outside the city walls, in the forests that edge the city. There are not more than two hundred or so of them, but they are a welcoming people. Perhaps they might offer you the safe haven you are looking for, and if not, they may know of a place that can be made habitable."

"Humans?" Aran echoed suspiciously, immediately ashamed of his own reaction, of his own fear. He had made plenty of friends who were human since arriving in Rhy'Din, plenty of decent human beings who were kind and compassionate and welcoming to those who were not like themselves. "And how would they feel about elves living among them?" he asked, unable to keep the grief from his voice and the worry.

Raniel raised a brow as he held Arandir's gaze. "Humans who welcomed the marriage of their daughter to an elf, and the birth of a half-elf into their bloodline," he said, challenging Arandir not to look beyond the instinctive fear the boy seemed to hold. "Sufficiently warned, they would have no reason to object. Indeed, even without warning of the influx of people, their anger would be short-lived, I feel. But talk to them, first."

Arandir's face flamed with shame at his own words, his own doubts. He knew Carina's mother, Amara, well. She had been like a second mother to him, and he knew he was wrong to judge her people, the same way others were judging his, but it was a little more complicated than that. "There are no children, Atar," he explained, using the elven word for Father. "They are unable to have children anymore. Their blood is too pure. It is why I was born. I was to be the first born of a new bloodline born of mixed blood, human and elven alike, but they were so filled with outrage and hatred that they killed my father and declared war on my mother's people."

"Then allowing them a chance to integrate into a human community that will welcome them is the best you can give them, hinya," Raniel reminded him gently. "Speak to Amara's parents. They have influence in their community. Tell them the truth of the matter, let them put it to their companions. See what comes of it."

"It will have to be soon," Aran said quietly. "I feel them waning." He looked into the flames again, as if he could see some vision of them there, one hand going to finger the amulet at his throat. "They are dying, Raniel. Murdered. Hunted down like vermin." There was that hint of anger and rage in his voice again, though he had not given in to that same hatred yet.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Then you need to talk to your wife," Raniel told him firmly. "Carina is your anchor in this world, the source of your calm and your strength. And through her, you will be able to give your people hope."

"I will," Aran replied, knowing Raniel was right. He loved Carina with all his heart. She worried about him and she deserved to know the truth, but there was something else. "But what if something happens to me? What if I don't come back?"

"You will," Raniel said, and his confidence was difficult to argue with. "As I said, you have an anchor in this world. You will come back, Arandir. Do not go into this thinking that you won't."

"I am not even sure what I'm doing," Aran added, fingering that amulet again and holding it up so that Raniel could see it. He had showed the thing to him once before but neither of them had seemed to know what it was for then. "But it has something to do with this."

"It's soul magic, Aran," the druid reminded him. "It is bonded to you. Only you can use it, but only when you need to. Is the need strong enough now, do you believe?" He raised his brows, leaving the question for Arandir to answer.

Out in the shop, the bell over the door tinkled, and Amara's warm voice rang out, welcoming Carina into her mother's arms.

"I do not think I can wait much longer," Arandir replied as honestly as he could after a moment's contemplation. Whatever was in the tea was having a calming effect on him and was even making him feel a little bit sleepy, but at least, he wasn't as agitated as he'd been when he'd arrived. He didn't have to hear Carina's voice to know she'd arrived, sensing her presence as easily as if he'd been told. "Shall I tell her now, do you think?"

"You are the only one who can judge when it is the right time to tell her," Raniel told him, his lips curving into a faint smile. "I believe she has something to tell you, also. Whether here, or in your own home, you will have much to discuss, I think."

"I am feeling sleepy," Aran admitted, feeling almost like he'd been drugged, though he knew it must be something Raniel put in the tea. Of course, it didn't help that he hadn't been sleeping nights. He wondered what news Carina might have for him that he wasn't aware of yet, but he didn't ask, content to wait for her to tell him.

"Adar."

Raniel turned to greet his daughter, kissing her brow as he embraced her, murmuring something softly against her ear.

