The Last Descendant Ch. 02byElianna©
Elenna awoke shivering violently. It was pitch black, her hands were tied tightly behind her back and her mouth was gagged. She moved to curl into a ball to conserve her body heat, but her limbs screamed in protest and her eyes filled with tears of pain. Everything hurt; breathing seared her lungs, and her stomach throbbed in pain. She knew enough about healing to know that her ribs had been broken and that her abdomen had been badly bruised. Her cheek throbbed, and she wondered if in his rage, the mad king had also broken the bones in her face.
The king was dead.
So it was ended.
Her city was taken, and she was imprisoned in her own dungeons. The young princess moaned miserably into her gag. She was cold, thirsty and her body ached terribly. She had no idea what time it was; there was only blackness. Only blackness and pain, and she lay wretched and all alone.
It started with just a few tears, but then grew until her battered body wracked with painful sobs. For the first time since her world shattered four years ago, the princess of Hartstak sobbed brokenly.
"Your highness," said Gosta bowing. "There's a Druid Priest here to speak with you." He paused uncertainly. "He didn't say as much, but I believe he's the Archpriest of these lands."
The prince looked up from the pile of parchment on his desk.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
Gosta shrugged. "He doesn't look like much but I can tell he's powerful. I can feel it," he paused again. "I've never felt the power of a Druid so strongly in my life," he added softly.
Entrari looked at him thoughtfully. The strange feeling he'd had since before the battle hadn't left yet, but neither he nor Gosta could figure out what it meant. Something was still going to happen.
"Allow him in," he said. "Maybe he'll be able to answer our questions."
Gosta bowed and opened the doors allowing an old, brown-robed man inside. Strangely, the priest touched Gosta's arm warmly as he entered, and his friend's usually calm and battle-tried face paled slightly.
Entrari scrutinized the old priest curiously. His bearded face was weathered and wrinkled, as though he spent most of his time outdoors, his robes were brown and tattered in a few places. Despite the white hair, and wrinkled face, he stood tall and broad-shouldered like the people of these lands and there was sense of presence and power about him that was overwhelming.
"Your highness," said the old Druid as he bowed.
"Greetings Reverend Brother," replied Entrari rising. "I hope you're satisfied with my treatment of your people. I must admit that it took me a few minutes to recall the ancient sign of peace. It wasn't something I expected in a remote and barbaric kingdom such as this."
"We're most satisfied with your treatment," admitted the Druid. "You have more than honored the treaty."
"Then what else do you wish?" Entrari asked.
The old Druid smiled. "I had heard that you were a man of honor, but a little quick to the point," he said.
"I find it saves time in the long run," he explained shrugging.
"For one who will live so long, what is time to you?"
"Perhaps I'll grow more patience with age," Entrari laughed ruefully. "Come, Brother," he said, "it's rare for a priest of your eminence to seek me out. I believe our treaties state that I don't bother you and your people and you don't bother me. So why are you here?"
The old man chuckled darkly and the prince felt a shiver run down his spine.
This was it.
"I'm here to speak with you about the princess of Hartstak."
For a moment Entrari stared at the priest dumbly. He'd been expecting something...dramatic. There had to be more to it than some spoiled little girl beaten into unconsciousness by her insane father.
"What about her? The king beat her senseless. We put her in the dungeons to await trial. I'll take care of her sentencing when we have a better handle on the city."
"What I have to say is for your ears only," he said his eyes glittering with intensity.
Entrari was startled. Druid priests were not secretive. It wasn't in the nature of their faith. For a moment he reached out with his feelings. He rarely used his Druid senses- he usually found them useless, but when the priest was acting so strangely, it didn't hurt to make sure this wasn't a trap. The moment Entrari's senses touched the old man, he was overwhelmed. Thousands of voices echoed in his mind and he almost fell to his knees. He stared at the priest gasping in shock.
"Please, your highness," he said seriously, "trust me."
The prince looked at his guards noting Gosta arch his eyebrows curiously at him. He gave him that 'I'll tell you later' look and then gestured for him and Kelda to leave.
Without protest, his two closest friends and bodyguards bowed and departed closing the door behind them.
