FREE READ... A Vergöttern Tale


A Vergöttern Tale 

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Beside the crackling campfire, smoke swirled around Eluart. The Vergöttern lord took his time tightening his jacket, arming himself against the cold. The crisp clear night offered a vast canopy of stars. Caleath lay with his eyes half closed.
“So it’s your turn, your lordship.” Corinne dragged a blanket around her shoulders. “Share an entertaining tale. Truth or fiction.”
Lifting a teapot Eluart poured thick dark liquid into a battered cup. He blew on the rising steam and wrapped his fingers around the mug.
 “Very well. I guess we have time. I will tell you how the Vergöttern came to Sharyac. It is ancient history now. Painful memories for the Fairhildren, even after all this time, but it makes for a good story. And I believe it is true. Or mostly so.”
Caleath opened his eyes. “This should be interesting. And here I was thinking your people had no painful memories. Wonder of wonders.”
“We hide our pain better than mortals. That’s all.” Eluart sipped his tea. “Now, if you are listening, the story begins with the birth of a baby boy…”

The Darenkind heiress Ariana’s pain warped the barriers protecting the homestead from scrutiny. Herne, son of the Fairhildren ruler, lifted his gaze from the midwife and sent a telepathic plea to his guards. If either family discovered the birth… He banished the negative thought, focusing instead on the woman struggling to give birth to their child. A son. Herne knew the child was a boy already, courtesy of Ariana’s magic.
Solid rain teemed through the branches of the ancient morrel tree forming a canopy above the secluded dwelling. Heavy cloud formed a visible barrier, but Herne knew the powerful empaths of the Darenkind could see into unprotected minds. He relied on renewable spells to keep his men free from perusal. His men, and Ariana’s staff. Too many knew of the birth. Too many minds placed his child at risk.
The heady scent of incense filled his lungs. Tendrils of pale smoke curled into every corner, to cover the odor of birthing liniments and oils.
Ariana groaned. Her pain eased and for a moment she relaxed the grip on his hand. The midwife rolled her shoulders, shifted her weight and muttered encouragement.
Herne wiped a cool cloth across Ariana’s brow.
Tears eased from her closed eyes. “I can’t keep control, Herne. I am so afraid.”
“Relax. Murgot is loyal to me, and Nett would give his life for you. They will see us safe. I trust them.”
The midwife glanced up, and lowered her gaze before making eye contact. Herne’s curiosity piqued. What had he said to interest Ariana’s trusted servant? Before he could dwell on her action, Ariana tensed. The grip on his hand tightened and again the painful contractions drove all other thought from his mind.
Ariana screamed. Herne’s calm shattered and panic threatened to overwhelm him.
The midwife looked up and grinned. Though her hands were covered in blood she worked with confidence.
“Congratulations, my lord. A fine son.” Lifting the newborn infant, she waited for Herne to recover enough to cut the cord.
Herne’s hands shook as he recited the spells for longevity and health. Ariana repeated the words, breathless but clear, adding an aura of Darenkind power to the Fairhildren magic. The baby would be twice blessed.
The midwife wrapped the tiny babe in a soft blanket and delivered the squirming boy child into Ariana’s arms.
Herne relaxed. His heart threatened to burst with love and pride.
How could his father not understand Herne’s love for the dark beauty Ariana possessed? Why must his family and hers reject unions between the bloodlines, when offspring survived and grew into useful citizens? The children who survived the censorship of the families, that is. Those born to the lesser casts, where the pressure of leadership didn’t demand the infants culled.
He kissed Ariana’s forehead and touched the baby’s cheek. “You are the most precious things in my world. Both of you. I will defy my father a thousand times to see our family safe.”
“As will I. We have each other. We need nothing more.”
“Forgive me for speaking out of turn,” the midwife wiped her hands and straightened to face Ariana. “My lady, you have been too trusting. Look to those who are here to protect you.”
“What are you suggesting? My men are faithful and true,” Herne protested. Each man traveling with him had earned his trust.
“Forgive me, my lord. I must speak my mind. For your lady, and the baby’s sake.” The midwife glanced to the open door, where the sound of the rain muffled voices and movement. “I have been watching and listening. I don’t trust…”
The midwife flinched. Herne caught the flash as a dart struck the woman’s throat. Her eyes opened wide. She clutched her neck and collapsed to the floor.
“Ariana…” Fear gripped Herne. He cast a spell to prevent further intrusion into the room, and he threw himself between his family and the men rushing through the door.
The air filled with spells, powerful, crushing, cast with artefacts only the ruling class possessed. Herne strained against the sharp bite as Fairhildren magic curbed his power. Horror flowed through his veins as darkness filled his world.
* * * *
“What happened? Were they all killed? How awful.” Corinne pouted. “Not a good story.”
“Shh, his lordship hasn’t finished telling it yet.” Caleath threw a log onto the fire. “Go on. The two families feuding. An age old story. Did they finally see reason?”
Eluart shook his head. “It is not easy to kill an immortal. Not even a child. Though sadly, Herne’s son was culled. Ariana sent back to her family in disgrace. Now, will you allow me to tell the story…”
Corinne nodded and Eluart continued.

