Writing Prompt #3 : The Ashen Grove

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

I didn’t use any dialogue prompts in this one, because if I had, this story would have been even longer. Story prompts will be at the bottom.

By popular request:

Pronunciation Guide:

  • Kieroan Virhorn – Keer-own Veer-horn
  • Jhaeros – Har- ohs
  • Shivonnan Coarvim – She-vohn-uhn Core-vim
  • Aoersis – Ear-sis
  • Éadaoin – A-deen
  • Saoirse – Sear-sha
  • Crónán – Say – crow-nawn

Feel free to ask for more pronunciations in the comments below.

The Ashen Grove

Kieroan Virhorn sank to his knees in front of a massive white ash. The deciduous giant stood in the center of a dense grove. Trees of all varieties formed perfect circles which radiated out from this centermost point. The ash was one of the largest of its kind, if not the largest, with a trunk that measured well over eight meters in girth and which reached some 40 meters into the air. Its bark was as dark and gray as the substance for which it was named, and its branches creaked and moaned as the wind passed solemnly between them.

Kieroan reached up and lay a steady hand on the scaled, swollen bark of the trunk as his face flowed through a series of unmasked emotions. The Elvone had known what he would find in this grove, but seeing it for himself made it all too real. The tree was truly and unmistakably dead, and with it, so was his Queen.

“I knew I would find you here,” A man’s calm voice broke through the grove behind him.

Without turning, Kieroan answered, “All these years, and never once did I leave her side. I knew to go to Brinstrand was the wrong move, but what was I to do? I could not disobey my Queen…”

“Hush, Kieroan.” Came the voice of Jhaeros, Right Hand of the King and Voice of the King in his absence. He was also Kieroan’s oldest and dearest friend. Jhaeros spoke again, “You can not blame yourself. If you had been there, the only thing that would be different now would be one more dead tree in a grove of death. We are praising our good fortune that you are still here to guide us in this hard time.”

Kieroan’s throat worked visibly as he forced down the emotions swelling inside his chest. Heat pressed at his eyes, and as he blinked, a tear rolled down his porcelain cheek. Jhaeros was right, of course, but that knowledge, that fact that there was nothing Kieroan could have done, felt as foreign and unbelievable as the idea of never seeing Shivonnan again. Kieroan’s imagination had been racing since the moment he’d heard the devastating news. He played the scene in his mind a hundred thousand different ways, each time coming up with a new solution, a different chance to save his bloodsworn. He was the best strategist the Matridom had at its disposal. It was hard for him to accept that he would not have had enough time to prevent what was now already done if he’d simply been where he was always meant to be.

His forehead dropped onto the trunk, causing the sharp corners of textured bark to press sharply into his flesh. His fingernails scrapped over the dry scales, desperate to feel close to her again, to caress her cheek, to tuck a strand of cotton-white hair behind her delicately pointed ear. The hard and dry indifference of the rotting trunk only made this need all the more intense. The fact that he would never have that closeness, never smell the lilac perfume of Shivonnan’s eggplant-colored skin again, stirred the rebel inside of him and every electrolyte in his body surged with violent denial at his new reality.

He did not know how long Jhaeros let him sit there. In fact, he’d forgotten that Jhaeros was even there at all, and the delicate presence of a compassionate hand on his shoulder caused Kieroan to start. “Come. There will be ample time to grieve and to heal. I think you’ve spent enough of it in this place for one night.” Reluctantly, Kieroan stood on stiff and awkward limbs. His legs had long ago fallen asleep, he’d simply chosen not to care. Jhaeros caught him as he stumbled, and the two made their way back to the palace.

*****

The Palace of the Fae Queen was built amongst the bows of many sturdy Heart Trees. The trees belonged solely to members from both houses of The Greater Fae Parliament. The members had served as pillars of the Greater Fae Dominion for more than three thousand years, and the decision to use their heart trees as the building blocks for the physical representation of their work seemed only logical. Special care had been taken to cause the least amount of damage to the trees, and the carpentry expenses had been a very terse subject among the lesser social classes for a few centuries. The palace was only two centuries away from celebrating its first millennia, and already it had been the home of three queens, soon to be a fourth. Never in recorded Fae history had such a thing occurred.