"Have you a spell of secrecy at your command?" asked the Druid in a low voice.
Once again Entrari was shocked.
What was going on here?
"Please, your highness," he begged again. "I know that my behavior is startling you, but if others learn what I'm about to tell you..." he shuddered.
Entrari nodded and whispered the spell to enclose the priest and himself in an impenetrable wall.
"Tell me, brother," he said, privately admitting to himself that the odd behavior of the priest mad him more than just curious. "What's going on? I've never known a priest to behave like this."
"Have you heard of the Prophesy of Beoren?"
Entrari thought back to a time when he was a tiny, blond little boy, sitting on his mother's lap. She'd rocked him back and forth, telling him the ancient tales of a dying religion. The stories of Beoren had been his favorite...
"A long time ago, when Haladon was just a poor little village," his mother's voice echoed in his mind, "there was a great Druid hero. His name was Beoren. Once he was a simple man, a farmer, with a beautiful family, just like us. One day, the world became as black as the Abyss. A wicked people from over the mountains opened the doorway between our world and the world of darkness and unleashed its demons. The people of the West despaired, but then out of the north came Beoren. He rode on the back of a great white bear and he spoke directly to the Ancestors and the spirits of the world. With his power, he sent the demons back to the Abyss and raised the mountains even higher than before so that the wicked people of the East would never bother us again.
"I remember a bedtime story of a great hero riding a white bear," he admitted.
The old man chuckled. "Everyone remembers the white bear. Do you remember what Beoren said before he disappeared again?"
Entrari thought about that. "Something like he'd come again if the West needed him."
"Something like that," agreed the priest. "I'm surprised that a prince of Haladon remembers even that much."
He shrugged. "It made a good bedtime story," he said. "What has it got to do with me and the princess of Hartstak?"
"The princess of Hartstak is a direct descendant of Beoren. In fact, she is the only descendent."
Entrari stared at the priest in disbelief. That was preposterous. The prophecy of Beoren was just a legend.
The priest chuckled as though he knew exactly what he was thinking. It made Entrari very uncomfortable.
"The line of Beoren has dwelt in these lands for eons. It was the optimal place; they shun magic and the people are staunchly rigid and set in their ways. They are isolated, backwards, and have nothing that the rest of the world could possibly want except a good deal of snow," he smiled then, "and of course, white bears."
The old man sighed. "Our priesthood has guarded the heirs of Beoren for uncounted years, hiding its descendants among these people in complete anonymity." He looked at Entrari seriously, "I know your laws decree that this girl should be executed." His eyes burned fervently. "I can't let that happen! I came here to beg you as a Druid; spare her. She's just a child, trapped in a crumbling world. But more importantly, she's the most important person in the Druid faith; the last descendant of the house of Beoren."
Entrari was silent. It could be an attempt to save the girl's life. From what his spies had learned, she was one of the few beloved monarchs of the West, and the people were in hysterics when they discovered she hadn't escaped with the rest of the palace. He'd already decided not to kill her for that very reason. Most likely she'd be married off to one of his generals, appeasing her people and keeping her under guard. If she was a Druid, it only made things a little more difficult since he couldn't technically keep her in the dungeons. The last descendant of Beoren, though... he didn't believe in old Druid bedtime stories.
He looked at the priest thoughtfully. There had to be more.
"I'm willing to accept your word," he said at last, "but even so, I can't release her into your care. Since we're both being honest, I'll be honest with you. The girl is going to Haladon. A princess like her will be politically useful to the Empire."
The Druid nodded. "I assumed as much," he replied. "In my heart I've known that she'd leave our people since the day she was born. She isn't safe here anyway, not anymore. Our power is weak compared to the dark people of the East." He smiled grimly. "Your coming is the stroke of doom. The line of Beoren will soon be revealed. The princess is going to be a vessel of ancient power."
Entrari did his best not to roll his eyes. Druid priests could be annoying. Why did they have to be so fatalistic? His mother drove him crazy with her unwavering faith in prophecies, too.
"What exactly do you want from me?" he asked bluntly.