Herne could not reconcile himself to losing Ariana. Nor could he accept the culling of his son. He traveled though the Fairhildren estates and drew support from others of his kind who had broken the rules and accepted the Darenkind as family and friend. Even a few of the mixed blood joined his cause. They promised to stand with him if he challenged his father for leadership.
Ariana, using her empathy, followed his progress. Her family, the Darenkind, excelled in mining, earthy skills and magic. Herne’s family, the Fairhildren, followed the growth and seasons of everything green and growing. For generations the trade and utilization of their individual skills meant both families enjoyed the best each field of magic could offer.
Until Herne’s challenge failed. Rather than improving relations between families his actions drove his father to turn his back on all things Darenkind. After Herne’s uprising and subsequent reprimand, new barriers between the two families forced trade to cease.
Within a few seasons life for the Fairhildren became grave as the lack of metal, coal and earth magic took its toll. The family began to feel the loss of their kin’s bounty. News the Darenkind also missed the Fairhildren produce prompted Herne’s father to bow to the complaints of his counselors and petition a meeting of the two families.
The gathering took place in a neutral valley between their lands. A town sprang up to accommodate the families, their retinue and the citizens who wanted to have their say in the future.
Finally, Ariana and Herne were able to see each other again.
Workers from both the Darenkind and the Fairhildren families worked together. All animosity aside they plied their trades and their magic without incident. Herne and Ariana watched and recorded the harmonious progress, hoping their observations would enable the feuding to cease for good.
* * * *
   Corinne raised her hand. Eluart paused and waited for her to speak.
“What separated the two families in the first place? Why did they not mix from day one?”
Eluart rubbed his brow and shrugged. “Brothers. Daren and Fairhild were twins born before our historians kept archives. The feud began when their father reached old age, which in our terms was long enough for both brothers to father large tribes. Daren’s kin followed after their sire, dark of skin and eye, workers in the earth, mining and shaping metals. They developed their own style of magic. Fairhild’s progeny grew tall and lithe, preferring to work among the living forests and creatures, nurturing all lifeforms. When it came time to choose who would rule in their father’s stead neither would claim the throne. So they vowed then to work separately, keeping to their own bloodlines, without a single ruler.”
“It wouldn’t happen here. There would be war.”
“Not the Vergöttern way.” Eluart lifted his gaze. “Now, may I continue?”
“Please…” Corinne nodded. “Go on.”

