Fiona couldn’t deny the sigh of relief that escaped her lips as they entered the gate of the Enclave and passed the multiple wards against intrusions placed there by their elder clerics.
Orrin stopped her in the courtyard and squeezed her hand gently. “I must report back to my Captain,” he said with regret. “I’m afraid my free time has been limited after our lessons in ‘sneaking.’”
“Sorry about that,” Fiona said as she blushed and scuffed the dirt with the toe of her boot. “Guess I should’ve left the sneaking in the city to Thalia.”
“I don’t regret one moment of it,” Orren said with a smile as he gently placed a finger under her chin and lifted her gaze to his, “for it was my first night spent in your company. I had hoped from then on that there would be many more.”
“Oh, you’re stuck with me now,” Fiona said with a grin as she poked him in the chest playfully. “I told Discord herself that I’d fight her for you… and I meant it.”
Orrin’s eyes widened in surprise as he realized what Fiona did when he talked to that woman in the inn. He knew from the start that this fiery-haired wood elf was strong of spirit… but he never imagined that such strength would ever be focused on his well-being. The men from his land grew up conditioned to be the protectors of the females at all costs, for they were part of the matriarchy. The possibility of a female, let alone one he cared about, to be willing to sacrifice their lives to protect him… it stunned him. He took Fiona’s hand in his and bowed deeply, kissing her hand with reverence.
“You honor me greatly, milady.”
Fiona looked at Orrin’s serious display in amazement and smiled as he stood up. “It’s what you do when you love someone,” she said simply and stood on her tip-toes to kiss his cheek. “I’ve got to go find Uncle John before he takes off again. Remember… no getting into trouble without me, okay?”
“And none without me,” Orrin replied as he caressed her cheek. “Be careful, Fiona.”
“Hey,” she replied over her shoulder with a grin as she walked away, “it’s me!”
“I’m a widow,” she heard a female voice declare as Fiona neared the door to Thalia’s room at the Enclave. She figured she’d check in on everyone who was at the dock explosion, and besides… Thalia and John D’Falco were usually found in close proximity these days. Sometimes too close if you asked her… but in the end that was really between Aunt Mira and himself. She sighed in resignation as she placed a hand on the doorknob. Dad may have loved Mira long ago… but when we make our choices in life we have to live with them.
She opened the door and walked into the room to see Thalia sitting up in bed with Ivy Nighthawk, one of the many daughters of John D’Falco, sitting by her side. D’Falco was sitting on a turned chair at the end of the bed, a dour expression on his face.
“Somebody have an unfortunate marriage we didn’t know about?” she asked curiously as sudden realization dawned on Thalia’s face.
Ivy raised a brow curiously at Thalia, as if to ask “How would you know?” before she continued her tale.
(insert Ivy’s story about Chalky, her curse, etc.)
“That Goddess you described sounds a lot like ‘She-who-shall-not-be-named’ to me,” Fiona said worriedly as she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall.
“Who?” asked D’Falco curiously.
“You know,” Fiona answered in a theatrical whisper, “the spider lover.”
“No,” Ivy said with a sigh,” not her. The weaver I gave into is one of Shadows… not of webs.”
“Seems to be just as sticky, though,” Fiona muttered with a frown. “You’re a Wild Elf, though… aren’t you? I just can’t understand how you could’ve…”
“She’s only half-blooded,” D’Falco said sadly, “and we weren’t able to be there to help, Fiona. Things can be a lot different when you grow up in the city without parents.”
“Believe me when I say I never expected to live this long either, Fiona,” Ivy said with a depreciating half-smile as she turned to look at her. “I thought I’d be able to get my revenge against him, and that would be that.”
“I’ve been learning from my experience in Lakeside that promises with Gods seem to be at the root of all our troubles,” Fiona sighed as she looked pointedly at D’Falco. She walked over to him and leaned down to whisper in his ear, “We need to talk… now… in private.”
He nodded in understanding and stood up to place a hand on Ivy’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Ivy…I…”
Her shoulders drooped as she looked down at her hands. “It’s okay, Dad… you’ve got hundreds of people who need your help right now. Besides,” she reached out to take Thalia’s hand in hers with a small smile, “Thalia and I have much to talk about.”
“I’m glad you’re doing okay, Thalia,” Fiona said as she opened the door, then looked at Ivy sympathetically. “I’m sorry for your problems, Ivy.” She nodded in response.
“Thanks, Fiona. I’ll probably see you around at the Inn,” Thalia replied then smiled sweetly. “See you, John…”
“Well?” D’Falco asked gruffly as he closed the door behind Fiona in a currently empty room at the Enclave.
She gnawed her lip as she paced back and forth. What was the best way to explain that the daughter of Eris was in town casing the place with one her clerics to the man who has been manipulated by Eris for years? She stopped and turned to him.
“Your stalker girlfriend’s daughter has come to town, and you wouldn’t believe who she’s dating.”
D’Falco looked at her in shock before grim realization set in. “Oh…shit.”
“Yeah…tell me about it,” Fiona said sarcastically. “At least I’ve got some good news too…”
“The land opened up and took all my enemies with it?” D’Falco said with a hollow laugh as he closed his eye and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
Fiona smiled. “I know where mother is.”
D’Falco’s hand fell to his side as he opened his eye and looked at her intensely. “Well… I guess it’s about time we show you what we’ve been working on, then.”
Fiona looked at him with eager hope as her hands clenched into fists. The last time they’d talked about her mother, he’d mentioned that the Blackbirds, his secret organization, was working on a solution. Every day her mother spent imprisoned by the Dark Brethren was another day where they could find out who she really was… and that decided her fate between just another prisoner from Amberglenn to a tool that they could use to get to her family.
