The color of Divinity

By Ellnyon

Notes: New Year present! Don't really know what to say to you guys. I guess, once more, apologies are in order. I'm starting 2012 with a new chapter and I deeply apologize to you all for not being able to keep my promises. I thought my life would become easier after I graduated, but that was a short-lived illusion. Things became really complicated with finding work, a new place to live and once I did, adjusting to this new reality took beyond a year. Hence, once more, real life got in the way of writing. Unfortunately, this was the best I could come up with until now. I'll try to do better next chapters. I do realize I'm letting you down again and I feel awful for it. For what it's worth, I'm sorry! I don't know what the future will bring and I won't make any promises this time but I can assure you one thing though: there will always be a next update, sooner or later. Definitely, a lot, lot sooner.

Also, I'm going to start replying to your reviews in my forum, because otherwise it'll take too much space here and I'm risking the story being hidden or deleted. Just go to edyane . webs apps / forums (without spaces). Then go to the replies section, part II, chapter 8 for the last chapter ones. You can also post in the forum if you want; you just have to sign in.

About the chapter, this one doesn't satisfy me in the least (I had to write the chapter from scratch five times), but it's better than the first versions and I hope you like it. As always, I'd like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who has not given up on me. Thanks to all who read my stories, especially those who take the time to fav and review them. Hopefully, I'll be able to reward you for your patience and kindness in the future.

All that said, please, enjoy the new chapter. Oh, and a Happy New Year to you all!

Part II

Chapter 9

His mind was blank, he absentmindedly noticed. It had been blank for quite some time already, too. That that was his first thought after the Ethen's words would have been a funny fact if the situation wasn't so serious.

As usual, after the first snatches of awareness, the ones to take command were his five senses, his body too used to quick responses. The war, the fighting, they required mechanical decisions and, for that, mindless recognitions were practical more often than not. There was no time to ponder when in the heat of battle. It came to the point where one doesn't think when he hears the distinctive sound of an arrow cutting through air to his position. One merely dodges and continues combating.

He had spent twenty-five of his twenty-nine years of living fighting in military camps and battlefields. Those reactions in stressful circumstances had become as part of him as his ice-blue eyes.

Hence, the second thing he realized was the silence that had descended in the surrounding fortress. With a revelation like that, surely the hushed muttering of thousands of curious men and women would be soon to follow and would be as loud as a battle cry to his sensitive ears. The ongoing silence was a hint. Everyone else shared his utter shock.

Still, what others did mattered little to him. Everyone else wasn't Lnorien Erephine, the oh, so great Lord General and, apparently, that beautiful Ethen's betrothed.

That beautiful Ethen's betrothed… Lessin Midaen'niel Siekih. There, in front of him. Talking, moving and beautiful indeed. More beautiful than anyone he had ever seen, anyone he had ever dreamed of… And he had dreamed. So many times. In between victories and defeats, he always dreamed of his intended, dreamed of this moment even, when he would meet him and stand proud and strong in front of him. His betrothed who was so regal and intense.

Only Lnorien didn't stand proud and strong as he had expected to be. He stood aghast, almost goggle-eyed and utterly shamed.

At least he already felt something. A feeling flaring in his chest, even when such a shameful one as shame itself, was a sign that Lnorien was starting to wake up from his idiotic stupor. The same couldn't be said from the warriors around them. If the long-lasting silence was any indication, they continued stunned. Perhaps his own shock hadn't been going for as long as he had thought. Even the Ethen himself was still silent after his declaration.

Wild, strong, determined sapphire-blue eyes were still staring at Alsatia in a mix of almost childish defiance and righteous indignation for the way the warrior had addressed him. The Ethen's eyes were flashing and his lips held a rather candid smile while he waited for a response.

With his intellect returning slowly, but quicker by the millisecond, Lnorien realized that Lessin Midaen'niel had probably been planning that little revenge for quite some time. He wondered how long the planning had been going on, though, and whose victims were probably implied in the harmless punishment.

He didn't know who the others were, but his intuition told him he had to be amongst them. A thought assailed him. Did the Ethen know who he was before this?

The Lessin's actions and resentment minutes before answered his question. No. He didn't appear to be faking his outraged surprise and even if he had been lying about other things, it was unlikely, not to say impossible, for the blond to have recognized him. He hadn't been a very present betrothed and Lessin Midaen'niel wouldn't certainly recall an encounter eighteen years before.

So, they had both been at a loss to who the other was. How ironic they would meet at a battlefield. He felt tired, all of a sudden. Then, his senses screamed at him and his mind lost the remaining numbness the Ethen's words had provoked.

They had met in a battlefield! Lessin Midaen'niel had been fighting for his life when he had found him. Another, far dangerous, emotion rapidly took control of him. It was anger.

Later, he would regret his reaction, but, for once in his life, he was too furious to really think about it beforehand.

"Are you INSANE?" He snapped, the first to speak after the Ethen.

Of course Midaen'niel's attention reverted to him. And everyone else's too.

All eyes turned to him, most of them stunned, others expectant, but the only ones Lnorien cared about were currently piercing his while screaming insolence.

Displaying first a brief and little irritating (albeit also most adorable, in Lnorien's opinion) pursing of lips to complement the fierce stare, the Ethen then shook his golden locks and with a polite smile, shrugged at him.

"No, I don't think so. Why do you ask, milord?" He replied, his voice a gentle breeze. His tone was innocent enough, years of practice in how to speak and behave decorously towards Eths evident in the Ethen's simple sentence. Still, Midaen'niel's words had an ironic undertone to them that always slipped away unnoticed to the Eths of the Capitol, who thought themselves superior. It was the Lessin's small vengeance for being treated like an inferior.

However, Lnorien saw right through his rehearsed tone.

Because the sarcastic words did not fool (nor please) him one bit, the ice-eyed man narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth in silent fury.

Everyone had always claimed his betrothed was demure and delicate as a flower (the boy's brother included). Well, delicate he may be, but, from what he had witnessed so far, he was anything but demure.

"I'd appreciate it if you stopped with that useless sarcasm, Milessin." He growled, the southern accent even heavier in his naturally rough voice. It was a common occurrence when he got angry and an utterly sign that the Lord General was not in a good mood.

The Ethen's eyes widened, surprised at both the man's ability to read him and at his forwardness.

Some warriors started abandoning their places, fearing their leader's fury. Others remained close by, pretending to be busy, not wanting to miss the amusing exchange between the strongest knight alive and his dashing betrothed.

"I was being completely honest." The ice-eyed Eth claimed, not caring about the commotion around them. "Only an extremely unreasonable Ethen in your position would journey this far South with only one man as an escort. For all the Gods and Goddesses' sake, we're in the middle of a war!" He concluded, exasperated, raising his hands into the air.

Midaen'niel bristled, irate at being treated like a useless and brainless Ethen. "I am perfectly aware of that, milord! If the subject hadn't been so grave, I wouldn't be here." He retorted. The black-haired Eth fumed.

"You could've sent someone. You didn't have to put yourself in danger!"

"Do you think I would do this for fun?" The Ethen said, near tears. "You have no idea the kind of gravity I'm talking about!"

The tall warrior was about to rejoinder angrily again, but at the last minute he frowned and crossed his arms in front of his chest, pensive.

"True." He conceded, effectively managing to control himself, though he was still not happy with their current circumstances. He might be worried with the Ethen's apparent suicide tendencies, but he was also a little curious about the subject that had driven his betrothed to come to them. "Why don't you enlighten me?" He requested, calmer, trying to be polite.

Midaen'niel, however, interpreted the man's words as sarcastic and clenched his firsts in defiance. He would not allow any Eth to make fun of him, especially the man who had been chosen as his betrothed and was failing so miserably in the simple task.

"Only after I speak with my cousin, Prince Delaen'niel." He shrugged, petulantly. To tell the truth, there was no reason not to tell Lnorien. The Lord General would have to know eventually. He was a leader of the army. Nevertheless, the man was supposed to treat him with kindness, ought to be happy to meet him, not scream his thoughts out with that sexy but also sometimes frightening voice of his. So what if the ice-eyed Eth was probably right in his claims? He didn't have to criticize him that harshly in front of everyone!

The Eth general, clearly not in the best of moods, scrunched his face and took a deep breath to repress his growing frustration. It had been a long time since someone had faced him like that. Lnorien couldn't exactly say he disliked Lessin Midaen'niel's strong personality. He kind of enjoyed it far more than a puppet Ethen that would say yes to everything he proposed. Nevertheless, he didn't know if Lessin Midaen'niel was just obstinate or simply being defensive.

Either way, this was more like the Ethen he had met that fateful night. Only this time the blond had no motive to be distrustful about anything. He was safe. He was among friends. He was with his betrothed for Maguenta's sake! If he didn't trust the man he would marry, who would he trust? Lnorien had heard of arranged marriages where couples barely spoke to each other about anything other than the weather. He didn't want his to be like that. He wanted to be the one Lessin Midaen'niel came to when he was troubled. He wanted to be allowed to confide his own problems to his intended, hear his advice and opinion.

Taking another deep breath, the Eth general decided nothing would be achieved merely by arguing with his promised Ethen. They were both too stubborn.

"Fine. It's obvious you still don't trust me." He couldn't stop himself from saying nonetheless, a little disappointed.

"It's not a matter of trust!" The blond was replying feeling a little guilty about his almost childish behavior, but he was interrupted by a dark-skinned human hollering the general's first name from afar.

They turned to the fast approaching man. Midaen'niel recognized him even before he had reached them. Closer behind him, a pale-haired human followed and it didn't take long for the Ethen to recognize him either. Those were prince Edyane's friends. Tenaii Ruana and Quera Behevoir.

They looked older, stronger, but their features hadn't changed much. Tenaii was still a handsome, mysterious warrior and Quera a refined, good-looking noble of high-class.

The dark-skinned human had a huge grin on his face as he extended his arms while still running and practically tackled Lnorien on his spot. The Eth general didn't fall though, most likely used to such antics. Tenaii's actions did wonders for his moody temper, too.

Midaen'niel frowned halfway between surprised at Tenaii's behavior and amused at his betrothed's smirking face. Lord Lnorien Erephine was gorgeous when he was angry. His clear blue eyes shone brightly and his voice became so rough and accented it sent shivers along the Ethen's spine (and not exactly just because he felt anxious). Nevertheless, he liked him best grinning like that, at ease, joking. Why couldn't he be like that with him?

"You're that happy to see me?" The ice-eyed Eth commented in a joyful tone, arching his eyebrows, but hugging back the tall human.

Tenaii laughed loudly. "You have no idea." He replied a little mischievously, but offered no more.

"Alsatia!" He continued, disentangling himself from the Eth general and hugging the dark-skinned Eth beside them. Said warrior hugged him back with a smile, muttering something imperceptible to the human that made him laugh again.

Meanwhile Quera finally reached them, shaking first his head at Tenaii before greeting Lnorien with a heartfelt, almost relieved "Welcome back. I'm so glad you're here."

Midaen'niel watched as the dark-haired Eth greeted back Quera while returning his hug in a friendly manner that was very unlike noble Eths. The more he knew his betrothed, the more he realized the mighty man was nothing like he had been described. He was so much more, in so many ways.

With a sign, he finally acknowledged how strongly that man affected him. Whether it was irritation, admiration or even lust, as long as they were related to Lnorien Erephine, his emotions went overboard and came unbidden to him. He had to learn how to protect himself, how to restrain them. He couldn't let Lnorien's indifference throughout all those years influence his reactions like that.

It was clear that the Lord General was not the kind of man that let himself be swept off his feet by a agreeable face, but if he wanted a silly Ethen, who obeyed his every command without thinking, then he was looking in the wrong place. Midaen'niel was not one of his soldiers and he was more than sick of pretending to be a weak-minded Ethen. He was not a witless, insipid person and he wouldn't be regarded as such anymore. Especially not by that unusual Eth. If he wanted their marriage to go somewhere, then Lnorien would have to accept the real Midaen'niel, not his social persona.

Tenaii's baritone voice in his direction made Midaen'niel turn towards the dark-skinned human.