"I want you to take the girl into your care and protect her." The old man looked at him accusingly. "She's a Druid, so right now you're violating the treaty. I want her removed her from the dungeons. Place her under guard, if you feel it's necessary. When it's time, take her back with you to Haladon."
"Impossible," Entrari snapped in protest. "Her father was a sorcerer. You and I both know magic is hereditary. The dungeons are a reasonable place for a prisoner like her. I can't have an untrained sorceress running about overpowering my men every time I turn my back on her!"
"She's the house of Beoren," retorted the old priest. "I won't tolerate a Druid princess to remain locked in the deplorable conditions of a dungeon." Then suddenly he smiled. "Aren't you a powerful sorcerer? Can't you resist the attempts of an untrained child? I've revealed the most important secret of our people to you. Now you're responsible to protect it. Don't you understand? You're this girl's protector. It's ordained by fate."
"I don't believe in fate. She's a prisoner and an enemy," Entrari retorted in irritation. "Do you understand what you're asking me? I'm not a bodyguard or a babysitter. I'm an Imperial Prince!"
"I know who you are, your highness," said the Druid chuckling. "Haven't you been hearing strange whispers in your dreams since you entered these lands? Haven't you and your Druid bodyguard been discussing the feeling of foreboding? This is what you've been waiting for. Your destiny is to be this girl's guardian. There's no one else left."
Entrari had a sickening feeling in his stomach. He'd already lost the argument. He was trapped by his own treaty! Whispering? Curse foolish Druid whispering! The ridiculous treaty was more trouble than it was worth. First, it had completely disrupted his attack and now it had landed him as an Imperial babysitter!
"Fine," he said harshly. "I'll take her out of the dungeons and be her guardian as you ask. But don't forget; Druid treaty or no, she's still my prisoner. I'll do with her as I please."
"So be it then," said the priest. "I trust you'll honor the treaty, and I'll trust you'll be her guardian." Suddenly he smiled a little mockingly. "You might actually find you enjoy her company. She's a charming girl."
"Are we finished?" said the prince again bluntly. He'd had just about enough of Druid prophecy and treaties for one day.
"We are," replied the priest.
With a word the spell was lifted.
"Thank you for your time, your highness," said the priest formally even as he bowed. "I appreciate your assistance."
The prince said nothing as the old Druid priest departed.
"What did he say?" asked Gosta curiously.
Entrari stared at him, but for some reason he felt a strange reluctance to reveal what the priest said. It was like the same sense that had been hanging over him was now whispering in the back of his mind to remain silent.
"I'm going to take the princess of Hartstak into my care," he said bitterly.
Gosta stared at him in amazement. "You're kidding! A barbarian princess? The Druid priest asked you to be a babysitter?"
Entrari nodded glumly.
Gosta began to laugh hysterically. "You?" he repeated as his eyes filled with tears. "He does realize who you are?"
Once again Entrari only nodded.
Gosta only laughed louder.
The prince stared at his friend indignantly. He was enjoying this far too much.
"Get someone to fetch her," he snapped sourly.
Elenna lay huddled in a ball shivering, passing in and out of consciousness. She was exhausted, afraid, and her body ached; she'd never been so miserable in her life. Her fingers were numb from the too tight ropes and her nose, runny from the cold, made breathing almost impossible with the gag in her mouth.
She awoke to the screech of the door upon its hinges and the bright light of torches filtering in the room. She cringed and shut her eyes, for the light suddenly blinded them, and she feared what the people had come for. They shook her harshly as though they thought she was asleep, and she forced her eyes open even though the light hurt them. One of the men grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet, but she felt suddenly dizzy and felt her legs give out from beneath her. She fell to her knees her ears buzzing and her body sweating.
"...too hurt..." she heard one of them say.
"...carry..." said another.
She felt one of the soldiers lift her and throw her over his shoulder like she was a worthless sack of potatoes. She moaned in agony as his arm pressed against her wounded pelvis and ribs doing her best to swallow the bile that burned her throat. Each step jolted through her aching body like a knife. She broke into a cold sweat and closed her eyes, focusing on maintaining consciousness. She assumed that she was being brought to be judged and she wanted to be awake when they decreed her fate.
