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Elfin Crown Prince Treyas Merripen looked up from the parchments strewn across his wide desk. His ward, a little, brown, halfling, was curled up in one of the dark green hearthside chairs, immersed in a thick book. Treyas' gaze flicked to the open window and the sunshine beyond.
"Hoi, Pepin," he said softly, so as not to startle the child. "Why don't you take Li'el for a ride? You haven't ridden her for a couple of days now."
"Can't," Pepin replied, not looking up, "she's at Mayfaire, getting ready to foal."
"That's right," Treyas mumbled, rising. He drew his finely boned fingers through his thick blonde hair. "Well, why don't you and I go over to Bailiwycke and spend some time on the beach with Reya?"
Not even the name of Treyas' goddaughter caught Pepin's attention. "It's too hot on the beach right now," he muttered.
Treyas frowned, his mismatched eyes, one blue, one green, thoughtful. He walked across the room and glanced at the book Pepin was reading. Something about Glede provinces and governments. Gods, Treyas thought, he's only eight and he's already worried about that? He plucked the book from Pepin's hands.
"Papa!" Pepin leapt up to stand on the chair. He reached for the book, which Treyas held out of reach. Treyas grinned at the boy's use of the word papa. Though Treyas was just eighteen, he certainly did view himself as Pepin's father, though he had no direct blood ties to the boy.
"How about going over to Saskra to see Darosenim and Ashton?" he asked.
"It's too cold in Saskra," Pepin returned, jumping on the chair and straining for the book.
Treyas wouldn't give up."Then how about Moyru to see Cynthe's brothers? You always like playing with Conor and Chase."
"You just want to go see mama!" Pepin retaliated and leapt off the chair at Treyas.
Treyas dropped the book, caught the slight boy in mid-air and rolled to the heavily carpeted floor, where he tickled Pepin into gales of shrieking laughter. Pepin wrestled with him, and Treyas flopped onto his back, Pepin astride his chest.
"I win!" Pepin declared, pinning Treyas' arms to the ground. Abruptly he bent over and kissed the tip of Treyas' nose.
Treyas grinned, then looked toward the TravelPortal in the corner of the study, sensing a surge in the magic. "Incoming," he announced.
"Let's hide," Pepin whispered, and scampered behind the heavy desk, Treyas at his heels.
The TravelPortal crackled with energy. A moment later a tall, sinewy black elf stepped into the room. He was dressed in the usual royal attire of fine woolen tunic and leggings, though instead of the warm colors others wore, his were jet black and void of any trim or design. He made a striking figure with his finely chiseled features, his black curls that hung to his well-muscled shoulders and his clear blue eyes.
"Oh, danns!" Pepin sighed. "It's Grandpapa Kyel. His eyes are too good."
"So is my hearing," the black elf said, with just a trace of a smile.
"I warned you about his hearing," Treyas teased, rising with Pepin. He was amused at the title of grandfather that Pepin used with Kyel. More amused that Kyel allowed it. Kyel had but one ward, Jansson, whom he had cared for since Jansson was thirteen years old, and who considered the elf his father.
"I hoped it would be Uncle Jansson," Pepin said. "He can never find me." None-the-less, the little halfling ran to Kyel for a hug.
"I trust," Kyel said, looking at Treyas, "that the letters are ready to be signed?"
"They are, my King," Treyas replied with a stiff formal bow. "Else why would I be wrestling and playing hide-and-seek with Pepin?"
Kyel regarded him with amusement. "Why indeed, Prince Treyas?" He stepped to the desk but did not sit down.
"Is there something wrong?" Treyas asked. "Is something wrong with Jansson?"
"No, King van Tannen is fine." Kyel looked at Pepin, then back at Treyas. "It's been six months since our little ordeal in Karsaba. I was wondering if you were still planning on seeing if Pepin retains an Immix?"
Treyas glanced quickly at Pepin, whose face registered uncertainty and fear.
"I ... I don't know if I want it done anymore," he stammered, then pressed close to Treyas and gripped his hand.
"If you choose not to, that is fine," Kyel replied, sitting down. "I simply thought I would ask, and let you know that I am still willing to read it. But the choice must be yours, not mine or Treyas'." He paused, then smiled. "Pepin, I understand you've been learning to cook."
