Home on the Texas Eagle

I could feel a rush of nervousness and excitement wash over me as I stepped through the double doors into the Cleburne train station. I’ve traveled many times, many different ways. This, however, would be a first. I would be riding a train. Not a subway, not a tourist-geared steam train. A real passenger train. And, not only that, this would be my first trip alone. No mom, no dad, no brother. Just me.

I blinked in surprise as I stepped into the station. It was empty; totally empty. To be honest, I don’t know why I was so surprised. It’s not like Cleburne, Texas is a popular tourist destination, but I expected to see someone there. The empty room echoed as my family friend and her two little boys entered with me.

I set my belongings down on one of the benches and went up to the window to ask about paying for my ticket, for which I already had a reservation. The lady at the counter told me I would pay for it once I got on the train. With that I sat down and glanced around at my surroundings. Old, black and white pictures lined the walls: remnants of a different day and age. A pair of display cases presented relics of the past: old lanterns, conductors hats, and various other odds and ends. I listened to the echos that rang through the room as the two boys with us set off to look at the stuff in the display cases. I could almost imagine the station filled with a dozen or so travelers, old, hard-cased luggage in hand. Well, who knew if Cleburne had ever seen that many people at one time, but my imagination took the idea and ran with it.

I laughed when, half an hour later, the oldest of the two boys began to ask how much longer it would be until the train arrived. He wanted to leave and he couldn’t do that until I got on the train and his mom took him back. I could tell both boys were getting bored.

“Do they like kids books?” I asked their mom as she tried to quiet the boys down.

“Yes,” she replied. “They love them.”

I reached into my backpack and pulled out a little Japanese and English children’s book called “Too Many Pears” and handed it to her. They read it through several times before the younger boy brought it back to me.

He grinned like only a 4-year-old can and said, “That was a funny book.”

I chuckled and nodded, “Yes, it sure is.”

It was some time before I finally took my stuff outside and set it on the bench. Just a few more minutes and the train would arrive at the station. Then there! A whistle echoed in the distance. The next thing I knew, it had come to a stop in front of the station. I waved good-bye to my friends, then set out toward the train.

It wasn’t much different from what I had seen in the movies. A door opened on the side of one of the cars and two of the staff members stepped out to help people on and off the train. I had quite the time finding a seat, since all the window seats were taken and I’m rather shy, so finding a seat next to someone wasn’t easy. At last I settled down in a seat next to a lady who appeared to be in her late forties or early fifties. She was curled up with a book and hardly noticed me, looking up only to say that I could sit next to her. Soon I had paid for my ticket and the train set off.

I settled down, glancing out the window to watch the scenery. Slowly the town began to disappear, trading asphalt streets and modern buildings for open pasture land and well-tended fields. It was almost like stepping back in time. Okay, so the Wild West trains probably didn’t have air conditioning, but you get the idea. I settled back in my seat and pulled out my “Lord of the Rings” book. I made it through about two pages, then gave up. I was too interested in what was going on around me.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t realize how much open country still remained in Texas. But there it was, spreading out before me. Thick clusters of trees grew between pastures full of cattle and fields of corn and maize that stretched out to the very edge of the horizon. Here was a pasture full of longhorn cattle. There was an old farmer closing a gate, sporting the classic plaid shirt and jean overalls.

I couldn’t help but think of home as these scenes passed before my eyes. I grew up on a farm. Some of our church members used to plant large fields of sweet potatoes across the little dirt road that ran in front of my grandparents’ place. When I was small, we’d always go and gather the sweet potatoes left behind after our friends had finished harvesting their crop. Growing up, there wasn’t much between my country home and the few little towns that stood between us and Austin, the big city. There were no big, modern neighborhoods along the road back then. Just corn, maize, and cotton fields and open pasture land. It wasn’t that way now, however. Where there had once been trees and open fields there now stood gas stations, shopping centers, and neighborhoods. Concrete, not grass, now reigned supreme.

With that thought, I put on my headphones and began listening to my music. Songs such as “Forgotten Land”, a song I wrote for my book The Secret of Erris and “Get Off of My Back” from the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron played in my ears. No, I didn’t specifically select those songs for the ride. They just ironically played in that order.

