Chapter 4: Decisions

Chapter 4: Decisions

A Chapter by Syren Creates

A few hours later revealed to Zerlinda that her options of getting into the castle were considerably less in both number and appeal than they had two nights previously.  She had spent the majority of the journey to Treewood attempting �" and failing �" to think of a different way to break in.  Agmund’s voice saying that she should simply walk in through the front door echoed in her head.  No, that would only be used as a last resort �" a very last resort. Still, she had been unable to conjure up a better plan on her own.

         Walking along the branches of the trees around the borderline of the forest, Zerlinda studied the castle with scrutinizing eyes, occasionally dropping her gaze down to the guards to see if they remained oblivious to her presence.  Tonight, there was no golden opportunity in the form of a conveniently open, unlit window and she mentally groaned at the realization.

         As she continued her observation, one of the guards’ weight shifted so that he was leaning on the tall staff in his hand and his head dropped with drowsiness.  The other guards stared straight ahead.  Quickly, she climbed down the tree and approached the wall next to the sleeping guard.  Zerlinda was willing to bet that the others were dozing off as their forward gazes never faltered and they neglected to see her. Swiftly, she climbed up the wall and, laying flat on her stomach, rolled so that she dropped behind the cover of some bushes in the castle garden.

         “Hey!  You!”

         She froze as a guard’s voice cut through the air like a whip.  Her muscles when ridged and her breath caught in her lungs, remaining absolutely still.  Though it was hard to believe, she knew that, even with their enhanced elven hearing, the guards would not be able to hear the rapid pounding of her heart in her chest.

         “Wake up!” The guard snapped. “You’re not allowed to sleep on duty!”

         Zerlinda forced her sigh of relief to remain mental.  The guards might not hear her racing heart, but they would hear a sigh of relief.  It wasn’t a challenge for her to be amongst her kin without them knowing she was there.  She had spent her entire career doing it �" such a task had been a vital part of her job description.  That is, when she had a job.  But that didn’t mean she couldn’t make a mistake.

         Repeating her movements from two nights ago, Zerlinda used the plants of the garden to conceal her movements from the guards as she made her way closer to the castle walls.  Inwardly grumbling to herself about the task ahead, she began her ascent up the wall and around to the opposite side of the castle.  Agmund’s suggestion of walking through the front door suddenly had quite a bit more appeal to it as her limbs started to burn with the physical strain of keeping the weight of her body above the ground.  As she had predicted, Adalric’s window was closed.  Through the glass, she could see the flickering light of a few candles dimly illuminating the room, but nobody was in sight.

         Carefully, she wedged her fingernails into the thin crack between the window and wall then pulled, causing it to open the slightest bit and she imitated the process.  It was slow and tedious.  Her efforts caused the normally pale skin of her fingertips �" which had turned pink from the climb to the window �" into a bright shade of red and her already unkempt nails became even more bent and chipped.  Typically, Zerlinda wouldn’t allow her nails to grow beyond the tips of her fingers but had never gotten around to cutting them.  She admitted, though, that the longer nails made her task just a tad bit easier.  Especially when she also had to focus on not falling to the ground below.  Finally, she managed to pry the window open enough for her to climb into the room and close the glass pane behind her.

         To anyone who was unused to the embellishment of the castle, the bedroom would have appeared quite grandiose with the gold, detailed embroidery, the mahogany floors and elaborate carvings on the furniture gleaming in the candle light.  Nothing would have seemed to be missing or out of place.  But Zerlinda had been within the castle countless times when she was working for the King and was very acquainted with the ornamentation of Castle Taure.  Her trained blue eyes observed how the room was actually quite bare in comparison to its customary state.  Almost as if things had been packed up and carried away.

         Pursing her lips, she ran her fingers along the leather, uncreased spines of the numerous books on the bookshelves that lined a portion of one of the walls.  Reading, she knew, was not one of Adalric’s favorite pastimes.  The books served more of a purpose as props to lead any visitors to the conclusion that the young prince was intelligent and educated as opposed to him having a genuine interest in constantly reading.

         Which isn’t to say that Adalric wasn’t intelligent or educated.  On the contrary, he was extremely smart and attended to his studies daily unless preoccupied with a more urgent matter.  He simply preferred to learn through alternate methods �" particularly hands-on methods.  Reading words on a page did nothing for him; he needed to be doing something and his father had forbidden him to mark in the books.  Consequentially, Adalric only read when it was absolutely necessary.

         A door opened.

         “Damn it, Zerlinda!”

         Zerlinda’s teeth bit into her lip as she refrained herself from doubling over in laughter, recalling how she had used the exact same phrase with Agmund a couple of days ago when he had tried to sneak up on her while she was sleeping.

         It was obvious by his appearance that Adalric had just returned from taking a bath.  His brown hair was damp and water droplets dripped from the ends onto the rich green silk of his night clothes.

         “I told you that I would be back tonight,” Zerlinda reminded him innocently.

         “Yes, but couldn’t you knock on the door or something instead of just showing up out of nowhere and scaring the living daylights out of me?”

         An eyebrow slowly traveled up her forehead as she looked at him.

