Disclaimer; Elemental Truth, the first of the Elemental Wars books, is in the final stages of editing. I’m sorry this bit took so long to get to you. Hope you all enjoy it.
Xin narrowed her eyes, focusing fully on the surface of the small stream. She willed it to cool, clenching her fists at her sides. Euka was right, hand gestures were unnecessary. Steam rose from the surface of the stream as it smoothed, crackling as it froze. Water spilled over the frozen surface, and Xin froze that too. Sweat was trickling down her back by the time she released it, allowing the ice to melt.
“Very good.” Euka patted her shoulder. “Your control is getting much better.”
“I have a long way to go.” Xin said.
“You have come very far from where you started though.”
“True.” She gave a rueful grin. She was pleased. She wished Tier was here, wondered if he’d be proud of her. She swallowed and pushed the thought from her mind. She wasn’t as winded as she’d been before. Nor was her head pounding.
“There is no doubt you will get there.” Euka inclined his head, his eyes losing focus, and the stream froze solid from the top of the hill to the small pond back behind the training grounds. Xin sighed.
He turned towards her as the water rapidly thawed. “There are stories of water elementals who specialized in ice manipulation.” He chuckled. “In the Library of Timen there is a whole floor dedicated to the lore and history of the Water Elementals.”
“Master Euka!” A messenger youth, a young woman with short cropped hair and a simple shift tied at the waist with a braided cord, ran up. She inclined her head in Xin’s direction and handed the Water Master a rolled parchment.
He took it and peered at her. “Are the ships here?”
“They’re up the river. Scouts spotted them.” The woman grinned at Xin. “Ever been to Festival before?”
“No.” Xin shook her head.
“You’ll love it then!”
“Tell Iro I’ll meet her by the docks.”
The messenger inclined her head. “Yes sir.” She turned and trotted up the road, her dark brown curls bouncing on her shoulders.
“I think your lessons will resume after the Festival.” Euka motioned Xin to follow him. She tightened her cloak against the chill in the air and followed him up the narrow road to the wider road, passing brilliant streamers and paper lanterns shaped like horses that were hung from the corners of the houses.
The past seven days, the entire city was a buzz with anticipation. Ships from Tyrsleth were making their way south, depositing visitors from the northern lands. Children led by priests and priestesses had spent days decorating the streets up and down Sandau, the brightly colored streamers danced in the fall breeze.
“The Harvest Celebration goes back before the founding of Sandau itself.” Euka pointed towards the small temple which was being draped with colorful ribbons. “It’s said the dragon god Sandanu and his lover, Sensua, returned to the Beyond in the autumn, as the fields were being harvested. So we, in Sandau, celebrate their gifts of knowledge.” Euka pursed his lips, his brows pulling together. “Or something like that.”
Xin chuckled and glanced back towards the river, her breath catching.
River ships were making their way to the docks, decorated with bright ribbons and streamers. Children were lined up along the river bank cheering as the ships neared. Xin glanced at Euka.
“See the red flag flying on that ship?” Euka pointed.
Xin looked towards the ship he’d pointed out It was the largest of the four. The sails a were red and a red banner with symbol of a dragon in flight whipped in the wind. On its bow Xin could make out a crowd of red-clad people.
“What about it?”
“It belongs to Lady Sasha, a fire elemental from northern Tyrese, and some of her apprentices.” Euka chuckled. “Like the Fire Elementals of Sandau, those in Tyrese are known for their strength of will and mind.”
“In other words they’re both stubborn and thick as bricks.” Aitelle said as she arrived, floating. Her hair tousled and eyes bright.
“Aitelle.” Euka frowned at her.
“It’s true.” Aitelle was hovering about half a foot off the ground, hands resting on her hips. Her hair floated about her face, long curls moving in a gentle breeze. “The fire elementals are some of the most stubborn, thick skulled, arrogant people I’ve ever met. Well, except for Nesh.” She flashed a smile at Xin, a slight flush to her cheeks.
“Lord Nesh,” Euka wiggled his finger at her. “Is in a class of his own. You should be more respectful.”
“I am being respectful!” Aitelle winked at Xin. “Come on Xin, I want to show you some of the preparations.”
Euka snorted. “Or shadow his lordship around?”
Aitelle crossed her arms, sniffing. “Would I do that?”
Euka just arched an eyebrow and Aitelle stuck her tongue out at him.
“Do you need my help with anything, Euka?” Xin asked, hesitant to leave the aging water Master.
“No, Xin,” he made a shooing motion, his dark eyes twinkling. “Go and see the city, she’s a beautiful sight during festivals. You might want to tie a rope to Aitelle’s ankle though, she’s practically cloud level in anticipation.”