The trip went smoothly and I spent most of my time relaxing, enjoying the scenery, and putting together what I wanted to put in my blog post. After all, my mom had told me my grandparents would be picking me up in Austin, so I had a while to go.

One by one, the train came to its various destinations, putting me ever closer to home. Then, at last, we came to one final stop. Austin would be coming up next.

I was checking my phone battery, which was getting quite low, when I began to notice something. The conductor was announcing that the train was about to leave, and he had already announced this once. Strange. Were they waiting for someone? Just then my phone rang. It was Grandma.

“Hello?” I answered, trying to be quiet and not disturb the people around me.

“Hey,” came my grandmother’s voice. “Where are you?”

“Taylor,” I replied.

“Well then get off! We’re here!”

“Wait a minute!” I exclaimed. “Mom told me you were meeting me in Austin!”

“Well, she told us to meet you here!”

Great.

Frantically I grabbed my stuff and headed for the stairs that I thought I had come up. The doors at the bottom were closed. No, that couldn’t be it. I hurried back up the stairs to try and find the right exit. One way was the dining car. The other…no, that wasn’t it either. I felt the train begin to move.

Oh, God, please help me find my way off this stupid thing!

Just then one of the other passengers, a young woman, pointed to the stairs and said, “That’s the way out.”

I trudged back down the stairs. The doors were still closed.

Oh, boy! Here we go!

Not sure if I was getting off on the correct side or not, I grabbed the door handle and thrust the door open. There was grandpa, talking to the two crew members who had let me on. I closed the door and, shaking nervously, trudged across the gravel on the side of the tracks to where they were waiting.

“Didn’t you hear us call the stop?” one of the crew members asked as I came up.

If I have ever blushed in embarrassment, it was then.

“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I thought my mom told me my stop was in Austin.”

They told me it was ok, went inside, and shut the door. A moment later, the train was on its way. I felt sick with embarrassment. Not only had I held up the train but I had all those people staring at me as I trudged back and forth in the car, looking like an idiot since I couldn’t figure out how to get off.

It was some time after I had gotten in the car and begun the journey home that I finally calmed down enough to clear my head and think straight.

Okay, God. I thought to myself, running a hand over my face. I do like to write interesting blog posts, but you could have left this one out.

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Grave-Digging and Periodical Backshifting

Although I had originally intended to use this blog as a place to share news and updates regarding my written work (i.e. books and poems), I have found that it is much easier to blog when I extend my horizons to tidbits from daily life. And, as most of my creative writing has been placed on the back-burner due to graduations, work, and limited times when I can use the internet, I have decided that my blogging will now include stories of my own personal experiences (as if it hasn’t before). Anyhow, enjoy!

—-

I felt like a grave-digger as I entered the narrow space between the shelves of periodicals. There is a lot of work going on in the library this summer, and the projects have extended into the periodicals department. My current project: back-shift several shelves in order to make room for the books that are being back-shifted. (For those of you who haven’t picked up on the meaning of the term “back-shift”, it means we’re condensing items to make room for more stuff).

Anyhow, I stood there, staring at the shelves for a few minutes before I reached up and began moving the journals and magazines from one shelf to another. Dust flew in every which direction as I unearthed the ancient volumes from their resting place. Who knew how long they had been there?

At last I worked my way up to the top shelf. I was moving our set of Discover magazines and had already placed a few on the shelf. Now, as one might know, magazines are not the most sturdy things in the world and so no sooner had I stood a few up on the shelf than they all slid down. Balancing a handful of magazines in one hand, I attempted to prop the other ones up. After a bit of a struggle, I managed to get them all up and put the new ones on the shelf. Those promptly slid down as well. Grumbling, I grabbed a bound volume and shoved it up against the loose magazines, hoping it would hold them up. No luck. That, too, slid down, adding an additional bang as it came to rest on the metal shelf.