The palace was dark by the time Kieroan had found his way back to the royal living quarters. The lamps were filled with exhausted fireflies that drifted around inside the glass jars of each wall sconce. The lamps were not sealed, and the flies were no prisoners, this was simply their nightly job. When they heard someone coming, they would light the way, and once the visitor had passed, they were free to go about doing whatever it was they wished.

Kieroan entered what looked like a common room. There was a large hearth with dying embers to one side surrounded by goose feather poofs, armchairs and couches. Bookshelves lined several walls, and two desks were set up side by side among them. Tapestries covered the bare patches of wall and rugs littered the floor to insulate the room and save bare feet from the harshness of a cold floor. Kieroan stopped in front of a door on the far end of the common room and held his breath as he listened. He could hear the soft murmur of young female voices on the other side. The whispers warmed his heart only for a moment before the loss came crashing back. He sucked in a breath, smoothed his hair, straightened his clothes, and opened the door.

Inside was a bedroom with two beds separated by an end table. Perched on the edge of each bed were one of two girls, each looking to be in their pre-teens. The girl to the left was the picture-perfect image of her mother, with the same eggplant-colored skin, hair as white as sun-bleached ivory, and eyes a vibrant shade of crimson. The girl on the right took after her father, with pale grey skin sporting plum undertones, hair as black as ravens feathers and eyes of lavender. Both girls wore their hair down for sleep and were in their nightclothes. There were no lanterns in this room, but a glowing orb of light hung in the air above them. It was a simple spell, most likely cast by the girl on the left who loved to flaunt her magical prowess. Both girls jolted to attention as the door opened, and in a matter of seconds, Kieroan was staggering to stay upright as he was enveloped in two, tight hugs.

Kieroan sank to his knees and hugged the girls properly while planting kisses in their hair. The raven-haired girl, Saoirse was crying, while Éadaoin, who was the first to be born and therefore the eldest by a matter of mere minutes, held her chin high and made a show of her emotional restraint. Éadaoin and Saoirse were the daughters of Shivonnan, born of a union between Shivonnan and her late bloodsworn, Crónán, who had died in the battle to protect the late Queen Aoersis. Kieroan loved these two girls with all the strength of a true father, and the girls loved him back as well as any stepchild could. Now, it seemed, they were all each other had left.

Gods, he thought, They’re orphans. Kieroan wept freely now, his body shaking as he held the girls a little tighter. Even Éadaoin wiped her cheeks against Kieroan’s shoulder.

*****

After leaving the two girls, Kieroan made one more stop before retiring to his bedchamber. He entered a common room similar to the one he’d just left, and crossed it into the room of a small boy who looked to be no more than four years of age, though in truth he’d be celebrating his twentieth name day soon. Time passed differently for the Fae than it did for the other races of the land. Kieroan sat on the edge of the sleeping child’s bed and counted his breaths. The boy was fairer than his two half-sisters. His skin was faintly touched with gray, though in the dim light of the room, he looked as porcelain as the father who sat beside him. Kieroan brushed a strand of white hair away from his brow, and the boy stirred but didn’t wake. He did not know how long he sat in this room, watching his son’s peaceful face, as he mourned all of the moments and unmade memories his child had now lost.

In his own room, Kieroan was restless. He had known that sleep would never visit him on this night and had, therefore, wasted no time attempting to coax it upon him. He instead paced through his bedchamber, mind racing. It had been roughly a fortnight past that the fatal news had reached Kieroan and his army on the road back from Brinstrand, and it had taken the rider equally as long to contact them. The ambush had been thorough, the messenger had told him, and his Queen’s entourage had been overtaken in a matter of minutes. The Orckin were ruthless warriors and barbarians. They had spared only one of the Elven in the convoy, a squire to Serr Cravos, though not without holding him prisoner for days to truly trauma soak the poor child. When at last they sent him back to the castle, it was astride an ass since they had butchered the last of the horses for meat. The Orckin had sent him with a warning and told him to recall all he had seen on that day so as to instill fear throughout the Matridom. He told no one, save the Council- thank the gods, but the realm had still needed to be informed of the Queen’s fate, and, brutal details aside, there was still a tense unease settling in among its citizens.

