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             Lura Skurk walked amongst the elves of Cadieux with a simple calm. She was surprised at how quickly she had been accepted by the warriors of this land. The stories regarding these Elven Warriors of Cadieux were over-exaggerated by those in her home. She had been taught, from a very young age, about how cruel and aggressive the elves of the south were compared to her own kin. Were those stories mere legends or just the fears of her elders? A misunderstanding? Lura wondered in passing.

When she was selected to be the Keegan ambassador, Lura was excited and frightened at the same time. She was so desperately hungry to venture out from the cold mountains she called home and witnessed the world beyond for herself. It was rare, in the past, for anyone to leave Keegan Castle and venture anywhere outside the surrounding lands. It was forbidden to cross the Michi Mountains without consent from the queen herself.  When Lura was young, a small group of elves were banished for traveling to the Deadly Spray Forest, which resides just south of Michi Mountains. Keegan culture had grown extremely reclusive during Lura’s lifetime.

She dreamed about seeing Wolverine Forest, walking amongst the incredibly tall trees…maybe even seeing a dragon, not up close but from a safe distance. It was a wish that she had kept to herself. Most of the other elves didn’t share her open-minded approach. She was slightly different. That was why she was shocked about being selected. Lura hadn’t even realized that she was up for the honor to be Keegan ambassador in the first place. It wasn’t until the selection was announced that her commander called her to a secret meeting in a hidden room. It was there that she met Queen Kraylan.

Even now, her heart beat quickened at the memory.

The queen sat at a small round table; her face was drawn in shadow in the poorly lit room. Atom Kaval sat beside her. Lura was not allowed to speak. She was given specific instructions.

Kraylan commanded, “You will leave tonight. And Warrior Skurk, you must sever communication with all that you know here until you return to me and report your findings. Is that clear?”

“Yes, My Queen!” Lura recalled.

It is certainly much warmer here. Lura thought as she strolled through the courtyard. She had only been in Cadieux Castle for a few days, but the temperature was quickly rising. Winter’s sting had left behind the rise of spring, and that meant much warmer temperatures, even so close to the ocean.

Lura clasped her hands behind her back as she stopped at a small shop. The hand-crafted building stood at a slight pitch. It was sturdy in construction but appeared weathered from the long winters and many years. A short line of elves awaited the man at the counter who bantered about with each customer before handing each elf his or her goods. It was clear that he knew the elves well as he thanked them each by name.

“What may I offer you, Lura?” The baker politely questioned when her turn arrived.

“I would like a baguette, please, Hemor,” Lura replied. He had been one of the first elves from Cadieux she had met upon her arrival. Every morning thereafter, she had gotten a piece of the baker’s warm freshly made delights. “Yes, my dear, straight away.” He left the counter with a distinct hop in his step.

Hemor’s wife, Telshon, poked her head out from behind a small shelf. “Good morn, Lura. I trust your rest last night was agreeable?” She was diligently kneading the dough for more delights. Flour was present on her round cheeks which along with her bright red lips gave her the appearance of a child’s doll. Her long sandy-brown hair was pulled back into a messy tail, with strands protruding every which way.

“Oh, yes, Telshon. Thank you!” Lura truly admired the couple’s work ethic. They were so proud of their bakery and the satisfaction it gave their customers. Lura hadn’t known anything like that back home. There were cooks; however, they routinely prepared the same meals depending upon the day of the week. The elves in Keegan Castle did not have a choice in foods. They ate what was made and that was life.

Hemor returned with Lura’s baguette and a smile. His face was nearly as weathered as his establishment, with deep lines in his cheeks and a rough stubble congregating mostly around his chin. His eyebrows were wild, like the cat-tails at the edge of a pond, swaying with each gust of wind.  His smile, however, more than made up for his appearance. He was truly an affable elf.

Lura took a not-so-small bit of the warm bread. It was nearly too hot to hold. Its crispy outside gave way to a tender and surprisingly flavorful warm center. We do not have this at home. I need to bring this recipe back with me. Our elves would be delighted by its taste. She savored the flavor for a moment before she began to walk toward the main gate. A group of Cadieux Warriors passed her. They smiled and nodded. Most of them had been introduced to her the afternoon of her arrival. Commander Tallon believed it necessary since Lura would have certain privileges as Keegan ambassador.