Carina raised a single brow as she glanced at Arandir, and turned an accusatory look on her father. "You drugged my husband?" she asked mildly.

Raniel shrugged innocently. "He looked as though he needed it," was his only response as he left her with Arandir, moving to rejoin Amara in the shop.

Laughing quietly, Carina took his seat beside Arandir, stroking gentle fingers against his cheek. "Shall we sleep here tonight, love?"

"I'm not sure I will make it home tonight," Aran replied, swaying a little in his seat. If she didn't take the empty tea cup from his hand soon, he was likely to drop it. "I am sorry for worrying you, a'mael," he told her with a worried frown of his own.

Rescuing the cup, she set it aside, curling her hands into his. "Then we'll stay here tonight," she assured him. "They won't mind." His worried words brought a faint frown to her own face. "I wish you would let me help you. I wish you would tell me what is hurting you so much. I can only guess so much without your help, but every time I ask, you grow a little more heartsick. I'm frightened that I'm losing you, and I can't cope with that. Especially not now."

"You are not losing me, Carina. You will never lose me. I promise," he said, giving her hands a reassuring squeeze despite his weariness. "I will tell you everything. It is just ..." He sighed, frowning again. "It is painful to talk about. I never understood hatred before, Carina, but I think I do now," he admitted sadly, though he didn't want to hate anyone.

"Then let me give you strength to stand against it," she offered softly, easing closer to press a kiss against his cheek. "We made life, a'maelamin. We're going to have a baby."

"A baby?" he echoed, as he turned his gaze to her, brows arching upwards in wonder and disbelief. "We are having ...? You are ...?" he asked, trailing off before completing his questions, his gaze moving to her abdomen, though it was obviously too early to see any proof of her news.

She nodded, a shy smile on her face as she watched his eyes trail downward as though looking for the evidence. "I didn't want to tell you before I was sure," she apologized softly. "You've had so much keeping you worried, stopping you from sleeping. But this is good news, I hope."

"Carina," he whispered, his heart melting, as it so often did when he was with her. He touched a soft kiss to her lips, one hand moving to touch is fingers to her abdomen, though there was no evidence of a pregnancy there yet. At a loss for words, he hoped his kiss would serve to tell her how overjoyed he was with her news. A child was the most precious, most beautiful, most miraculous gift they could ever hope to share.

She smiled into his kiss, glad he was as pleased with the news as she was, hopeful that it would help him handle some of the burden he had placed on his own shoulders over the past weeks. No, it had not been planned, but neither had they actively tried to prevent it. Admittedly, it was going to make casting at the theater interesting as she got bigger, but she had faith in Ludo and Jo'liss to make sure she didn't overdo it. "You taste of camomile," she murmured to him fondly, kissing the tip of his nose.

"I blame your father," he replied, smiling as she kissed his nose, and leaning his forehead against hers. "I think I need to sleep awhile," he admitted with a heavy sigh. And then, he'd tell her everything.

"Come on, then," she told him, her voice soft and tender as she rose to pull him up onto his feet, tucking his arm about her shoulders just in case being sleepy turned into actual sleeping before she got him upstairs.

"I love you, Carina," he told her sleepily, doing his best to keep one foot in front of the other so he didn't trip on his way to the bedroom. He didn't want her to take his weight, not in her current condition, anyway.

"I know," she whispered back to him, smiling as she helped him navigate the stairs up to her parents' apartment over the shop. Thankfully Raniel and Amara were used to their visits sometimes lasting until the later hours, and these days, there was always a bedroom made up for them. Helping him into the bed, she sat down, pulling his boots off one by one. "Sleep, a'maelamin," she murmured tenderly. "I'll be here when you wake up."

"You are too good to me, a'mael," he murmured as she practically tucked him into bed. Sleep felt like a luxury these days, and he didn't have much trouble surrendering to it. With any luck, he'd sleep deeply and feel rested and clear-headed when he awoke so that he could keep his promise and tell her all that had been weighing on his mind.

