Author's Note: 1,973 words. I actually like Terasu's commentary, and her general abrasive personality - it was fun to write about earlier today. And yes, the Heart's Choir is one of the more pompous names (I should have somebody call this out) for the protagonist group, who are called The Doves. I don't know why I use either name infrequently, considering how pivotal they are.
Aquila nodded, and Eremia stood up and strode over to the wagon's entrance, peering out under the tarp. Yes, there did appear to be another wagon in front of them, although Eremia couldn't see who the rider was without shrugging the roof aside and poking her head through. Too, there were a few other soldiers scattered about, silently marching in dark uniforms, with a variety of faces and appearances brightened by sunlight. Yet, hopefully her blocking any onlookers from watching Aquila as he shifted into his eagle and slipped free of his bounds would keep anyone from suspecting what was going on until it was too late to react.
Jonah watched with curiosity as Aquila clawed the floor for a few seconds, prepared a flight position, and shot out like an airplane heading down a field. Eremia sidestepped at the last second as he soared into the air, and then jumped back a few steps, partly in surprise at Aquila’s quickness and her own reflexes.
"Do you think that's going to work?" he replied in genuine interest as Eremia turned and gave him two thumbs up. "And aren't we going to be in trouble for this?"
As a commotion released itself outside, Eremia responded, "I'm sure they'll assume he made a break for it at the most convenient opportunity. They can't be that reactive, right?" Shortly after, a terrible squawk announced the return of Aquila, who was thrown ungracefully back into the wagon and shifted back into his human form. There were bruises around his neck and shoulders, and he had a horrified and surprised expression on his face. Eremia's face twitched ever so slightly as she struggled between being furious and being depressed.
Jonathan jumped onto the back of the wagon, casting a shadow over everyone in the room. "Nice try," he said with a hint of respect. "Tie him up again." He bowed and exited quietly.
"How can a man of few words be so effective at saying them?" mused Jonah as Eremia sighed and grabbed the rope, throwing it over Aquila, who had gone back to his previous position of sitting in the corner. Both of the latter individuals were quiet, and Aquila was content with being tied up again, but there was a noticeable lack of spirit. Eremia's efforts had failed, and now she remained concerned for her life and furious about what she had already gone through today. Now she didn't have much choice but to wait. She wasn't sure what Aquila was distraught about, but she supposed that he did have a family, as she did, that he couldn't see. Doubtless, Exedor was concerned that it had lost one of its soldiers.
After a minute or two, there was once again the sound of footsteps. "He was being honest, you know," said Madeleine as she pulled herself into the wagon, a grim Terasu behind her. They both sat, with Terasu behind and to the right of Madeleine. "That was a wonderful stunt. But, our Jonathan is well known for his resourcefulness, as you've seen."
Eremia sighed, sat down, and wrapped herself in blankets. "Yes, I concluded that. What kind of wonderful story are you going to make me listen to?" Her face was edged with contempt and frustration that was all but dissipated when Madeleine pulled out a series of letters from her satchel and threw them onto the ground.
Jonah picked a couple of them up, while Eremia peered down at them. Aquila looked from his own corner, but didn't seem to understand what the letters suggested. Likely illiterate. Nevertheless, all three of them could clearly recognize the seals by which the letters were bound.
"As hard as it is to believe," said Madeleine in her soothing voice, "we do cooperate with the Confederacy. You can see the signatures of your mother and father, do you not? I'm sure that you're well aware of them."
Jonah waved his letters about. "They look right, but it's just as likely they could be forgeries. Besides, what good does this do? For all we know, you might be leading them along as you've led us along, and are working to backstab us both."
Before Madeleine could speak, Terasu huffed. "Is everything just a front to you people? Do you walk up to every single stranger you meet and question their faces?"
"Now, they do have a right to be paranoid," noted Madeleine. "They did escape their family's home and were almost killed more than once by Eimhin soldiers. However," she continued, staring down Eremia, who paled when she realized that this individual was rather intimidating when stern, "that doesn't necessarily mean we're lying as well. If Seres is who he is, there are good odds that he's placed a spy among us that we cannot find. The fact that we are not mentioned in the same breath as "traitor" indicates much. And why would I give you valuable military documents if I wanted you as my prisoner?"
Eremia wasn't willing to look at Madeleine directly when she snapped, "Where is Yorew? Is he alive?"
"He's safe," snorted Terasu. "Scared half to death when we had to clean up whatever blood was still on his outfit, but otherwise fine. He's been asking for you over and over again."
Jonah entered the conversation before Eremia had a chance to start ranting. "The problem is, if you say you work for the Confederacy, why haven't you already handed us to Exedor by now? If you are willing to work with them, why distrust them? It seems like a begrudging coalition. So, why all this effort to keep two children from their country?"