Lura savored the baguette as she continued to move in a not-so-straight line. She really wasn’t in any hurry today. The Wolverine Forest could wait for her to finish her breakfast. She did notice that a few young elves studied her carefully. I think they are afraid of me. She thought. They are so tiny. Much smaller than the children of my home. These elves are framed very oddly. Lura had not realized that her line of elves had grown in stature greatly versus the Cadieux elves. The male elves back in Keegan Castle were easily a head taller on average than any of the ones she had met here. I wonder why that is?

The courtyard was bustling this morning. Vendors were selling their wares.  Warriors marched about; some were performing training exercises, while others stood guard or performed crowd control. There were a vast number of elves that lived in and around the castle. Maybe that is why we are so much taller, to make up for their advantage in numbers. We don’t have even half the population that they do.

Lura stopped for a moment when she heard her name; a piece of crust dangled from her mouth.

She turned, slightly embarrassed as she stuffed the piece of crust in between her lips to join the bread that already occupied the vast majority of her mouth. Her cheeks bulged. Standing before her was Commander Tallon.

“Good morning, Commander,” Lura mumbled, crumbs of baguette fell to the ground.

Grace Tallon cocked her head to the side. Her eyes narrowed. Smaller bites. How does she not choke on that much bread? “Enjoying your breakfast I see. Hemor and Telshon are certainly pleased with your arrival. Their business has almost doubled.

Lura smiled, her cheeks still stretched beyond their norm. She attempted to quickly chew and swallow, disregarding Grace’s jab at her size.

“I’ll wait. Take your time, Warrior Skurk. I do not wish to tell our queen that I lost our ambassador to a baguette.” This one will need a lesson in discipline.

“I apologize, Commander Tallon.” With Lura’s embarrassment now over, she wondered why the commander had sought her out. Today was her day of solace, a day in which she could do of her choosing. There was no training scheduled today. Lura was on her way to visit Wolverine Forest.

“Queen Merran would like to have you join her for supper this evening.”

Lura felt a sudden panic. Have I done something wrong? Queen Merran had not invited any of the past ambassadors to dine with her. What have I done in such a short time to warrant such a gesture?

“You seem surprised,” Grace said upon seeing Lura’s reaction. “Do you wish to decline the invitation?” Grace eyed the strong-framed elf.

“NO!” Lura shouted, surprising even herself. “Oh, I am sorry, Commander. I mean, no, I do not wish to decline. I am just overwhelmed. This is quite an honor.” Lura took a deep breath to regain her composure. She also made an effort to present a proper posture once she realized that she had been slouching before her commanding officer. Her shoulders raised back and chest thrust out; a sense of calm began to flow within her. She smiled. “I really am honored, Commander Tallon. I was not aware that she had offered this sort of invitation to those that had represented Keegan Castle in the past.”

“She has not, Lura. You are the first,” Grace replied, remaining stoic. She had mastered emotional control long ago.

Lura felt panic set in again. She hasn’t? Oh, that is definitely not good. They must fear that I am up to something. Does the queen believe that I am untrustworthy?

Lura, Grace’s voice pierced her internal conversation. Are you untrustworthy?

Lura Skurk’s eyes nearly exploded from her head. Her mouth dropped open. “You are a telepath!?” Lura said, sounding more excited than surprised.

Grace stepped closer in an attempt to create a more private conversation. Her eye level barely coming to Lura’s chin, yet her presence dissipated any purely physical advantage Lura’s size gave her. Yes, I am. Does that concern you?

“Not at all!” The younger elf exclaimed. “I find it absolutely amazing! You continue to live up to the legends.”

“Well, then you can regale us with those legends at tonight’s engagement,” Grace replied aloud with a smile and proceeded to walk away.

“You will be there too, Commander?”

Grace turned back to face the dumbfounded elf. “Yes. I am quite frequently at the queen’s side…when I’m not out crafting new legends that is,” Grace scoffed as she left. She never understood the fascination her warriors had developed over her exploits. It was just her job. She was protecting the queen, in the interest of Cadieux Castle, nothing more in her mind. Yet, whispers became stories, and stories became legends. Grace was very uncomfortable with it all. She ignored it for the most part; however, it could be beneficial to learn what the elves from the north really knew about her.

