Thornstaff and Ryjah are sent by the druid circle to answer the King’s request for aid when it comes to the mysterious song that is causing so many people to vanish into the depths of the forest never to return.
The Wooden Siren: Part Three
They had no trouble, whatsoever, in finding the palace. It towered over the rest of the city from where it stood at the center. Ryjah had taken the time to do herself up in a nicer fashion than usual. She wore an ankle-length skirt that swished as she walked and twisted her hair into a long braid. She wore her pants underneath her skirt, the King wasn't ever going to know. She had to use far too much self-control not to twirl every few seconds. Ryjah supposed that she should have known all the proper court protocols and standards since she was raised as an Earl's daughter, but she had never paid any attention to that type of thing. Too boring. Thornstaff, on the other hand, refused to walk with her as himself through the streets and instead went as a large black panther. Heedless of the fact that he attracted more attention that way. Perhaps, it was the fact that he could growl at people and they were more likely to leave him alone.
They reached the palace with no difficulty at all, other than some confused guards at the gate that tried to keep Thornstaff from entering. They said that wild animals were not allowed to enter the grounds, no matter how well they were trained. Ryjah assumed that this was a precaution against Avatharans, but a hopeless one, as there were all types and they couldn’t possibly keep all animals out of the grounds. Still, Thornstaff was forced to shift back into himself to convince them. The fact that he was an elf was enough to keep them from making sure that he wasn’t still furry.
They were admitted into the palace without further incident. A servant dressed in red livery took their weapons and put them to the side as a precaution then led the way so Ryjah took the opportunity to look around despite being pressed for time. She had never been inside a palace before. Ryjah had thought that her father's manor was grand, but the palace made it a pale shadow in comparison. The walls were covered in beautiful paintings of Adara and the famous events and heroes of men. The Last Battalion, The Elven Treaty, Hezdan the Great, Lrestin the Wise, and The Enlightenment. She frowned at that one, she had imagined the Peacekeeper to be smaller and more friendly-looking, not some enormous blue giant. Ornate rugs covered the floors and the pillars were gilded with gold. Precious stones and metals were on pedestals on either side of the Hall. In all, it was a spectacular sight. Ryjah suddenly felt small and insignificant. Her pitiful attempt to look nice now felt shabby and simple. Thornstaff didn't seem to care and treated all the finery with his usual disdain. He hadn't bothered to try and look nice, he wore the same old travel-stained clothes that he always wore. It wasn’t until they were walking up to the doors of the throne room that Thornstaff spoke to her.
“Just so you know, you’re going to be doing all the talking,” He muttered in her ear.
Ryjah was startled and looked up at him. He had pulled up his hood for some reason, “What? Why me?”
There was a precious few seconds before Thornstaff answered, “I can’t talk in front of a crowd.”
“Can’t?” Ryjah asked with a grin that quickly disappeared when she saw how uncomfortable he looked.
“Just do it,” He muttered.
“What, why?” Ryjah still didn’t understand and she couldn’t help wanting to prod him for answers. They were approaching the doors of the throne room now.
“Please, Ryjah.” He hissed.
Utterly shocked, Ryjah stopped walking, but Thornstaff put a hand to the back of her shoulders and pushed her to keep her moving forwards without breaking stride.
“Okay,” She agreed softly, he was so going to hear about this later.
Two guards pulled open the double doors and they entered the Throneroom. Another long and wide hall with a row of seats on either side and a large throne in the center of the end. Unlike the rest of the castle, the Throneroom was plain and looked rather forbidding with all of its dark colors. The seats were all occupied by noblemen in varied clothing styles, several looked annoyed. The King sat on the throne, waiting for them. He was younger than she expected, only a few years older than she was. Dark-haired and brooding, he cut an impressive figure in Ryjah's eyes. Thornstaff nudged her impatiently from behind and she realized that she had been standing there doing nothing for far too long.
“Y-your Majesty,” She said, trying to remember what she was supposed to be doing here, “...We are Druids, Thornstaff and Ryjah, sent to acquiesce to your command,” She gave a curtsy while Thornstaff managed a stiff half-bow without bothering to lower his hood.
