Ok, this is Lianna’s side of the story.
It is worth noting that:
The fire was starting to fade, so Lianna silently added some wood to it.
Not like a young elf needed a fire to sleep soundly in the forest, but she had noticed a brief shiver on her companion.
That simple act drew her to reflect on many things.
Age taking its toll on everyone, no elf spared. The beauty of the night in the forest. The destructive force of fire.
How her life had been easy up until recently. The fact she was camping with someone whose trustworthiness was far from certain.
And, even worse, she was actually worrying for his well being after seeing some goosebumps on his naked back.
Not to mention the reason his back was naked.
She grabbed her bow and started nervously playing with it, a habit she had developed soon after receiving it as a present.
Then her mind ran to who gave her that present and threw it away, resisting the impulse to use it as firelog.
Gosh, life should be easy for an elf. At least, for an elf of her rank, heiress to House Capulelves.
And still, there she was, naked in the dim light of fire, a scary and fairy vision for any commoner beholding.
Far from Veronendell in a quest to bring back her mighty lover and her ingenuous little sister, and what was she doing?
Easy was gone for good.
But there was a time when it was easy.
Lianna was no master in studies and definitely not magic - and not just by elven standards - but she was wit enough to know that it was better to be a female elf
than a female something elf, as she used to joke with her pals.
She was born rich, possibly in the richest family in Veronendell. She was not naive thou: she knew that eventually all the wealth of the family would have gone to her elder brothers and she would have, at some point, needed to find a husband or, at the very least, a partner, but that always seemed a very remote scenario.
An inevitable scenario, thou, for both her and her younger sister Kadilen.
It was funny. She couldn’t possibly remember her elder brothers birth, but it was almost the same for her sister.
Too little to remember, her nanny used to say. In the end, she barely remembered her mother, who left this world right when her little sister came into it.
But Lianna had no hard feelings for Kad, even if she caused her mother to die. Being born and grown in a totally male environment her little sister was the only feminine presence in her life besides their nanny and the two were inseparable, although so different in appearance: Lianna was short, curvy and unsophisticated whereas Kad was basically the incarnation of the proverbial elven ethereality. To add to that she always sported that detached expression that drove guys insane and her length wasn’t limited to her frame and legs… her ears! Lianna was far more envious of those than her sister’s elegance: she was born for dresses and high heels. Oh! And she was magic too, it figures.
There was never any doubt on who the most chased Capulelf bride would have been.
But Kadilen was a blessing. She came around right before her last living brother died to the sword of a Montaguelf leaving her an otherwise only daughter.
Lianna was very young but was becoming aware that wealth has its perks, but its downsides too. Mostly funerals.
Her first was when she really became aware of the Montaguelves. Not that she knew nothing about them, but she smirked at the accounts of their evilness, much like she used to smirk at the stories about the boogeyorc: nanny stuff to scare her and convince her to go to bed.
But no boogeyorc could cause the death of her first brother. And her second. And her third.
The old feud reached its peak when there was no brother left, no mother to give birth to other ones, and she was now the heiress to the Capulelves. And that changed everything. Because it meant she had to get married. She had become precious. More specifically, her womb had. She was suddenly the queen bee who would have given birth to the next generation of Capulelves warriors. The more, the merrier.
If she had been a little older she would have realized the danger that situation was posing to her.
Then, unpredictably, truss ensued. The event threw every single member of the family in a deep state of confusion.
Even moreso when Lord Montaguelf himself came to the Capulelves’ palace for an official visit in no-alive-creature-could-tell.
That simple fact practically made everyone forget that her mother had just died and Lianna was very bitter with his father because of that.
Nonetheless, when Lord Montaguelf and his guard entered the palace she was totally unprepared.
She was expecting to see some demonic blood-thirsty creatures and instead there they were. Elves just like her.
Tense, maybe, but perfectly normal. If anything, they looked tired.
And Caedmon - she would later discover that was the name of Lord Montaguelf - was definitely the most tired.
There was no arrogance in that visit, it was out of the due respect for her mother’s passing and that immediately raised her esteem for the old elf.
In the weirdness of the situation, there was plenty of dignity.
Which contributed to the gossip around the truss and the meeting go insane.
Lianna understood that adults didn’t consider her much so they would talk even if she was around. At the time she didn’t realize how light her feet were and how often nobody noticed her, but even when they did they would just talk: not only was she a kid, but also a girl.
Still… it was appaling to her how many were discussing her father’s sanity, his lack of judgement in trusting those who had just butchered his sons.