"I love you," she whispered to him, lying down at his side to hold him as he drifted off to sleep. It had been a long time since he had surrendered to sleep so easily, too long. She would have to thank her father for intervening as soon as he saw the ravages of fear and worry on her husband, even if it had involved drugging Arandir with concentrated camomile.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

For the first time in weeks, he slept deeply and soundly, without waking screaming from nightmares and memories of fire and blood. Instead, he dreamed of a child made of love. He could not tell whether the child was a boy or a girl, nor did it matter. The child had been created in love and would be raised in love. That he knew; that he vowed. During his sleep, he dreamed, too, of his mother - a mother who had raised him in love, just as he and Carina would raise their own child in the future - and when he awoke, he remembered her words and he knew what he had to do.

For the first time in weeks, he had slept right through until morning, his exhausted body making the most of the help it had been given to hold him in slumber until it was ready to wake. At some point, he had been undressed and tucked into nightclothes, too. When he woke, the bed was warm beside him, but Carina was not there. She was sitting in the dawning light at the window, sipping a cool cup of ginger tea as she watched the sun rise over the city. She was there, just as she had promised him she would be.

He awoke at sunrise, not groggily as one might expect, but wide awake and full of purpose. "Carina!" he called as soon as his eyes were open. He hardly noticed that he'd been tucked into nightclothes or into bed, as he flung off the covers and swung his feet off the bed. "We have to go see your grandparents. Today. As soon as we can," he told her with real urgency in his tone.

"I'm here," she said, turning to look at him in groggy surprise. "Is this the part where you tell me what's going on, Aran? You're frightening me now. Last night, you were scared and worried, and pleased about our child. And now you're determined and urgent, and still not talking to me. I'm not a prince, I'm not an elf, I can't possibly understand. But I'm your wife, and I won't be shut out anymore."

Aran blinked, obviously not expecting such a reaction to his statement. He wasn't sure what had happened after he'd passed out in bed, but somehow he'd assumed her father would explain everything. That assumption had obviously been an inaccurate one. "I'm sorry, a'mael," he told her, as gently as he could. He reached for her hand to link his fingers with hers, his expression full of worry and regret. It had not been his intention to shut her out at all, but to spare her from worry, not realizing it might have the opposite effect. "I will explain everything. I promise, but ... It is urgent that we speak with your grandparents as soon as we can," he told her, his voice taking on an almost pleading tone.

She held his gaze for a long moment, upset that she'd needed to be so sharp with him just to get a promise that he would explain at some point. "We can hire a horse at the stables," she said, her tone resigned as she rose to her feet. "Get dressed. We'll take some food to eat on the way."

"A horse," he echoed, gaze shifting to that of her belly, not yet swollen with child. "Are you sure that is wise?" he asked. If he had to make a choice between speed and the safety of her and their child, he would always choose the latter.

She raised her brow, meeting his eyes sharply. "You are not leaving me behind, Aran," she told him in a firm tone. "We don't have to go at a gallop, but a horse will get us to my grandparents faster than walking. They don't like to have modern technology intruding on their lifestyle."

He had not suggested or even considered leaving her behind. He was only thinking of her safety and that of their child. "I was only thinking of the baby, Carina," he said, fingers grazing the flat of her stomach in a gentle caress. "You are angry with me," he said, frowning as he realized it. It was the first time he could recall her ever being angry with him, and it made his heart ache.

"I'm worried and upset, and I'm frightened, Aran," she told him quietly. "I'm completely in the dark here. All I know is what you've told me, and that is very little. I have nothing to bridge the gap between what little you have said, your nightmares, and this sudden desire for action. Is it me? Should I have stopped myself becoming pregnant, is that why you don't seem to trust me anymore?"

"No, Carina," he assured her as gently as he could, lifting a hand to touch her cheek in another gentle caress. "I love you. I will always love you. It is not about trust. I trust you more than anyone I have ever known. I only wished to spare you from worry, but I see I have failed. I am sorry," he told her, looking genuinely full of remorse.