         “I’m convicted as a traitor and am banished from the entire kingdom �" I really shouldn’t go waltzing through the castle too often; one or two times here and there won’t cause too much commotion.  If I start ding it all the time, people will start to notice.  Besides,” a smirk forced the corners of her lips upward. “I seem to scare you either way.”

         Adalric glared at her in response, but Zerlinda just rolled her eyes, completely unfazed.

         “What’s your decision?” She asked, returning to the purpose of her visit.

         For a moment, Adalric hesitated.  His green eyes flashed around the room before he took a deep breath and returned them to hers. “I’m leaving with the army tomorrow.  I’m not going with you.”

         Zerlinda nodded several times in silence, digesting his decision.  She would be lying to herself if she said that she didn’t even feel the slightest twinge of disappointment.  But she was also realistic enough to know that there wasn’t anything she could really do about it.  Short of kidnapping him, that is, and she wasn’t disappointed enough to go through the trouble.

         “Alright,” she said. “Where are you fighting them, if I may ask?”

         Letting out a deep sigh of relief by her lack of resentment, Adalric relaxed a moment too soon and replied, “The Sacred Clearing.”

         All physical movement from Zerlinda stopped instantly and her sapphire blue eyes cut over to him.

         “The Sacred Clearing,” she repeated. “Are you sure?”

         “It’s our best chance at defeating the orcs,” Adalric confirmed, nodding.

         “And your worst chance at survival!” Zerlinda protested. “No one has ever fought there and lived.”

         “That’s just a myth,” he argued, turning his back to her.

         “Prove it!” She countered, walking around him so that he was forced to look at her. “There have been dozens of wars and battles fought there �" records show it! �" but there  is not a single survivor.

         “I know, but only the elves of West Wood know the way there. The orcs might become so disoriented by our false trails that we’ll have more than enough time to pick them off a little at a time and have half of them killed before they can even reach the Clearing.”

         “Then the Clearing will kill you!” Zerlinda snapped. “Look, you know that I’m not one to put much stock in enchantments and curses, but even I admit that something isn’t right with that place.  You will die, Adalric!”

         “And so will the orcs,” Adalric reasoned, walking away from her. “It’s for the best of my people.”

         “How will losing you �" the heir to the throne and future king �" benefit your people?  You’re mother has neither the experience nor interest in ruling and your sister is little more than an infant.”

         That caught Adalric’s attention and his vivid green eyes flashed over to connect with her deep blue ones. “How do you know about my sister?”

         Zerlinda rolled her eyes. “I stumbled across a nursery drenched in purple and lace,” she explained briefly with a wave of her hand. “It doesn’t take a genius to put the pieces together.  But that’s beside the point; if you fight, you’ll die.  Your mother and sister are incompetent rulers, Treewood will go into disarray and all of West Wood will go down with it.  You know it’s true!”

         “Why do you care if I live?”

         An overwhelming urge to smack the prince upside his head with a very hard, unbreakable object came over Zerlinda, but she settled for throwing her hands above her own head in exasperation.

         “Because I love you!” She exclaimed. “It doesn’t take a fool to see that.  I’m bitter and resentful about these people and their king and what they did to me �" I can admit to that �" but that doesn’t mean that I want them to die helplessly.”

         “Then why won’t you help us?”

         “Because I thought your father would have had enough common sense to not throw away the lives of hundreds of valuable soldiers!  You don’t need to die so carelessly.”

         “I will, though.  For my people.”

         She cursed Adalric’s intense loyalty under her breath. “You’re people need you alive.  You can’t help them if you’re dead.”

         “They’re my people �" my responsibility.  I have to fight for them.”

         “Your loyalty is really admirable,” Zerlinda said sardonically. “But do you realize how … possessed you sound right now?” She groaned, running a hand down her face before speaking more calmly. “I remember when it was my duty to fight for hem. Even die, if necessary.  But you have another duty, Adalric: to lead your people. … You can’t do that from beyond the grave.”

         Adalric said nothing and, after a moment, Zerlinda sighed.

         “What’s her name?” She asked. His brow creased.

         “Excuse me?”

         “Your sister. What’s her name?”

         He looked away, through the glass of a nearby window, and didn’t answer immediately.


         Zerlinda’s lips curved up into a soft smile.

         “You named her, didn't you?”

         The prince breathed a soft sound of laughter, also smiling, but still not looking at her.

         “How could you tell?”

         “It means queen. I highly doubt your parents would have given their daughter a name with that meaning.”

         Elves believed that the meaning of someone’s name played a role in that person’s future and personality before they even began to really live.

         “Are you sure about this?” Zerlinda asked again in a quiet voice. “The Sacred Clearing?”

         “As sure as I can be,” Adalric replied.

         “So not sure at all, then.” She never did master the skill of preserving a firm grip on her tongue and the words had slipped through her lips before she could stop them.  Unfortunately, her comment caused Adalric’s own temper to flare back up.

         “My father is fighting as well,” he snapped angrily. “Do you think that both of us are fools?”

         “Yes! The only difference is that he’s a bigger fool because you have doubt; I can see it in your eyes.”