Grumbling under my breath, I grabbed a metal bookend and shoved it up against the stack. I pulled my hand back and watched it nervously. They stood this time. Sighing in relief, I reached for another handful of magazines. Crash! Bang! The bookend had slid out under the pressure of the row of magazines and had gone flying off the top shelf, hitting nearly every other shelf in the vicinity as it tumbled to the floor. Frustrated, I picked the bookend up off the floor, shoved the magazines back, and reached out to put the bookend back in place. One corner hit the shelf with a metallic twang and slipped from my hand. A great clatter ensued as it bounced like a football backwards and forwards, coming to rest on the other side of the row of shelves I was working with.

Great! I thought to myself, walking around the bookshelf to pick the bookend up. Someone’s gonna think I’m tearing down the library at this rate! Well, forget the bookend. I’ll fill up a box instead.

I grabbed an empty container and filled it with loose magazines. Then, supporting the others with one arm, I slid the container up against the stack. This time, they stayed. Thank goodness!

It wasn’t long before the process began to repeat itself, however. I quickly came to the conclusion that the dusty, old journals and magazines had a vendetta against me for disturbing their ancient resting place. I just simply didn’t have enough arms to catch everything that jumped out at me.

At last I came to a set of psychology magazines. While most magazines have smooth covers, these were particularly smooth. It was like trying to juggle slime as I attempted to keep them from falling as I placed more on the shelf. I wasn’t having much luck. The ones I had been supporting were sliding off the shelf in all directions while the ones in my hand were mirroring the process on the shelf. Wrapping one arm completely around the stack, I felt like a contortionist as I attempted to get the other magazines on the shelf. It was comforting to know that few people came to the library during the summer.

Finally, I shoved the last of the magazines onto the shelf, then stood back. Any longer and I just might have needed psychological help.

Next, I moved to a set of journals called Current History, most of which are bound volumes. This should be easier, right? After all, they’re just like books. I shifted the first few onto their new shelf. Bang! Bang! Two of the volumes came crashing down onto the surface of the metal shelf. To me, they sounded like gunshots. Visions of the grim reaper played through my mind as I waited for the final “shot”. After all, “third time’s a charm”, right? Apparently, however, the other volumes decided to leave me be and stay upright.

Quickly, I moved the remaining volumes onto their new shelf, then gathered up the remnants of my work and headed downstairs. Who knew moving periodicals could be so stressful? I didn’t want to think of the other twelve or so shelves I had yet to shift. Well, the sooner I got it done, the better. Until then, I’d just have to deal with feeling like a grave-digger.

Grapes

This is a selection from my new story Fall of Paradise. It is based off of some of my friends and teachers from school. As I have finally decided that I will continue with the Star Series, expect to see many more segments from it. Enjoy!

——

The soft swish of moving fabric was the only sound that broke the stillness of the morning as Lord Aulay, a member of the Elvanor Clan of elves, made his way down the high-roofed halls of Afallon Palace. He was one of the royal council members and, aside from King Finbar, was the eldest as well. He was in the habit of spending the morning in his personal study where he would read and drink his favorite tea.

He was a noble elf. He was tall, with sharp, piercing grey eyes and silver hair. He carried himself with regal bearing and the intricate, lordly robes he wore only added to this appearance. He fit right in with the richly decorated palace.

Quietly, the elf lord rounded a corner. He came to a stop in front of the door to his study. He froze when he saw it.

There, hanging on the vine-shaped door handle, was his worst nightmare, his greatest fear: grapes. It was something about the way they felt. They repulsed him. Oh, what a dilemma! How was he supposed to get into his study now?!

Slowly he reached toward the door handle, twisting his hand this way and that in an attempt to open the door without touching the detestable fruit. However, the cluster was positioned just so that he couldn’t open the door without touching the grapes. He let out a huff of frustration, then stood back and stared at the door dejectedly.

How long he stood there, no one could be certain, but soon he heard the quiet tap of footsteps. He glanced up to see another one of the royal council members, Lady Trea.

She had an intense personality, though she was kindly when a situation called for it. Her hair was long, rich, and sandy blond. Her eyes were inquisitive and blue. She paused when she saw Lord Aulay.