Pepin's face lit up. "I have! And I made some cookies. Do you want some?"
"I would love some," Kyel replied. "And bring extras for Jansson."
"All right! I'll be right back." Pepin raced across the room, threw the heavy door wide and dashed away.
Treyas looked at the open doorway for a moment, then turned back to Kyel. "So, what was all of that about? Do you think that I talked Pepin out of the reading?"
"Did you?" Kyel countered calmly.
"No!" Treyas snapped, then flushed and crossed to the window to peer outside.
"But you aren't really sure you want him to know, are you?"
"No. No, I'm not. I love him, Kyel. As much as if he were of my own blood. What if he has relatives? What if they want him?" He drew a deep breath. "I can't stand the thought of losing him. It's ripping my heart apart."
Kyel rose and crossed the room. He laid one hand on Treyas' shoulder. "I do understand your feelings. But this has to be his choice. It is his life."
"I know that," Treyas answered softly.
"Your head may know, but your heart is not listening. And Pepin's empathic abilities are linked to your heart. He no longer seeks his past because he is so afraid of hurting you."
Treyas looked up into the crystal blue depths of Kyel's eyes. "And how do I hide that, Kyel? How do I shield my feelings from him?" His gaze went to the doorway as Pepin entered, carefully balancing a tray piled high with thick, irregularly shaped sugar cookies.
Pepin's gaze went at once to Treyas, then to Kyel. He set the tray down slowly on the desk. "What's wrong?"
Treyas sighed, slouched into a chair and motioned the boy toward him. Pepin obeyed quietly, his face wary.
"Pepin," Treyas said, his voice catching, "I think you should let Kyel see if you have an Immix. I think it would be a good thing for you to know about your parents."
Pepin stared at him, his brown eyes wide. "But ... you and Cynthe ... you are my parents," he whispered. "Aren't you?"
The question tore at Treyas and he gathered the little boy onto this lap. "Oh, Pepin, of course we are! For as long as you want us to be. But that doesn't mean that you have to forget who gave birth to you. It took me fourteen years to learn about my parents and I'm glad that I finally did. But it didn't change my feelings for Elek. I mean, he's the one who raised me, looked after me, loved me. And I love him. That's not going to change."
Pepin was quiet, seeming to think about Treyas' words. "But ... what if ... what if my relatives want to take me?"
It was as if he had read Treyas' innermost turmoil. The prince hugged the little boy to him. "I would never let them take you unless you truly wanted to go."
"But I don't, Papa!" Pepin cried. "I want to stay here with you and Mama for always!"
Treyas held him tightly, swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat. "I'd like that. But I don't want you to go through life wondering, like I did. If you have a chance to find out, I think you should take it."
Pepin sighed and glanced at Kyel. "Then I guess I'll do it," he said softly. "It won't hurt, will it?"
Kyel smiled, approaching them. "No, it won't hurt. I've held only one Immix that ever hurt, and that was with a rather powerful, undisciplined elf who has since learned more control."
Treyas blushed. "He means me," he whispered into Pepin's ear.
"I know," Pepin whispered back.
Kyel drew a chair up opposite them and sat down. He reached for Pepin's hands, then held the small brown ones in his long, elegant black ones. He closed his eyes. A moment later, Treyas felt a shudder run through Pepin. A puzzled look crossed Kyel's face. He opened his eyes and sat back.
"Well," he said quietly, "there was something there. Not an Immix, but I did find out one thing. You're going to have a birthday in just a few weeks."
"A birthday?" Pepin cried. "Another one? Then I'll be nine!"
"No, you'll be eight," Kyel replied.
Pepin frowned. "Well, that's not fair! I've already been eight."
"Not according to the information left up there," Kyel said, gesturing to Pepin's head.
Pepin slouched back against Treyas, pouting.
"But think of it this way, Pepin," Treyas said. "It's just one extra birthday you get to celebrate, one extra party."
Pepin's eyes lit up. "That's right!" He turned excitedly to Treyas. "Can I have a party, Papa? Can I?"
