As River stepped through the door – which had mysteriously swung open, even though she could see no doorman – she felt beyond overwhelmed. The hall was large and spacious, with tapestries woven with bright, bold colors hanging on the walls. Mosaics made of polished jewels were spaced intermittently between the tapestries.
The people who lined the walls were as stunning as the room. They were tall and elegant, fair of face and beautiful in a dangerous and terrifying way. The women wore long, sweeping, gowns in every earthy and flowery color imaginable. Their loose hair had braids woven into them in a variety of ways. The men wore tunics and fitted trousers, and floor-length capes trimmed with jewels hung from their broad shoulders. Striking blue and hazel and green eyes turned to River, all slanted upward and giving both the men and women strange, seductive looks. They examined her with impressively neutral faces. All had long, pointed ears.
A hush fell over the crowd when she stepped forwards, and as her eyes roved the hall she saw him. The king.
His long hair was the brightest gold imaginable: it was as if someone had taken the colors of a morning sun, melted gold, and every yellow flower in the world, blended them into one perfect color, and used it to dye his hair. His locks shone like polished crystal. His face was the perfect length and width, and looked both strong and delicate. Eyes as blue as a Caribbean sea were set beneath his golden brows. He wore a gold circlet, and a jewel that appeared to be an emerald was set into the diadem, resting between his brows. It seemed to glow with a green fire set in its gleaming green depths. His long gold and green gown brushed his ankles, and a silver cloak was draped over his broad shoulders and clasped with a sea-green stone.
He was the most beautiful person River had ever seen, and she immediately gave a clumsy curtsy.
The king watched her for a long moment, then said, “Rise.” His voice was deep and powerful, but had a strange musicality to it, like the lowest notes on a flute.
As River straightened, her eyes locked with the king’s, and what she saw in them startled her. His gaze held a strange, haunted look, and the anger, confusion, hope, joy, and sorrow that filled his eyes mystified River.
“Tell me, child,” the king began, his voice cold, “How came you by the pendant that hangs about your neck?”
“I – uh, well,” River stammered, suddenly at a loss for words.
“Speak!” the king commanded.
River swallowed. “I-It’s a family heirloom,” she finally managed. “It’s been with my family for about, uh, f-five hundred years.”
Several sharp intakes of breath echoed through the hall.
“Do you know of its origin?” the king asked, his voice vibrating with anger and sadness so profound that River fought to keep from bursting into tears.
“Y-yes, kind of,” River said.
“Tell me what you know!” the king ordered.
River swallowed again. The story that she knew so well had suddenly fled from her mind. And the king, watching River with his emotion-filled eyes and looking so conflicted, didn’t help.
Suddenly, River felt her mouth open and heard her own voice singing softly.
“To the edge of the wood, O Belereth,
To the edge of the forest go now.
Seek the gate that would not yield,
Seek the stellar key now.
Fly from the face of Adár,
Tempt not his wrath –”
The king stood up so suddenly that River was caught off guard and stumbled back a step, the song catching in her throat.
“Where did you learn that song?” he shouted, his face slivid with rage.
River stammered out a string of random sounds, not able to form the words to answer him. Just then, Amára rushed forward and spoke in the same strange, silky language she had used with Naro.
“Elonáh, máck Íllandril. Sheya víl kily ay daran gilthon ühn twinëyeh ah numa yuvali. Novaa nah ganá narín shóha ingo et pasha?”
“Narach wan numa ingo et pasha víl fala!” the king responded heatedly.
A lengthy discussion ensued, with a stunned River barely keeping upright. A few other people joined in the conversation and River heard her name mentioned several times, but she couldn’t understand anything that was said.
Finally, she just sank onto the floor and rubbed the sides of her head, letting out a distressed squawk. Her mind was stuck on repeat, whispering, “Too much, too much, too much” over and over.
Amára rushed toward her, asking, “Are you well?” She didn’t even wait for an answer before turning to Íllandril and speaking in their language once again.
The king glared at them both, then said, “Falin, escort the girl to back to the healer’s nest. Amára, see to the girl’s injuries.” He paused, then added to Amára, “Et aiyeh numa daro lëhn numa narash harín. Kana numa alín shalo kí revaná.”
“Cah, máck Íllandril,” Amára said. Another man that River hadn’t noticed repeated the phrase, stepping forward from behind Íllandril’s throne. His green and gold armor glinted in the light, and his chainmail looked like it had been wrought of leaves dipped in gold. A jade green cape hung from his shoulders, and his long black hair encircled his shoulders. A green helmet with gold trimming hid his face, leaving only eyes a green to match his cape on display.