Kieroan’s heart sank as he tallied up the time that had passed since his bloodsworn had been wrenched away from him. His Queen had been gone for nearly two months, no wonder her heart’s tree had already started to look withered. Shivonnan’s reign had been a short one as it had barely surpassed a century. As the Queen’s Right Hand and Voice of the Queen, she had been the only logical pick for the position after the death of Queen Aoersis, who had passed away quite suddenly to a wasting disease. The Greater Fae Council had voted unanimously in Shivonnan’s favor. Now they would have to choose again, and Kieroan, as the elected king, would have to be the figurehead of the proceedings. He would be present at the Council meeting tomorrow which would decide the candidate for the new Queen, but his presence would be a mere courtesy since his title held no real political sway. He would also be responsible for overseeing the public announcements, which meant he would be expected to travel from capital to capital to declare the election results and the date of the coronation. He would host social galas to introduce the new Queen, and be the one overseeing the coronation itself. He had been, thankfully enough, spared the duty of having to declare the death announcements since he had been on the other side of the Matridom when the incident occurred. That mournful task had instead fallen on Jhaeros.

The fact that Kieroan was also the Queen’s bloodsworn would not be taken into account in the weeks to come. This was because a romantic blood oath between the Queen and the king, an elected figurehead, was highly unconventional. If news of their coupling had reached beyond the walls of the palace it would have caused scandal throughout the dominions. This secret had always been an easy one for Kieroan to keep since his love for Shivonnan had always been a deeply personal experience. He took strength from the fact that it remained untainted and unobserved by the world. He had once told Shivonnan that the world would warp what they had, twist it, and shift the ownership of their union into the hands of those who could never understand it. Shivonnan had agreed with him on the surface, but she’d also been very vocal about the guilt she felt and compared their secret to a lie. Her loyalty to her people was everything to her, and lying to them felt impure.

Kieroan was twisting his oath band around his ring finger when the knock came upon his door, “Who is it,” He moved to a window and brushed the heavy curtains aside to reveal a stream of sunlight. When had the sun come up?

“M’Lord King, Jhaeros begs your presence,” His guard called through the door.

“Send him in,” Kieroan chanced a glance at his looking glass and saw that his appearance was about what he had feared. There were bags under his spring-green eyes, and his face was strained with exhaustion. His high cheekbones stood out sharper than he was accustomed to and his chin bore an unkempt sprout of beard which was in desperate need of maintaining. His long golden hair was disheveled and greasy, and his clothes looked as though he’d been wearing them for days because he had been.

When the door opened, Jhaeros came billowing into the room in fresh robes. His short brown hair was newly styled, his golden eyes were sharp from a night of rest, and his shimmering bronze-colored face was freshly powdered. He smelled of spices with a hint of lavender. He froze when he saw Kieroan, and his expression fell. “I assume your night went about as well as I’d feared it would. Did you at least try to sleep?”

“No,” Kieroan said curtly. “Is it time for the council to convenes?”

“Oh, please, I’m hurt. You should at least know me well enough to know that I know you better than that! They convene at midday, which leaves more than enough time for me to make you presentable. Come on, I’ve already ordered you a bath.”

The warm water had been a welcome respite to his travel-sore muscles. When he’d commented on this, the servants added a tincture of fragrant oils to the water that they said would further relax his tension. He hadn’t even minded the help offered by the servants who scrubbed him until his skin turned pink and washed his hair with lavender soaps.