“What are you doing?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

Lord Aulay cleared his throat.

“It would seem I am having some difficulty getting into my study,” he replied, motioning toward the bunch of grapes, his tone half mournful, half annoyed.

Lady Trea looked from the grapes, to the nobleman, back to the grapes, then shrugged and said, “Have fun.”
She gave him a wave and a smirk as she passed. She was well aware of his aversion to grapes and, due to her teasing nature, she wasn’t about to ruin someone else’s fun.

“Hey! But-” Lord Aulay began. He then turned back to the door.

If the poor elvin lord had been paying more attention to his surroundings than the grapes on his door handle, he would have heard soft giggling coming from around the corner. But as it was, he was too distracted by his dilemma to notice.

******

From her place at the corner where the hall to the lords’ and ladies’ studies cut away from the main hall, a young elf girl slipped away, having a very hard time keeping her giggles to herself. Her name was Ayelen.
The girl could hardly keep from bursting out in laughter as she rushed down the elegant halls, her feet padding softly on the lush, red velvet carpet beneath them. Quickly she darted out into the lobby, fell back against a rising banister, and began to laugh uncontrollably.

Ayelen was a member of the Cealagor Clan. With long, jet black hair and deep brown eyes, she was as beautiful as she was talented. There was only one thing about her that made her so incredibly different from the rest of her kin: she laughed…all the time.

Often called Gaira, which meant “laugh” in elvish, Ayelen was known for her smile and distinct laugh. Most of the elves found it odd. It was one thing to laugh incessantly at a party. It was another thing to laugh when there was, to them at least, nothing to laugh about.

“What is so funny?” came a voice from nearby.

Ayelen jumped in surprise, afraid one of the nobles had caught her. She relaxed when she saw who it was.

“Oh! Good morning, Shanti! You should go visit Lord Aulay,” Ayelen laughed, straightening herself and breathing deeply to try and catch her breath.

“Did you put grapes on his desk again?”

“No. On the door handle to his study.”

“Why didn’t you invite me to come watch?! That would have been funny to see!”

The two elf girls laughed, then Ayelen looked at her friend. Shanti was a bit taller than Ayelen herself. She had long, wavy, golden hair and mysterious hazel eyes. She was a member of the Elvanor Clan, and had been one of Ayelen’s friends for a long time. Although she was far more serious than Ayelen was, Shanti still knew how to laugh. And, of course, there were few in this, or any other realm for that matter, who were not entertained by Lord Aulay’s aversion to grapes. He wouldn’t even drink wine because of its grape origin, something that was quite unusual for an elf.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on guard duty?” Shanti questioned, shifting her intricately-carved healer’s staff from one hand to the other.

“Yeah,” Ayelen groaned. “But this was so much more fun!”

“Go to work,” Shanti sighed, poking the younger elf with her staff. “I’ll walk with you.”

The Fairy Piper

This past Saturday afternoon I met a man who spent six years taking a part in a renaissance fair. He studied under a master armorer and now makes exquisite pieces of armor himself. He even brought in a breast plate that he had made. This got me to thinking about the past several years.

I have always loved renaissance fairs. For a medieval fantasy writer like myself, they are inspiring. In my senior year of high school I enrolled in the AP English class at my school. One of our assignments was to write a descriptive scene. Instantly my mind was off in fantasy land. As I sifted through the menagerie of pictures I had saved to my computer over the past few years, I came across one in particular. You can find the picture below. Upon finding the image, I began to imagine what I might see, hear, smell, feel, and taste if I were in the picture. The following selection is the result.

******

A Fairy Girl from a Renaissance Fair

******

Quietly Terra slipped through the wall of deep green foliage, always following that distant, sweet melody that rang in her ears. It was apparent that the instrument being played was some kind of flute, for it had an airy lilt to its sound.

Just then the young woman emerged from the dense forest and stepped out into a small clearing. The great, towering forest trees ringed this tiny open space, giving it a secure, homey feel. The early-morning sun painted everything around in a shimmering, golden glow. Butterflies danced about the dew-tipped flowers that grew in masses amidst the little haven, and brightly colored birds flitted about in search of seeds or some misfortunate insect with which to nourish themselves.