Truth be told, they were giving voice to doubts she shared too but still… there was a solemnity and a lack of hatred in Caedmon’s eyes that she could barely believe him to be a killer.
As incredible as it could seem at the time, truss lasted.
Visits between the families became a routine and more often than not respective kids were expected to attend.
Montaguelves and Capulevelves were flourishing and so did the city of Veronendell.
Gossip lasted, but became less cheeky. Although nobody thought being alone in an alley with a Montaguelf was a great idea, the young ones, whose memories were foggier if any at all, were kinda questioning if the feud actually ever happened. And so would have the casual observer looking at Lianna, Kadilen and Elkanen, Caedmon’s son, playing together.
She just didn’t like court life thou, nor the dresses that were so nice on her sister but rather made her look misplaced.
So on one occasion, in an attempt to avoid the upteenth formal reunion she did what every elf would do: run to the forest in seek of peace and tranquility.
By that time she had become aware she was not magic, but excelled in a total different skillset: she could blend with nature so much that she could play peek-a-boo with the most timid of unicorns. That was her environment and she felt incredibly secure in it.
Thus it was much to her surprise that, on that very day, she discovered something else about herself she was totally unaware of.
All of the sudden she started to feel incredibly acute and dizzy at the same time. She wasn’t familiar at all with the feeling but she had the time to understand what that was. Terror. As she was starting to shake, yielding to panic, a figure emerged out of nothing, paralyzing her.
While she realized THAT must have been what the unicorns felt when she surprised them a firm voice asked “First time, eh?”
The bubble popped and she was again capable to move. Only to find out that the situation had just gotten a lot worse.
The voice, in fact, was that of Lord Montaguelf himself. The old “never alone with a Montaguelf” motto was resonating in her mind as she was about to discover if the truss was enough to keep him from his old taste for slaying Capulelves.
He looked a lot more menacing in his hunting clothes and… that fear.
As if he could hear her thoughts, Caedmon nocked, lifted his bow, drew and shot towards her in a single movement. Too fast for any reaction, except the sense of nausea when the feather of the arrow swished between her hair and the internal side of her ear.
“You see, girl? If I wanted you dead you would never know” Unquestionable. “And just like me” continued the old elf “a lot of other people could harm you. A forest is not the right place for the Capulelves heiress. Especially when she should be bathing and preparing for dinner at my house!”
Lianna’s cheek went on fire for the elf’s reprimend. As scared as she could be, she should have never forgotten the implications in terms of formal etiquette and what her presence in the wood meant: disrespect towards her father most notable ally. Deadly, but still an ally.
Seeing her shame Caedmon burst in a smile, something she could have never thought to see on his face. It was incredibly warm in the net of scars and the gravity of his face.
“Here, kid. Take this” he was offering her his bow and quiver “you’ll be safer with them. Also… I have a feeling you have some talent for archery. There’s maybe better bows around, but it does its job.” He underlined his sentence touching his ear right were his arrow had just brushed hers.
“Also… go home. Your father must be worrying and it’s not for a lady to do that to her old elf” he was just about to vanish in the wood when he turned and added “I expect you to be mannered and dressed properly for tonight’s evening. The saffron dress should do it” then he winked and disappeared.
Lianna was shaken. Not only she could breath again and was again aware of nature around her, but she also knew that not all eyes were constantly rapt by her sister, and her beauty. It was an old elf and it felt strange. And, how to put it? Good.
Oh, and she also had a bow, although she wasn’t sure what to do with it and she certainly had to keep it hidden. Too many explanations.
Later that night she attended dinner at the Montaguelves, in her saffron dress which she had expressly asked to her maid.
Lord Montaguelf never mentioned the incident in the forest and she was grateful for that. He hardly acknoledged her presence and although she couldn’t say why she was expecting something else, it felt a bit of a bummer.
Anyhow, in the following months she secretly started practicing and hunting and well, Caedmon was right: she was definitely meant for it. So much she was fantasizing of piercing her sister’s ears Caedmon style. Ah, those long ears! They certainly deserved some wicked little joke.
Being in the forest on a regular basis she was also starting to understand her instincts and how that fear was meant to protect her rather than rendering her helpless.
She never terrorized a unicorn again.
Eventually the long term plan became apparent to her.
The first-borns - at least those alive to act as such - were to marry and join the two families once and for all.