"And who's this amazing creature?" He was saying with a smile, looking at the Ethen. Midaen'niel smiled back at that, glad for some distraction, but Tenaii gave no one chance to answer him.

"Wait a minute, I know you." He claimed, narrowing his dark eyes at the Lessin. "Aren't you the companion of that devilish boy Meanea called brother?" He inquired simply, frowning. Midaen'niel widened his eyes, surprised but amused. He opened his mouth to answer but once again he was not allowed to speak. Quera beat him up to it.

"Tenaii!" The blond human chastised the other. "It's vice-king Meanea! His brother is Prince Iadden Guinare and this gracious Ethen is their most beloved cousin, Prince Midaen'niel Siekih." He explained. "Welcome Milessin."

He bowed to Midaen'niel, who bowed back with a smile. Tenaii shrugged during the exchange, not fazed.

"Yes, that's it. I was right then." He affirmed with a nod, still smiling. Quera glared at him. The dark-skinned human pretended not to notice. Midaen'niel chuckled.

"Thank you, Lord Behevoir. Lord Ruana." He politely replied, finally allowed to speak.

"You remember us." Tenaii observed, obviously pleased. The blond Ethen nodded with a smile. "I'm truly honored. I remember you from His majesty, King Fenaleos' marriage. You were already beautiful, but now you surpass even your older cousin. It's a pleasure to see you again." He added with an affable grin and a bow. Midaen'niel thanked him for his words.

"I have a feeling I should remember something else about you too, Milessin." The dark-skinned human added, waving a hand at the Lessin's courteous appreciation. Lnorien intervened then while Quera huffed in exasperation.

"He's my betrothed." The ice-eyed general stated calmly in the human language. His voice sounded strong and even. Midaen'niel had never heard those words related to him. It made him realize the truth of his present situation. It was no dream, no illusion. That gorgeous man, imposing as he was, was his intended. By the Eth LAW, Midaen'niel belonged to that man and that man belonged to him.

A sudden memory of Lnorien lost in his thoughts with a loving expression while staring at the tattooed symbol of their commitment came to the Ethen's mind. Midaen'niel felt guilty almost immediately. The man had always been presented as someone righteous and understanding. The blond Lessin felt as though he had been behaving as the spoiled Ethen he didn't want to be. He should have just told him everything. There was so much more at stake than just their marriage right now.

"That's right!" Tenaii was exclaiming. "You bastard! You lucky bastard! We, here, worried about you and you went to fetch your betrothed." He teasingly said. Lnorien sighed at that, making a face and casting a glance in Midaen'niel's direction.

Suspecting the hidden meaning behind the Eth general's expression, simply wanting to lead the conversation to more serious matters or possibly even both, Quera changed the subject while grabbing Lnorien's arm.

"We have important news, Lnorien. We need to talk." He spoke quickly in a low voice. Midaen'niel observed the exchange with a curious look. The Erephine heir nodded, exuding a very solemn aura. He had turned back to being the Lord General.

"Me too, let's gather the Assembly." He agreed. "I have a request first, though." Lnorien continued, turning to his second in command, his voice adopting a slightly louder tone.

"Alsatia, please take Lessin Siekih and Lord Rarin to Delaen'niel. They have urgent business with him. Tenaii, would you please lead them?" He asked the dark-skinned human also, while motioning for someone nearby to join them.

Midaen'niel frowned at the formal addressing the general used to refer to him (especially when he treated the first prince simply by his first name) at the same time he noticed that the one Lnorien was calling was Yari'niel, who had been nearby and had probably witnessed his discussion with the man.

The brown-haired Eth had a tired expression as he approached them. He maintained his head low at all times and bowed down before all the higher lords as presentations were made and they greeted him. Yari'niel didn't dare raise his eyes even to Midaen'niel. The Ethen failed to comprehend if that was simply reverence or disappointment too. The blond Lessin felt guilty nonetheless. He shouldn't have led the man to believe he loved him when that was so obviously not going to happen.

The Ethen prince felt like such a despicable person. He had deceived Yari'niel when he had helped him so much, when he had been such a good friend, all because he had felt scared and lonely. He had to talk to the man as soon as he had a chance, explain to him how he really felt and ask for the noble's forgiveness. He had a betrothed he was very probably falling in love with and, even if he wasn't, he couldn't disgrace his family and his name more than he already had.

He was a valued prince of Meya. Right now, that was the only thing guaranteeing he was heard. He had to maintain his credibility. Besides,…Midaen'niel glanced at the ice-eyed Eth next to him.

"Quera, could you please call the other generals?" Lnorien was asking, his attention far away from him.

Midaen'niel couldn't risk Lnorien Erephine finding out about his fling with Yari'niel at this time. The man didn't know him yet, and, for sure, those actions of his weren't something the man would understand based on his word alone. Along with his integrity, he would lose the respect of his intended as well.

The pale-haired human nodded. "I'll tell them to come as soon as possible. We have to wait for Delaen'niel, but maybe we can start by briefing you first. Find yourself some quarters in the meanwhile."

The Erephine family was very rigid regarding tradition and Lnorien didn't appear to be a man who forgave a betrayal that easily either. Midaen'niel wanted to be the one to tell, but later, when they knew each other better and when they had time to converse quietly without war developments and urgent decisions between them.

"Thank you. I'll do that." The Lord General agreed. Quera bowed his head slightly to everyone and disappeared hastily into a lateral small wooden door of the southern wall.

"Milessin, I'll get you some decent chambers for you to rest after you're done talking to Delaen'niel." He added, turning his attention back to his betrothed, speaking softer, clearly a lot calmer. Midaen'niel thanked and lowered his head in appreciation.

Lnorien arched his eyebrows, surprised at the Ethen's sudden demureness, but filed it on him having his way. He turned to the Rarin noble, noticing his slouched stance. His face was pale too. He didn't look very good. What was understandable, considering his previous injuries.

"Lord Rarin, perhaps you should go to our medics after that, too. You're still recovering." He advised, honestly worried. Yari'niel's eyes widened at that and he lowered his head even lower.

"I will, milord General. Thank you very much." He said with a weakened voice.

"I'm the one who owns you my most sincere thanks for protecting my betrothed." Lnorien acknowledged, bowing to the man. Yari'niel bowed lower than the general, ashamed. The Erephine heir found the attitude a little strange, but dismissed it as modesty and dedication.

"Alsatia, tell Ylrin'ne to take him there later. Oh, and find Captain Rarin. I'm sure Lord Yari'niel will want to see his family." Lnorien continued with a smile. Yari'niel swallowed hard.

"Milessin, now if you'll excuse me, Alsatia will take you to your cousin." The ice-eyed Eth bowed to the golden-haired Ethen, who nodded.

"We will be going too. Forgive my lack of decorum earlier, Your Highness. I'm truly sorry." Alsatia said, bowing before the Ethen, but when he raised his head again, Midaen'niel caught his distrustful look. The golden-haired Ethen smiled, accepting the apology, but he got the uncanny feeling the man was or suspicious or not very fond of him. His words were too formal and polite for his direct personality (and it was very rare for a lord to treat a royal Ethen as his highness). Either way, the blond knew the dark-skinned Eth was not going to be his ally unless he proved him he was an honorable Ethen.

However, the truth was that he couldn't exactly say he was, at least not regarding Yari'niel and his betrothed. Alsatia had been so quiet during the entire conversation, merely observing. Perhaps the perceptive warrior was considering that possibility already.

Midaen'niel sighed as Tenaii led them away from the courtyard into a passageway. Looking back to the place where they had been, his sapphire-blue eyes locked onto ice-blue ones. Lnorien was standing in the middle of the now almost empty courtyard, alone, the wind playing with his clothes and hair, looking back at them.

For a moment, Midaen'niel could almost swear his betrothed looked sad, but then the man turned, he lost sight of his face and was unable to confirm it. Nevertheless, the beautiful Ethen realized then that he hated the thought of that man unhappy.

There was something very wrong with that young man and it wasn't just his natural peculiar personality. The signs were there, everywhere he looked, and still, Meanea couldn't exactly pinpoint what was really amiss with his brother.

-O-

Iadden had changed.

That wasn't really the surprise, though. Already with nineteen years old and also with his coming of age ceremony drawing closer, Iadden Guinare could almost be considered a man. Meanea had kind of been expecting him to be a grown-up by now too. Maguenta forgave him, on that both fateful and auspicious day of his marriage, he had even prayed for it to happen sooner than that.

Well, you never knew when your prayers were answered. Still, the golden-haired vice-king of N'Alaera had never wished for the modification to be so great, so abrupt or so weird. He wouldn't even know where to begin explaining how that had happened.

The boy had transformed himself completely. Meanea strived to understand it, but the more he thought about it, the odder it appeared to him.

It had started ten years ago, on the day after his marriage. Iadden had begun acting differently. Contrarily to what Meanea had expected him to... Inversely from everything comprehensible to whoever had known the child before.

Iadden had disappeared one night a wounded, frightened, uncontrollable child and had returned the next morning a calm, collected and confident person.

As if he had made peace with his own mind. As if he had finally found a use to his incredible strength. As if he had discovered his role in life. Eths spent their lifetimes trying to find it, most of them were never even granted that grace. Could it be that that child had been ahead of them in even that?

Whatever it was, Meanea was sure. Something had happened that night, something other than Ryaen'ne's reprehensions or even his own.

Meanea had asked Iadden once, where he had found that peace of mind, that levelness. The boy had cocked his head, confused at his question, asking what he meant. The vice-king had found no words to explain it to him. Could the change be so natural and effortless that the very boy was oblivious to it?

He was simply one hundred and eighty degrees different from the Iadden he had raised. His wild personality was still there, of course: strong, rebellious and pure, but his soul was filled with so much serenity and fortitude, in such a large extent... Meanea had never witnessed something alike in another human being before.

It was difficult for him to understand... It was like his brother was from another world. The way he had helped the Siekihs deal with Ryaen'ne's death; the way he treated Anaihr every day; the way he listened and helped who needed; his kindness and solicitude to the people; his confidence in his opinions and his mighty when defending them, especially to the Council. He was the perfect Eth in every way. He was everything Meanea could dream in a brother, in a family member, and, at the same time, so much more.

He ought to be proud, but it frightened him instead. Iadden appeared flawless. The dark-haired boy was a selfless savior and a strong defender of righteousness. He was an example. Strong, dependable, confident, powerful. Such a being couldn't possibly exist in the mortal world, and yet he was right there in front of him. His brother was such a creature.

Meanea knew he wasn't the only one to think so. Fenaleos commented as much frequently. Even Athios felt surpassed, at a loss, most of the times. The people worshiped Iadden. Rightly so, of course, and, for one reason or another, everyone dreaded the day when he would march to war.

And Iadden would. He had stated his desire to join Edyane at the battlefront several times already. The one to stop him every time had, not surprisingly, been Midaen'niel.

The vice-king of N'Alaera envied the relationship between the two cousins. More specifically, he was jealous of the other golden-haired Ethen. Of his closeness with his brother, something he had never quite managed to achieve after that night, ten years ago. Midaen'niel knew what had changed his brother while Meanea did not. The bond the two shared was stronger than anything. They never fought, never disagreed. It seemed almost supernatural the way they were in sync sometimes.

It wasn't like Iadden had consciously put his older brother aside, Meanea knew. The vice-king just wasn't interested in the same matters and was too weak to follow the two boys' superior intellects. Besides, Meanea suspected he had stolen Iadden's first love…not that the boy would ever mention that or even blame his older brother for it…at least consciously, if he even, ever dared to admit it, what Meanea truly doubted.

Still, the golden-haired Ethen watched sadly, from his hidden balcony, as yet another Ethen diverted his brother's attention from him.

Iararin'ne was a beauty. Not as beautiful as Midaen'niel, but certainly one of the most enchanting Ethen in the world. His long silver hair, shining in the sunlight, flowed freely around him as he walked the paths of the colorful garden alongside Iadden's graceful steps.