Once the elders gathered and all those interested had arrived in the valley to witness the negotiations, Herne’s father opened proceedings with a grand feast. He wanted to display the variety of foods his people could produce.
Ariana’s father brought ornate furniture, tools and gems, for similar reasons. Herne and Ariana sat together, clutching hands, praying the talks would lead again to freedom of trade and friendship.
“What we need,” Herne’s father said, standing to address the gathered crowd. “Is to decide which family’s skills and magic are the most essential to our survival.”
“Why? We know ours are far more useful than the Fairhildren magic.” Ariana’s father raised his fist. “We can do without your grains, but you cannot do without our stone, metal and earth magic. Anyone can grow food. Who else can shape rivers, mountains and create palaces able to withstand centuries of earthquake and weather?”
“Without our nurturing the forests, plants and creatures, your weapons would have no purpose. Look how poor your life is when we refuse to trade with you.”
“We have survived. We are here because you needed our goods.”
Herne grabbed Ariana’s hand and stood. He couldn’t watch the two kings argue when peace should be their priority. He surged to his feet.
“We need to live in peace, together. Both families have skills the other can appreciate. Joining forces will make us stronger, more secure and prosperous. It is time to put aside our differences and accept each other as one family as we were to begin with.”
“How about we run a contest between the two families? That way we will know beyond doubt, which family owns the stronger magic.” The voice from the audience belonged to Herne’s betrayer, Nett. He threw his Darenkind shoulders back and raised his hands to include the crowd. “What better way to see who should dictate terms for trade and the right to rule.”
Herne glanced down to see if Ariana approved of Nett’s outrageous idea. 
Her face paled. “Nett is dangerous.” She touched her temple. “I have a dreadful feeling, Herne, this will change our lives forever. Nett may mean well, but the ideas rushing through our fathers’ minds are frightening.”
“I agree with my young advisor,” Ariana’s father lifted his chalice.
Herne’s father stood and raised his hands. “A challenge, between our two families?”
“What will be the prize?” A voice called from along the table. Herne couldn’t see who spoke. “We need to have something worth competing for.”
“No more feuding.” Another voice joined in. Soon the audience began to offer suggestions.
“Once and for all time we will know who should rule Artura.”
“Let the losers leave, never to return.”
“Whoever wins will be strong enough to survive without the other family’s lesser magic. Proof will be in their continued prosperity.”
“Why should anyone leave?”
“Who would want to follow the rule of a Darenkind?”
“Or have to listen to the gloating of the Fairhildren, should they somehow win.”
Voices rose. The discontent and anger that had brewed during the seasons of separation exploded into argument and shouting.
Herne’s father hammered his fist into the table. Quiet fell.
“This is not the Vergöttern way. We do not let emotion rule our decisions. Let us discuss this with proper order.”
“The Darenkind do not fear a little dissention.” Ariana’s father shook his head. “Don’t you have the stomach to exchange ideas? We already show our superiority. Argument allows the freedom to express feelings. The Fairhildren control would destroy our way of life. We would chafe under such rule.”
“Are you suggesting a contest where the losing family leaves? Would you consider moving your family then?” Herne’s father chewed his bottom lip. “I would be sorry to see the back of you.” His grin spread.  
“This is our home. Why should either family leave?” Herne surged to his feet. His heart pumped despair through his veins. His world threatened to collapse. If Ariana left he knew he would not want to keep on living. He spoke to the listening crowd. “We need to live in peace, together. That’s what we need. If we decide who has the essential magic, they will be given the status of winners. No more argument. Life can return to how it was. We will all benefit from peace, working on our skills without fear of conflict. Gods forbid, we may even come to our senses and reach the moment when people from both families can have lasting relationships and mixed blood children are accepted.”
The bitterness in his final words cast a pall over the crowd. For a moment all fell silent. Herne sank to his chair. He had spoken without thinking. No Vergöttern would forget his rash behavior. Ariana bowed her head. Herne wanted to sink through the floor.
“I say we decide on the prize, here and now.” Ariana’s father raised his fist. “Our blood will never mix, Herne. Haven’t you suffered enough? Done enough damage? I say you are responsible for the trade blockage, with the uprising and rebellion you organized against your father. I will not have such hot blood mix with my family. Never!”
“Father!” Ariana struggled to her feet. “Why won’t you listen? Can’t you see this is a futile exercise? Neither family should compete. We all need to forget our differences and accept our brothers whether or not they have Darenkind or Fairhildren blood flowing in their veins.”
Nett’s voice rose above the hubbub Ariana’s words created.
“A competition.  Let the elders from both families choose three categories for our champions to compete in. Whichever team wins; that family decides the loser’s fate.”
“Three challenges? Best team wins?” Voices echoed Nett’s words. “Let the elders decide.”
Ariana’s father conferred with Herne’s sire. After a few moments he raised his hand for silence.
“Three days. In three days we will announce the challenges. Take these days to choose your representative teams. Three champions from each family.”
     Herne sank to his chair. Ariana held his hand and leaned her head against his shoulder. Herne tried to console himself. At least they had three days to spend together.