“But first, we need to do something that I’ve been trying to put off,” he said as he took a seat and motioned for her to sit across from him.
Fiona looked at him curiously as she sat down. Was she finally going to be tested to see if she can become a Blackbird?
He gazed at her solemnly before he reached up and removed his eye patch, revealing a piercing gaze that felt like it was staring into her soul. Her psychic barriers struggled at the intrusion, but ultimately her fledgling skills failed under his mental interrogation.
“We need to clear the air, Fiona. I’ve helped raise you since you were a child, and I know you. Ever since we’ve come to Lakeside you’ve held a disdain for me… and now it’s time to talk about it. If you want to be a Blackbird, I need to know that you will follow my orders and watch my back.”
“I’ve never lied to you, Uncle,” she bit out and winced. If Lord Valan approves of my psychic testing, I swear I’m going to focus on my mental defenses… “When I learned of the extent of your multiple relationships and who it effected, I told you exactly how I felt about it.”
John chuckled. “Indeed, you’ve never been one to hide your opinions… but I want to hear it all, Fiona. I don’t want this coming up between us during an inopportune time.”
Fine. If that’s the way you want it…”If my father can’t be happy with Mira, I want her to be the happiest woman in the world with you.”
He flinched slightly at her confession. “I realize your father and Mira had feelings for each other, Fiona… and I know those feelings exist even now. Despite everything that has happened, I love your aunt dearly. She’s been through too much tragedy in her life… and those wounds have been reopened with the reappearance of that blackguard DeMorde. Would you have that I go to the inn right now and leave her?”
“No… I wouldn’t,” Fiona answered with a sigh. “You all made your choices… and while I love Mira like an aunt, my father moved on with mother and needs to let go. It’s your actions after that that riled me. You went on to father children with three different women after marrying Mira. At first it angered me to no end, as I thought, my father included, that you were treating Mira like she was just another notch in your belt.”
D’Falco’s grip tightened on the chair back. “Go on.”
“I talked to some of them, though: Ivy, Crystal, Heather and Holly… and when I heard their stories, and the circumstances you were forced into that led to their births, I grew to accept that your life has not been your own. You yourself told me that Eris cursed you to an extended life when you refused to take her offer in the desert, and as chaotic as she is, she wouldn’t just do that for no reason. All the women you’ve been with in your long life from around the globe are all of a sudden here in Lakeside… and with their children too. All the evil people you’ve struggled and fought against in your life all hatch their plans against you, but they happen to be coming into fruition all at the same time, in the same place? And now… Discord, the daughter of Eris herself just happens to show up for the Faire? I’ve come to terms with it, and you need to too, John: ever since that day, your life has been at the whim of Chaos.”
John’s eyes narrowed and his lips pressed tightly together as he listened to her. “Interesting theory… and I’m not too pleased to admit that it has credibility.”
“I accepted what happened with Tamara, Miranda and Isa… I really have.” Fiona sighed deeply. “But when you showed up with Thalia… I just couldn’t when I saw the pain in Mira’s eyes, seeming visible to everyone but yourselves. Or can you spin me a tale about how that wasn’t your fault, either? I would wish to believe it… that you just didn’t disregard Mira’s feelings, and your marriage, like that. And then to find that you sent her to me for protection without even telling me…”
“You go too far, Fiona. Events have happened in all our lives that you just can’t understand,” he replied quietly. “I’ve lived a long time.”
“I know,” she said, remembering her times as a child on her Uncle’s knee close to 100 years ago. “I’ve seen cases of Elves doing the same thing in my time…but usually they move on when they do it, John… instead of remaining with their previous loves while they come home to flaunt their new ones.” She ran a hand through her hair and sighed. “I’ve been coming to understand quite a lot in a very short period of time… and it makes me wish that I’d never left home,” she finished as she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
“I don’t think this is going to work, Fiona. If you can’t trust me…” he said as he reached for his eye patch.
“You misunderstand me, Uncle,” Fiona continued. If she was going to be able to fight off the attacks of the Dark Brethren and DeMorde, she knew she just had to be privy to the Blackbird’s knowledge and skills.
“As a leader and strategist, I have the highest respect and trust for you. Your knowledge and abilities have helped the Blackbirds protect Lakeside and it’s surrounding towns for years, the King himself trusts you enough to be his War Duke during his illness, and I haven’t seen you do a single thing that would make me not believe that you have the wellbeing of this world in mind and will protect it with your life. If you send me out under your orders, I will fulfill those duties to the best of my ability every time.” She sighed and half smiled. “It’s just your relationship skills that I think could use some improvement.”
“And you’re sure that you can keep those feelings separated?” he said as he lowered his hand.
Fiona was silent in thought for a moment. “The protection of our families…our towns…our world… they mean much more to me than how you choose to lead your life, Uncle. I will not let my thoughts lead me astray from what needs to be done to make things right again.”
He stared at her in silence as she felt him searching her thoughts for any sign of doubt. “Very well,” he said as he sat back and replaced his eye patch. “I will allow you to join us on probationary status under Digger’s command. You two have had experience working together already, from what he’s told me of your time at Barrow Hill.”
“I won’t let you down, sir!” Fiona said with a relieved grin as she stood up and saluted him.
“Please,” he said with a deprecating chuckle at the salute. He stood up and headed for the door. “Gather up Thalia and Moreth after the sword show and competitions tonight, and we’ll head down to the lab.”