*  *  *  *  *

Grace Tallon stood outside the Grand Hall awaiting the arrival of the queen’s guest. Her mind wandered. She focused upon a tiny, dancing flame. It swayed in a rhythmic frolic atop a white candelabra hanging from the wall adjacent to her. As she watched, she felt the tension in her shoulders melting away like the wax from the heat of the flame. Ironically, it was events like this, small individual meetings, that caused her much more concern than the large events. Strange. She mused.

The hallway held a chill. The sun had set outside, and though winter had left, the cool breeze of spring at night made the castle breezy this time of year. Grace rubbed her bare arms.  The queen, despite Grace’s minor protest, had requested that all attendees wear proper attire. Therefore, Grace wore an emerald green dress that came down past her feet.  It hugged her at the hips and chest but flowed around her legs. She hated it. This material is so annoying. Grace tugged at the collar around her neck. It seems to shimmy around as I move. Grace preferred her skin tight uniform. It didn’t get in her way when she needed to react quickly. I am liable to get caught in this fabric. She feared. What if an assassin moved upon the queen? There is no way I would be able to defend her properly in this. At least, I can conceal a blade. Queen Merran had requested that Grace not present any weapons during supper, so Grace had cinched a small blade at her ankle just in case. She felt naked without her sword and bow.

Guards had been stationed around the east entrances into the Grand Hall. The only exposure Grace had been unable to protect was the large stain-glass window along the south wall. It was nearly forty-feet high and was reinforced glass. It was all fairly ridiculous to think that anyone would attack the queen while she ate supper, but Grace was known to be over-prepared, especially when someone new came to dine.

Where is she? Grace exhaled impatiently. The guard across from her avoided eye contact. It was not uncommon for the guards to be uncomfortable in Grace’s presence, but he was younger than most and almost assuredly not prepared to witness Commander Tallon in a gown. She caught him glancing at her. His eyes quickly darted away.

“Do that again, and I’ll make it so you can’t see anything!” Grace grumbled as she lifted her skirt and revealed the blade tied to her ankle.

“Yes, Commander,” he whimpered.

Hurried footsteps echoed down the hallway. Grace turned her head just in time to see Lura whip around the corner. She had a bulky deep orange dress with full sleeves that attached at her thumbs. It trailed slightly behind her even as she held the front of the dress off the ground to allow her more speed in movement. She stopped at Grace’s side.

“You are comfortable?” Grace now turned to face the door to the Grand Hall. Lura stepped up beside her, pawing at her gown. Grace smiled as she motioned for the guards to open the door. “It is a beautiful gown, Lura.”

The nervous elf half-smiled. Her poufy, dark hair flopped about as she moved vigorously, attempting to tame her dress.

“This is not for warmer weather, I think,” Grace mocked playfully. She wondered how the young elf was going to manage through supper and not sweat to death. It may be cool in the hallway, but it will most definitely be warmer inside the Grand Hall.

“I apologize, Commander Tallon, for being tardy. I do not mean to disrespect the queen. I just didn’t…”

Grace interrupted, “Well, then let’s not delay any longer, Lura.” Grace began to walk through the large doors as they swung inward.

Queen Merran Cadieux rose upon their arrival. She greeted Lura with the finest of elegance and offered her a position at the short rectangular table, which had replaced the usual long one for the night. It would have been silly to have three dining at a table made for fifty guests. This table looked somewhat ridiculous in the Grand Hall, but it had been positioned near the south window, so that the queen could witness its brilliance as the sun set.

Lura accepted the position at the table. She began to sit down, but Grace grabbed her by the wrist. Do not sit until the queen has taken her position first. Grace instructed using telepathy. Lura nodded.

Once Queen Merran had reached her position, they all sat. Lura’s nerves were tearing her apart. She wondered how she was going to manage to eat anything. The thought of food was nauseating at the least. She grabbed hold of a water chalice. It shook in her hand, so she placed it gently back upon the table. The queen had fortunately not noticed as she gave instructions to her steward. Grace was watching with some amusement. I assume that you have not dined with royalty often? She wondered if Lura was going to faint. The young elf was sweating; her cheeks and ears turned a shade of pink to match her lips. Lura shook her head in response to the commander’s query. Just relax. You are a guest. This is not an inquisition.