         His hands clenched into fists by his side as he whipped around to face her with fury dominating his face.  He approached her with a walk that resembled one of a predator advancing on his prey.  The enraged language of his body movements combined with the fierce expression in his vibrant green eyes might have daunted anyone, but not Zerlinda.  She stood her ground, arms crossed defiantly over her chest, without so much as a cringe in the opposite direction as he stopped directly in front of her.  Tilting her chin up so that she could look him candidly in the eye, her deep blue eyes hardened to steel.

         “I could have you arrested, you know,” Adalric threatened in a dangerous tone. “Thrown in jail and to await your execution.”

         Letting out a sharp breath of contempt, Zerlinda allowed a humorless smirk to grace her lips as she brought her face even closer to his until they were mere centimeters apart.  Not too unlike they had been two nights previously.  This time, however, there was no intense desire to lock their lips together.

         “Do I look like I care?” She retaliated in the same dangerous tone that was somehow more lethal than his before shoving past him and leaving the room through a window.  His head turned to watch her go, but she didn’t even stop to cast a sullen glare at him over her shoulder as she disappeared below one of the windows and he couldn’t force the words out to make her stop.

c  d

         “It’s official!” Zerlinda ranted in a fit of passion as she paced back and forth relentlessly in front of Agmund and Saya from where they sat on the couch at the cabin.  It was the following morning and Zerlinda was tired, but her fatigue only served to further irritate her animosity of King Achan’s tactical decision regarding the war with the orcs. “Achan has lost any sense of reason that may or may not have been in his arrogant, pigheaded, thick-skulled head.”

         Saya looked up from the pages of the open book in her hands. “Adalric isn’t joining us whatsoever?”

         “No!” Zerlinda raged on. “And do you know why? Because he’s going to skip along with his dear daddy and the army to fight the orcs today.”

         “But that’s good,” Agmund said, his head poking up from the back of the couch. “I mean, then this whole thing will be over with soon, right?”

         “Oh, it’ll be over with, alright,” Zerlinda agreed. “With both armies completely and utterly dead.”

         Saya rolled her gray eyes and flipped a page. “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, Zerlinda?”

         “Nope,” she replied with a huff. “No.  Not at all.  Not when they’re going to be fighting in the Sacred Clearing.”

         This piece of information caught Saya and Agmund’s attention and both pairs of eyes shot over to Zerlinda’s furiously unstill form.

         “The Sacred Clearing?” Agmund repeated. “Are you sure?”

         “That’s what Adalric said.”

         “But they’ll die!” Saya protested in alarm, the forgotten book in her hands falling to the floor with a dull thud.

         “I know!”

         “West Wood will fall even without the orcs’ help!” Agmund added, slightly panicked.

         “That’s what I told him!” Zerlinda’s voice was starting to increase in volume.

         “Well … what are we going to do?”

         Agmund’s question caused Zerlinda’s pacing to come to a sudden stop.  Her mind raced with possible courses of actions they could take and their results.  Moments later, her lips pressed together in a firm line and her shoulders squared themselves.

         “We are going to go to the Clearing and take stock of the situation.  If it doesn’t look too bad, we’ll leave the elves to it, but if they need our help then we’ll fight.”

         “And staying neutral?” Saya questioned, a grin touching the corners of her lips.

         “To hell with staying neutral,” Zerlinda said. “I was okay with them going down fighting �" not being slaughtered like sitting ducks.”

         “Yes, but won’t we die, too?” Agmund inquired. “I mean �" I’m all for a good fight and all, but I don’t think we should go and be suicidal here. Everyone who’s ever fought in the Clearing has died and I don’t particularly feel like following in their footsteps.”

         “That’s just it, though, Agmund,” Zerlinda said excitedly. “Everyone who has fought in the Clearing has died, but we won’t be fighting from within the Clearing.”

         Confusion dominated his appearance as he casted a look over at Saya as understanding dawned on her face.  She laughed gleefully and clapped her hands together, but the crease on Agmund’s brow only because more prominent as he looked back and forth between the two girls who were both smiling in satisfaction and some amusement as they watched him continuously fail to put the pieces together.

         “I don’t get it,” he said finally. “How can we fight with the elves without being in the Clearing with them?”

         Exchanging a look and a sight with Saya, Zerlinda walked into Agmund’s room and took one of his weapons before returning to the living area and tossing the weapon to him.  Agmund caught the object in his right hand, examined it, and let out a groan of uneasy comprehension.

         “What if the elves lose?” Saya asked.

“Let’s just take it one step at a time for now,” Zerlinda said. “But whatever we end up doing, we’re going to Aridar once we’re finished and telling them what’s going on.  It’s almost time for our annual report, anyways.”

© 2014 Syren Creates

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Added on June 21, 2012
Last Updated on July 8, 2014
Tags: betrayed, Elves, fight, orcs, traitor


Syren Creates
Syren Creates

Rock Hill, SC

Hobbies: Dancing (mostly jazz and lyrical, but I also do a ballet techniques class), writing, drawing, painting, reading, singing, doing puzzles, sudoku, word finds, fill ins Movies: Harry Potter, .. more..