At last, the soldiers stopped. She forced her eyes open to look around, but found herself before the doors of the opulent guest apartments. This was the place important visitors usually stayed. The last person that had used these rooms had been the ambassador from Haladon. In her pain clouded mind, she wondered why she was being brought to the chambers instead of a public place. This was not a place to be executed. Were they going to...
These people were more violent than she'd heard. She closed her eyes shuddering a little at the thought of what was waiting for her. The guards opened the doors and carried her inside.
"The girl...your highness," Elenna caught even as the soldier dropped her from his shoulder and tried to make her stand once again.
Though she didn't dare look at the man before her, it seemed to her that he swore in his own language under his breath.
The soldier released her and she collapsed to her knees in dizziness, her ears buzzing and her body sweating and trembling. She knelt for several moments, struggling to breathe through the gag and doing her best to remain upright. The man before her drew a knife from its sheath; the hiss of the sharp blade upon metal sent a shiver down her spine. The man stepped forward and suddenly she flinched, feeling the blade against her cheek. She tried to be brave; it was dishonorable to die a blubbering fool before your enemies but a little fearful whimper formed in her throat before she could stop. There was a pause and the knife sat on her cheek for a moment. She remained completely still and closed her eyes to calm herself for what she expected to come next.
However, to her surprise, with a deft slice her gag was cut and he removed it from her mouth. Her first few breaths seared through her lungs painfully bringing tears to her eyes. She bowed her head, her long black hair tumbling across her face now that it was freed from the gag, hiding her tears from her captor. Long ago she'd learned that tears in the eyes of a woman were her undoing; they made her seem weak and easily dominated. From the soldier's words she had deduced that the man who stood before her was the Prince of Haladon. He was the most powerful man in the West. She would not die before him like a broken child, weeping in despair; especially not before him. She would show the people of Haladon that the people they called "barbarians" were strong. She would die with grace, dignity and honor, not like her father.
"Do you speak Semanic?" asked the prince in that tongue, his voice quiet, though not gentle.
"What's your name?" he asked. His accent was strange and his voice was rich and musical.
"Elenna," she replied keeping her eyes low and her head bowed.
"Do you know who I am, Elenna?" he asked.
Once again she nodded.
"You're injured," he observed. "Did my people do this? Have they harmed you?" he demanded.
She shook her head.
"Your father, the king did this?" he asked, his voice tinged slightly with disbelief.
"Yes, your highness" she replied quietly. "He was a madman," she added.
He was silent and she wanted to cringe in fear. She could hear the desperate pounding of her heart and feel his eyes gazing at her intently. The composure she was fighting so hard to maintain crumbled a little.
Gods! What was he going to do to her?
"I see," he said at last.
He walked behind her and kneeling down he sliced the ropes that bound her hands. Her fingers tingled slightly once her binds had been cut and she rubbed her wrists a little painfully. The prince rose and walked about her to stand in front of her his knife still in hand.
"Look at me Elenna," he commanded.
Unwillingly she looked up from the shield of her tangled dark hair. She knew what to expect of the men of Haladon after meeting with their ambassador. Her people had mocked his oddities; shaven face, hair only to the shoulders, strange clothes with buttons and jewels, and shiny leather boots. The ambassador was a small man, especially compared to the stocky build of the men of Hartstak, but she knew that the lands of Haladon were becoming a mixing bowl for all the races.
As her eyes slowly trailed up from the shiny boots of the Imperial Prince to his well-pressed black trousers, she felt her hands tremble. She didn't want to meet his eyes!
"I said look at me, princess," he snapped sharply.
Her eyes snapped to his face, and suddenly she felt as though the breath had been kicked from her lungs once again.
Impossible! No! It couldn't be!
She knew him! She saw his face in her dreams almost every night.
Druid-born children had the vision of the person they were destined to marry ingrained into their minds through ancient magic. The faces haunted them until the time came when they met their partner in person. It was rare for a Druid to defy such a vision, for to defy their dreams was to attempt to escape fate. As a young girl, the princess had been elated by her visions. He was handsome; with beautiful green eyes, golden blonde hair, a strong body and a charming smile. He had been everything and more that she could imagine she wanted in a husband.