* * * *
“Does this have a happy ending?” Corinne asked. “Herne and Ariana will end up together, won’t they?”
Caleath raised an eyebrow. “Not all stories end the way we would like, Corinne. Not in life. Only the minstrels tell those tales to entertain the children. You should know better.”
“Eluart, continue, please. Don’t listen to him. I will keep hoping for a happy outcome.”

The three days passed too quickly for Herne and Ariana. They cherished each moment until the ceremonial horns blew to announce the elders’ gathering.
The crowd of mingling Darenkind and Fairhildren brought tears to Ariana’s eyes. She stood beside Herne and whispered her deepest wish. “If only we could mix like this forever. Nothing between our families, except shared expectation and excitement. Imagine, we could rejoice in our son. He would live his life in our company and I know the world would still be a wonderful place to live.”
“Perhaps if things go well with this challenge, the winners will see reason and accept both families as equal citizens. Surely the benefit of working together will become clear, and then the elders will accept mixed blood children.”
Silence fell as the six elders stood. Expectation hung like a palpable force over the crowd. Herne and Ariana trembled.
“The challenges will take place in the neutral ground of Cragtop. Viewing will be available to all, through scrying crystals. No interference will be permitted. All judgments will be by the elders. We will not speak with nor communicate with outsiders until the final results have been decided.”
“What are the challenges?” Ariana’s father asked, glancing to where the three Darenkind champions stood, resplendent in their confidence and gleaming armor.
“Only those who are chosen to compete will know the challenges. It will be obvious to the audience as each trial is faced.”
A mutter of discontent rose, but the elder continued.
“You tasked us with creating this competition. Trust us to see no family has a chance to…” he lowered his hand, “influence the outcome.”
Herne’s father nodded. “The Fairhildren accept your dictates. Our representatives will abide by your rules.”
Three tall, lithe figures stepped forward. Dressed in flowing green robes their violet eyes lowered, only the shimmer of air around them betrayed their unwavering confidence.
The crowd cheered as both groups of champions greeted each other before stepping through a waiting portal.
Servants moved through the crowd passing out scrying crystals and refreshments. 
Resting in comfort, Herne and Ariana watched together as the first challenge began.
* * * *

Eluart paused. Corinne leaned forward, the firelight etching lines of intense interest in her expression. Caleath lay back, resting on one elbow, his blue eyes focused on Eluart.
“The trials began…”