On the far side of the clearing ran a crystal clear brook, its glass-like waters tripping lightly over the polished stones that lay beneath. And there, perched cross-legged atop a flat boulder at the brook’s edge, was a little fairy.

She was no bigger than a small child, and in fact she very well may have been mistaken for one, save that she had wings. Her little feet were bare and smooth; her small, slender hands danced up and down the two pipes that composed her strange flute. Her wings shimmered like sheer mother-of-pearl, their edges dipped in the golden sunlight. She wore an airy outfit of mixed yellows and oranges, the fabric flowing about her like a fiery waterfall. Her hair was cut short and colored like cinnamon. A circlet of orange and yellow flowers rested atop her head.

For several moments Terra dared not move, for fear that the colorful visage before her would vanish with the morning mist. Then, at last, she slowly sank to the ground to sit and listen to the music. It was so mysterious, so wonderful: a lilting, airy melody that made her want to stand up and start dancing. It was hard to stay seated.

It seemed like time ceased to exist as the young woman sat listening to the fairy’s music, stroking the silky grass, and breathing in the sweet, fresh scents of the spring flowers that nestled at her feet.

Just then the music faded into two long, echoing notes, then drifted away all together. Terra tensed slightly. Please don’t go.

At that moment the fairy turned toward her one-person audience, her amber eyes sparkling with energy. She saw the human woman before her, yet she didn’t seem at all surprised. Her rosy pink lips tipped up into a laughing smile. Then she gave a bobbing bow and jumped off the boulder to the soft earth below, her bare, ivory feet lightly kissing its silken surface.

—-

Yes, it is incomplete. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish the scene but I thought I’d share it anyway. The main point is that I used a picture to compose it. I have had friends who have had trouble writing descriptive scenes. My advice is: find a picture, write down what you think you might hear, see, smell, feel, and taste if you were in it, and start describing it. For people like me, who are incredibly visual, keeping a picture in my head helps me write. In fact, I have whole folders of pictures that I use when I write my stories. So, for those of you who are having trouble writing something, try finding a picture that will inspire you. The only other thing I have to say is good luck!

This One Girl…

I do not usually post more than once a day, but this was just too good to not share. This experience just happened to me. I hope you find it as entertaining as I did.

—-

I was sitting at my desk, organizing a stack of magazines and journals to be shelved on the third floor, when the office phone began to ring. With my boss away from his desk, I took it upon myself to answer.

“Chan Shun Centennial Library, how may I help you?” I answered in my most business-like tone.

The voice on the other end was hesitant. “Um…hey…is this the library?”

No, this is Barney’s Pizza Palace. Duh! I didn’t say this was the library just for kicks!

“Yes, this is the library,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “How may I help you?”

“Um…I was wondering if you could tell me the name of this one girl…she works there.”

That’s a lot of help.

“I’m sorry, but could you be a little more specific? There are many girls who work here.”

“Well, um, she’s African American and…”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no saint. I have always had trouble being patient with people who take too long to get their words out, and by this point I was kinda frustrated. I was also becoming a bit suspicious.

“I’m sorry, sir, but may I ask why you need to know the name of this girl?” I asked, trying to be polite but reserved.

“Well, I kinda like her and…”

I knew it. Something about the fact that he called the library instead of asking whoever-it-was personally just crossed me wrong.

“I’m sorry, sir, but your best bet is to come back tomorrow and talk to her. I’m afraid I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

He replied with, “Oh, okay,” and hung up before I could get in my, “Have a nice evening.”

I stared at the reciever for a moment, then shook my head and hung up. Oh, boy. Now that was something I hadn’t been prepared for.

Success

With finals this week, I look around at my friends and colleagues and notice that everyone is stressing one idea: success. It’s something everyone wants to achieve. I, for certain, have always felt pressure to achieve success. As a writer, my dream is to, some day, have my work professionally published.