The King nodded and motioned for her to rise, “I believe I have heard both of your names before. Thornstaff is a druid renowned for his skill and bravery while Ryjah is the daughter of Earl Whinthers.”
Ryjah wondered why he had bothered to mention this when she saw some of the nobleman's faces brighten in understanding. Though some watched Thornstaff with distrust. Of course, they were supposed to be helping the King prove that something was being done to take care of the disappearances and protect his throne.
“I am glad to have your support. Foreman, give the report,” The King ordered.
“The reason that you have been summoned here is that there have been disappearances among the King's rangers and foresters whenever they venture into a certain part of the forest. The disappearances started around two and a half weeks ago, but there was no evidence or known facts related to the disappearances except they always disappeared some distance from one of the eastern waystations, until three days ago, when a forester came back with a strange tale.”
He looked to the King, who nodded, “Bring him in!”
One of the side doors opened, and a pale, trembling, young man was led out by another liveried servant.
The foreman gestured for him to stand where he could be seen easily and said, "Tell everyone what happened to you."
"E-everyone?" The man asked, looking around with wide eyes.
"Yes!" the foreman barked.
The young man jumped, “Y-yessir! I-I went out into the f-forest that night and I saw th-these little b-blue lights that twinkled and they seemed to… to call out to m-me and I followed them deep into the f-forest. Then I-I… heard a song, and a whisper in the wind. It called to me, but I was too s-scared to come and I ran. I heard noises in the wind!" His voice lowered to a barely audible whisper, "Clacking like b-bones. They were laughing at me.”
The man shuddered and folded into himself. He was clearly not recovered from his close call with the Siren if that's what it was. He was taken out by the same servant who let him in as the foreman announced “It is supposed that the creature causing the disappearances is three days into the forest and due south from the Last Drop Waystation. That is the end of our knowledge on the subject.”
“What is your verdict, Master Thornstaff?” The King asked.
Thornstaff stiffened and Ryjah said hurriedly, “My apologies, Your Majesty, but Master Thornstaff only speaks Elvish.”
“What!” One of the noblemen shouted, rising to his feet, “You mean that he didn’t understand a single word of what was said?”
"I knew we shouldn't trust an elf!" Another shouted.
“No! No!” Ryjah said quickly, “He can understand us! He just doesn’t speak it very well. If you don’t mind, Your Majesty, perhaps I can twixt for you?”
She tried not to rub her sweaty palms against her skirt as she waited anxiously for the King's reply. She really hoped that none of them knew Elvish or would think to find out if she knew it.
“That will do.” The King said finally.
Ryjah turned to Thornstaff, “Well, what should I tell them?” She hissed.
“Tell them about the Siren, best as you can remember.” Thornstaff murmured, barely loud enough for her to hear.
What was wrong with him? Ryjah wondered but did as she was told. As she did, she saw the incredulous looks of the noblemen as she spoke and began to feel even more nervous, especially as she felt Thornstaff’s impatience behind her. As she began to falter, she looked to the King and saw that he was watching her intently, taking in every word, and continued.
Finally, she finished, "Thornstaff is certain of this, your Majesty, and he is confident that he can take care of it."
“This is what Thornstaff has said?” one of the nobles asked.
“Yes, sir,” Ryjah said, slightly miffed that they had to clarify, “From the information that you have given that is what he believes the threat to be.”
Some of the other nobles looked as if they were about to speak but the King forestalled them, “Master Thornstaff? Do you believe that you and your companion can get rid of the threat?”
Why did people ask her things if they weren't going to believe her? Ryjah thought in annoyance as Thornstaff gave a grudging nod by way of reply.
“Then you may leave.” The King said, "But come back when you have completed your task."
Ryjah curtsied, and Thornstaff half-bowed before stalking out of the throne room. She hurried to catch up.
Once they were outside the throne room, she asked, "Are you going to tell me why I had to do the talking?"
"No." He didn't slow down or look at her as he said it, forcing her to walk quickly to keep up, almost tripping over her skirt.
Ryjah dropped her voice to a low whisper and demanded, "Are you saying that I lied to the King and you aren't going to tell me why?"
"Oh." She wasn't sure why she hadn't expected him to say that.
Ryjah waited a few minutes before asking her next question, "Where are we going now?"
"The Last Drop Waystation."