"He's not of proper age for our young man, is he?" A feeble voice behind him asked. Meanea turned to face his husband. Fenaleos approached him quietly, not looking directly at him, his stare fixed on the two youngsters in the garden below, instead. The Ethen was positive that such comment was supposed to be a playful one, but both the tone and the man's depressed expression seemed to contradict the context. Was it Meanea's impression or his husband appeared to be even more miserable today than usual?

The last ten years had not been kind to the benevolent king of N'Alaera. His face was wrinkled and his hair and beard had become almost completely white. The intense worries about the outcome of the war in the south, the suffering of his people due to it and the constant lack of news regarding his beloved son were taking its toll on the distressed man. Still, in normal circumstances, the king managed to somehow disguise his worries and even smile a little. Perhaps Fenaleos was having a bad day. Sometimes the man was a little too hard on himself. Maybe it was just one of those days.

After all, these years had not been easy to anyone, save, perhaps, Iadden who never lost composure in any situation nowadays. How Meanea envied his brother's strength…

"No, that's Iararin'ne Benur'el. He's promised to First prince Delaen'niel." He replied softly, turning away from his husband to look back at the two boys chatting below. Fenaleos stopped beside him and leaned into the balcony's white rail, resting his arms on it.

"Meya's next vice-king, huh?" he rhetorically asked, pensive for a moment. The Ethen frowned and looked at his husband again, alerted once more by the man's distracted voice. Something was not right even for a bad day.

Perhaps sensing Meanea's eyes on him, Fenaleos hurried to cover the effect of his thoughts. "Well, it's still a pity. They seem to get along nicely." He commented, forcing a smile upon his features, but his voice still sounded wrong and his smile was strangely eerie. If Meanea had any doubts about something troubling the king's mind, he had them no more. Ten years' worth of living intimately with the man had given him, if nothing else, at least, that insight.

"Iadden is far too young for him, anyway. A proper Ethen for Iadden would have to be less than fourteen years old. What is troubling you, Milord?" The vice-king asked in one breath, not taking his eyes off the king, catching him by surprise with the sudden change in subject.

Unbalanced, Fenaleos blinked for a second, but finally gave up on his try to feign ignorance. "Can't hide anything from you, can I?" He claimed with a tired sigh. Meanea pursed his lips in annoyance. Ten years had passed and everyone was still determined to keep things from him in order to protect him from bad news. If nothing else, it only made him even more worried, as it reminded him of the times when the Council had decided to send Iadden to the war or when his cousin Ryaen'ne had died.

"And why should you hide anything from me? I'm an adult, your husband and N'Alaera's vice-king…" Meanea countered, albeit perhaps a little too softly to sound like a true complaint, instead trying to justify his need to know what was happening around him.

"I know, my dear, and I thank you for everything you've done for me." The king agreed, directing his gaze to the horizon ahead, where the green plains of his country met an amazing cloudless summer sky. "I don't know what I would've done without your wisdom and strength during these long ten years." He added quietly, as an afterthought, the calm summer breeze carrying his words to the Ethen's ears.

Meanea sighed at the man's common confession, feeling touched but unhappy with his husband's insecurities and remorse. "Exactly the same thing you've been doing with me here: guiding your people wisely and to the best of your abilities through these dark times." He affirmed, confident, truly believing in what he was saying. The man was constantly too hard on himself. Fenaleos continued looking into the south horizon as if seeing something else besides the peaceful scenery.

"Edyane would've done far better than me. I should've been the one risking my life in the war, not my son." He contended, his voice heavy with regret. Meanea blinked several times, more worried by the minute and saddened by the topic, even if he had already known exactly where the conversation was going a few lines back.

It never got easier to reply to the king when these gloomy moods aroused. Usually, N'Alaera's monarch was able to contain his dark feelings, but although few, these conversations were becoming more frequent as of late and they never, never ended well.

Edyane was loved by everyone and he was inevitably missed in all N'Alaera. Meanea also loved the prince dearly, but the Ethen had learned one thing with the birth of his own child. No one loved another person as much as a parent loved his child. Edyane had been Fenaleos' only son for almost seventeen years and the man hadn't seen him for another ten, since the young prince had journeyed to the Millennium war.

At first, no one, including N'Alaera's monarch, was very preoccupied with the youngsters traveling south to fight a war almost everyone thought would be a quick scrimmage. However, that illusion had been short-lived and shattered as soon as the first reports of casualties had arrived, three months later. Thousands of deaths, thrice as injured men, veteran soldiers proud enough they had managed to survive as long as they did out there.

The heroic battles led by Edyane and Lnorien as well as the tragedy that had been Ryaen'ne's death were inconceivably unrealistic to all who heard of them. Like most of the country, Fenaleos had been baffled by relates of the ones who had been in close contact with the monsters. The king had wanted to travel to the front and see for himself the horrors he had been described, had vouched to remove his son from the danger of a full-scale conflict, not immediately realizing that he was far too late for any of his decisions to even matter.

By the time Fenaleos had decided to take action, his son was already far too precious in the battlefield to be taken away from the war. Edyane's greatness had become superior to his father's influence and the king of the major human country didn't even have a say on the topic.

Edyane had kept the armies together and fighting after the first waves of attacks had devastated their numbers. He had curbed the Death Whisperers' attempts of invasion. To the Alliance's knights and warriors he was a hero, a savior. His men were devoted to him and would follow him into the Underworld if need be. Many even called him the Maguenta's Heir. Whether Fenaleos wanted it or not, the crown prince of N'Alaera was the one leading the Alliance's army up until that day and would inevitably be the one leading them to the very end, whenever that might be.

For all the power and strength N'Alaera and its king possessed, it was not enough to bring the young prince back home, independently of his father's despair. Fenaleos had been given no choice at all. The king had a duty to the Alliance, which demanded his son's sacrifice, and because he had a duty to his country and his people also, he couldn't even follow his son in his demise.

Still, despite not having a real option, despite what everyone affirmed, Meanea knew Fenaleos couldn't help blaming himself for letting his son go to the war. He chastised himself for his blindness and his inactivity. Edyane and Meya's princes had been right about the conflict, displaying far more intelligence and wisdom than all their elders put together. The king of N'Alaera constantly thought that, like Ryaen'ne, those boys would be the ones to suffer horrible deaths for the failures of others.

As such, for ten years, every single day since that one, Fenaleos had anxiously waited for signs of the terrible news that he was positive one day would come. The king's utter punishment for his mistakes: his son's death. 'So many other parents, less at fault, have mourned their children since this damned war started…' He always said.

It didn't matter that in his heart, like all N'Alaera did, Fenaleos truly worshiped his son and believed Edyane to be nearly invincible, the king was still certain that one day it would be his turn to lose the one he loved the most.

So, that same king blamed himself while the father resignedly grieved in advance, both refusing to aspire to any kind of positivism, suspecting everything, even the Peace Treaty everyone spoke wonders about.

Meanea blinked again, his eyes restless, while he searched for the right words, when he knew the king would not believe in any of them. Finally, he closed his aquamarine eyes and spoke his true thoughts.

"Everyone would prefer Edyane here for the same reason you want him here, Milord. Simply because we love him. Still, he is needed where he is. Hopefully, with the Peace Treaty underway, we won't have to wait much longer until we can see him again, safe and sound." Meanea said carefully, trying to sound optimistic to lighten the mood. In his wish to do so, he had completely forgotten what had initiated the discussion in the first place.

Something had been wrong when the man had come to him. Because the Ethen had no idea what it was, he didn't understand why his words had the opposite effect of his intentions. Fenaleos sighed, too tired to hide anything else anymore, his despair visible in every gesture and every expression.

"There are reports of incursions and destroyed villages in N'Alaera's territory, already far north of the Sacred Wall. We have no means of knowing the extension of the invasion." He exposed harshly, his eyes hard and unforgiving. The news hit Meanea like a brick wall. For a moment the Ethen remained silent, too terrified to do much more than breathe.

When he finally reacted, he tried to rationalize. "It could be bandits, scavengers, thieves…there are so many possibilities. This is ridiculous, we are at peace! The notifications came directly from Meya, with my uncle's seal, the King of Meya's seal!" He said emphasizing the last words, gaining some confidence. Fenaleos shook his head, closing his eyes and smashing the blonde's hopes solely with a resigned sigh. As the man opened his mouth to speak, the Ethen hurried with his arguments, not letting him start.

"Besides, even if we weren't at peace, they would never overcome the Sacred Wall. It's an insurmountable obstacle. It has never been taken since its construction, not even once in History. Our armies could've made a stand there for years. They would've stopped those monsters before they had a chance to invade us, I'm sure…Edyane always stopped them before…" He stammered rapidly, his widened, frightened eyes begging with the king, for the man to confirm his words.

The fatalistic look in his husband's face gave him no reassurances at all. Meanea could even see Fenaleos' brown eyes starting to fill with unshed tears. Panicking, he didn't even realize his own had started watering as well.

"The few reports we managed to get are very accurate, considering the circumstances. The attacks seem similar to those described by the soldiers of the front. The reason why we don't have many certainties about anything is because all the parties we sent to investigate didn't return and the civilian survivors either don't last long enough to tell us what happened or are in no condition to speak. Either way, we are already receiving refugees from about everywhere in N'Alaera, escaping from something they haven't even seen."

Meanea felt all the blood draining from his face and a sudden shiver racked his body despite the evening being a warm one. All his previous convictions fled from his mind gradually as his husband's words sunk in as well as the terror of such facts.

"This can't be…we are at peace…our armies…I don't understand…" He muttered, lowering his eyes, clearly confused.

The caring king grabbed the Ethen's hand, taking pity on his adored husband, knowing that what he had to say next wouldn't be any easier to hear than what he had already revealed. He considered the possibility of keeping the rest of his suspicions from Meanea, but as the man contemplated the Ethen's striking face, he knew that he wouldn't be able to protect him from the truth for much longer. The vice-king of N'Alaera would eventually find out what was going on, best it be from his husband's mouth.

"There is a possibility that N'Alaera is not at peace. We took no part in the negotiations for the treaty with the Death Whisperers. We sent no one with such purpose. We might not be included…" Fenaleos murmured softly, carefully, forgetting his own despair, trying to break the news of Meya's likely betrayal as gently as he could. He knew Meanea would take it as a personal offense. Damn it, Maguenta knew he did too. There was a treaty, Meya was not under attack, at least not like N'Alaera was. How could the Eths betray them so? Two brother nations, united by marriage, by ideals, by friendship. How could they do such a thing? Weren't they supposed to fall together?

As he expected, Meanea reacted poorly, shaking his hand away and looking at him infuriated. "You cannot be serious about that! N'Alaera is also my country. My son is half-human. Uncle came to our wedding. He wouldn't exclude me and my family. He wouldn't hand us over to the Death Whisperers!" He declared bitterly in a loud tone. Fenaleos sighed sadly.

"Perhaps, as a king, he didn't have another choice but to save his own people. Maybe he could not refuse them…" He wondered aloud, trying to ease the feeling of treachery that ravaged his own heart and would soon waste away Meanea's as well. "I'm counting on that, too. There's no need for the Eths to die alongside humans in N'Alaera. I don't desire our fate to anyone. We don't know how much time we have left, but we must get you, Anaihr, Iadden, Iararin'ne and your servants back to Meya as soon as possible." He continued, deciding to be practical. At least he would be able to save his family. He refused to let his younger son also perish to this war like Edyane most probably had.

Hearing the king's sure words made Meanea feel like the world was coming to an end. If Meya was truly at peace then his Uncle had to have been deceived. He was certain the king of Meya would have never, ever agreed to such a thing. N'Alaera was a trusted ally. Their warriors had fought and died together at the war front. Ryaen'ne's death had been cried by both countries alike. There was no way the Council would ever allow N'Alaera to be excluded from a peace treaty. There was no way Meya would withdraw their support and let their neighbors be sacrificed to save their own skin. His people were chivalrous, loyal and dignified. There was just no way.