Her face tilted into his touch, her hand rising to draw tender fingertips along the point of his ear before curling them to his neck - an intimate gesture that non-elven kind did not truly understand the significance of. She drew closer, setting her brow to his. "I would rather worry with you," she told him softly. "To see you suffering and know that you're choosing to keep me ignorant of the reasons ... it hurts, Aran. It doesn't feel like trust. I love you. Let me help you."

He sighed as she touched him in such an intimate way, her touch soothing the turmoil he was feeling in his heart and mind. He touched his forehead to hers, sorry he had kept her in the dark, but it had been entirely his fault. "I did not tell you because I did not understand, but I do now, Carina, and I swear I will tell you everything."

"Tell me on the road," she told him softly, brushing a kiss to his lips. "First one dressed gets to tell my mother we're not staying for breakfast." She smiled a small smile, more to reassure him than anything, and drew away, moving to locate her clothes and change.

He smiled at last, reassured by her kiss. "Then perhaps I should take my time," he teased, though he had already claimed that time was of the essence, for some reason he had not yet shared with her, but would, as promised, as soon as he was able.

His reply was his own pants thrown at his head, together with a soft laugh from his wife. Carina didn't have a passionate temperament - when she was angry, it didn't last; she didn't careen from one strong emotion to the next. Like her father, she was calmly even-tempered most of the time, and easily reassured by those she loved.

He echoed her laughter as he caught his pants and started getting dressed. It felt good to laugh with her, even in the midst of all he was feeling. He felt strangely hopeful with the dawn of a new day, though he wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was his talk with Raniel, or maybe it was his love for Carina and the knowledge that they were to have a child. A child who would be of his bloodline and hers, only the second child born to his people in centuries, save himself. If that was not reason for hope, he didn't know what was. It wasn't long before he was dressed and ready for their journey, anxious to finish what his mother had started when she'd sent him through the portal.

It did not take them long to dress and leave, even with Amara fussing over them and insistent that they take a pack of food and drink for the journey. Raniel's contribution was money to cover the hiring of two horses, to allow them both a modicum of comfort as they traveled. But two hours after leaving the city gates, they had entered an airy forest that seemed lighter than the other woodlands scattered about the city. The sound of men and women, families at work, were audible through the trees; there was the sight of the occasional group either hunting or harvesting as they rode along. This was where Amara had grown up before she had chosen to live in the city.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It should come as no surprise to Carina that Aran felt more at ease under the trees than he did in the city, though he had never complained. The settlement in the woods reminded him very much of his home and almost immediately put him at ease. Even if it was not an elven settlement, these seemed to be hard-working, peace-loving people, but what would they think about elves living and working among them? Certainly, there were things the elves could teach them and ways they could help, but Aran knew humans did not always take kindly to another race sharing what they considered to be their land and their resources. And just how many elves would need resettling? He wasn't sure. It could be as few as a dozen or as many as a hundred.

As they rode deeper into the forest, they began to see buildings - houses built against and between the trees, even some built in the branches, connected with bridges and ladders. And the people, too ... there were not just humans living here. There were elven faces and voices, halflings, dwarves; a community that had come together to embrace life outside the city, a simpler way that came more naturally to them than the technologically enhanced culture within the city walls.

Aran was surprised to find not only human faces among the group, but those of other races, even that of elves, but he still wasn't sure if they would be open to the idea of welcoming the refugees from his home world. Though back home, he might have been a prince, here in Rhy'Din, his resources were limited. All he could do was speak with Carina's grandparents and explain the situation, then leave it up to them and the people of this community to decide what to do. Whether they decided to allow his people to settle here or not, Aran knew time was running out, and one way or another, he was going to have to take action.

As the trees thinned into a natural clearing, he got his first look at the heart of the community - a large wooden building, thatched, with the doors standing open. What few houses were gathered around it were in the same style, with those who lived there visible in their gardens or working on some project that needed doing. Carina guided him past the main building, to a sprawling house on the far side of the clearing, where an older man and woman were harvesting berries from a bush in their garden and sharing them as they did so. The man looked up at the sound of the horses, his face breaking into a warm smile.

