The conclusion of supper set those within the camp into the standard evening routine. The watch roster was determined and those who required sleep went about preparing their bedrolls. This was usually the time that the elves took their leave from the shorter lived races to go on pursuing their own interests. The last few months had broken this general habit, as it was most logical for those of elven heritage to watch over the troupe during the night. However, it was decided that those who had returned from the pagoda were given leave of watch duties for the evening. Theibar was relieved by the notion of a peaceful evening, and he gathered his things and disappeared into the dense forest that surrounded the camp.

The gentle echoes of the forest’s nocturnal life sung in Theibar’s ears. Peacefully, he sat concealed in the twisted branches and sparse foliage of an ancient pine, overlooking the river not far from the encampment. Several hours passed. Theibar shook his head as he returned from his meditative state, feeling refreshed and alert. Arching his back, he stretched and surveyed his surroundings once more. His ears pricked at the sound of someone approaching. The movement was not subtle, nor was it quiet. Before the figure came into view, Theibar had already recognised Matsuro’s cocky trot.

Theibar had avoided Matsuro since his conversation with Ameiko. He was concerned that Matsuro would interpret his motives of ending the budding relationship with his sister as a sign of elven arrogance. Instead, Theibar simply watched the human fill his canteen with water. Theibar’s attention wandered to sounds of another figure. This time, it was much quieter, with some skill in stealth. Theibar orientated himself towards the sounds and drew his bow.

“I am watching you, Matsuro,” whispered the familiar voice. Theibar relaxed his stance as he recognised Shalelu’s authoritative tone. Curious about this interaction, Theibar studies the very one-sided conversation.

“They don’t call me the Yellow-Haired Demon for nothing,” Shalelu concluded, and turned to walk away. Matsuro stood awkwardly for a few moments to contemplate Shalelu’s threat. In an attempt to hide his nervousness, Matsuro engaged a masculine strut back towards the camp; though the rate of his movement alluded to his fear of Shalelu. Theibar chuckled to himself, and gathered his belongings. Quickly and silently he jumped between trees, tracking Shalelu’s whereabouts. Before she could reach the camp, Theibar threw a small berry from a nearby tree to get her attention.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Theibar whispered, still a little bemused. “I actually think he was a little frightened.”

“It is rude to eavesdrop.” Shalelu smiled. “What are you doing out here?” she asked.

“Just enjoying the peacefulness of the forest, and thinking.”

“About Kelda?” Shalelu’s tone was twofold. In part Theibar could ascertain genuine sadness in her voice. There was also a degree of inquisitiveness not congruent with her actual question. Theibar dropped from his position and slumped onto the grass.

“Yes, among other things.”

Shalelu joined Theibar, though a few paces apart. It had been months since the two had been alone amidst nature. And surprisingly, time felt as if it has rewound itself, and the trials and tribulations of the Crown of the World, and Minkai were still yet to come into being.

“How is Ameiko handling Kelda’s passing?” Theibar asked sternly.

“Of course, she carries the entire weight of the caravan upon her shoulders. She feels responsible.” Shalelu felt genuine concern for the pain of her dear friend.

“She will need to learn to balance those feelings of responsibility with the requirements of obligation if she is to become empress.”

“I believe Athebryn had already illustrated something to that effect. Though we know it, it is a little different for the one in that position,” Shalelu explained. Her sympathies towards Ameiko’s position were mediated by relief that it was not her facing such overwhelming burden.

“We will be there for her, wont we?” Theibar asked.

“Will you be?” Shalelu’s accusation was clear. Theibar felt himself withdraw.

“I intend to remain at Ameiko’s side until she no longer needs of me. I will always support and protect her.”

“As will I.” Softness returned to Shalelu’s voice, as if Theibar had provided her with the correct answer to a life-or-death question.

“My motives for cutting our relationship short were not as selfish as everyone may believe. I will not lie by saying that her mortality was not a factor. But, the main reason was what it would mean for her as empress if we were to give ourselves to one another.”

Shalelu became intrigued by Theibar’s train of thought. “And what would it mean?” she asked.

“Imagine a long lost granddaughter of a ruling monarch missing for several generations returning to a war stricken country, dominated by a demonic dictator. She and her companions liberate the scarred nation and she assumes the thrown. That would not be the end of her struggle. She will need to face new threats, more subtle and cunning political attacks and threats of revolution. Add to that her immortal husband, though not emperor, he would help father the next generation of rules; Half-elves, with three-times their mother’s longevity. How long do you think the people would stand for such things? You and I know the prejudice that is faced by half-elves from both humans and elves alike.” Shalelu nodded. “I would be a weakness for her, and for Minkai.”

“Why did you not tell her this?” Shalelu protested.

“I did not want to influence her decisions. She needs to see Minkai for what it is without the contingency that her decision to accept her heritage means forgoing love. I feel that she has the potential to be a strong and merciful ruler, and I would not think to deprive a nation of her caring authority.”

Theibar became distracted by the gentle humming of Suishen who rested quietly within his scabbard, “Well done, Scion” he whispered. Theibar smiled to himself as he tapped Suishen’s hilt in acknowledgement. He was not unfeeling regarding his decision, but he was certain that it was for the best. Looking up, Theibar was surprised by Shalelu’s soft expression.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I am so very pleased you told me this. I was worried that you were…” Shalelu paused. She struggled to find a suitably eloquent phrase, instead she differed to her usual boyishness, “I was worried that you were turning into an ass, and that I would need to shoot my own alumni.” Theibar laughed deep and heartedly.

With a playful shove, Theibar stood, “Come on, we should return to camp.” Shalelu nodded and the two recomposed themselves and returned to join the others.


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