"You may make arrangements for Anaihr to be taken to my Uncle, but I doubt anyone else will leave. I, for one, will not! I don't think I'll be safer in Meya. Iararin'ne wouldn't be here if anyone thought he would be in danger with us." Meanea affirmed, resolute.

Fenaleos sighed tiredly again, already predicting this dispute with his husband. If only he could make the Ethen see reason. "Don't be stubborn Meanea, you should accompany your child and the rest of the entourage. There is no sense in staying here to die."

Because there was no question that they would all die. The king doubted the Death Whisperers would give them any quarters and even if they did give them the option to surrender, N'Alaera still had its pride. Fenaleos would never accept enslavement. He would send for whatever makeshift army he could get and he would lead them to the last battle of their lives. N'Alaera might fall, but the Death Whisperers would have to sweat for it.

The vice-king of N'Alaera, however, still did not seem to realize the gravity of the situation.

"We will not die." Meanea stated, confident. "The Capitol is heavily fortified. The Magues protect us and the Maguerer is an almost impenetrable barrier. We'll send word that we're under attack. Meya will respond I'm sure, as will all the rest of the Alliance. We will be able to hold until the main armies arrive. Have faith, my king!" He concluded, joining his hands together almost in prayer. Fenaleos faced his husband, knowing that Meanea was more desperately pleading with him to believe in Gods than actually trying to convince him with facts.

Sadly, though, Fenaleos had never had much belief to begin with, and with all that had happened in the last ten years, the little devotion he had, had definitely been lost. There was no faith remaining in his heart. No hope, not even in mortals, much less in Gods. No one would save his country, like no one had saved his son…All that was left in his battered heart was regret, resignation and perhaps some vague notion of pointless revenge.

His golden-haired husband had preserved his optimism all his life despite the innumerous tragedies that had befallen his unlucky family. Even now, when all was lost, he still believed in some miraculous comeback, perhaps a strike from the Black-haired Ethen no one had ever seen or even from Maguenta himself. To be honest, Fenaleos adored this trait of Meanea's. His blind conviction that somehow things would turn out okay was invigorating, most of the times, and provided unknown strength to those around him, but when the outcome was irreversibly grim, this belief tended to cause more harm than good.

Inevitably, Meanea would have to realize, only far too late, that nothing can change the foreseeable and, by then, the king of N'Alaera would be powerless to protect a loved one once again, both mentally and physically. Fenaleos could not let that happen, he ought to break the Ethen's illusion. Sometimes reality was better than a dream, no matter how bad the former might be.

"Meanea, we haven't heard from the armies in months. Without proof in contrary, we would be best assuming they're all dead…" He affirmed, perhaps a touch too cold. The blonde's face adopted such a horrified look that Fenaleos grew indulgent immediately after, not managing to keep his taxing speech despite his previous thoughts. He loved his husband too much after all, to be the one completely shattering the man's hopes.

Shaking his head in resignation, he took pity on the Ethen and decided to focus his efforts in convincing the blond to journey to Meya immediately, instead of worrying the man further.

"The truth is that we don't really have a clue of what is really happening out there. Maybe I'm being more paranoid than necessary." The king started, not making eye contact with his husband to disguise the obvious lie. "Perhaps if you went to Meya you could query your Uncle and the Council and send help…" He tried again calmly, attempting a new approach. Meanea, though, saw right through it.

"Iararin'ne and Anaihr can do that. I won't leave you. I believe in the Alliance and in Edyane. By Maguenta, they will come, I'm sure!" He affirmed, turning his husband towards him and smiling softly trying to convey his positivism to the desperate man.

He was unsuccessful. "Sweetheart, I cannot protect you if you stay. Even if we survive a short siege, without help we won't be able to prevail. We have no army available and no qualified general to lead it." Fenaleos contended, frowning at Meanea's inflexibility.

The blond Ethen opened his mouth to refute the man's train of thought once more, but another voice, equally soft, though far calmer and wiser, answered the king instead.

"Yes, we do."

The two rulers of N'Alaera turned at the same time to look at the newcomers who had neared their balcony completely unnoticed. They were no one less than the two youngsters they had been watching before.

"Iadden!" Meanea exclaimed, surprised by his sudden appearance and upset by the knowledge that the boy had most probably heard at least the part of their conversation where Fenaleos doubted Meya's loyalty. Iadden was not bound to N'Alaera like Meanea was and the boy believed in the Alliance more than anyone else Meanea knew. He might've misunderstood Fenaleos' words as offensive or worse, as something personal.

However, if the matter had bothered him, nothing in Iadden's behavior suggested it. He was the same as in every other day. The boy approached them with his typical confident, quiet stride and serene aura. There wasn't an ounce of indecision or conflict anywhere in him. His white mask always in place concealed his expression, true, successfully veiling his emotions, but even that was customary.

Like his long dark hair held tight on top of his head or his impeccable high-neck, long-sleeved linen cloths, heavy boots and leather gloves that hid almost every inch of his fair skin even on summer. It was stupid really how even Iadden's usual attire served as reassurance. Nonetheless, Meanea could not deny it.

Soon, Meanea stopped worrying almost completely. The tranquil and strong presence emanating from his brother never failed to comfort him. If someone could save them, it was Iadden. If anyone could come up with a solution, it was that extraordinary Eth. The vice-king of N'Alaera had no doubts, no matter the gravity of the situation, Iadden would find a way.

Judging from Fenaleos' less anxious attitude and almost hopeful tone of voice, the king of Meya shared both his feelings and his thoughts.

"What do you mean, child?" He asked softly to Iadden, who had stopped next to them and was silently greeting them with a curt bow.

Iararin'ne, forever beautiful in the evening light, had been close behind the only slightly taller Eth (Iadden was nowhere as tall as he should be for his age, he wasn't even taller than Meanea, not that anyone ever dared even mentioning that to him) and bowed as well, with a gentle smile.

'Everything will be okay.' He whispered to Meanea in the Eth language, as Iadden hurried to respond to the king. Meanea looked quizzically at the supportive silver-haired Ethen smiling at him and then turned his attention to Iadden. Could these two not only know what was happening but also have the answers they so desperately needed already? It wasn't possible… it couldn't be.

"I suppose you already now that the Death Whisperers have reached N'Alaera and are currently attacking its lands. I took the liberty to start preparing for that eventuality some time ago." The dark-haired Eth was saying, to the astonishment of N'Alaera's monarchs.

"Wait. You knew this would happen?" Fenaleos asked, halfway between confused and shocked.

Iadden shook his head. "Not really… well, more likely, I hoped we wouldn't come to this. Nonetheless, I can't deny that due to many circumstances, the possibility did come as highly plausible." He affirmed with a pensive pose, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

The brown-haired king frowned at the masked Eth in front of him, wondering what that teenager could know that he, the king of N'Alaera, didn't.

"Circumstances?" He eventually replied. "The only thing I can come up with that would result in this tragedy would be the destruction of our armies…"

Iadden shrugged. "Our armies still exist, for now, but I guess their plan would ultimately unfold into their destruction as well."

"Their plan? Whose plan?" Fenaleos inquired. He had no idea what Iadden was talking about. Considering N'Alaera's monarch was pretty positive he had one of the best net of informers and advisors of all the Alliance, led by the very Count Behevoir, and nothing had come to his ears about any plan, he found it difficult that Iadden could know that much more than him. Still, the proof was right in front of his eyes. That child had thought about the possibility of an attack before it actually happened when Fenaleos and his Council had been confronted with the attack already underway. The king felt at a loss, not capable of keeping up with the events in time to be able at least to make one decision. It had already happened ten years ago, in the beginning of the damned war. Edyane had been their savior then. Now, it seemed another hero was rising from the shadows. Iadden had the same resolve, his very own brilliant mind and commanded the same kind of obedience and power as Edyane did.

Once again, the king seemed to have fallen behind the boys he had raised. When would he be able to protect his children instead of contributing to put them in harm's way?

Oblivious to the monarch's helplessness, Iadden turned to the man. "The Death Whisperers' plan…" he answered curtly.

The king nodded, expecting as much, but he still furrowed his brows in thought. There was something that was not adding up. "If, as you say, our armies are still active, how did the Whisperers pass by them? Could they have used the peace treaty as a ruse to deceive the Alliance?" It was a rhetorical question, so Fenaleos was not expecting an actual answer.

The fact it came was just another one of that evening's surprises.

Iadden sighed and looked at Iararin'ne who dropped his head slightly, lowering his big coffee eyes filled with sadness. "You are correct, Your Highness, but the situation is more serious than that, I'm afraid." He confessed. "They had help. There is a faction in Meya who has been conspiring against the Alliance with the Death Whisperers. They were the ones who orchestrated this false peace treaty…"

Meanea made himself known then. "What? Iadden, you clearly don't understand what you're saying. The treaty came with Uncle's seal. Are you suggesting Uncle is part of that plot?" He asked indignantly.

Iadden shook his head, denying that affirmation, but it was Iararin'ne who answered the blond vice-king.

"His Majesty, the King has nothing to do with the peace treaty." He replied fervently. "Due to his illness, he's not the one guiding our people. I'm certain he knows nothing about this. Even if he did, I don't think he could do much, he doesn't have the strength anymore. It's the Council who rules Meya now. The few nobles who bother attending the reunions anyway, they… are corrupted, blind. Everyone seems blind. My country is being misguided and no one realizes it…" The silver-haired Ethen said sorrowfully, under the astounded stare of N'Alaera's monarchs.

"There, that's the situation." Iadden confirmed, with a sigh. "I've been trying to tame the advance of that faction into the leadership of the Council, but it seems my efforts were in vain…"

Iararin'ne raised his head at that and turned to Iadden. "No milord, if it weren't for you, we'd be lost a long time ago…" The black-haired Eth nodded in thanks as Iararin'ne smiled gratefully at him.

"Who do you think is behind all this treachery, my boy? We can't certainly blame all of Meya for this…" Fenaleos' said lowly. His voice sounded somewhat angry. Now that he was certain they had been betrayed by Meya, he desperately needed a name to bring to justice.

Iadden and Iararin'ne looked at each other. For a long moment none of the two said a word, but under the rigorous scrutiny of the two older men, maintaining their silence was clearly not a viable option.

"We aren't totally certain." Iadden eventually revealed. "We have our suspicions, of course, but no irrefutable proof or witnesses. We know the country people, the warriors, the southern nobles and those fighting in the battlefront support the Alliance and the First prince. The faction comes exclusively from inside the Capitol, from someone very influential, someone with access to the Royal Seal. That's all I can say for now.." he concluded, clearly not desiring to further develop the subject.

Respecting his decision, the grizzled king asked no more, but Meanea still had a very pertinent doubt regarding what his younger brother had affirmed.

"Are they against Delaen'niel, too?" He inquired.

"We suspect the plan includes his assassination as well as that of the High nobles in the Alliance's army… among other things." Iararin'ne agreed, to the blonde's greater shock.

It was obvious, and Meanea was just now beginning to grasp it, that any important Eth who supported the Alliance was a target for those people, whoever they might be. Considering the fact that no one defended the Alliance as passionately as Iadden, it was a miracle how the boy still lived to tell the tale. To think the blond Ethen had allowed his brother's many journeys to Meya without any kind of protection, thinking him safe in their homeland. If he had known about all of this, he would've never let his brother out of his sight.

"Thank Maguenta they haven't tried anything against you yet, Iadden." He couldn't help but comment, in the midst of his relief.

Iadden turned to his older brother. "I wouldn't be so sure. We are being attacked." He bluntly affirmed matter-of-factly. Meanea looked up at that, with a sudden realization, and sighed sadly.

"And they must know as well as I do that you'll be commanding our first line of defense yourself, right?" He replied, softly. Iadden lowered his face for a second, but ended up nodding in confirmation.

"I'm your only option if we want to come through." The black-haired boy stated, speaking directly to the king now. "With all due respect, Your Majesty, you have no one else who matches my skills or my tactical knowledge in N'Alaera. I'm not direct family and I know it must be hard to put the survival of your country into someone else's hands, especially an Eth, considering what's been going on, but if you'd trust me to guide your armies, I promise you I shall save us all…or die trying."