Madeleine nodded and pointed at Jonah. "It is begrudging. Seres can be a manipulative man at best, and cold-hearted at worst. As for Exedor, we're more cynical than you might think. It is the fact that they continue to act spotless, shiny, and benevolent in this word of backstabbing, conniving idiots that worries us. Rest assured that, after this conversation, and after we build a mutual understanding, Yorew will be sent to you. But, for the sake of impartial and sensible discussion, we had to keep you apart, so that you wouldn't plan to lie to us. At least, not in the same fashion."
Eremia sighed. Their logic was surprisingly reasonable, and they seemed decent enough. At least, they hadn't threatened her yet, and their argument, beyond their thoughts of Exedor, was solid. However, it was still impossible to take anything that was said at face value without understanding the entire situation or the people involved, and she couldn't help but be suspicious. She didn't know enough, and she didn't know how she would be able to under the circumstances. "Okay," she said, resting her forehead against the palm of her hand. "I don't think we'll be able to totally agree, and I'm sure you're aware that I'll remain suspicious of you and your intentions. However, I'm tired, frustrated, and would rather go back to sleep. I also don't have any more questions. Except for one that I had forgotten - where are we?"
"Ah!" replied Madeleine, having apparently also forgotten to inform Eremia. "This is the Eferung Lake. Remember, the Lake of Two Rivers? We should be not far from the border with Walenty at the present time, but Eimhin is long behind us. It helps that you slept for almost a whole day."
Now Eremia flopped back down on her blankets and stared up at the roof. This was the absolute last place she wanted to be right now, but had been told that it was somehow the most reasonable option. Where was the logic in that? All she wanted to do was go back home again - was that really so hard? Was anyone else in the world having as challenging and as annoying a day as she?
As it was almost always, it was quiet in the chapel.
Rows of empty seats had been pushed aside and stuffed into corners to allow the procession of grim, older men to continue with their chanting and incantations. Their blue and white robes shook as they formed an elaborate circle, casting their arms into the air and asking prayers of the heavens above.
The child in the middle had sat down and kneeled to face the ground. White hair, tinged with streaks of blue, matched the outfits of the bishops quite nicely, and pooled down to around the man's neck. He was dressed in a blue shirt bound together by polished metal pins, and a streak of black crossed diagonally through white and blue. His pants had black stripes, but maintained the same color scheme, and also bound with buttons. Brown boots provided the only variation, but they were buried by a long, blue, soft cape, that which the priests were taking care to avoid.
We call upon thee, our Eternal Leader, to bless this kingdom and its ruler for another year, that they may live in prosperity and peace everlasting...
The child scoffed as he heard the old language emanating down the towering, hexagonal structure, made of strange black rock. Not out loud, of course. Yet, it was hard to feel meaningful when he understood the despairing conditions of his land. The boy pulled out a large, golden-hilted sword and a blade encrusted with rubies, from his scabbard. It was incredibly heavy for a child with little balance and no muscle at all, but he held it. Gritting his teeth, he rose it into the air. Rasia, the Holy Blade.
...and our greatest king, Wyn, who had driven back the creatures of this land with a noble heart and a steely spirit, and settled it with his fellow travelers...
The boy's gray eyes flashed upwards, past the elaborately carved columns and polished floors to the balcony on the second floor. There, hand clasping the wooden railing, was a towering man. The tall figure with a burly frame stared back down, amber eyes piercing through the child, who returned to staring at the ground. This figure had military-cut hair, a massive mustache, and wore a set of blue robes. It was ceremonial, and hid the massive scabbard on his back as well as his dark-blue and brown outfit beneath. The black boots still poked out from the edge of his uniform, though.
...may he come in our time of greatest need and aid us all once more, though the spirit of his descendant, our soon-to-be royal leader of this land and its legions of devoted followers...
"My general," whispered a man with large spectacles as he walked across the balcony to the tall man, who turned to face him with a wary and patient expression. The spectacled man's eyes were rendered large, and made one's vision focus on those, rather than on the short, slick and black hair; the blue half-robe that denoted advisors; and brown pants. "We cannot find who has taken them."
"Have you interviewed any of the onlookers? Which of our garrisons were the nearest?" replied the tall man with his quiet voice, one that was yet edged with threats and tension.
The advisor paled. "They...do mention a boy with a bow. He was a brilliant aim. Looked dreadful, poor, but he...could turn into a stag, general."
The tall man pinched the bridge of his nose. "I thought you had careful reconnaissance on the Hearts' Choir. How hard is it for me to trust you?"
"I-In my defense," the advisor stammered, "we lack soldiers. And the last of your spies to enter the camp didn't leave...freely."
...thus we hope humbly that this coronation process proceed smoothly, and signal the unity and prosperity that the Confederacy d'Austliere desires. Here we pray to you, our Creator, for the safety and guidance of the King of Wyandanch, Wielde!