The return to Hazelburn was quick; Alakazar shifted the waypoints in order to ensure that a short walk was sufficient to reach the borders of Creation, and the distance from there to the valley was, as always, little.
As they entered the grand palace, gradually spreading out as the years wore on â€“ although it still fit, improbably, on the top of the hill â€“ Alakazar nodded to his two new guests. â€œThe castle has many servants, but only a tiny handful are actually aware. Aside from them, there are the Knights, and my fellow vassals.â€
â€œKnights?â€ Gwydion raised an eyebrow, and Alakazar grinned.
â€œSomething new. You see, my dear wife and I have spent over a hundred years doing war against those in the Wyld who would consume Creation whole, and our results have, quite frankly, been poor.â€
â€œBut you are Silverâ€™s Hand!â€ Gwydion couldnâ€™t keep the confusion from his voice. â€œYou drove one of the Unshaped back into pure chaos!â€
â€œYes, but thereâ€™s not enough of me, and whenever I leave the castle, it becomes vunerable. Hence my Knights â€“ the Branch of the Crimson Dragon. Theyâ€™re all humans, you see, who have been dream-eaten in the past. I repaired the damage to their souls, and offered them positions defending Creation from those who had harmed them.â€
â€œAnd they accept?â€ The doubt in Gwydionâ€™s voice was clear. â€œAnd they are able to fight raksha?â€
â€œWellâ€¦ yes. I can heal a certain amount of soul-damage, but the lure of the Wyld remains. And they can fight raksha because Iâ€™ve given them all Graces to do it with. No one is as strong as even a commoner, but when twenty-five people define a story at once, it leaves an impression.â€
â€œI see.â€ Gwydion fell silent, pondering the concept of mortals shaping the dreams of the raksha, and trying to decide whether he approved. Before he could shape another question, chaos intruded.
â€œLord Alakazar, you really must do something about Varich!â€ The raksha woman who spoke swept down the hallway, an annoyed-look noble trailing in her wake. Her hair was as pure-spun red silk, and she was wearing a perfectly shaped armoured of silver and crimson that somehow managed to completely conceal her form, while simultaneously suggesting that there was a very great deal to reveal. Momentarily ignoring the others, she raised her hands in annoyance. â€œAll he ever does is mope around the freehold about how much his life is in ruins. I swear, I donâ€™t even know why heâ€¦â€ She trailed off, finally noticing Gwydion and Millia. â€œWhy, hello, there.â€
The man behind her shook his head. â€œHonestly, Fiona. Pay attention to your surroundings.â€ He bowed elaborately to the newcomers, his black cape sweeping out behind him to form a perfect backdrop to his own elegance. â€œI am Lord Ailil, the Shadowed Wyrm. Welcome to my lord Alakazarâ€™s freehold.â€
Alakazar chuckled, and turned to Fiona, who was sizing up Gwydion speculatively. â€œMay I introduce Gwydion of the Grey Spear, who has sworn his services to my cause. And Twice-Breathing Millia, who is a perfect little hero.â€ He paused. â€œI will try to have a talk with Varich, but you and I both know that it will do little good. After all, his heartbreak is why he joined us.â€
â€œThat was five years ago.â€ But Fiona sounded less annoyed than before. â€œSoâ€¦ Gwydion the Grey, was it? Come, let me show you around.â€ She took the startled warrior by one arm, leading him away.
For a moment, Ailil just stared after the two of them. Then, muttering â€œThatâ€™s my girlâ€ under his breath, he started to follow, pausing just long enough to bow again to Millia and lean over to kiss Serafinâ€™s hand. Then, his cape sweeping out behind him, he moved to catch up to his companions.
Millia looked up at Serafin in confusion, and the Lunar laughed. â€œAilil has been trying to pursue Fiona since he arrived here forty years ago. Sheâ€™s happy to dally with him, but she much prefers making him jealous. And, in all honesty, I think he likes being jealous.â€ She shifted her attention. â€œWould you agree, Eil?â€
The shadows rippled, and a woman drifted out of them, her long black hair cascading over her features and obscuring them to a pale shadow. She nodded to Serafin. â€œMy brother can beâ€¦ possessive. The challenge of both having and not having catches his interest.â€ She paused, and sighed heavily. â€œAnd I think that Lady Fiona will be much interested in using Gwydion to that end.â€ Without another word, she drifted off down a different hallway. Millia watched her go, open-mouthed, and Serafin chuckled.
â€œThatâ€™s Eiluned, the last of our court at the moment. She came here with her brother, for reasons she has never bothered to explain.â€ Serafin shrugged. â€œHoney, youâ€™d better go make sure Gwydion gets a proper introduction. Also, he hasnâ€™t taken the Silver Oaths yet, so youâ€™ll want to do that.â€
â€œAh, yes.â€ Alakazar bowed. â€œFind a room for young Millia, could you?â€ He smiled, and strolled off after Fiona, Gwydion, and Ailil. Serafin turned back to Millia, who was starting to look distinctly bewildered.
â€œDonâ€™t worry about it, kiddo. As the saying goes, everyoneâ€™s a little crazy here.â€
â€œYou arenâ€™t.â€ Milliaâ€™s words were matter-of-fact.
â€œLess crazy, maybe.â€ Millia winked. â€œBut being around the fae means you have to see things their way. Fiona and Ailil are actually happier with an eternal almost-feud than they would be happily married. Alakazar is a bit of an exception that way.â€
â€œOh.â€ Millia pondered this. â€œSerafin, whatâ€™s a silver oath?â€
â€œThe Silver Oaths are the two oaths that anyone who wants to be in Alakazarâ€™s Court has to take. First, to never consume the souls of mortals, and secondly, to defend Creation from those who would destroy it.â€ Serafin smiled. â€œThe oaths gives them power, and helps to define their nature. Itâ€™s kept our court from spiralling into chaos so far.â€ She held out a hand. â€œCome on, letâ€™s get you a room.â€