Aitelle lowered herself back to the ground, gave Euka a dirty look, and linked her arm with Xin’s, guiding her towards the simple, yet elegant Spirit Elemental complex.
“For your information, I didn’t shadow him.” She murmured as soon as they got out of earshot. “I was running errands and he happened to be going to the same place as I was.”
Xin nodded. “I believe you.” She began to say something else but forgot what she was going to say. The Spirit Elemental complex had been draped in pale blue and pink banners, each one had a different embroidered symbol. Standing on the porch stood Lady Launi, dressed in a simple pale dress and cloak. She was in an intense conversation with Lord Nesh, who was in his customary red tunic and trousers.
Xin glanced at Aitelle who took a deep breath. “He cuts a fine figure.” She murmured.
Aitelle nodded and sighed, then grinned at Xin. “He’s nice to look at, eye sweets, my mother would have said.” Her smile faltered a bit. “But I wasn’t kidding, Fire Elementals are stubborn.”
“I doubt they’re as stubborn as Nekarians.” Xin murmured. Aitelle laughed.
“Come on, there’s the cart man. We’ll grab some hot rolls and go compare the differences between firelords and Nekarian Princes!” Aitelle lifted again, floating through the air towards the old man.
Xin wasn’t sure of his name. He was old, older than Matau and he pushed a two wheeled cart through the city, selling hot steaming buns filled with seasoned sweet meats. His clothes were worn and patched, hung from his thin frame and his shoes were tied to his feet with strips of cloth. He smiled at Aitelle, his dark eyes hazy from cataracts.
“Hello Aitelle, getting ready for the feast?” Despite his frail appearance, his voice was deep, commanding.
“Yes!” Aitelle handed him some coins and took the basket heaped with rolls. “Are you going to the games?”
“Of course! I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” He nodded a greeting at Xin and turned his attention a group of children who gathered around him, their hands held out. They looked to be between nine and ten years, and all looked a bit scruffy around the edges. He leaned towards them. “What have you for me today?”
“I helped Lady Launi gather water lilies from the pond to put on the tables for the feast!” One boy exclaimed.
“I helped Old Mags pull the fancy cloth for the tables!” A bright eyed girl said almost dancing in place.
“I watched Gyn and Tal for Juniper while she and Fero took a walk!” There were snickers at that, and more as each of the children declared a deed or chore they accomplished. When they were done the old man nodded and placed a roll in each outstretched hand.
“It is the responsibility of all of us, to ensure the next generation will take care of our lands.” Aitelle said in a low voice. “He never charges the children money for his rolls.”
“Just good deeds.” Xin smiled, glancing towards the Spirit Elemental buildings. Her skin tightened, prickling as she realized Lord Nesh was looking in their direction. She looked away, towards the river quickly. He was an imposing figure, though not as imposing as Tier. As tall, not as muscular, his was a willowy grace that spoke of barely contained energy. She couldn’t help but compare the two men, both powers in their own right, both undeniably attractive. She far preferred Tier’s powerful bulk to Nesh’s lean lines.
“Xin?” Aitelle’s voice brought her from her musings and she forced a smile.
“Just thinking.” Xin shrugged. Aitelle stared at her, her dark grey eyes large and thoughtful.
“You miss your Prince.” She said softly.
Xin felt her throat tighten and she nodded, looking towards the river. Missed? That was an understatement. She replayed their short time together, every night before sleeping. Frustrating as it was, and she longed for more time. She feared what might have befallen him on his return.
Aitelle lowered herself to the ground and touched her shoulder, her large eyes suddenly seemed to see into Xin’s soul.
“Perhaps he’ll come back.” She said softly.
“No.” Xin shook her head, moving towards the small wooden dock Aitelle had pointed out earlier. “If he returns,” she glanced around furtively, assuring herself there were no nearby ears. “It would be as conqueror at the head of the Nekarian Army.” She met Aitelle’s startled eyes.
“There’s got to be some way,” Aitelle, nibbled her lower lip, slowly lifting off the ground again. “Xin, we could send messages, there’s a woman in Tyrsleth who,”
“And that’s if he’s survived dealing with the Seeress.” Xin swallowed, her heart hammering away in her chest. “Those called to serve her, rarely survive.”
“If rumors are true, he’s damn near impossible to kill. I’ve heard the stories.” Aitelle looked out over the river.
“The Seeress is different.” Xin shuddered, trying to find words to explain the heavy fog of dread that she’d lived under her whole life.
Aitelle touched her hand and they both stood watching the ships.
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