Fenaleos smiled sadly at the masked boy's words and put a hand on his shoulder. "It's not a matter of trust, my boy, of course I trust you. I just don't want you getting hurt."

Iadden nodded, acknowledging the king's worry, but kept his voice firm and his will strong. "I'm touched by your concern, my King, but if you really want us to have a chance, you'll have to use me…"

The grizzled man sighed. Frankly, he couldn't decide what displeased him the most. If letting a child he considered as a son fight in his place again or accepting the fact that the boy was probably right in his assumptions. He turned to his husband. Meanea shrugged, with a peculiar expression on his face.

"He'll do it anyway. Might as well give him your blessing." The Ethen assumed, looking at Iadden, resigned with his younger brother's stubbornness. With nineteen years old, they couldn't stop Iadden by convincing the boy he was too young, not when Edyane had journeyed to war with sixteen years old, and the black-haired Eth had never lacked aptitude for battle. This time, Meanea was sure, that Iadden could not be halted.

The king sighed once more, understanding his husband's thoughts.

"Iadden, for a long time now I've seen you as someone far wiser and stronger than my own self." He complimented in all honesty. "Like with Edyane, it pains me dearly to send you to war, but if there's anyone I trust with the safety of what I hold most dear, then you're that person. Though I will stand by your side in preparations and battle, I'll leave the final decisions and N'Alaera's tactical defense in your hands. Just, please…be careful."

The black-haired Eth nodded and bowed in gratitude.

"Thank you, Your Majesty. I'll do my best." He promised and Fenaleos nodded, thought he was still not sure that he had made the right decision.

It took no less than a millisecond for his doubts to disappear, however, just the time Iadden spent silently before speaking again.

"If you allow me to assume my role immediately, we have no time to waste, Your Majesty." The younger Eth started, his soft voice sounding strong and confident. It was clear that he had planned things thoroughly. "According to my calculations, the main wave of Whisperers will reach the Capitol in little more than two weeks. They are in greater number and most are veteran fighters. We are clearly at a disadvantage. Our only chance is to make our stand in the Capitol itself and battle in the plains south of it. It's practically impossible to siege the Capitol successfully due to the Maguerer and the Magues. Your people will be protected inside the walls and our injured will have refuge. It's not ideal, by any means, but worse comes to worse, we'll lose the city, but the people can always escape through the High Temple's tunnels to Crano'en and block the entrance, stopping them from active pursuit for several weeks."

Both Fenaleos and Meanea kept staring at Iadden in wonder, listening in astonished silence, as the dark-haired boy, extremely focused, explained his reasoning and his consequent actions.

When he stopped at the end of that phrase and looked up to them, searching for objections to his tactical decisions, Fenaleos felt compelled to nod, but he was too surprised to actually make a judgment of his own. He didn't have much to add anyway, he had never excelled at war strategy, contrarily to his Eth brother-in-law.

Not hearing protests, Iadden resumed his explanation, grasping the opportunity to speak some of his requests. "Because we'll make our stand here, Your Majesty, I'll need you to provide food, water and shelter for as many people and as much time as you can manage. We don't know how long we'll have to hold on and I've already instructed the evacuation of the cities and villages to the south. I was able to contact Crano'en's government and some trusted nobles from the South of Meya, they agreed to provide shelter and food for the refugees closer to their borders, but the ones from the central areas will most certainly come here."

Fenaleos arched his eyebrows, narrowing his eyes soon after. "So that's why we've been receiving so many people fleeing from their homes for no apparent reason. You ordered it." He commented.

"It had to be done." Iadden replied somewhat sheepishly. "The Whisperers sustain themselves by looting and destroying. We don't have the means to face them just yet. It was the only way to save them…" The king nodded in understanding.

"I'm not against it, you did well. In contacting the other countries as well. You've been saving my people even before I knew they were being attacked but…why didn't you tell me anything about it?" He asked, not able to disguise some aggravation for being kept in the dark about such an important matter.

The Eth cocked his head to the left like he usually did when lost in thought. "I have to confess I wasn't completely sure about what was happening. I also didn't know what you knew and I didn't want you to worry unnecessarily. It was Iararin'ne who brought me the confirmation I needed…" He claimed.

Meanea turned to Iararin'ne, irritated. "So THAT was the reason for your unexpected visit…" he observed. The silver-haired Ethen merely smiled apologetically. Not knowing who to trust, upon his arrival he had lied to the vice-king about that subject.

"I guess there's no point in dwelling in the past." The grizzled monarch remarked, still a little angry. "What matters is that you've been taking care of everything and I should thank you for that. You'll be keeping me informed from now on, correct?" He demanded.

"You have my word, Your Majesty." Iadden vowed seriously. "About the supplies and shelter…" He insisted. Fenaleos nodded, reassured and guaranteed by the boy's pledge. He knew the value of Iadden's promises.

"Leave it to me. I'll take care of it as soon as you finish telling me about your strategy. I presume you'll need weapons and armors as well?" He offered. Iadded agreed with a nod. "I'll arrange them. Anyway, we are still missing the most important part. Have you got any idea as to where we can find an army big enough to halt the Whisperers outside the Capitol?" The king asked innocently, it was more a concern than an actual question even. Still, there was a reason why Iadden was the head of the plan and the middle-aged monarch should've known better than to doubt the boy's arrangements.

"To gather an army was my first move. We have to hold the Whisperers at the plains, withdrawing to the Capitol shall be our ultimate resort…" The Eth said, showing, once more, that he was ahead in both knowledge and actions. "Most of the available men in N'Alaera are either too old or too young. That's why I've been looking for alternatives too. On the premise that we are fighting for the whole North, I started by fetching the old Alliance treaties and call the rest of the races who have yet to contribute to the armies."

"Races who have yet to contribute?" Meanea asked, curious. Iadden nodded, happy to answer him.

"In my journey to the north of the Magues last year, I contacted with the Elementals and the Wolf Riders. I sent word to them and already received a missive with the promise that they are gathering and will be here in a week at most." He clarified, to the surprise of the other three present in the balcony. Both races were known for being composed of various tribes of violent, aloof, egocentric individuals, who hid in their forests, being rarely seen and even less spoken to. Those tribes had an unofficial arrangement with the people from civilized countries. They left them alone and they didn't bother them either. Due to this, it was nothing short of an accomplishment to establish diplomatic relations with them, much less guarantee their aid in a coming conflict.

"How did you manage that, my child? Do you really think they are coming?" Fenaleos inquired, amazed.

The black-haired Eth shrugged. "I can't be sure, of course, but they don't seem the kind of people who'll bother answering when they don't intend to appear." The king of N'Alaera kind of agreed with the boy's thinking. Still…

"We shouldn't base our defense on them…" He wisely advised.

Iadden shook his head. "I'm not. I've spoken to the monks from the High Temple and they are getting ready as well. About four hundred Igolian women arrived yesterday and Crano'en sent something like five hundred archers and almost as many infantrymen too. They are scheduled to arrive tomorrow evening. Also, I've called the archers, lancers and knights in training throughout the country and they've already started arriving two days ago. The Maguerer's armada will be ready on time, as well. If they come too close to the Capitol, cannonballs shall rain on Whisperer heads."

Meanea smiled impishly at his younger brother's enthusiastic words, pride making his beautiful aquamarine irises shine even brighter in the evening light. "You've been busy!" He noted. "And here I thought you had been spending your evenings indulging on the pleasures of the taverns on the fifth level." He said jokingly.

Everybody knew Iadden loathed those taverns. He had been tricked into entering one of them once and he had been traumatized for life. The blush that crept into his ears from behind his mask was proof enough of his embarrassment. Meanea was positive his brother was glaring at him from behind his mask too.

Iararin'ne looked at everyone at a complete loss. The king simply smiled amused by his husband's attempt to lift the spirits while stunned and grateful at Iadden's proactive motions.

"Anyway, I'm counting with the least five thousand men." The black-haired Eth continued, clearly annoyed with his brother's teasing. "It's not much, but by my calculations that number can easily be doubled. We won't be able to expect anything from Meya's Capitol. Either way, I sent word to the Ear'ille and two other military camps I know are safe. They promised support as well."

Fenaleos raised one brow, unsure of Meya's cooperation in any form. Despite Iadden's words, the monarch still found very hard to believe any Eth would challenge the Central government, namely the Council and the Royal family, to aid a neighboring country in a deadly battle. Well, any Eth beside his brother-in-law and the ones currently residing in N'Alaera, of course.

It was Iararin'ne who surprised him this time.

"Good idea, Lord Iadden." The silver-haired Ethen endorsed optimistically. "The Ear'ille knights won't abide by the Capitol's orders as they are bound to the Alliance first, by the Lord General's command. They will surely come. Most of them are still in training, but even the weaker ones can be helpful in the battlements and with the injured." He explained earnestly to the grizzled monarch, trying to demonstrate to N'Alaera's king that the majority of Meya's people were still righteous and knew nothing of the betrayal some of their leaders had orchestrated.

Fenaleos smiled indulgently at the beautiful Ethen, but he wasn't really that convinced the warriors would come. Iararin'ne smiled back, candidly, confident the king would believe them once he saw the fierce Ear'ille knights arriving to join N'Alaera's forces against the Death Whisperers.

"Anyway, Lord Iadden, you mentioned mobilizing the Maguerer's armada. Were Meya's battleships included?" He asked, turning to the black-haired Eth.

The addressed Eth sighed and eventually shook his head negatively. "I didn't dare to approach the subject with the armada captains, since we…are not secure of the commodore's level of commitment to the Alliance." He uttered, choosing his words carefully, trying to lessen the damage he knew he would cause.

Meanea glanced quickly at Iadden with widened eyes and then turned his gaze to Iararin'ne, wisely reigning in his shock. The lovely Ethen blinked quickly, probably to get rid of surfacing tears and turned to Iadden with a shake of his silvery locks. Fenaleos looked around to the three not understanding what was going on. Iararin'ne's next words enlightened him.

"Well, my family has three river galleons at the border, fully armed. Because my brother, the commodore of Meya's armada, is absent at the moment, I'm sure they'll 'come to my aid' if I happen to be at N'Alaera when the Whisperers attack." He presented with a wink of coffee-brown eyes, forcing himself to recover from Iadden's expected suspicion regarding his brother. This was not the time to feel sorry for the man. If Lian'niel was on the wrong side of this story, then Iararin'ne had to fight for the both of them on the right side.

However, Iadden wasn't sure he dared to accept the Ethen's offer. Iararin'ne had a strong will and a kind heart, but he was no warrior. Besides he was Meya's next vice-king. They couldn't afford to lose him. "Lessin Iararin'ne, we'll face the major part of the entire Death Whisperers' army. I appreciate your offer, but I still think you should return to Meya with my brother and Anaihr." He advised cautiously.

Iararin'ne, though, would have none of it.

"Forgive me, Lord Iadden, but I'll have to refuse. You're in no position to throw away capable hands and last time I heard, Meya and N'Alaera still died together at the front. I'll stay and fight alongside you. Well, perhaps not fight in the more tactical of terms, but I'll be useful. I know some spells, I have a steady hand in stitching and I know some alchemy. I have good notion of quantities for food and water too. Worst comes to worst, I'll be happy throwing rocks from the top of the walls." He claimed, resolute, leaving no room for argument.

The vice-king of N'Alaera smiled, admiring the other Ethen's decision.

"We'll be honored with your aid, Iararin'ne." He said grateful. "I'm not going anywhere either, by the way." He added, glaring at Iadden. "I'm not abandoning my country or my family and I'm not letting Anaihr go to Meya alone now in the middle of this treachery. We'll stay and help in what we can." Meanea concluded.

Iadden and Fenaleos exchanged a meaningful look. The blond vice-king crossed his arms in front of his chest, daring them to confront him. None of them did, they sighed in helplessness instead.

"I didn't want you two to be in anymore danger than needed, Maguenta knows you already risked much just coming here Iararin'ne, but since you two already made your decision, all that is left for me to do is convey my greatest appreciation for your efforts and courage. I'll be counting on you." Iadden uttered with a bow.