I am the periodicals worker for my school’s library, and often I run across interesting articles and quotes. This morning, while checking in the newest issue of Vital Speeches of the Day I came across a quote that reminded me of the struggle for success that everyone around me, including myself, faces. It is a quote by Winston Churchill that reads:

“Success is nothing more than going from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm.”

It is true. Many famous authors were turned down multiple times before they got their work published. Mark Twain is a perfect example. Einstein and Thomas Edison were not the most desired students in school either. But look at what all they accomplished. For those of you who have the same problem that I do, a fear of failure, just keep this quote in mind. We may fail once or twice or twenty times. But our enthusiasm to keep trying may, in the end, be what we need to succeed.

Fall of Paradise Prologue

This is primarily for my friends who have asked me to work on this story. Fall of Paradise is something of a prequel to my trilogy, set hundreds of thousands of years before The Four Stars begins. This story addresses the fall of Erris, once known as a paradise. I am hoping that enough is explained that people will understand the story without needing to read the trilogy and its sequel. Enjoy!

—-

Preface:

The skies overlooking the ancient city of Afallon were tinged with red as a procession of twelve stately individuals made their way down the broad lanes that ran from the palace grounds to the center of the city beyond.

A great crowd pressed in along the sides of the lanes, their eyes wide and wondering. Everyone knew what was going to happen that day, and it was no surprise that there was such a large crowd. This would be the day that an heir to the throne would be decided.

Afallon was the center of the elvin lands, the region that made up the eastern portion of Erris. Bordered by the dwarf tunnels and uncharted forests to the north and far east, the human realm of Aila to the west, and the glass-like Cefri Ocean to the south, the elves commanded a vast expanse of territory and resources. With the human realm bordered by war-states to the west, they often needed the weapons made by their dwarven allies, and since the elvin lands, called Samoren, lay between the two nations, it facilitated a great amount of trade. The fairies from the island nation of Teleri valued the handiwork of dwarves and elves alike, and so their trade also came through Afallon, making the elvin palace-city one of the greatest cultural centers of their world.

Because the goings-on of the elvin realm affected so much of the rest of the world, the crowd that gathered this day was not composed entirely of permanent residents. Ruddy dwarf faces and keen fairy eyes peeked out between bronzed human bodies and fair elvin figures.

There were, however, more people present this day than there usually would be at such an event. Elvin crowning and heir-naming was a rare phenomenon, as an elvin king or queen could easily reign 8,000 years. No other humanoid race was so long-lived, and few generations had the opportunity to see such events. On top of that, however, was the fact that there was now a division among the elves. About a hundred years earlier, the elvin race had broken up into four different clans: the Elvanor Clan, who were healers; the Silver Clan, who were dedicated to craftsmanship rather than war; the Royal Clan, a pompous group of half-blood elves known for their interest in magic; and the Cealagor, known as the Sting Clan to the other races, who were masters of tracking, camouflage, and warcraft. What had caused this division was anyone’s guess, but there was no doubt that this heir-naming ceremony would be interesting.

Unlike the humans and fairies, who had total monarchies, and the dwarves who had something similar to a republic, the elves had a political system that confused most people. While they generally had a monarchy, where rule was passed from the reigning monarch to the oldest of their children, if three of the twelve royal council members demanded a different heir, there had to be a vote on it. Recently, with the current ruler, King Finbar, only a year away from his ten-thousandth birthday, an age few elves reached, the topic of an heir weighed heavy on everyone’s minds. The current heir was Finbar’s grand-daughter, Princess Aerena, whose father had been Finbar’s eldest son. None of Finbar’s children remained.

Aerena’s father had died while fighting alongside his human allies and best friend in a war with one of the stronger western war-states. Finbar’s daughter had married a member of the Royal Clan and had died in childbirth, something that was unheard of in the elvin race. Some believed that it was a curse she had accepted when marrying into the clan of half-bloods. Finbar’s younger son had ventured into the uncharted forests to the east and had never been heard from again. Now, all that was left of Finbar’s family were his two grandchildren: Aerena, who was the eldest by a year and who was a member of the Cealagor Clan just like her grandfather, and Shah, the son of Finbar’s daughter and a member of the Royal Clan.