Through the scrying crystal Herne watched two versions of the same landscape: a village of lesser mortals, living in the forests on the neighboring continent of Cragtop. Obviously the elders’ magic copied the village for the purpose of the trials. Herne didn’t feel any competition should involve innocents, but his druthers didn’t count.
As Ariana and he watched, a wall of fire swept across the forest toward the village.
“Fire?” Ariana whispered. “That’s the trial?”
“Hardly fair. Our kin will win this challenge without a doubt.”
“Really?” Ariana pouted. “Let’s watch and see.”
The Fairhildren champions gathered their energy and formed a barrier between the village and the fire. With their combined magic they drew a storm toward the fire front. They also sent a pulse of empathy to the living creatures in the fire’s path and guided them to safety.
Rain pelted the flames and after a few hours of threat the fire was under control and the village safe.
The Fairhildren champions ensured the fleeing creatures found places to rest. The villagers gathered to examine the damaged forest. No lives were lost.
Meanwhile the Darenkind champions worked their earth magic around the village they protected.
They joined forces to raise a strip of earth beneath the surrounding forest. Trees fell. As the ground shook, the mages diverted the river flowing past the village, allowing a rush of water to mix with the loose earth, dampening the fallen timber and earth.
The fire lapped at the edges of the disturbed dirt, nibbled at exposed roots and branches but could not take hold of the sodden wood.
Once the fire had been halted the mages again raised the edge of the river, sending it back on its path.
Herne sighed. If the two teams worked together the result would have been equally successful with far less energy extended or damage to vegetation and landscape.
Ariana flicked her hair away from her eyes. “See, the Darenkind are quite capable. Don’t underestimate us, Herne.”
Herne stepped away from the crystal. He couldn’t guess what the elders would decide. Both families solved the problem. The loss of the living trees would not concern the Darenkind elders. Would they call the first challenge a draw?
He walked among the viewers, watching their intent concentration on the crystals. None seemed to notice his presence. Curiosity satisfied, he turned to rejoin Ariana.
Nett, the Darenkind betrayer, stepped through a curtain of mist. His dark skin appeared flushed. Even at a distance Herne sensed his use of magic.
Herne maneuvered through the crowd until he was close enough to read the spell Nett had spun. Conceal. What did the betrayer want to hide? Or who did he want to hide from?
A horn blew and Herne scrambled back to Ariana in time to watch the start of the next contest.
The second challenge involved a raging flood. The river’s banks broke above the village. Both teams needed to save the village and its inhabitants from the devastating torrent.
Herne knew the Fairhildren mages would divert the worst of the flood. Already he could see the raised wards protecting the village. Again the Fairhildren worked with the living, warning, leading them to safety, providing protection and a safe haven.
The crops growing on the outskirts of the village, though, were inundated.
The flood water remained high for three days. Although the watchers didn’t notice the passage of time, they could see how the situation deteriorated. The mages needed to supply sources of food and fresh water to the villagers and their livestock.
The mages wove their magic. They managed their energy and power to care for all the creatures affected by the flood.
Herne allowed his sense of pride to grow.
Ariana nudged him. He turned his attention to the Darenkind’s handling of the same problem.
The earth magic they used had saved the village from harm.
A levee bank fashioned in time to divert the flood now protected the village and the outlying crops. The livestock roamed in an area of dry ground, surrounded by the protective banks. The mages had not extended their use of magic. They appeared relaxed and untroubled by three days battling floodwater.
Ariana pouted. “I think the Darenkind are the clear winners this time, Herne.”
“The outcome is the same. No loss of life, or livestock.”
“The crops in the Fairhildren’s scene are ruined. I would think that counts.”
“Granted.” Herne conceded. “Yet again, it would seem if our families combined their skills, more could be achieved for less effort.”
Herne, the Darenkind did fine without any help. I don’t like to say anything, but this one has to go in their favor.”
Herne stretched rather than agreeing, though he couldn’t argue with Ariana’s perception.
The sound of a horn signified the viewing audience could take a break from the intensity of focusing on the challenges.
Herne escorted Ariana toward the refreshment marquee. Twice on the walk through the makeshift town he glimpsed Nett scurrying through the shadows.
“I wonder what the elders will choose for the next challenge. Fire, flood, do you suppose they will follow with famine? Which family does that favor?”
“Time will tell.” Ariana slowed. “I still feel this whole idea is rushed and the outcome might be too drastic. I don’t know if I could survive if you have to leave. Why would Nett suggest such a thing? He’s been whispering in the wrong ears, Herne. In the three days the elders deliberated on each challenge Nett didn’t return to our enclave. I don’t trust him. His family has vast resources and far too much influence.”
“I have seen him lurking in the shadows, using magic, acting furtively. Perhaps I should see if I can find out what he is up to?”
“No, Herne, you must not. I will see what I can do. If you go near him…” Ariana shook her head. “No, if you discovered anything it would look as though you had set him up, in retaliation for his betraying us.”
“While you are not suspect?” Herne frowned.
“Nett would never risk me coming to harm.”
“You trust him, even after what he did to us?”
“I don’t have a lot of choice. He is father’s assistant now. He would have me for wife, if I agreed. I refuse. I told him I would remain loyal to you, even if we can’t be together. Nett doesn’t give up easily. I fear he sees this competition as a chance to cement his place in our family hierarchy. Let me see what I can discover.”
Herne nodded and watched with growing trepidation as Ariana followed Nett toward the Darenkind quarters.

