“So, how did you all meet my sister?” Shin asked.
“She’s my courageous hero who swept me off my feet!” Lysara declared. “It happened like this…”
“So, we’re alone,” Elaine said. “Looking for a lesson in magic?”
“Not today,” Twila said. “I need to talk to you about Nervius.”
“What about them?” Elaine asked.
“I was in Nervius not long ago,” Twila said. “King Zero expressed his deepest regrets and his desire to have peaceful relations with you.”
“Did he also tell you that King Axel tried to kill your uncle and brother?” Elaine asked.
“He explained that there was a misunderstanding leading to a fight,” Twila said.
“I doubt it,” Elaine said. “Kings Axel and Zero have always been hostile towards your uncle. Ever since that whole Gauntlet of Zeus affair.”
“Aunt,” Twila began “I believe that the desire for peace is genuine. They even sent their own daughter with me on this mission. I know that there’s a troubled history between you, but wouldn’t it behoove you both to seek a peaceful solution?”
Elaine sighed. “You may be right. Very well, at tomorrow’s emergency meeting I’ll encourage the counsel to send a diplomatic envoy to attempt peaceful negotiations. However, if there are any more hostile moves on their part there will be war.”
“I’m certain there won’t be anymore trouble,” Twila said.
“About that friend of yours, Axra,” Elaine said, changing the topic.
“What about her?” Twila asked.
“Do you trust her?” Elaine inquired.
“Absolutely,” Twila said. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Elaine said. “Come, your uncle will be home soon.”
Zero returned to the palace late in the afternoon and headed directly for the library.
He searched the shelves, without success. “Olaf!”
“Yes, your Highness?”
“Where’s my copy of The Divine Children?”
“The Princess gave it away, Sir.”
“Axra did?” Zero asked. “Whatever for?”
“She said it was a present for Miss Magia, Sir.”
“I see,” Zero muttered. “So that’s how it is.” He left the library and went to grab a bite when he found Axel.
“You’re back late,” Axel said. “I was just planning the attack on the League’s base. Resolve the Choltin situation?”
“No,” Zero said. ” I got the five strongest mages I know to assist me. Even together we couldn’t break the damn spell. Have you sent our condolences to Rachel’s family yet?”
“There was no need,” Axel said. “I saved her. I managed to get the information by questioning one of the assassins. Didn’t even take me six hours.””
“Axel, you didn’t…” Zero said, but the look on Axel’s face told him everything. “You promised me you wouldn’t. Never again. When we took control of this kingdom you promised.”
“Don’t you dare play morally superior on this one!” Axel yelled. “You were going to let that innocent girl die! At least with my method, the only person who suffered was a damn criminal.”
The two stared at each other in silence.
The wolves all ran away from Lilly and gathered around the door, tails wagging rapidly.
The door opened and a half elf with a shaven head and red beard walked in. His left eye was bright crimson, his right was a dull grey. His left ear had six studded earrings and his right was bare. The wolves instantly began jumping up on him excitedly.
“Shin,” he said “who are all of these girls and why are they here?”
“They’re Twila’s friends,” Shin said. “Miss Lysara was just telling me stories about their adventures.”
“Half of which weren’t true,” Axra added.
“Twila’s friends, huh,” Lulu muttered. He looked Axra over. “Haven’t we met?”
“I don’t believe so,” Axra said.
“Perhaps you simply look like someone else,” Lulu said.
“Is that the eye where the Eris orb is sealed?” Lysara asked. “Hey, hey, can you feel its power inside you? Does it hurt? Ca…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes met his glare. “Sorry. I’ll shut up.” She slunk away and crouched behind Bonnie.
“M… Me?” Lilly asked. “I… I’m Lilly… pleased to meet you.”
“A pleasure, Lilly,” Lulu said. “It seems that my friends have taken a liking to you.”
“W… Th… I just have a way with animals,” Lilly said.
“I see,” Lulu said. “Have you eaten yet?”
“N… no,” Lilly answered.
“That won’t do at all,” Lulu said. “You must be tired from your journey. Shin, let’s get some supper ready for Lilly and your sister’s other friends.”
He and Shin headed out of the sitting room. The wolves settled down near Lilly.
“I don’t know how you talked to him,” Lysara said. “He’s surprisingly terrifying.”
“Oh, he’s not scary at all,” Lilly said.
“I’ll fetch Velvet,” Bonnie said.
“We’re back,” Twila said. “Good news. It looks like Nervius and the underground will have peace after all.” She grasped Axra’s hands. “Your dads can be at ease.”
“That’s great news!” Axra declared. “Now, we can focus on helping Lilly.”
“That’s right,” Twila agreed. She knelt down and put an arm around Lilly. “Don’t worry. I’ll get that ring off of you yet!”
“Th… that would be great,” Lilly said.
Elaine sniffed the air. “Smells like Lulu’s cooking. I’ll go see if he needs a hand.”
She went down the hallway into the kitchen. “Shin, go entertain our guests. I need to speak with your uncle.” Shin nodded and hurried out. Elaine waited until the door had closed and cast a quick sound blocking spell around the room. “So, what’s the news?”