Lianna had to agree that it was a good idea. Her remembrance of ole funeral days wasn’t crystal clear, but it wasn’t vague enough not to understand that the current arrangement was better for everyone. With, maybe, one notable exception: herself.
It’s not that she didn’t like Elkanen. Boy was hot, a fighter and so kind hearted he had healing in him. But she just couldn’t put up with the sense of predestination or being trapped in a future decided for her by someone elf.
On the outside she stuck to the plan, celebrating the Montaguelf’s heir beauty, courage and proclaiming her love for him. But she knew something was off.
It went insane when she realized Elkanen was less into her than she was into him, something she just couldn’t accept: it had to be the other way around.
She decided she would have bent the young Montaguelf, even if that meant learning to dress properly, use make-up, styling her hair and all those other tortures that came so natural to her little sister. Not without embarassement she discussed with her father her new grown-up needs.
It wasn’t shame, not in the sense known to humans - elves have no problems talking freely to authority figures like parents - but the matter was an obvious reminder of the lack of a female figure in the family and the fact her father had chosen to never have a new partner made it obvious he was still thinking of her mother.
Despite her scruples, her father embraced the practical aspects of her request: after all there was a lot more at stake than his daughter’s vanity.
While an arranged marriage was theoretically possible, it would have been considered outrageous by any member of the elven society.
Lord Capulelf knew public outrage wasn’t the solid foundation needed to build the lasting, peaceful stability he had in mind: the very future of his House rested in her elder daughter’s ability to seduce the Montaguelf heir.
In a bold move that drew quite a bit of discontent among the prominent female elves in Veronendell he decided to entrust a human with the higher education of his heiress.
Rumours about his sanity came back: once again the old elf was counting on an unlikely “ally” disrespecting all of his blood and those who had proven themselves in years of feud.
He had good reasons, thou. He knew that whoever he’d choose in Veronendell those happy would have been a lot less than those very unhappy and decided that general diffidence was a better option than a pretext to restart the feud.
That’s how a woman from a very far realm made her appearance in Verondell. An incredibly beautiful woman, with long fascinating eyes by the name of Li Xiu.
Elegant, with a similar frame to Lianna’s and, since there was nothing to be naive about, well versed in the arts of assassination. For her safety and his daughter’s.
And both went by the nickname of Li, which was a nice little extra. Obviously, both soon dropped it because it was confusing.
Anna learnt many things from Xiu, but more than everything her story.
She had been some sort of companionship for important people in her country, a foolish land where heads rolled like dices in a tavern and made Veronendell look like heaven on earth. Anna was incline to think she was a prostitute, but Xiu always denied that stating she was a fine, educated entertainer well versed in a weird ritual called tea ceremony. She excelled at dancing, singing, playing several instruments and preparing meals in tiny portions arranged in an extremely refined fashion. She also had a collection of dresses made of magnificent fabric, so overly complicated that required two expert maids to be worn, and was capable of styling her hair in ways that had no equal in all of the known realms. Her luggage also comprised several umbrellas made of paper: when Anna told her she couldn’t figure out a more stupid use for the precious material than trying to use it as a protection from water - never gonna work - Xiu objected that they were rather a protection from sun but, more than everyting, a style detail useful for the choreography of seduction. Whatever that meant. And what weirdos other than drows would seek for protection from the sun?
Her powders, shadows and make-up collection was amazing but nothing compared to her ability to use them: she was capable to make herself look gorgeous but thanks to nothing else than her natural beauty.
Eventually Anna came to know why Xiu had to leave her mad country: unsurprisingly, her patron’s head had prematurely parted ways with his neck.
Apparently, that had consequences on her future too, the first being deciding if she actually wanted a future. That implied becoming her new master’s toy, him being the man who had beheaded her patron. Which she didn’t mind for several reasons: she was never in love, the new master was a richer and more powerful man and she wasn’t particularly intrigued by being cast for the next head ceremony. Anna just couldn’t get Xiu’s people’s obsession with heads, but seemingly once someone was executed his head was cleaned, combed and presented to the householder for nothing less than his enjoyment and relax.
Xiu’s status under the new family dropped considerably, thou, as her new master already had a favorite who saw unacceptable competition in her.
She would no longer be the exquisite entertainer she used to be and was charged with very humble incumbences, particularly chicken farming.
Xiu’s recounts of the ensuing events were rather contradictory, as she kept saying love had nothing to do with them. They were rather dictated by the high concept of honour and loyalty within her people, an explanation that kept sounding far-fetched to the elf’s ears. Long, sensitive ears.