Iararin'ne bowed back. "I've done so very little…it's time we start acting too." He replied, with a significant look at the black-haired Eth in front of him. The masked Eth understood the brown-eyed Ethen and nodded almost imperceptibly, agreeing with the other young man.

"Well, Iadden is right. Despite everything, thanks are in order. It will be an honor to fight alongside you three." N'Alaera's monarch stated. "Even if we fall, we won't go down easily, right my boy?" Fenaleos asked, rhetorically, still refusing to feel overly positive.

The masked boy turned to him. "I sincerely doubt that we'll defeat them on the plains by ourselves, but I'm sure we'll manage to hold them until the Alliance's armies arrive."

Fenaleos turned to the boy. "The Alliance's armies are on their way, too?" He asked, not wanting to believe in his ears.

"I believe so. It's not like they have much to fight on the south, anyway, with the Whisperers' armies here and all. Did I fail to mention that, before?" Iadden responded awkwardly, mentally revising his previous explanation. Fenaleos shook his head.

"Edyane is actually returning." Meanea commented happily to his husband, sharing the middle-aged man's excitement.

Iadden smiled sympathetically behind his mask, but he made sure his voice sounded conveniently annoyed. "Hopefully they all are…"

Fenaleos grabbed Iadden's hands. "With our two forces united, we definitely have a chance to defeat those monsters. You even sent someone to warn them. You really thought of everything, didn't you, my boy?" He complimented, proud of his brother-in-law.

Iadden sighed. "Much as I'd like to take credit, that move was not my own." He confessed, sounding worried.

"Then who?" Meanea asked.

Iararin'ne answered him, sighing deeply. "Against every recommendation, Midaen'niel went to warn the armies on his own initiative. May Maguenta protect him and illuminate his path."

"Midaen'niel?" Fenaleos and Meanea cried in unison in complete horror.

-O-

His intended still occupying his mind, the blond Ethen entered the plain quarters upon being introduced by Alsatia and Tenaii who left the room right after briefly explaining the Ethen's presence, leaving him and Yari'niel alone with the two surprised men inside. They turned to him, immediately rising from their seats at their exit. Midaen'niel hurried to bow as he recognized one of them right away, while Yari'niel, following close behind him, kneeled in profound reverence, guilt flooding his senses.

"Midaen'niel, by Maguenta, is that really you?" The Eth prince asked, moving swiftly towards his direction. Sensing the approaching man, the golden-haired Ethen raised his head with a sincere smile.

Like his voice, which had gained a mature depth, characteristic of the Eths' baritones, also Delaen'niel's looks had aged. No doubt the shorter hair added heavily to the effect, as well as the week-old stubble decorating the first prince's jaw, but the fact was that Delaen'niel looked far older than he had the last time Midaen'niel had been with the man, years ago. He had finally lost the pretty boyish features he had been known for.

Certainly, the strawberry-blond hair was present, along with the exotic green eyes, the pale complexion and the lean figure, but his face was stronger and his body more muscled. He looked manly and very handsome. Not quite as much as Lnorien, Midaen'niel had to admit (no Eth he knew could compare to his damned betrothed), but Delaen'niel had a refined charm which surely left no one indifferent.

The golden-haired Ethen almost grinned as he realized that would be yet another thing Nlie'sieri would hate his brother for. The latter was several times better-looking that the red-headed younger prince could ever hope to become.

"Maguenta, you grew up into such a beautiful Ethen… the rumors were accurate, for once." Delaen'niel said with a proud smile, reaching for Midaen'niel and kissing his forehead, affectionately. The Ethen was a little taken aback, not expecting such an open display of fondness from his usually so reserved cousin, but he surpassed his surprise quickly and hugged the man earnestly, desperately needing some comfort himself.

Delaen'niel smiled tenderly and hugged him back tightly. Apparently, the first prince had completely discharged the aloof mask he had been wearing in his youth. Another nice change about the man. It made Midaen'niel confident the prince would listen to what he had to say.

Yari'niel kept one knee on the floor, but he was looking at the two princes, an incredulous expression on his face. That Eth couldn't possibly be Prince Nlie'sieri's brother, he kept repeating to himself as they seemed nothing alike, appearance and, most importantly, personality-wise.

Another man was observing the exchange from the side, too. However, he had a happy, perhaps even relieved look on his face. Midaen'niel turned his eyes to him and the tall human bowed in greetings.

"Well, it doesn't come as a surprise to me." The warrior commented in a jovial tone, a pleasant smile gracing his agreeable features, continuing from Delaen'niel's remark. "Lessin Midaen'niel was already absolutely delightful as a child. Do you remember me, Milessin?" He asked with a charming grin.

The blond Ethen focused then on the man and he was the one stunned with whom he found. Until then, the human had been partially hid by shadows and Midaen'niel hadn't paid much consideration to him as he had entered, but now that he actually regarded the man attentively, he realized his mistake. Of course he recognized him. How could he not?

Almost shoulder-length auburn-hair, tanned complexion, attractive body and handsome features. Midaen'niel was in the presence of the greatest hero a mortal could become. The man who would prevail in History books, the Legendary warrior, the fearless leader, one of the very few humans Maguenta chose as his own sons. In front of Midaen'niel stood, proudly, His Highness, Prince Edyane of N'Alaera. Their Maguenta's Heir.

The one whose country was currently under attack. The one man who would be responsible for uniting them all or destroy everything the Alliance represented. It all depended on what the Eth leaders decided to do and what the human prince was capable of forgiving…

Edyane was older than he remembered of course. He was more tanned and appeared taller, but what drew his attention the most were the exquisite amber eyes. One could see raw strength in them and the weight of responsibility. Edyane emanated a sense of duty and commitment, a maturity in his look, stance and gestures, which Midaen'niel would have never associated with the boy he had known. Edyane had grown up into a very fine man, in every single way.

The blond Ethen smiled to himself as he remembered how his cousin Iadden would be agreeably surprised with the change in the handsome prince. Still, Midaen'niel also knew he wouldn't get to be nearly as shocked as the prince himself when he discovered Iadden's secret.

Being a Dreamseer was unsettling, most of the times, but it also had its perks. Very few, unlike many believed, but still some very good ones.

The Ethen smiled softly, as he thought of Iadden and Edyane, and could not disguise the mischievous glint in his eyes.

Lost in his contemplations, he noticed too late that he must have stayed quiet for far too long. The two princes were looking at him quizzically, amber and green eyes both frowning at him.

Midaen'niel averted his blue eyes a little sheepishly. He wasn't sure how he should behave in front of the human prince, when he knew who he was becoming and what some Eths had been plotting to do to his country.

"Of course I do, Your Highness. It's a pleasure to meet you again, Prince Edyane." The Siekih Ethen greeted, opting for cordiality. "I thank you both for your words, but I'm perfectly conscious that I must look utterly rugged, sires." He affirmed with an embarrassed smile, resorting in part to his charm as a demure Ethen.

The human prince smiled at that and opened his mouth to speak, but Delaen'niel was faster.

"That's because you've inherited your brother's foolishness." The latter admonished with a sigh, his fists on his waist. "You deserve a lecture, Midaen'niel. What were you thinking coming all the way here with just a man as an escort?" He asked, scrunching his brows in frustration and waving a hand in Yari'niel's direction.

The kneeling Eth lowered his head, feeling even more shameful now that he had the prince's attention. He wondered briefly what that man would do to him once he realized he had been siding with Nlie'sieri. The blond Eth would have to be a very benevolent person to forgive something like treason. Sure, Yari'niel hadn't been doing so conscious of the extent of his mistake. However, he had been a mercenary. The evils he had done could not be erased. No matter how much he regretted now not having stood up against the Second prince, he was still as much a traitor as Nlie'sieri. He would have to pay for his wrongs.

If only he was given a second chance so he could do the right thing this time, like Lord Lnorien Erephine had asked of him… Lnorien Erephine, the incredible man who had been responsible for his returning hope and the beginning of his absolution just had to be the same man who was to marry Lessin Midaen'niel. The Fates truly were playing with them all. Well, at least the Eth wasn't some stuck-up high noble. Midaen'niel would be in very capable hands. And speaking of the devil…

"The Lord General has already given me one." The Siekih Ethen complained with a huff and an annoyed look, much to the other two princes' surprise.

Edyane and Delaen'niel exchanged a conniving glance with each other. The human prince arched his eyebrows wickedly, a broad grin on his lips. His Eth conspirator wasn't so blatant in his amusement, maintaining a somewhat serious face, but Midaen'niel could tell he shared the human's feelings. The diverted glow in his green eyes clearly gave him away, right along with the slight curving of his lips.

"As he should." He agreed, nodding, his voice tinged with tightly controlled laughter. The auburn-haired prince actually chuckled.

"I can imagine…the man must have had the scare of his life." He murmured under his breath. Midaen'niel heard him nonetheless...and frowned.

"Excuse me?" He righteously asked. Delaen'niel glared at the human prince.

"He meant nothing." The green-eyed Eth hurried to say, purposely focusing his attention on the man on the floor, once again. "Sire, please rise. You've been kneeling for far too long and your knee is too precious to be hurt simply because of our titles." He stated, moving past Midaen'niel and extending his right hand to help Yari'niel. The Rarin noble visibly startled and gazed at the offered hand for a long time.

"Well, you finally met your betrothed." Edyane was stating to the suspicious Ethen, disregarding Delaen'niel's plain attempt to change the subject. "So, how do you find him?" He asked, arching his brows again.

Midaen'niel openly blushed with the question and pursed his lips annoyed both with the indecently curious human and at himself for being so susceptible to taunts about Lnorien.

"I'm not here to speak about my betrothed, Your Highness." He declared firmly. "I have important business to attend with you both." He added at the same time Yari'niel kneeled in the floor with his two knees and bowed facing the concrete, earning a confused look from the Eth prince who still had his hand extended.

"Please, Your Highness, don't waste your kindness on me. I'm not worthy." He admitted in a weak voice. Delaen'niel blinked quickly at the man prostrated at his feet and turned backwards looking to Midaen'niel for enlightenment.

The Ethen had no idea what his own expression was, but something must have clicked in Delaen'niel's mind upon eyeing it.

He sobered up quickly. Edyane did, too, quieting down, and the pleasant atmosphere lived in the room until that moment disappeared almost instantly.

"Is this about the faction rising against me in the Capitol?" The first prince inquired, his voice sounding weary but firm. Midaen'niel glanced up at him in surprise. Delaen'niel was staring back, his expression a little frazzled and awfully serious. It seemed he had already some knowledge of the situation.

Finding it rather odd since the Ethen knew of no one brave enough to have provided that information to the army, Midaen'niel simply nodded his head affirmatively, waiting for Delaen'niel to elaborate on the reason for his question.

Delaen'niel's reaction was not what he expected, though. The man hung his head slightly and silently in despair, his exotic green orbs, which had shone with delight just some minutes before, appearing now utterly tired and reflecting a deep sadness.

The Ethen realized then, for the first time, his cousin's situation and his own very difficult position. Delaen'niel's previous joviality had been expertly concealing a haggard prince. In front of him was a man whose mind and body were exhausted. The war, the preoccupations, the leadership, perhaps even some remnant of Ryaen'ne's death, all of it, was wearing him down still and had been for a long time.

The Ethen should have been expecting it, but, foolishly, he hadn't. He had no idea of the sacrifices and hazards these men had been facing beyond the actual war. After all, despite all his suffering and all the tragedies, he had been sheltered by the luxury and privileges of the Capitol, never once lacking safety, warmth, good food or water. Could his cousin and the soldiers say the same thing?

Delaen'niel obviously knew something was going on in his country, but did he know the whole extent of it? Did he know about Nlie'sieri? Midaen'niel had a feeling that his revelations would only serve to break his cousin's spirit even more.