“The usual,” he said. “They want me to take it easy. There’s no sign that the end’s near, yet.”
“Thank the Gods,” Elaine said.
“There’s something else I’m worried about,” Lulu said. “That dark elf girl…”
“Airell Moonbeam’s daughter,” Elaine stated. “It sounds like she’s also Zero’s or Axel’s.”
“Can she be trusted?” Lulu asked.
“Twila thinks so,” Elaine said. “But she can be quite naive.”
“I’ll find out for sure,” Lulu said.
“Eat up, Girls,” Elaine encouraged. “I hope you don’t mind if I can’t see you off tomorrow. The counsel is having a session to determine what we should do about Nervius.”
“It’s my fondest wish that our peoples can live in peace and mutual cooperation for years to come,” Axra said.
“That would be nice,” Elaine agreed. “I just hope the counsel sees it that way.”
“But you’re the Matriarch,” Lysara said. “Aren’t you basically a Queen?”
“Our society doesn’t work that way,” Elaine said. “We have a counsel elected by eligible voters that decides these matters. As the Matriarch, I do wield greater authority, but it’s far from absolute.”
“I’d always heard that it was an oligarchical system,” Bonnie said.
“Bonnie!’ Axra cried.
“It’s quite alright,,” Elaine said. “It’s true enough, anyway. When we were moving away from a Monarchy we knew that there was a major problem that needed resolved. Exactly what kind of governing body would we have? In the end, it was decided that allowing just anyone to vote was far too dangerous and would lead to our laws being made by a bunch of bottom feeders who could play up to the voters’ emotions rather than doing what needed to be done for the greater good of society. So, we decided that only those who could make informed, rational decisions would be allowed to vote.”
“How do you determine that, exactly?” Bonnie asked.
“A test,” Elaine said. “When one of our citizens comes of age, we test her to see if she’s capable. If she passes, she earns the right to vote or run for office. If she fails, she’s kept out of the system for everyone’s good. With immigrants, they can take the test any time within their first year living here.”
“That sounds complicated,” Lysara said.
“I suppose it is,” Elaine said.
“Hasn’t it led to security problems?” Bonnie asked. “Don’t ordinary people object?”
“You’re a curious one, aren’t you?” Elaine laughed. “It hasn’t been a major issue. We did have one major rebellion. It was… probably around forty years ago. I was campaigning for my second term as the Matriarch.”
“How long’s a term?” Bonnie inquired.
“Five years,” Twila answered.
“No way!” Lysara cried. “That would mean you’d have to be… you can’t be that old.”
“It’s not particularly old, for an elf,” Elaine said.”Anyway, my opponent was an ambitious counsel member named Airell Moonbeam.”
Axra dropped her fork. “Sorry,” she muttered.
“I won the election,” Elaine continued. “But Airell was bitter. She organised as many dissatisfied people as she could into a full blown rebellion. While we were dealing with that, a party of adventurers came seeking our help.”
“And that’s how you met Uncle Lulu!” Twila declared.
“Indeed,” Elaine said. “At first, we outright refused their request for help. That was when Lulu spoke. He made a very compelling argument. We met several times and I eventually agreed to help them if they would help us quell the rebellion first. Lulu agreed, but couldn’t convince his comrades. They didn’t want to get involved. We met several times to try to brainstorm arguments he could use to convince him. Things became… less than professional between us.”
“Are you blushing?” Shin asked.
“Of course not,” Lulu protested.
“We didn’t want anyone to know at first,” Elaine said. “We were concerned that his companions would use it as a reason not to help and I was concerned that Airell would try to get to me through him. But, we couldn’t keep it a secret. Our worst fears were realised. Lulu’s friends wouldn’t listen to him, accusing him of letting his emotions cloud his judgement and Airell decided to make her move. A group of her soldiers ambushed and captured Lulu. She gave me an ultimatum. I could surrender my position to her and she’d let Lulu and I live in exile, or she’d kill him.”
“A no win scenario!” Lysara squealed. “So, how did you heroically turn it around and use it to bring her downfall?”
“She made one major error,” Elaine said. “With Lulu captured, his comrades had a reason to get involved. I met with them and we came up with a plan. They found and attacked Airell’s base of operations. I went along, cloaked in an invisibility spell. We bet on her considering it an action by them alone and not wanting to lose her trump card against me. While she was guiding her troops against them, I snuck inside. I quickly found the room where they were hiding Lulu and killed the guards. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what he looked like when I found him. Beaten. Bloody. It was heart-breaking.”
“But you went in and rescued your love,” Lysara said. “Hey, do you mind if I tell the story to others?”
“Feel free,” Elaine said. “But it’s not quite the whole story. Airell saw me while I was getting Lulu out. Enraged, she sent a bunch of giant spiders against us, including her own familiar. We managed to fight our way through them and rendezvous with the others. We captured Airell and her troops, effectively putting an end to her rebellion. The counsel wanted her executed, but I argued that she’d lost her familiar and wouldn’t pose a threat any longer. In the end, we exiled her to the Wastes and haven’t had any trouble since.”
“Thank you for the meal,” Axra said, moving away from the table.
“M… me too,” Lilly said, hurriedly following after her.