After the bathing was finished, the servants ushered him into a seat where they could prep his appearance. Kieroan had tried to object to all the pampering, but Jhaeros would hear none of it, and Kieroan was far too exhausted to argue. Some of the servants worked on combing out the many tangles in his wind-blown hair and did so with an enchanted comb so that his hair would dry all the faster. Once it was damp and not sodden, they twisted and braided and wove the top part of his long hair into an intricate half circle that secured in place the silver circlet which was the symbol of his office. The intricate pattern his hair made ended in a knot at the back of his head while leaving the underside of his hair down past his shoulders. The other half of the servants busied themselves with his face and hands and feet. They shaved his face clean and rubbed oils into his skin to make it soft. They drew on black paint around his eyes for definition and painted his lips to bring some life back into them before finishing his paint off with the same powder that frequently adorned Jhaeros. His hands and feet were scrubbed with porous stones to remove any dry or callused skin from the traveling. They trimmed and shaped his nails and massaged fragrant oils into his skin to make it soft once again.

“Have you thought at all about who you’ll have me elect?” Jhaeros asked from the lounge chair behind him as he picked fastidiously from a basket of fruit. It was considered a dishonor to the former Queen for her king to nominate a candidate at Council. Instead, suggestions were to be left up to the King’s Right Hand, so that the king could be left to grieve. However, it was common practice for the king to choose, and the King’s Voice to agree, though you’d never catch anyone at court giving voice to such a notion.

“I thought I’d leave that up to you,” Kieroan’s said, dryly.

“I thought that’s what you’d say,” Jhaeros popped a grape into his mouth and made a face, “They are always bitter this time of year. Oh well. Anyway, I was thinking we’d play it safe then and nominate, Magdaleen. As the Queen’s Right Hand and the Voice of the Queen, she’s the most obvious candidate, and it will stir no unwanted scandals, which is the last thing our already full plat needs.”

Jhaeros grunted, unable to nod since a servant had his chin held firmly in place while he worked, “Magdaleen is a good choice. It would be an honor to serve her.”

“Indeed,” Jhaeros said, his tone heavy with contemplation.

Once Kieroan was fully dressed and pronounced a sight to make women weep from joy, he stood before the silver looking glass. He could hardly recognize himself. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth to chew on it anxiously, but caught himself in the mirror and thought better of it. I’ll be pleased if this polish lasts until the whole hall is seated, Kieroan thought, Gods give me strength.

*****

“And now for our most pressing order of business,” The High Speaker, Elder Grunwynn, called out, his voice filling the circular room which was occupied by over a thousand Lords, and elders and leaders of innumerable titles and monikers. Each represented a different group or race of Fae who had once been free and independent nomades, all of which had either been annexed into the Greater Fae Dominion after conquering or had joined willingly for the protections the Dominion had to offer.

“As you all know, our Great Queen Shivonnan was taken from us some three-and-a-half fortnights past. As many of you may not yet know, last night, our Noble King, Kieroan Virhorn, made his return to our fair city.” Kieroan’s attention snapped onto the High Speaker. His thoughts had been distant through most of the proceedings, and he had that disjointed feeling one gets when they can’t remember how they arrived in their current location. Jhaeros, who sat beside him, shot him a glance and squeezed Kieroan’s knee reassuringly. “With his arrival, we may now proceed to select our new queen.” A murmur went up from the many tables filling the room. “The council would now like to open the floor for nominations for the position of Queen Regent of the Greater Fae Dominion.”

The room broke out in a thousand different voices, all talking to their neighbors or advisors. The conversations carried on for several long minutes before Jhaeros gave Kieroan an encouraging look and stood up. One by one, the room fell silent until the High Speaker called out, “And who does our King’s Hand nominate?”

“The King’s Right Hand would like to nominate the Right Hand of the Queen and Voice of the Queen in her Absence, Magdaleen of the House Thorn.”

“Very well, Jhaeros, the House hears you.” The High Speaker said with a respectful nod, “All in favor of Magdaleen of the House Thorn?”

Something close to half of the room stood in silence as the High Archivist counted the votes and made a record. Apprentice archivists ran up and down the rows of seats counting the number of standing people in each row to double check the High Archivist’s tally. When all votes were taken, the apprentices ran to stand at the foot of the High Council’s table. “You may all be seated,” The High Speaker called, “Are there any other nominations?”