"Carina! Little poppet, it's been a long time!"

Aran took in his surroundings, noting whether there was room to expand the community, to build more houses; whether there were enough resources to support a group of refugees. Of course, those refugees would not be helpless, but full-grown elves capable of taking care of themselves, as well as contributing to the community at large. They would have to make some adjustments to their lifestyle and learn to live among humans without fear or anger, but he felt hopeful. He turned to find an elderly man greeting his wife and assumed it was her grandfather.

"Grampa!" Carina's greeting was just as warm as she swung down from her horse, looping the reins lightly about the fence before letting herself be swept up into a warm embrace by her grandparents. "I'm sorry I didn't come by sooner," she apologized, glancing to Aran. "It's about time you met my husband, Arandir." She raised her hand, inviting Aran to join them. "Aran, this is Vethen and Jenith Cox, my mother's parents."

Aran would have helped Carina down from the horse, if she'd given him the chance. Instead, he found himself being waved over to join her as she introduced him to her mother's parents. He swung himself easily off the horse, offering a formal bow to greet the man and woman. "I am honored to meet you," he told them, greeting them formally and with due respect.

"Oh, my dear boy, we've been waiting to meet you for nearly two years," Vethen declared, smiling at Aran's formal greeting. He released Carina to clasp Aran's hand and pull the young half-elf into an embrace just as warm as the one he had just given his granddaughter.

Even as welcome as he was in Carina's parents' home, he was a little surprised by the warm welcome received by two humans who had never met him before; but then, they were two humans who had accepted Raniel - an elf - into their family and blessed his union with their daughter, Amara. Their affection for Carina was obvious, as was the fact that, like others he'd met in Rhy'Din, these were humans who did not hate elves. "I am sorry it's taken so long," Aran said as he was pulled into the older man's embrace.

"Our daughter chose her own way, and allowed her daughter to do the same," Jenith said warmly, hugging Carina with one arm. "We may not see them often, but each visit is treasured. Now come inside, I have honey cakes newly baked."

Carina laughed softly. "Gramma, you always have honey cakes newly baked," she pointed out, squeezing Aran's hand reassuringly.

Aran linked his fingers with Carina's, feeling a mixture of warmth and envy at the easy-going affection between Carina and her grandparents. He was glad she had a family who loved her, and they had always been warm and welcoming to him, but it still made him sad sometimes to know he would likely never see his again.

"Come along inside, both of you," Vethen told them, ushering them into the house. Despite the way it sprawled, it was a neat, modest abode, familiar to those who originated on worlds where technology had not advanced much past the sword and plough.

As her grandparents bustled about, putting on water to boil for tea, pulling out the newly baked cakes, setting thick slices of bread to toast on a grill over the fire, Carina touched her cheek to Aran's shoulder. "How much of this is familiar, a'maelamin?"

Aran watched as Carina's grandparents bustled about the house, warm and inviting, despite its modest simplicity or maybe because of it. There were definitely similarities to home, though there were differences, too, but what struck him most was the fact that this was family. "It is the feeling of family that is most familiar, a'mael. There is love here," he replied quietly, turning his head to touch a kiss to her temple.

"And there will be love for your people, too," she murmured to him. "Even if they can only take your people temporarily, until we can find them a place of their own, I know this community will reach out to help. They just need to know that there are others who need sanctuary."

Vethen apparently had better hearing than his wife. "That's what Anarven means, you know," he commented, pouring the boiling water into a large pot to steep the tea. "It means sanctuary in an ancient Dwarvish dialect. We thought it was appropriate."