It was ironic, really. The Royal Clan had never held power, not even before the elves officially broke up into clans, and in any case they were not fully elves. All the members of the Royal Clan were descended from a man named Furi Bolgan and his followers, mysterious people who claimed to have come up from the sea. No one knew exactly if they were human or some other race, but it didn’t take long for the war-like strangers to mix with the local residents. Somehow or other, they had gotten involved with some of the elvin nobles and so, in theory, they did have a small portion of royal blood in them. However, they had never had an actual claim to the throne. Not until now, that is.

But at last their long-awaited dream was coming to fruition. Shah had a strong claim on the throne. And, what with his charming demeanor and good looks, he already had a fair portion of the council members on his side.

At last the procession arrived at the council circle. Here sat twelve throne-like chairs carved out of pure crystal. They were set up on a dais and positioned in a circle around a roaring fire.

Solemnly, the council members took their seats and the crowds gathered round the dais. In the throne on the northernmost portion of the ring sat King Finbar. His hair was long and pure white and fell gently over his shoulders and down his back. An intricate silver crown rested atop his regal brow. Like all elves, his face was still fair and youthful. The only sign of age in an elf was that their hair became progressively whiter as they got older. But of all the elves, it was said that Finbar was the handsomest of all. His gentle, emerald green eyes looked out on the world with such a deep sense of compassion that it was hard to imagine anyone could hate him. Of course, there were those who did, but it came as no surprise that most of them were from the Royal Clan.

To King Finbar’s immediate right sat Lord Rodan, a member of the Silver Clan and Finbar’s second-in-command. He was on the shorter end of the spectrum of acceptable heights for a pure-blooded elf, but he made up for his stature in wisdom. Though of the craftsman clan, he was well-learned and was still considered one of the top-ranking scholars in the elvin realm, as were many of the other members of the council. And, like King Finbar, he was mild-mannered and gentle.

To Finbar’s left sat Princess Aerena. Because she had gone so long unopposed as heir to the elvin throne, she had been given a position in the royal council. Now, however, with her position of heiress in question, she had no vote for the time being, which worried some of her supporters. Generally, any issues regarding the heir to the throne would be resolved before the heir became a member of the council. This meant that it would require seven votes for an heir to be chosen. Now, however, with Aerena having no right to vote, it would only take six votes to win, and with Shah being so popular, one vote would make a big difference.
Once the last of the council members had been seated, Finbar stood. He cleared his throat, as though he would rather not speak, then said, “Friends and citizens, today your three clan representatives will choose for you an heir to my throne, a ruler who, in the near future, will take my place as ruler of the elves. May Ainor’s will be done.”

Ainor. Finbar glanced skyward. The god of the Alliance, a powerful creator-god who everyone loved and trusted. It was said that Ainor was a great artist who, on a magical canvas, had painted the world into existence. Looking around at the beauty of Erris, it was easy to believe. Finbar loved Ainor even more than most, and he hoped with all his heart that he would make the right choice. Somehow, he knew that his vote would be the deciding one.

He had little time to think about Ainor now, however. The old elf drew in a deep breath, then continued, “The first choice is Aerena, presiding heir to my throne.”

Here Aerena stood. She was tall, slender, and beautiful, with dark brown hair and wolf-like, golden eyes. Some said she had this eye color because she had been born in Faerida, capital of Teleri, which was known for its golden-eyed, tiger-like felines called giras, and its noble, talking wolves.

Finbar drew his grand-daughter to his side, then continued, “The second choice is Shah of the Royal Clan.”
Up onto the dais came a youthful elf man. He had inherited the violet eyes of his father but, like his grandfather, he was fair-faced and handsome. His hair was long, shimmering, and jet black.

“They will both be given a chance to address the council. Afterward, the council will discuss the matter and put it to a vote. Aerena, as the current heir, will be given the chance to speak first.”

With that, King Finbar returned to his seat and Shah graciously bowed out of the crowd’s attention, taking his place beside the seat of Lord Tiernan, one of the twelve royal councilmen and Shah’s father.