Vos, the Queen of the Changelings, stood next, and nominated herself, to the surprise of no one in the room. She’d done this for every Queen’s election she’d attended. Again the crowd was asked to rise, and this time only a handful of people rose, most of which were Lords under her banner. This time, after the apprentices had done their tally and the High Speaker asked them all to sit down, he asked a new question, “Are there any among you who wish to strike your vote for Magdaleen of the House Thorn and vote instead for our Lady Vos?” None stood.

The next to stand and make a nomination was a chieftain of the tree folk, a seven-foot-tall humanoid who’s fleshy skin was dappled and brown and looked exactly like the bark of a tree with hair and beard the color of moss. He nominated a maiden of the Merfolk who had been sitting beside him. Her flesh was blue and ringed through with shades and tints of white and blue giving it the appearance of the sun dancing down through the surface of a deep pool. Her hair stood from her head like forked branches of coral, and gills opened and closed about her neck nervously. The amulet around her neck made it possible for her to be on the land. That sort of magic didn’t come cheaply, and the enchantments don’t last forever. It would be difficult for her to rule and to live in the castle, but it was doable. Kieroan’s musings were for not, however, for those that rose for her were few.

On and on the proceedings went, with different rulers declaring individuals who were important to themselves, and every once in a while individuals would stand and change their vote each being asked who they had voted for before as the High Archivist made his notations. Jhaeros had started filling Kieroan in on all the latest gossip surrounding each person as they were nominated, and Kieroan did his best to nod and appear as though he were listening or was at all interested in each invasive scandal. His mind continued to wander back to Shivonnan with every story. A few times, he thought he might break down, and a few times he thought about excusing himself from the hall, but duty put him in that seat and duty was keeping him in it.

“As you all may know, the House of Roath has prided itself on being the oldest family in the Guild of Mages.” All around the hall voices hushed as the peculiarity of the statement captured everyone’s attention. Lord Vester Roath stood amongst the crowd dressed in fine, richly colored silks. His cloak was the deep shade of blue the sky takes after the sun has settled below the distant mountains and was woven through with individual strands of silver thread so that the cloak glittered and twinkled with each subtle movement. A silver clasp secured his cloak in place, and though Kieroan could not see it from where he sat, he knew it was in the shape of a hand with a spiral of glittering clear stones set into its palm. The cloak and clasp were the standard garb for a member of the Guild of Mages.

“Magic is the defining characteristic of the whole of the Fae, and magic is what brings every race of Faekin together under one banner. For this reason, the Guild of Mages would like to see a queen who embodies this central-most foundation of our great Dominion. Therefore, House Roath would like to nominate Princess Éadaoin, Daughter of the Late Queen Shivonnan and the brightest pupil I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring in my thousand thirty years of service to the Guild.”

The room erupted into a thousand conversations at once. Voices rose and fell as the shock washed through the room. Jhaeros was sitting, dumbstruck, with his mouth hanging open while Kieroan felt the color race from his face. The sounds of the room faded as Kieroan’s mind frantically tried to understand what he was hearing. Éadaoin? His little Éadaoin? The daughter of his Lady Queen and a newly made orphan?

Jhaeros seemed to remember himself then and turned his attention onto Kieroan, “They can’t do that,” He said, “I’m nearly positive that they can’t do that. Parliament was formed specifically to prevent direct lineage rule, there’s no way that Éadaoin can legally take her mother’s office.”

Kieroan felt a touch of color return to his face as he met Jhaeros’ eyes. “Okay, you’re probably right. Besides, she’s just a child. She has no right to rule. She’s not yet a woman grown.”

“Until this fall…” Jhaeros muttered.

“What?” Kieroan blinked.

“She is not yet a woman grown until her name day this fall. The girls are about to celebrate their hundredth name day, or had you forgotten?” Jhaeros said, his body stiff with emotion. “That will be just in time for the coronation. The timing is actually quite perfect, a fact that I’m sure didn’t escape Lord Roath.”

Roath was shouting over the crowd, which eventually quieted enough for his voice to break through, “I assure you, my Lords and Leaders, this nomination is quite legal. The Guild has studied the laws, though I encourage our High Archivist to let me know if my Scholars are mistaken. While the Parliament was formed to break the cycle of direct lineage rule, it does not expressly forbid it if all vote that the decision is fair and just.”