Anyway Xiu started to self teach a form of martial art that was very popular in the overseas village she was kidnapped from as a kid.
Since she was not allowed to own weapons, she did just like the ancient masters of that art and drew inspiration from the animal kingdom.
As she was a woman surrounded by chickens it seemed perfectly fit to call her style hen tai chi. She loved the twist, because she had a great, perverse plan.
Xiu wasn’t inclined to go into detail about that perversion and Anna felt no need to know more of the insanity of that land, much less her seduction teacher’s.
What the elf came to know, thou, was that the proper dress and moves could drain every form of energy from anyone, be it the push to kill you or the determination not to yield to your charms. The human had used an extravagant combination of both to kill all the members of her new master’s family.
In her ingenuity Anna asked if that wasn’t pushing vengeance a bit too far, and Xiu, without a glimpse of emotion, simply replied “Most of them didn’t suffer, so no”.
It was obvious that what was now her defunct master and his favorite did suffer, the only possible doubt being who had to see the other’s head.
Thanks to Xiu formation and her body blooming Anna was starting to raise men interest even when Xiu, who had cohorts of admirers, was next to her.
Elkanen, though, kept being cold and Xiu was starting to question his sexuality. Apart from his beauty, perfect body and lavish hair she was particularly critical of his weapon of choice, the spear: according to the seduction mistress, that was the most obvious tell. Somewhere east a head on a plate knew why.
Corroborated by her experience the human decided desperate times called for desperate measures and pulled out of her trunks the most stupid dress ever seen.
“This is the ultimate weapon in hen tai chi: uniforms” she then explained “Some men don’t lose their mind over the present, they like the box instead. I think this is the right box for you.” The designated uniform was everything Anna didn’t like. Short, unpractical with long stockings and, even if heels were spared, it was so colourful there was no chance she could ever ambush a unicorn in it: they would have ran at her engaging in mating rituals pooping rainbows all around.
When she told Xiu she laughed and said “Don’t be silly, in my country sailors wear those!” What an amazing country.
With no real objection left Anna attended the next dinner in the new dress. As soon as she entered the hall she felt every single eye on her and started silently blaming herself for being such a fool. “Perfect” said Xiu, who was right behind her in one of her wonderful dress made of that incredible material.
“What’s perfect? Everybody’s staring at me…”
“They are not staring. They can’t take their eyes off of you. And that’s what we want. So, perfect!”
After the initial embarassment, Anna started to understand her multitalented teacher’s words. It was true that every man in the room was looking at her, but it was even truer that they weren’t despising her. It was something different, something she had never quite experienced. The connoisseur from headlessland had a name for it: desire.
That evening practically everybody wanted to dance with her, most notably Elkanen. Anna was ecstatic because the interest she had fought for was finally there and if that meant dressing like a sailorwoman from Xiu’s country, then be it. In the end, it was no wonder she knew a thing or two on how to make a man lose his mind. Or whole head, for that matter.
Whilst going back to the Capulelves mansion the human observed it was not surprising the young Montaguelf had finally come to life: she was so hot in her costume that even an old glacial man like his father couldn’t help but notice her.
Xiu stayed with the Capulelves some more time to teach Anna “a thing or two that would have served her well in the bedroom”.
Anna was curious, but didn’t quite like that aspect of her formation as a grown woman. Xiu, on the other hand, considered it a practical matter: a defining part of the elf’s future was to become a prolific mother, one who would have generated a healthy and numerous offspring that would have granted peace and prosperity for the whole of Veronendell. Also, in her country, women unable to promptly give birth were recused and harshly punished: it didn’t have to be beheading, they could also suicide. With the assistance of a kaishakunin, a person responsible for the beheading at the moment of agony. It figures.
In the end Xiu had to leave for unspecified businesses and by that time the elf was aware that when Xiu got shady it was better not to ask.
Moreso if she had dismissed all her fancy stuff and was fully armoured. Anna tried to give back the sailor dress, but Xiu refused stating that was her farewell gift.
Then left uncerimoniously.
The elf was to be Lianna once again.
If everything seemed pretty straightforward in Veronendell, with most of those directly involved taking for granted that Lianna and Elkanen would have finally joined the two powerhouses, Lianna was starting to question herself. It was becoming clearer and clearer to her, that her interest in Elkanen was dictated by his disinterest at the time more than anything else. Was that love? And even omitting her doubts, did she really want to marry an elf who was into her only because of a uniform that had stricken even his imperturbable father? And why did she remember that pointless observation from Xiu?