 * * * *

Herne wandered through the town, listening to voices raised in argument. Ariana’s news, of Nett’s involvement with the elders concerned him deeply. More worrying though was the general feeling of ill will between the families. Without the elders’ results from each challenge, the audience now formed their own opinions. Each family regarded their champions as the victors.
The idea of Vergöttern of either family resorting to shouting and vehement accusation struck Herne as dangerous. Alarming. 
From a crowd of curious and peaceful onlookers the two families had become separate entities taking sides, arguing, even coming to blows on occasion.
Where the worst arguments erupted, Herne noticed Nett or one of his henchmen lingered in the shadows.
Precious gems changed hands. At no time in his memory had Herne seen so many jewels in Fairhildren hands. They were the usual currency of the Darenkind.
If Nett flooded the Fairhildren with wealth, while spreading his generosity among the Darenkind, he could manipulate the focus of argument. A dangerous situation.
Herne consulted his father, but his concerns fell on ears tuned against his words. Even loyal Murgot refused to listen to his warning.
Sun rose on a new morning and Nett strutted freely among the audience. Now the crowd formed in two distinct groups. The Darenkind with Nett in their midst and the Fairhildren, gathered around Herne’s father and his counselors.
The general good will and curiosity of the previous challenges now became heated apprehension and anticipation.

“But Ariana is still with Herne, isn’t she?” Corinne twisted her blanket tighter. “She wouldn’t listen to Nett. Did she warn her father?”
Eluart shrugged. “Let me continue…”

Herne sought Ariana in the crowd. The Darenkind barred his way, but he insisted on seeing her. She broke free of their cramping closeness and joined him.
“Nett is behind the animosity,” she whispered, clutching Herne’s hand and dragging him away from her family. “We should watch the next challenge somewhere away from both our families. I don’t like the feeling here anymore. Last night the air was thick with spells. No one said anything, but it is against our code of behavior to resort to magic in a crowd like this.”
“Spells, what would that gain?”
“I think they are from Nett’s friends, hoping to sway opinion. They were subtle, but as an empath I could sense them. Father wouldn’t listen. He hangs on Nett’s every word.”

The challenge began. Each team of mages stood before a bare valley. Only rocks and dirt stretched as far as the eye could see.
Each of the teams were given a small pouch of seeds. The elders announced the time limit. Three months would pass for the mages, but the audience would see progress through a six hour period.
“Not quite famine.” Herne rubbed his brow. His confidence grew. “This can’t be Nett’s doing. This plays into the Fairhildren’s hands again.”
Ariana shook her head. “We will see. In the few seasons since trade ceased, our mages have been working on ways to improve crop growth.”
Herne grimaced.
“I have a dreadful feeling Nett is behind this choice. He would know your kin will feel confident. They may relax. Overconfidence now could be their downfall.”
“We can’t warn them.” Herne sighed. “Let the best team win. What appears to favor the Fairhildren is a clever move on Nett’s behalf. Who can question the elders’ choices if the Fairhildren lose this contest? It looks tailored to their skill set.”
“Exactly. Your mages will have no idea how this plays into the Darenkind hands.”
With hands entwined Ariana and Herne watched the two challenges unfold.
The Fairhildren mages worked with confidence. They planted the seeds, spelled them for longevity and health and called on gentle rain to nurture each seed.
As the seeds burst into life they transplanted each plant and tended them. Rodents, insects, sunlight and rain were monitored. The plants grew and thrived. Flowers bloomed and bees arrived. Every plant survived and produced healthy fruit or grain.
The Fairhildren moved through the crops with shoulders back, heads high. Their success gleamed in the skins of the fruit and the plump heads of grain.
They had no idea how the Darenkind mages fared.