Aran silently listened to what Carina and then her grandfather had to say about the settlement. He wasn't sure if his people would want to settle here permanently, but they would at least need a temporary sanctuary until they could find and make a place for themselves. "How did this place come to be?" he asked curiously, knowing there had to be a reason why they had given the settlement such a name as that.
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Carina Cox
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"We came from a world where none of us could remember there ever having been a war between the races," Vethen said, sitting down rather heavily as he spoke, gesturing for the two young people to join him. "Our lives were as you see them now - mixed, peaceful. And then the men came from the sky. Humans, they called themselves, but they didn't have any humanity left in them. They attacked our friends, our neighbors, people we had known and trusted all our lives. They used blackmail and force to make us harm the people we knew best. When my father stood up to them, to protect the school in our town, these so-called humans cut him down and set fire to it. And they stayed to watch it burn, to force us all to watch our children burn. Because they were the superior species, and it sickened me that they thought I was one of them." His jaw clenched as he looked away, tears in his eyes for the memory of so much suffering because of one small faction's opinions and force.

As Vethen told his story, Aran came to understand that he and Carina's grandparents might have more in common than any of them realized. "And so you came here, looking for a place where you could leave in peace and harmony," Aran said, giving the story the ending that seemed most likely. He reached over and touched the old man's arm. Such traumatic memories never went away; they just became easier to bear - he should know. "I am sorry," he told him, sick at heart to know that they'd been forced to witness such an atrocity. It had been nothing short of murder.

"We had to do something," Jenith said quietly, knowing Vethen would not be able to continue. "Our friends, our families ... they were being torn apart around us. We led the resistance in two different towns. The families here in Anarven are made up of the only people we managed to save. They trusted us, despite the fact that we are human, and in this community, our race accounts for perhaps half of those who live here. This is our home, and for fifty years, it has been a place of peace, where every pairing is celebrated, every child is treasured. We all know how easily it could be taken away. But we know how to fight it, now."

Aran exchanged a glance with Carina, wondering if this was the time to share his own tale, or if he would only upset them further. Still, he had come here for a reason, at Raniel's suggestion, not only to meet her grandparents but to ask for their help. "I'm afraid I did not come here only to meet you," he admitted with a slightly-guilty frown.

Carina squeezed his hand gently. She'd heard the story before, but seeing her grandfather relive it was always painful. "Maybe we should tell them the good news first," she suggested softly, offering a way to soften what might be painful to hear with something heartening first.

Aran nodded in agreement as she gave his hand a squeeze. He wished all they had was good news, but he could not ignore his people's plight any longer. Still, it was good to be able to share good news and he had a feeling her grandparents would be happy for them, but he said nothing more, allowing her the honor and joy of telling them.

"Good news?" Jenith looked up as she portioned out toast and cake and tea between the four of them, a faintly confused smile on her face.

Carina's smile softened as she leaned into Arandir. "We're going to have a baby," she said quietly, her expression almost shy as she watched her grandparents.

There was silence for a long moment, and Jenith burst into delighted tears, lurching up from her seat to clutch Arandir to her as she squeezed him tight, declaring him to be a wonderful boy and how wonderful it was to hear such news.

Vethen watched his wife with an indulgent smile, waiting until she was done before speaking up himself. "No child should grow up without some knowledge of the culture that created them," he said gently, his eyes on Arandir. "I understand your people are out of reach."

Once again, Arandir was taken aback as Carina's grandmother embraced him. He shyly returned that embrace, relieved to know they were so welcoming and supportive, though he had expected no less as he'd received an equally warm welcome from her parents at their first meeting. He knew in that moment that their child would grow up surrounded by the love of family, even if his own family was absent. "Yes," Aran replied, unable to hide the pain from his eyes at that admission. "That is, in part, why we have come here today."

"Sorry," Jenith apologized cheerfully for her exuberance, bending to hug Carina just as tightly before returning to her seat. And Arandir had thought Amara was tactile when he'd first met her; it was clear where Carina's mother had got her affectionate nature from.

Vethen, on the other hand, was watching Arandir closely. "Tell me," he suggested. "All of it. Leave nothing out, even if you think it might count against your case. I would rather know everything than be made to look a fool."