It was probably too late to change something, if possible at all: too much was at stake. She was feeling in a cage but honestly it was a righteous cage.
Escaping would have resulted in a lot of suffering and, almost surely, the resumption of civil war in Veronendell.
She couldn’t possibly be the cause of that disaster and she just had to accept her fate. Still better than beheading. Mielikki, did she miss her seduction teacher!
And then it happened.
Her loved one kidnapped her loved little one: Elkanen and Kadilen were gone and the whole city of Veronendell went insane.
The thing that she remembered best of that day was the sense of nonsense.
That kind of act would have called for retaliation by any judgement standard in the history of Capulelves and Montaguelves.
Instead, the two householders had a crisis meeting. Lianna wasn’t certainly a supporter of war but that was far more incomprehensible for her.
Normally she wouldn’t have had a role in the meeting but she just needed to understand what was going on and pushed to be in on the basis of being the most interested party as she had just lost both her lover and her little sister.
The ensuing discussion made even less sense. It was awfully clear that a lot was not being said, but nobody was going to grab the orc by the fangs.
Lianna was smart enough to realize that her presence could have been the reason for the stalling parley: it was well possible that the two lords weren’t willing to talk openly of the injuries that might have occurred to the two young elves she loved the most. Especially if those inflicting the injuries were to be them.
All of a sudden Lord Montaguelf made an impressive statement: “This is my fault. It’s my mess and I’m going to solve it. I will bring them back, safe.”
Way too many Is for Lianna, who gave voice to her doubts “A Capulelf needs to be in the party, we are involved too”. The obvious candidate was her father, but he didn’t seem to get what she was hinting.
She literally couldn’t believe it. Then her father spoke: “We can’t both go. If something ever happens and none of us comes back or, even worse, only one of us comes back it’s gonna be a disaster. I would recommend Lord Montaguelf to change his mind too, but he is right. This is his mess, and he needs to talk them out of this folly”
Them? “But father! One of ours NEEDS to go!”
“I agree, but it can’t be a servant, it can’t be me and it has to be someone I absolutely trust”
Lianna was fuming. At some extent she understood her father, but still. Also, there wasn’t much of a choice so she had to say it: “Fine. I go.”
The reaction was predictable: the two lords raised their eyebrows. The words not as much: “It’s decided, then!”
The following day Caedmon and Lianna left Veronendell to track Elkanen and Kadilen.
Theoretically it should have been an easy task as Kadilen was being abducted against her will and, being anything but quick in her fancy clothes, would have slowed down Elkanen.
Instead it soon became clear that not only the two fugitives were cooperating, they were also gaining ground.
Lianna wasn’t totally surprised as she knew that hostages often feel the need to help kidnappers as their lives depend on them from Xiu’s personal experience.
Gradually, thou, she started questioning why Elkanen would do such a thing as it didn’t quite make sense. Until it made.
She should have been pissed at him, but she wasn’t. By then she was almost sure she had never loved him in the first place.
She didn’t really know how, but she had to tell Caedmon. It was an extremely delicate matter, yet had to be done.
“We are in the forest, no need for titles. Call me Caedmon”
It felt strange, but she did “Ehm, Caedmon” why talking to that old elf was so difficult? “I was thinking”
“A young one that thinks, that’s something new in our families!” he was smiling, but Lianna felt belittled.
“Maybe in YOUR family”
“You don’t know how right you are…” What the elf did that mean?
“In any case I was thinking…”
“that there’s no kidnapping and those two idiots are on a love escape.”
Actually Lianna thought that Elkanen had kidnapped her sister because he was in love with her, but Caedmon’s version made a lot more sense.
There was no need to admit how dumb she was: “Exactly. Then why do we have to find them so much?” after all elven society believed in freedom of love.
“You don’t. I do.” and that was the end of the conversation. Again, unsaid and belittling.
And that was just the beginning of a long journey.
A gust of wind shook Lianna back to reality.
She looked at the fire again, wondering if she should have dressed. Probably. Did she want to dress? Absolutely not.
She stoked the fire one last time and went to lay next to her dangerous partner, her breast pressed against his back. Then slid her left arm under his armpit and threw her right around his torso, the hand on his chest. She could feel his heartbeat under her fingertips, she could take his life easily.
“Lor…” His slurred voice interrupted her “Forest. Call me Caedmon.”
Lianna pulled herself closer to him. She could kill him. Or her father could kill her.