It was the human prince the next to act. In a show of companionship and loyalty that tore the blond Ethen's heart apart, Edyane moved next to the Eth first prince and placed a supporting hand on his shoulder. Did he know about the Death Whisperers' attack on his country? Would he have done that if he knew of his race's betrayal? Could he be that understanding? Perhaps they had not been as updated on the circumstances as Midaen'niel had first believed…

"You're not the first to come to us because of this matter, Milessin, but the fact that you felt the need to do so despite all the danger such an enterprise poses only reveals the gravity of the case. Please, Lessin Midaen'niel, tell us what you know." The human prince bid, serious, while Delaen'niel turned to the Ethen earnestly and agreed with a nod, inviting him to speak openly.

-O-

The dark-haired Eth looked ahead into the irregular shard of glass he was using as a makeshift mirror. Ice-blue eyes looked back at him, tired and gloomy. Mere glimmers when compared to the strong ones usually staring back in a normal day.

However, that had been everything but an ordinary day to him. Such a day involved battles, blood, gore, strategies, war. Not a confrontation with the most enchanting Ethen in the world. An Ethen who had traveled miles, encountered innumerous perils and endured countless privations to reach them. An Ethen he had not even dreamed could be in any kind of danger. An Ethen who just happened to be his own intended.

Ridaen'ne Rarin had been a fake. He had known that from the start. Still, for that to be a disguise for his betrothed? How could he even think such a thing could be possible? It would completely escape him even if he had known Midaen'niel well. His Lessin was supposed to be safe, damn it! Surrounded by luxury and comfort in his palace, miles away from the war, worried only with the robes he was going to wear the next day and the flowers in his garden.

Lnorien sighed, feeling as worn-out as his eyes had given away. He passed a fist through his hair and grabbed a small bar of soap from the table beside him. Dipping the hard substance into the basin of water briefly, he then rubbed it in his hands creating a cloud of bubbles and foam he proceeded to spread on his face.

He should've trusted his instincts. Like always, they had seemed to have a mind of their own and they had been right on target. What had they told him? That that Ethen had the same gorgeous sapphire-blue eyes of his betrothed. That the way he moved and spoke spelled royalty. That such a beauty couldn't be common. Why hadn't he listened? He could've been on guard at least, consider the possibility.

He had been so close, too. He had even wondered about the reason why the Rarin knight had come to them all the way from the Capitol with that mysterious Ethen. Now, it was clear. He had been guarding him with his life. He owed that man much more than he had ever realized. No amount of prestige or gold could ever repay Yari'niel for the great service he had done to him. His debt was huge. He should've been the one protecting his intended. He had promised as much to Ryaen'ne before his death. He had promised he would always be there for the man's adored humming bird.

'Why else have I trained so hard all my life for, if not to keep the one I love safe from harm?' He had answered Ryaen'ne's pledge with a smile, confident, if nothing else, in his intellect and fighting abilities. In the end, he had failed.

To make matters worse, he had been an utter fool in his mistake. When it really mattered, he had overlooked all the little details and he had been caught unprepared in the only situation he had always feared to be and promised himself he would not.

Midaen'niel Siekih was every bit as beautiful as he remembered. No, he was even more so. The rumors didn't do him justice. He had grown up to be so fair and captivating, but was also as strong-willed as his deceased brother.

Alsatia had been right. His judgment had indeed been compromised, he realized. Nonetheless, not only by the Ethen's breathless beauty. No, Lnorien's senses had been dulled mostly by the boy's caring and dauntless personality. You weren't able to know someone just from looking at him from afar…

It was true. Lnorien had surreptitiously climbed the tall walls of the Siekih's manor in his youth. Many more times than he dared to admit even to his best friends. All so he could freely admire his betrothed without being seen. Ryaen'ne always chastised him for it. But, what else was he supposed to do after the outright comment the four-year old Midaen'niel had made when they had first met?

'You're going to marry me? But you're so ugly!' He had said, scrunching his little perfect nose.

Lnorien recalled it as clearly as if it had happened just yesterday. The moment had been marked on his soul for eternity. The Siekih family had been so embarrassed and he had smiled to ease their hearts, but damn, that had hurt like hell. He had cried a lot afterwards too, in the lonesome of his carriage on his journey to the south.

The ice-eyed Eth had promised himself then that the next time they met, he would prove to be a man worthy of Midaen'niel's greatness. Perhaps with age, the Ethen would come to accept him for what he was and disregard how he looked. It had been a long shot, but one he had had to try. Lnorien would hate to have to acknowledge his father's disdainful comments regarding his betrothal.

Ryaen'ne had often chided him for his thoughts, too, and had shaken his head at his antics, but not even he could erase his doubts or the fact that a royal Ethen had already ended up dead because he didn't approve of his betrothed's looks.

Then the war had come and Lnorien was given the opportunity to be more than just a decent knight and nobleman. It had given him the chance to be someone Midaen'niel could be proud of. Someone the Lessin wouldn't be ashamed to bring to a social event filled with the refined nobles from the Capitol.

Yet, that same war had distanced them even more. The Erephine heir had the perfect notion that no amount of gifts could ever make up for his absences, especially when Midaen'niel was already two years into marrying age, but he had hoped the Lessin would understand he was needed in the battlefield. Obviously, he had been wrong. Midaen'niel had been resentful, angry at him. He had felt the need to journey into the army himself. He did not trust his own intended.

The same circumstances that had given Lnorien the perfect excuse to hide the only insecurity he had in his life had almost provoked a tragedy. Could they be responsible also for the downfall of his commitment with his betrothed? Maguenta, he hoped not.

With another sigh, the dark-haired man dropped the soap in the table and moved the candlestick closer to him.

Night had settled outside for quite some time now, the twin red moons high in the sky above the Sacred Wall. The little light Lnorien had came from the few lighted candles in his nearly bare chambers. Those same candles kept themselves busy creating spooky shadows in the corners around him, while the gentle breeze coming from the open window played with their flames. Not that the Eth occupying the place would ever be afraid of shadows. He was used to far worse demons.

The only thing he had ever been afraid of, even more so as time passed, had happened a few days ago in that fateful night. His betrothed had finally known him. At last, after eighteen years of hiding.

When he said know, he really meant know him. Lnorien hadn't felt the need to protect himself or control his reactions like he surely would in another situation. His personality had presented itself raw, completely in the open for the Ethen to realize day after day during a whole week, who Lnorien Erephine was. For he had leisurely been himself, hiding nothing else, just his name. Midaen'niel had seen him fight and kill like the monster he was. He had witnessed his arrogance and his stubbornness. He had seen him naked in both body and soul.

The Erephine heir had planned to be his best when he met his promised Ethen. Properly dressed, perfumed, shaved, impeccable manners shining through. Not dirty, smelling like horses, sweat and blood, his clothes old and ragged, his hair disheveled and hastily cut and his face without a decent shave for at least a week, while he adopted a suspicious and cruel pose. He had even managed to scare the boy during that unforgivable lack of composure in the river. If the ice-eyed Eth had any hope Midaen'niel would want him after that, then the Lessin's reaction the previous evening made his dissatisfaction crystal clear.

Well, at least, he couldn't say he had been completely surprised by it. He had been expecting the rage and disappointment he had seen in the gorgeous sapphire-blue eyes. He had been angry and sad with him, as if Lnorien had let him down. Which was true, he had to admit. There was no way his actions, or lack thereof, could be considered anything but neglect towards his Promised one. Who would believe him if he said he was afraid to meet the Ethen? Who would believe he had been wary of reject and scorn coming from the man he was supposed to marry? No one who didn't know him. Certainly not beautiful and determined Midaen'niel.

The positive aspect in all this mess, perhaps even the only one, was that he could only get better in the Ethen's consideration in the future…

Lnorien raised his short knife to his face, but stopped before he could actually complete his intent. Outside his quarters, heavy steps sounded gradually louder, coming closer to his room. They stopped near the door for a while but no knock sounded on the wood. Instead, they appeared to recede back to the corridor, only to return seconds later in a frenzy of indecision. Still, no knock even then.

The Lord General huffed and in an irritated impulse, got up and went to the door, opening it abruptly. The man on the other side startled, jumping a little in the air.

"L-lord General?" He stuttered, surprised. Lnorien nodded distractedly, frowning while trying to recognize the flowery scented older Eth. He did not, what was undeniably strange since he knew every knight in his army and most of them by name and family crest. Other weird fact was the man's appearance. He was too…clean and proper, to put it simply. His warriors, even the refined ones from the Capitol, had forsaken those types of robes for more practical ones a long time ago…and perfume was a luxury he hadn't seen (or smelled) in their camp since the second month of war when a rampage of dragons had put that part of their supplies aflame.

The aged man bowed exaggeratedly in front of him, in reverence. Lnorien arched an eyebrow. Who was that Eth?

"It's an indescribable honor to finally meet you, Milord General Erephine." The man said. The black-haired Eth replied with a simple greeting, not used to so much reverence, and waited for the elder to explain himself.

"I am very sorry to disturb you, Milord, when you have just arrived and are obviously busy, but I have a subject of the utmost importance to discuss with you."

Lnorien observed the man silently for some more several moments with a frown. The elder fidgeted a little under the scrutiny. Eventually, finding no alarming signs coming from the flowery-scented Eth, Lnorien shrugged and motioned to his quarters. "Very well. Let's get inside."

Though a little surprised, the man bowed slightly (again) and took the lead. The general of the Eth army followed suit and closed the door behind himself. He pulled a chair for the man and grabbed a rag to wipe the soap off his face. Then he turned to the newcomer, leaning against the sole table in the room.

Noticing he had the lord's attention, the man began. "They told me you listen to anyone, so I took my chances coming here. I was really not expecting to be received by the Lord General himself without speaking to some servant or lower knight first." He rambled, with an amazed smile. Lnorien stared blankly at the Eth.

"You are definitely not one of my warriors." The dark-haired general affirmed, stating the obvious, politely trying to lead the man into his main subject. The older Eth nodded, with a nervous laugh.

"You are correct, of course, Milord General. Forgive me, I have yet to introduce myself." He confirmed, becoming serious. "I'm Guare Ne'era, a senior sailor from our Armada's flagship and tutor to Lord Lian'niel Benur'el." Lnorien frowned at that; the man was a long way from home. What was he doing here?

The elder's next words answered his silent question.

"My master has come here to speak with His Highness, First prince Delaen'niel. Master Lian'niel didn't mention the subject which brought him here and honestly I didn't ask, but to my shock, after the conversation, the First prince ordered Lord Lian'niel's imprisonment last week and not even I am allowed to see him. Prince Delaen'niel has refused to see me as well and I don't know what to do. Being the Lord General, certainly the guards won't deny you passage, Milord. I don't want to free my master, I just want to see if he's alright. Master Lian'niel is like a son to me, I can't possibly imagine what he could have said or done to require such a measure from the First Prince."

Those revelations did surprise the ice-eyed general to a certain point, but he recovered quite fast, for his bright mind quickly provided a possible explanation for the occurrence.

Lnorien Erephine absentmindedly rubbed the unshaved stubble on his chin in thought. The attacks to N'Alaera came to his mind, as did the claims of his intended and his own theories about the traitor in Meya.

"I think I may have an idea. Take me to your master. I need a word with him." He ordered, marching to the door, to the older Eth's surprise. The man hurried to follow, simply amazed at having his wish fulfilled so easily.

-O-

A heavy silence permeated the room after Midaen'niel stopped speaking.

The Ethen had shared all his knowledge about what was occurring, realizing, soon after starting, that whatever Delaen'niel and Edyane had thought they knew was very little compared to what was really going on.

Obviously, the one or ones who had informed them had known very little about Nlie'sieri's true extent of betrayal despite originating from the Capitol. Nonetheless, the fact that they had exposed Nlie'sieri in the first place was a source of surprise for Midaen'niel. Those men, whose identify had yet to be revealed to the Ethen, had displayed a huge amount of courage, loyalty and selflessness in coming to warn the first prince. Nlie'sieri would be sure to have them killed if he ever suspected or Delaen'niel went to him with their names. They had faced a huge risk. The same risk Midaen'niel was now facing.