In the other valley the Darenkind took time to turn the soil, they freed the rocks and pebbles from the pasture. They used metal tools to work the soil. Metal they could manipulate with ease.
With precision they created rows of heaped dirt and channels between the mounds. While one of the mages worked to create a spring, bringing clear water to the surface, the others planted out their selection of seeds.
The spring water bubbled and flowed along the rows.
All the while the mages cast spells Herne didn’t recognize. Ariana explained.
“They are bringing the best nutrients in the soil to where the plants need them most. This is the magic they have been perfecting since trade ceased.”
“Nett is behind this choice?”
“It makes sense, doesn’t it?” Ariana nodded. “Why?”
“He wants the Fairhildren out of the way.” Herne gripped Ariana’s hand. “Is this to get me out of the way? Would he do such a dreadful thing to the Fairhildren, to have you to himself?”
“I don’t think he works alone, Herne. I have heard whispers in court. Since trade stopped, father has been pushing to ensure our mages can adapt. He even has them using Fairhildren magic on occasion.”
“That’s against…”
“The rules only applied when there was a trade agreement between the families. He has done nothing wrong. We needed to survive and adaption was our answer.”
“Granted. Am I to blame, then, for stirring up trouble, by wanting our families to accept mixed blood children?” He buried his head in his hands, ashamed and afraid of the trials’ results. If only…
“Look, the elders are comparing the produce now. The trials are over. They will announce the results in a few moments.”
“I can’t watch. Nett has won. I can’t even accuse him of cheating. Even knowing he organized the outcome from the beginning.”
“You played into his hands, alienating your father, causing the rift between our fathers. Our son should have been raised in secret, but Nett betrayed us. Did he know, back then, how you would react?”
Herne shook his head.
The horns blew and across the town the two families gathered to hear the outcome. No longer did they mingle.
“After long and difficult debate we have come to our decision.” The spokesman for the elders raised his hands and held the crowd mesmerized for several heartbeats. “It is our opinion the Darenkind team showed the stronger magic.”
The uproar from the crowd deafened Herne where he and Ariana grasped hands. The elation of the Darenkind overwhelmed the vehement shouting from the Fairhildren.
“Celebrations will commence. It is now up to the Darenkind to decide on the Fairhildren’s fate.”
“Let it be known,” Ariana’s father stood. Nett took his place beside him. “The Fairhildren are leaving Artura. From this day forward the Darenkind will hold the Vergöttern stronghold here. Mind, we are not heartless. You are our kin. If things had gone differently…” He looked around, sweat, not usual on a Vergöttern brow beaded above his trimmed eyebrows. Herne wanted to rant. To shout accusations, to share the truth, expose Nett for his duplicity. Surely sweat showed Ariana’s father’s anxiety. Fear the conspiracy would be unveiled?  No one noticed. Her father continued, his expression of pity contrasted to the gleam of victory in Nett’s eyes.
“We will help you find another location to settle. We are sympathetic to your plight. Portals over distance are not part of Vergöttern magic. It will be the last thing we do together. One final stipulation; No Fairhildren will return to Artura.”
Anger and shock overwhelmed those watching. Fairhildren and Darenkind both shouted and roared. Punches flew. Spells crackled.
From where he stood Herne saw the mayhem spread through the crowd. Violence erupted. Never the Vergöttern way of solving disputes, now it consumed both winners and losers.
Ariana and Herne ran from the melee, finding shelter away from the desperate and defiant.
They held each other close.

When the dust settled and the warring factions succumbed to peacekeeping spells, the Fairhildren left to prepare for their exodus.

   

“Wait on.” Corrine sat forward. “That’s not right.”
“Right? Just? Does life always follow the rules, Corinne?” Eluart asked, shifting his position to avoid fickle smoke curling lower around the group.
“No, but we can want it to,” she said.
Eluart chuckled. “We can at that.”