Arandir didn't mind the show of warmth and affection from either Carina's mother or grandmother. In fact, he cherished it, craved it, even. They were, for the time being, the only family he had, and even if he was able to bring his people here, he had no idea whether his own mother or grandfather would be among them. Aran nodded his head at Vethen's request before doing as the man asked. He left nothing out - not a single detail - and even Carina would learn things he had not yet had time to tell her. He told of how his people were dying, of how hundreds of years had passed without a single birth, until his mother, an elf, had met and fallen in love with his father, a human.

And so, Arandir had been born, the first child born to the elves in hundreds of years, albeit a half-blood. His birth had brought hope to his people, until the humans in their jealousy and hatred murdered his father for it and declared war on his people. And so it had been for all of Aran's life. His people had fought back in defense of themselves and their homes, but even with magic on their side, they were too outnumbered. It went on for years, until his mother at last found a place where she could send her only son, a prince of the people, so that at least he might survive.

Vethen listened closely to every word, absorbing not just the facts, but the emotions behind them. It was a story only too familiar to him, yet he did not say anything when Aran was done. He simply nodded, rose to his feet, and left the house with a purposeful stride.

Carina, tears in her eyes from listening to the whole story, blinked in surprise, her gaze turning to her grandmother in protest.

Jenith only smiled. "We can't speak for the community," she told her granddaughter quietly. "But we can speak to them."
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 5:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Aran thought he might feel drained from the telling of the tale, a tale that had laid heavy against his heart ever since he'd stepped through his mother's mirror into this other world, but instead he felt strangely relieved, as though a heavy burden had been lifted. He looked at Carina and saw the tears in her eyes, and he knew he was not alone and that he would never be alone again. "Thank you," he murmured to Jenith before looking once again to Carina and reaching for her hand. "I am sorry I did not tell you sooner. It is painful to ..." His voice trailed off, his words stuck in his throat for a moment. "I do not know what became of my mother or my grandfather. I do not know if they live, but I know what I must do now. I have to go back, Carina. Somehow, I have to open a portal and bring what's left of my people here."

Jenith touched her hand gently to Aran's shoulder, leaving the young couple alone as she followed her husband out into the village.

Carina's eyes stayed on Aran's as he spoke to her, her fingertips stroking against his cheek as she came to the inevitable, sad conclusion. "And I can't come with you, can I?" she said quietly. It wasn't really a question; he would be entering a war zone. It was no place for a pregnant woman, especially at this early stage of her pregnancy.

"I do not know what I will find there, a'maelamin," he told her gently, eyes bright with tears as he met her gaze. He lifted a hand to finger the amulet at his neck. "Those who are left call to me in my dreams. I am connected to them somehow through this. It will lead me to them when the time is right, and I will bring them here, but no ... I would ask that you stay here. There is nothing there but misery and heartache. Stay here and keep our child safe. You are my beacon home, Carina," he told her, leaning close to touch her cheek.

"You have to come home," she told him in answer, her only request. She would never even consider asking him not to go. "I can't do this without you, a'maelamin. Don't forget us while you're gone." She took his hand in hers, drawing his palm to the flatness of her womb, where their child was growing.

Aran found himself blinking back tears, almost against his will. Had his parents loved each other like this? His mother had never spoken of his father's death, but his grandfather had told him how it had nearly destroyed her, if not for the child that had come of that love. "I will never forget you, a'mael, I swear. And I will only be gone as long as it takes for me to find them and bring them back. No longer," he assured her, as he gently pressed his hand against the place where their child was slowly growing inside her.

Her smile was sad, but she understood why he had to do this. "You had better," she warned with wry humor. "If I have to be pregnant and give birth on my own, you will have very sore ears when you get back." Drawing his forehead to hers, she kissed him softly. For now, all they could do was wait to find out what kind of response his story would garner from her grandparents' community.

"You are my heart, Carina. I will always come back to you," Aran assured her quietly before returning that kiss. For the first time since arriving in Rhy'Din, he felt some hope for his people, and it was in good part because of her and her family. Whatever her grandparents' community decided, Aran would find a way.
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