Treyas laughed. "Of course you can." He looked toward the TravelPortal. "Incoming. Want to hide?"
But it was too late. Jansson van Tannen, sixteen-year old King of Odora Dava, burst through the Portal, excitement glowing in his large brown eyes. His curly brown locks were disheveled and bits of straw clung to his soft leathers. His gaze went at once to Pepin, and his boyishly handsome face broke into a wide smile. "Ah, Pepin! Just the one I wanted to see. Li'el foaled. You've got a colt."
"A colt? Yippee!" Pepin shrieked, leaping off Treyas' lap. "Can I go see him, Papa? Please?"
"Yes, go ahead. I'll be over in a bit," Treyas answered with a short laugh. "King Kyel still has some letters to go over."
Pepin gave Treyas and Kyel each a happy kiss, then grasped Jansson's hand and pulled him into the Portal. In seconds, they were gone. Treyas turned at once to Kyel.
"So, what?" Kyel rose and headed for the desk.
"So, what did you find out?"
Kyel stopped. "What do you know of Mere Odain?"
Treyas shrugged. "I've never heard of it."
Kyel frowned. "Perhaps you should spend as much time in the books as Pepin does," he chided, then walked to the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and began to scan them as he talked. "Mere Odain is a continent to the south and west of us. They have only recently come out of a long, rather destructive war. Not a lot is known about Mere Odain. Her peoples are rather secretive, but it is rumored that it is the home and birthplace of the DragonRiders." He selected a thin tome and held it out to Treyas.
"DragonRiders?" Treyas took the book. "I thought they were only legend."
"Perhaps they are. However, there was something linked to them in Pepin's memory."
Treyas started, then looked at the book. "Maybe he read this. He's been prowling around in here for weeks."
Kyel sat down at the desk. "It's possible, but I don't think so. His parents didn't hold Immix with him. The information that I got was coming from Pepin's own memory. And that memory linked his birth to Mere Odain."
"He was born there? Then what was he doing in Karsaba? Sarben said the monks found Pepin when he was just a year or so old. Why would Pepin's parents make such a long journey with a mere babe?"
"Perhaps they had no choice. The war in Mere Odain went on for almost forty years." He paused, his brow furrowing. "In fact, it supposedly ended just after Brother Cernak found Pepin in the woods."
Treyas felt his gut tighten. "I don't get the connection."
Kyel shrugged, his face relaxing. He picked up the quill. "There may be none. But for the time being, I would like to keep this information from Pepin. I would also like you to read that book. But, just now, I think a very excited young man would probably like your presence at Mayfaire. And I have work to do."
They both looked over as Kyel's wife, Willow, slipped into the study. Treyas was, as always, taken with her beauty. She was tall and sinewy, her movements like those of a cat. Long, moon-white hair hung well past her shoulders. She fairly glided to the desk, her emerald green eyes sparkling. Kyel rose at once and took her hands in his, white elf to black. Treyas grinned.
"Looks like work will wait for a bit," he murmured.
"Kyel," Willow purred, "did you tell him?"
"Not yet, myshay," Kyel replied, smiling. He glanced sideways at Treyas. "That vision you had of populating Lidgerwood with brown elves..."
He needed to say no more. Treyas' face broke into a wide grin. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" he cried and embraced them both. "You wasted no time," he teased. "You've only been married for a few months."
"I'm not getting any younger," Kyel replied.
"Oh, please! If I hear that one more time, I'm going to be sick."
Willow paled, her hand going to her lips, her gaze darting to Kyel. "So am I!" she cried and fled the room.
Kyel sighed. "It comes with carrying a child. I need to go to her, Treyas. You go to Mayfaire. We'll look over these letters later. I see some changes I'd like you to make."
"What?" Treyas cried in dismay. "You barely looked at them!"
"I have very good eyes," Kyel reminded him, starting towards the door.
"Tor's hell," Treyas muttered under his breath.
Kyel stopped. "And very good ears, as well. Remember that." He left the room, pulling the door shut quietly behind him.
Treyas groaned, dropped the book on the desk and picked up the cookies. This had been quite a day. A new baby, a new foal and a new life for Pepin. Treyas wondered which would prove to be the more exciting.