The day of departure dawned. The sky above the open fields of the Fairhildren estates stretched on forever. Herne committed it to memory. He wanted to erase the tears and weeping of the womenfolk. The trembling fear and trepidation of the menfolk, too controlled to weep but unable to mask their despair.
The Darenkind mages arrived without pomp and ceremony. They too seemed to understand the magnitude of the move to another world. For months the search for a suitable haven for the Fairhildren to settle had consumed both sides of the Vergöttern people. For a short time they had put aside their animosity and arguments. The time for recriminations, regret and accusations had passed without a change of heart from the Darenkind.
Nett rode at the head of the family. He alone wore an expression of gloating pride. Ariana followed in the procession, but broke free to join Herne as soon as she could.
They stood arm in arm, watching the preparations for the opening of a portal to a blue planet far from Artura.
Hundreds of wagons carried the belongings, seed stock and hopes of the Fairhildren people. Herds of livestock, too, milled around, waiting for the gate to the new world to open.
Finally, with a short speech neither Herne nor Ariana could hear, the mages opened the portal and the exodus began.
Herne walked slowly to the gateway. He clutched Ariana, having said his farewells, now there was only the harsh reality of parting to endure.
Nett greeted him with a grin.
“Time to leave Ariana, Herne. I will take good care of her for you.”
“One more moment.” Ariana threw her arms around Herne’s neck, hanging onto him. “I cannot let you go.”
The mages ushered the last wagon through the portal. The shimmering light began to fade.
Herne, you must go now. The gate is closing.” Murgot reached back from inside the light. “Come on, it is time.”
“Good bye, Nett. I know what you have done.” Herne turned toward Murgot. Ariana didn’t relax her hold.
“I know too, Nett. I cannot forgive you, nor will I stay here, while Herne leaves.” Releasing Herne’s neck but grasping his hand Ariana ran into the portal. Herne followed, silent in his surprise, but thrilled.
Nett howled and in his rage he cast a limiting spell into the portal. His rash action caught the Fairhildren and the Darkenkind mages by surprise. Unprepared for the interruption to their conjuring they failed to protect themselves from Nett’s magic.
In a heartbeat the spell he wove in anger stole the ability to open portals from both sides of the Vergöttern people.
The mages lowered their spells and the shimmering light snapped out. The portal shut. Ariana and Herne both survived to join the other Fairhildren, but Nett’s limiting spell still affects Vergöttern mages. We risk the backlash of wild magic if we dared to open a portal.

“So Herne and Ariana stayed together.” Corinne lowered her shoulders, unwound the blanket and grinned. “Did they live happily after that?”
“I guess they did. The story doesn’t dwell on their life once they arrived here.”
“But they were together.”
“For many years. They raised a large family. Mixed bloods. Some who carried earth magic in their blood, some who bore the Fairhildren powers. Others who didn’t inherit talent at all, some who inherited both types.”
“The Vergöttern accepted them? The half bloods?” Caleath raised an eyebrow. “After all the drama?”
“No.” Eluart shook his head. “No. Herne and Ariana lived outside the Fairhildren family. They made their own way. After all, they had a fair share of both types of magic. They didn’t suffer. They just didn’t mingle.”
“What happened to their children? They were ostracized too?” Corinne chewed her bottom lip. “How many children did they have?”
“How many?” Eluart laughed. “I don’t know. I do know the mixed bloods spread across the country, finding their skills welcomed by the natives. They settled, had families and found acceptance wherever they went.”
“Is that where our mages come from?” Corinne’s eyes widened. She started to laugh aloud. “Long living, talented, different types of magic… It makes sense, doesn’t it, Eluart?”
“Well, it was a very long time ago, Corinne, but perhaps you are right. I am not sure the Vergöttern follow the same line of reasoning you do, but who is to know, or question the spread of magic? It is only a story, after all.” He stretched. “So, tomorrow night it is your turn to share a tale.”
 Corinne wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and settled for the night.



THE END

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