He silently prayed with all his might that Delaen'niel would give him the benefit of the doubt and would, at least, do something to save N'Alaera. With Lnora's whereabouts unknown and the consequent disappearance of the Bow of Lvekkia, Midaen'niel had no proof of his powers as the Dream Seer. He had no way to convince any of them of his integrity and his loyalty to the first prince or the Alliance. It would be his word, the word of an Ethen, against the word of the Second prince, who wasn't even there to defend himself. Delaen'niel truly had no reason to trust him in detriment of his adored younger brother.

Despite all that, the blond Ethen had had no other choice if he wanted to salvage the Alliance. So, he told them everything. Nlie'sieri's treachery, doings and plans, the attack on N'Alaera and the Death Whisperers' main moves across their lands.

Silence had been established afterwards. It had yet to be broken by anyone, though the ambience was cracking with emotions of every kind.

Yari'niel, now sitting on a chair as they all were, had a resigned look on his features, staring at the floor with vehemence. His face was ash-pale like a ghost, his injuries and the revelations both taking its toll on him. He didn't dare raise his head above his shoulders.

Now that Midaen'niel had spoken them out loud, and the two main victims of the betrayal were there to hear them, the lessin's words seemed a lot more real than when spoken only to him during their journey. His flaws, his wrongs, his cowardice and his own betrayal. He had played a part in Nlie'sieri's doings and no matter what he did, he could never erase his past. The least he could do was to be true now and accept humbly any punishment deemed fit for him.

Delaen'niel sat very still in his chair, looking down as well, but apparently in contemplation. He was frowning deeply, but otherwise looked serene, not panicking like he had the hour before.

The only one with an expected reaction under the circumstances was Edyane, who kept gaping at Midaen'niel, clearly nonplussed.

Suddenly, he got up and started pacing the room, trying to make sense of all that mess. Thus, he was also the first one to speak.

"Let me get this straight." He started, after a deep sigh. "Nlie'sieri, Delaen's younger brother, has been plotting with the Whisperers, for ten years, to kill Delaen and destroy the Alliance, in order to become King. Meanwhile, he has full control of all Meya through the Council, because he has been poisoning his father to make him ill so he can't rule."

"But he can't kill him yet, because then I would return and take the country. He's waiting for me to die in the war. Then he would be a legitimate heir." The Eth prince stated, breaking his own silence while interrupting the human to better clarify his thoughts.

Edyane glanced at him and continued after another sigh. "Right. So, because you live, his next step is to destroy the Alliance. For that, he allows them to invade MY country, through Meya's lands, while we all live the illusion of a Treaty that does not exist. We return home only to fall, and the rest of the army, rushing to aid us, falls next. The Whisperers conquer all the Alliance but Meya, ruled by your brother. Is that it?" The auburn-haired human asked stopping, raising his brows and crossing his arms in front of his chest.

Delaen'niel and Midaen'niel nodded at the same time. Edyane huffed, not convinced.

"I'm sorry but I don't believe it. That your brother wants your throne and that he would go to great lengths to assassinate you and your father I can accept as true even if you don't, Delaen. But, to ally himself with the Whisperers…no one is that foolish." He claimed, crossing his arms. Meya's first prince didn't react to his friend's comment, maintaining the same thoughtful stance. Midaen'niel kept watching him quietly, as well, not knowing what to say to the obvious truth.

"They will never let him rule," The human prince continued, angered but still incredulous. "They'll destroy him as soon as he becomes useless to them. Besides, why would the Whisperers even resort to such a scheme? Maguenta knows they have more than enough monsters to defeat us without it." He grumbled, stopping his pacing and turning to the blond Ethen with an irritated glare.

Midaen'niel lowered his head with sadness.

"Unfortunately, I don't have any means to prove to you that I'm right, unless you see for yourself. What I can say is that Nlie'sieri is simply too arrogant to think ahead of his own ambition. And the Whisperers, well, they agreed to his plan because they are afraid they might not win the war solely with their armies' strength. You've stood up to them sturdily for ten years, never giving up an inch. Their resources are not as endless as you think." The Ethen replied softly, trying to defend his visions the best he could without revealing his gift. He had a feeling they would be even more skeptical of him if he exposed his secret as well. Many had claimed themselves to be the Dream Seer over the years in order to gain some advantage or other. Midaen'niel didn't have time to even more doubts on their part.

But, of course, Edyane had to ask the dreaded question, that, which Midaen'niel had no idea how to answer…

"And how do you know all that, Milessin? Do you have any spies among the Whisperers?" He inquired, not without some degree of sarcasm. Midaen'niel sighed, troubled, not knowing what to say, under the attentive gaze of both Edyane and Yari'niel. The latter knew nothing of his powers. That had been one of the few things he had kept from the man. Certainly, the knight had had the same doubt, but, for some reason, he had refrained from asking. Still, now that the question had been formulated out loud, also he was glancing expectantly at the Ethen.

The aid came from where Midaen'niel least expected it.

"Because he's the Dream Seer." Delaen'niel revealed matter-of-factly with a serious, understanding and warm look towards his dumbfounded golden-haired cousin. The other two immediately turned to the Eth prince, disbelief written all over their faces.

"What?" Edyane and Yari'niel uttered at the same time.

Midaen'niel merely gaped at the First prince of Meya, who repeated calmly, this time looking directly to the human prince. "He's the Dream Seer, Edyane."

The auburn-haired human blinked at his friend and then turned to the Ethen. "Is that true?" He asked softly, not daring to believe just yet that the Dream Seer was something other than a mere myth. His eyes widened when Midaen'niel nodded, without turning, still gazing at Delaen'niel.

"I am, but…how do you know, my prince? Only Iadden and Iararin'ne know. I never told anyone else." He confided, surprised. The green-eyed Eth smiled sadly.

"You didn't need to. When you were a toddler you always went to your brother after a bad dream. Soon, he began to realize that everything you dreamed eventually happened. For years I believed he was the Dream Seer. He always refused to try the Bow of Lvekkia and he always seemed to foresee everything that would occur, especially the tragedies. One day, he finally confessed to me that you were the one who told him those things. I didn't believe him then." Delaen'niel said, eyes sad, looking ahead, his mind lost in a distant past. Midaen'niel gazed down at his folded hands, doing his best to hide the tears threatening to fall.

"Ryaen'ne always did know more than he ought to…" Edyane murmured, his voice rough with grief as Delaen'niel continued.

"The night before he died, he...well, he knew he was going to die. You told him to prevent it, so he knew. That night he made me promise to protect you. He asked me to trust you. The next day he risked everything to protect me, to protect the Alliance. And here you are, like him, risking everything to warn us. You have the same courage, the same will… and the same foolishness. You are everything he said you would be. I have no reason to doubt you." The Meya prince concluded, rising from his chair to hug the now openly crying Ethen.

Midaen'niel hugged him back tightly, not knowing what to say or how else to express the relief he felt for being trusted and believed.

"Edyane, Midaen'niel is not the first to come to us because of this treason." Delaen'niel affirmed to his human friend, gazing at the auburn-haired man without letting go of his Ethen cousin. "Despite all the pain it causes me, I cannot discharge it anymore. Whether my brother is behind this or not is of little significance right now. At this very moment, an army we took ten years to repel might be attacking your country. We need to assemble the armies and get them to N'Alaera before it's too late."

Fully convinced already, the addressed man nodded. "I agree, of course. But, the generals won't bulge based on Lessin Midaen'niel's word alone, especially the Eth ones."

"I'll vouch for him, but it may not be enough." Delaen'niel admitted as he helped the golden-haired Ethen wipe his tears off his face. "Have you told Lnorien about this, Midaen'niel?"

The Ethen shook his head. "No." He confessed a little sheepishly.

Edyane and Delaen'niel both turned to the golden-haired boy surprised, arching their brows.

"Why? You can't possibly suspect him." The human prince affirmed, frowning.

"Oh, no, of course not." Midaen'niel hurried to say. "He saved my life. I just…didn't think he would believe me."

"The Lord General and the southern warriors are loyal to you, Your Highness, Prince Delaen'niel. In all of Meya, Lnorien Erephine is a Legend. No one would dare to go against him, not even Prince Nlie'sieri's men. His greatest fear was you both marching on the Capitol." Yari'niel said, finally breaking his own silence. The first prince of Meya turned to him.

"You used to work for him, too, didn't you?" He questioned firmly, already knowing the answer. The brown-haired Eth lowered his head, kneeling on the floor again.

"I did and I'll obediently accept any punishment Your Highness decides to give me." He declared humble and ashamed. "Prince Nlie'sieri controls everyone on the Capitol. One way or another. I'm not trying to excuse myself, but, most of us, who work for him, probably maybe even all of us, we have no idea we are contributing to high treason. He always keeps his plans to himself, he merely orders and we follow. Those who ask too many questions are punished and those who defy him are killed or imprisoned. Life in the Capitol is hard enough these days and he is generous with his rewards. Fear and gold, that's how he holds us down. I'm sure that if you returned, most of us would be on your side. We are just not powerful or brave enough to stand up on our own against him."

Delaen'niel sighed tiredly, glancing at the man prostrated on the pavement. It seemed so unreal all that betrayal. Somehow, he couldn't yet think of that man as a traitor. He was a fellow countryman. Son and brother to some of his most trustworthy personal knights. His family was loyal and hardworking. What brought that man to disgrace their name like that? Fear and gold? Was that it?

"He helped me as soon as I told him Nlie'sieri's plans. I wouldn't have been here now if he hadn't. I'd probably be in Nlie'sieri's hands by now. He's a good man, a loyal knight, cousin. He almost died protecting me. Please, give him a second chance." Midaen'niel pleaded with the first prince. Delaen'niel nodded after a moment of thought.

"Very well. Lord Yari'niel Rarin, you should thank Midaen'niel and your family. I'll give you another chance for your father and brothers' sake. The Rarin are trusted knights, respected in the army. They don't need to be disgraced because of you, so no one will know about this. You'll still have a discrete punishment. I'll deal with that later, though. We have more important things to do now. You were injured while protecting my cousin, you should recover your strength and go see your family."

Yari'niel raised his head, glancing at the benevolent prince, not believing his ears. He half expected to see the sarcastic smirk, the sign he should punish himself right then and there despite the prince's words. It was a test of loyalty so often enforced by Nlie'sieri. However, Delaen'niel had a serious face, a somewhat hurt and pained expression which revealed he was displeased but hopeful Yari'niel would find his way and rise to his family's level. He was truly being given a second chance. He would not waste it.

"Thank you, Your Highness. You won't regret it, I promise you." He vowed, touched, rising one knee and putting one fist on his chest. Delaen'niel nodded, satisfied.

"I sincerely hope not. Now, go get yourself treated." He said. Yari'niel rose and bowed to the other three princes. Midaen'niel was smiling beautifully at him. Yari'niel smiled back, relieved, mouthing a thank you and exited the room.

"There's another soul I need to get out of the lockup too, by the way." The First prince of Meya commented distractingly as the Rarin knight left. Edyane smiled a little to himself. Well, it seemed his dear friend was back from his depression. That was the strong, hopeful Delaen'niel they all knew and loved.

"Anyway, Quera is already calling the other generals, right? The ideal would be getting the armies to start marching north tomorrow morning." Said prince was saying, perhaps a little too optimistically now. The human prince huffed.

"Even if we manage to convince them quickly that N'Alaera is being attacked, it'll take time for us to agree on all the plans and strategy and then to mobilize all the men. It's going to be a long night. I'll be happy if we manage to start moving tomorrow evening. Damnit, Lnorien should have been here. It would be a lot faster with him already on our side. Next time, Milessin, you tell him first." He enforced, pointing in Midaen'niel's direction.

"If only he'd believe me…" The Ethen complained with a sigh. Delaen'niel patted his golden locks.

"He would." He said, confident and encouraging. "Faster than me even. Believe me, Midaen'niel, Lnorien would go to the Underworld and back for you."

Tbc…

Ending notes: Sheesh, I'm really sick of this chapter. I just couldn't pull it off. It has been the hardest one I remember to write. My next update will probably be in one month. Still, considering my last predictions I'm not promising anything this time.