While they dined, Queen Merran told wonderful tales, most of which included recent history. They expounded upon Mistasia’s time of peace and prosperity. She loved to declare Cadieux’s prowess within the Land of Mistasia. Lura found the queen most intriguing. As the queen began telling a story about the harvest of last fall and how it triumphantly succeeded in keeping her beloved elves satisfied during the past winter, Lura realized that her hunger had returned. She had begun devouring the meal before her, cleaning her plate with a piece of bread. Grace raised an eyebrow at that, but did not give any instructions.

Lura had nary spoken a word since arriving, except to thank the queen for the honor. She had just listened. She also noticed that the queen had very little food upon her own plate and had barely eaten anything. That must be how she remains so slender. Lura chuckled.

Grace looked in her direction with disapproval on her face. She must have been listening. Lura realized. Telepaths have the ability to listen in on interpersonal conversations. Lura needed to be mindful of that, because around Commander Tallon, she would have to be careful of her thoughts in the future.

After supper, Queen Merran excused herself and retreated to the bathroom. Grace stood up and half nodded before joining the queen. Lura exhaled quickly. That wasn’t so bad. She stood from the table, pushing back the heavy wooden chair. Its back was nearly as tall as she. Lura walked around the table. Her dress was dragging along the ground; it became entangled with a chair that had remained empty during the meal. The servants entered the room now and began clearing the table. Stepping up to the stain-glass window, she realized how tall it was. It reached from the floor clear to the ceiling. It was created from a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes. At this level, she could barely see through the colored panes. In the middle of the window was a large semi-circular pane of glass that was mostly absent of color. It allowed for light to enter into the room. It formed a spotlight of luminescence at the area, from Lura’s best guess, that was the center of the main table which usually sat in this room. She angled herself back to get a better glimpse of the top of the window. She nearly stumbled. Stepping back for a better vantage point, the word Cadieux was spelled out in yellow glass, surrounded by a brilliant purple - the colors of the royal family. She wondered what significance those colors had for the Cadieux ancestors. Yellow and purple, I wonder why?

Yellow is for the sun! In hopes of plentiful crops at harvest. Grace’s voice startled Lura who covered her mouth as she yelped in surprise. She was not used to having other voices in her own head. There weren’t any other telepaths in Keegan Castle.

“Oh, Commander Tallon,” Lura giggled in response. It was a nervous sound that was not missed by Grace. “You startled me. I hadn’t realized you had returned.”

Grace continued to explain but now vocalized instead, “The purple has a far greater meaning in the Cadieux family history.” Grace stalked up toward Lura, who had remained by the glass window. The Keegan elf appeared much smaller now beside its great height. “It represents the balance between blue and red. The blue refers to Sodor Blue to our south. Its waters allow us sustainability. And the red refers to the fierce nature in our hearts. The resolve with which we live our lives. Yet that is not its only meaning.”

Grace now positioned herself closely to Lura. “Purple also represents this family’s protectors.” She gazed into Lura’s eyes making certain the young elf was listening intently. “I think you know to whom I infer.”

“The wizards?” Lura whispered.

“Yes, the wizards. Did you know that they still exist? That I have witnessed their power first hand?” Grace held firm her gaze. Her face was stoic as it had been in the courtyard upon Lura’s first day in Cadieux Castle.

“You speak of the Whizzenmogs?”

Grace placed a finger to her lips. “We don’t speak of them aloud. They may return at any moment.”

“But you…Cadieux Castle? The Whizzenmogs are sworn to protect this castle?” Lura asked.

“Yes, but they do not take kindly to outsiders in this castle. It would be best…” Grace trailed off as someone entered the room. She turned to see the queen’s servants removing the small table. Once the servants left, Grace began to walk away.

“Wait!” Lura shouted.

Grace spun, glaring.

“I…How do they return?” Lura blurted out, immediately she wished she hadn’t. It was too forced, not the correct time for such a question.

Grace paused, looking over the young elf inquisitively. “That is the question. Isn’t it?”

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