The High Speaker looked to the High Archivist who shrugged. The room fell silent so that the old man could speak, “As far as my memory serves, Lord Roath makes a valid argument.” The room erupted in speech again, and it took several minutes of the High Archivist’s ancient hand in the air for them to fall silent once more, “However, I will consult with my peers, my books and my scrolls to make sure that such a vote is, indeed, within the scope of the law. Until then, I see no reason why we can’t simply settle the matter with a vote. If the Princess loses the vote, then perhaps an answer to this question might not be so pressing.”

“Very well,” the High Speaker called over the roar of voices, “All in favor of the Princes Éadaoin of the House Coarvim?” Nearly half of the auditorium rose. Once the apprentices finished their tallies and the High Archivist had taken his notes, the High Speaker called, “Are there any who wish to change their votes?” Several members stood up. Kieroan’s heart fell into his stomach.

Once the changes were made, and the Council once again were seated, the High Speaker called out, “Are there any final changes our Lords and Leaders would like to make to their votes? If so, stand and tell us now.” Many of the lesser lords who had voted for candidates that were clearly knocked out of the running stood now. Some changed their vote to Magdaleen, and others changed their vote to Éadaoin. Kieroan was chewing on his lip when Jhaeros’s elbow found him, “The paint,” he hissed, “You’ve nearly chewed it all off. I’ll have to fix you myself before we make any more public appearances.” Kieroan ignored him. The damage was already done, anyway. When his lip was too sore to chew anymore, he sat so rigidly that at times he forgot to breathe and was forced to suck in a lungful of air through his nose. Several long moments passed before the Archivist turned to the High Speaker and began to whisper urgently with him. Kieroan watched as anxiety twisted itself around inside his gut like a beast stretching. After several thrown hands and agitated finger jabs in various directions, the two broke apart and turned back to the room.

“My Lords and Leaders of the Council, it would seem we have on our hands a situation not yet faced by this Parliament. It appears that Lady Éadaoin and Lady Magdaleen are tied for votes.” The room exploded with noise. All around them the council members rose, shouting and gesturing and talking urgently with those closest to them.

Kieroan sank back in his seat, stunned. A tie, He thought, How can that be?

Beside him, Jhaeros sighed, “And here I was trying to avoid scandal. Instead, we end up with two of the biggest pieces of gossip our Kingdom has seen since the suicide of the Late Queen Geldriel.”           

The High Speaker held up both of his hands to signal for silence. Slowly, very slowly, the room quieted, and the council members resumed their seats. “I must say that I am at a loss for how to proceed. If any of you have a suggestion, please rise and- one at a time- we will hear your ideas. Please keep in mind that a recount is forbidden by law once the final call for vote revisions is concluded.”

Several men stood and spoke their ideas, but it was Lord Vester Roath who caught the attention of the Council, “Since it is magic that the Guild so values, and since it is magic that binds us all together under one banner, I say let us hold a tournament. Each nominee must complete tasks that the council votes upon and sets up for them, and the Lady to perform the most ambitious, cunning, and creative solutions to each puzzle will win our crown. It will be up to members of the Council to decide who is the winner of each round and consequently, who wins the ultimate prize.”

The room muttered softly among itself as this proposal was taken in. Finally, the High Speaker called, “All those in favor of Lord Roath’s suggestion?”

Every Lord in the room stood except for Kieroan.   

END

Prompts Used

Character Prompt:

5. Insomnia Disorder: for long periods of time, he is unable to get a good night’s sleep and feel well-rested.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 175). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Plot Prompts By Genre:

Fantasy Prompt:

135. Each person’s spirit is connected to a particular tree in the forest.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 32). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Classic Plot Prompts:

50 Plots From European Fairy Tales and Mythology

42. The Queen of the Fairies dies and the fairies need to elect a new one, but they have trouble deciding between two candidates. They decide whoever does the most amazing feat will win the crown. (“Rosanella,” French fairy tale.)

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 145). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.


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