The crowd pressed forward to hear what Aerena had to say. The young elf woman was strong, but quiet and serious. Her speech addressed many issues. She stressed her passion for her people, making sure to add in the fact that she was the daughter of King Finbar’s eldest son and, like her father, she had a passion for the wellbeing of all members of the Alliance.

Then came Shah’s turn. He was a much more eloquent speaker than Aerena. After flashing a brilliant smile, his violet eyes beaming, he proceeded to urge the council to “choose a good leader,” one that could do more than track, camouflage, and fight. He kept referring to Aerena as his “good cousin,” who was skilled, but lacked the ability to “accommodate” the people, whatever that was supposed to mean.

At last, the two were asked to return to the palace so that the council could discuss the matter and vote. The discussion was rather brief. It was obvious that most of them had already made their choices.
Quickly, eleven servants stepped up onto the dais, each holding a candle and a sheet of paper with Shah and Aerena’s names written on it. One by one the lords and ladies of the royal council dripped hot wax over the name of their chosen candidate and pressed their signet rings into the drippings.

Finbar stared at his paper for a particularly long time. So long, in fact, that the attending servant began to nervously eye the hot wax that rolled down the candlestick’s smooth surface, coming to a stop frighteningly close to his bare fingers.

Then, taking a deep breath, the king took the candle and dripped the wax over his chosen name. He pressed his ring into the colorful puddle. It was done.

The king’s servant allowed the mark to dry a bit, then collected the votes from the other servants. When that was done, he began to read them aloud.

“Shah.”

One for Shah, zero for Aerena.

“Aerena.”

One for Shah, one for Aerena.

Two, three, four, five for Shah. Two, three, four, five for Aerena. Only one more vote to go. There would be no ties this day. One would win. But who? The council members leaned forward, nearly balancing on the edge of their seats.

The servant glanced down at the final piece of paper, then said, “Aerena, six votes.”

“The council has decided,” King Finbar sighed, his voice betraying a sense of relief. “Aerena will remain the heir to the throne.”

“Impossible!” Lord Tiernan exclaimed, bounding to his feet. “I demand a revote!”

“For what reason, Lord Tiernan?” Finbar groaned.

“My son is a far better candidate than Aerena is! There must be someone here who is acting out of prejudice because we’re members of the Royal Clan! I demand a revote! A fair vote this time!”

Several groans emanated from the circle.

“Who else wishes a revote? Stand, if you will.”

The three Royal Clan members stood instantly, but they were the only ones.

“What?” Lord Tiernan growled. “You yellow-bellied snakes! Do you turn against your vote for Shah now? Are you afraid of what the others will think?”

“Well, no,” Lord Nevan, a Silver Clan member, replied, blinking in surprise. “But a vote is a vote, Lord Tiernan. No one is acting out of prejudice. I do not think we would be members of the same council if that were so. And even if they were, how would we know? Simply choosing one candidate over another is not prejudice, but choice, and that is the whole reason for a vote.”

“Whose side are you on?” Lord Treasach, another of the Royal Clan members, snapped.

“My lords, this is quite enough,” King Finbar interjected. “This bickering is nonsensical. I will not have accusations flying around without ample proof that they have some sort of merit to them.”

“Are you accusing us of being stupid?”

“No one said anything of the sort.”

“If you are not accusing us of being stupid and you are not acting on prejudice towards us, you should have no problem with a revote,” Lord Tiernan argued.

“That has nothing to do with a revote. You got five votes for Shah, Tiernan, but the fact of the matter is that the rest of the council is willing to take the results as they are.”

“I am not satisfied!”

“You are not the only member of this council!” King Finbar snapped back. “Now if you cannot conduct yourself properly, I must ask you to leave this council immediately.”

“Fine!” Lord Tiernan hissed, turning to leave. “But mind you, this is not the end. My son will be king someday. You will regret the day you crossed me.”

King Finbar groaned, then sank back down into his seat as the three Royal Clan members left the council ring. All eyes were turned upon the old elf king. He had no doubt that Tiernan would keep his word. But even then, he had no idea how bad things would soon become.