Chapter 23: The Next Step

So i did a poll to see what to do while I build up my backlog of early access chapters for patrons. With the results in, my plan is to release a chapter a week until I have at least 5 patron chapters. Then depending on how my pace is going, I’ll add in a couple more chapters to my buffer zone. This is to avoid what happened before when my mental health took a massive nose dive. With that said, enjoy the chapter.

“Ah ah choo.”

Rowan woke up sneezing loudly from a wandering tail tickling her nose. Not exactly the most romantic start to the morning after your first time. Alas, there was no helping it as Alena had found her way into the nook of Rowan’s armpit, and while she was fast asleep, purring away, her tail had a mind of its own. 

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Rowan didn’t need to be a tail whisperer to know that the rogue tail wanted to play. It was almost as if it was enacting whatever dreams Alena was having at the time. After rudely waking Rowan up it decided that she was much in need of more tickling. She tried to escape without waking Alena up, only for Alena to nuzzle in closer. 

It was incredibly adorable and incredibly inconvenient. In the end, Rowan had no choice other than to just lie there and enjoy the view. Not that she could really complain; it was a very nice view after all. 

While looking at Alena’s sleeping face, Rowan started to stroke her hair. Unfortunately, she was unable to do the heart fluttering manoeuvre of pushing a lock of hair behind her ear like she had done all those years ago with Kiriin. Guilt flashed momentarily for thinking back to a lost love which in turn brought a hint of sadness. It only lasted a second, however, as Alena’s ears twitched in the most adorable fashion believable and as Rowan continued to stroke, Alena unconsciously reciprocated with purring.

After a few minutes of perfect bliss, Rowan heard someone enter the apartments. A knocking on the door soon followed.

“Lady Rowan?”

It was Avra, the maid.

Rowan panicked. She hadn’t noticed before, not consciously at least, that neither she or Alena were being granted any modesty by the wayward covers and they weren’t exactly dressed either. To make matters worse, the covers were well out of reach.

“Just a second,” Rowan called out before whispering an apology to Alena.

Rowan then enacted her ‘genius’ spur of the moment plan to achieve modesty. She stretched out in an attempt to grab onto the covers with her toes. Her foot started to cramp from the unnatural way she was using it. Thankfully though, the discomfort was worth it as she took hold of the covers and started to bring them. Unfortunately, doing so required more disruptive movements and Alena started to stir. Rowan then hurried to get them both covered.

Now sitting up with the linen sheets loosely covering her chest, Rowan called out to Avra again. 

“You can come in now.”

“Right away.”

And to her word, Avra swiftly entered the room, looking the very image of professionalism. 

“How can I help?” Rowan asked?

“First of all, you and your guest have been invited to break fast with Her Majesty and the rest of the Royal family.

Not just Seres, Rowan thought to herself, it’s been a while since that happened.

“Secondly, I have arranged a change of clothes for your guest. I do not believe that she would rather not wear a ball gown to breakfast.

“How did you know she’d be here?”

“I know everything about those I serve.”

That wasn’t at all ominous.

“Furthermore, the whole palace is aware of your exploits from last night. Milady wasn’t exactly subtle about the whole ordeal.”

Ominous tidings forgotten. Now only blood red embarrassment remained.

“It is fortunate that rest of the Sunfall Apartments are without guests at this moment in time. I fear they would have had an even more intimate understanding of your late night activities.”

We weren’t that loud, were we?

“Finally, Her Highness requested that I  tease you on her behalf. I believe you have been sufficiently teased.”

Avra let Rowan process the foul betrayal as Alena finally made her presence known. With her back to Avra and her face towards Rowan, she stretched and gave out the biggest yawn. It was almost as if she was emulating a lion’s roar, except the sound she made was just the cutest. Then in a moment of inspiration, Alena settled down from her stretch, pulling down the sheets and, with her mouth still wide open, she nommed on Rowan’s exposed breast.

“I believe that is my cue to take my leave,” said Avra as Rowan once again turned crimson.

*****

With Alena dressed in one of her more casual dresses and Rowan in a tunic which was practically a minidress and pair of leggings, the two girls made their way to the Dawn Wing for breakfast.

“Is it really okay for me to be here?” Alena asked.

Rowan rolled her eyes at that.

“The queen invited you as well. Who cares if it’s as a plus one?”

“But I’m only a lesser noble, all things considered.”

“And?”

“It’s not proper.”

“It’s no less proper than me being there.”

“You do realise that you were given a title on par with an earl, maybe even a duke, last night, just without the land, though I imagine that will come later.”

Rowan wasn’t sure exactly how she was supposed to process that information. She knew that the titles were a big deal, but not that much of a big deal.

“Of course, that’s just one of your new titles. The other is a bigger mystery. As far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been someone granted the title of Ardent Flame in over a thousand years.”

“Well I didn’t have those titles when I first met the Queen. And I’m definitely not worthy of being the Ardent Flame if it’s so prestigious.”

“Yet here we are.”

“Well as Ardent Flame, I say it’s okay.”

“But…”

“No buts. You don’t get to have sex with me and then chicken put at breakfast.”

Alena didn’t have a response to that. Instead, Rowan took her hand softly into her own and walked forwards with confidence. 

The rest of the trip took place without much in the way of complaint from Alena. If anything, it was largely uneventful with the exception of garnering a few looks and that was more due to Rowan than there being a couple of girls walking romantically hand in hand.

A maid was waiting for them at the entrance to the large private dining room of the Royal family. She curtsied to them before opening the door and announcing their arrival. 

On entering, Rowan was completely unsurprised to see Seres, Queen Elarin, Princess Elia and Prince Rikta. What was more surprising is that they weren’t the only people there, not counting servants. Behind the Queen stood a familiar duo, the Awakened Pair that had stood guard whenever Rowan was handling Elan Fiir. 

Across from them sat a human woman who was likely in her early thirties and had midnight blue hair with azure highlights. Rowan guessed that she was the first princess of Særis, in part because of her hair, but mostly because Brennan and his partner were standing guard behind her. To the princess’ left there were a pair of younger Ferran males, likely the Ferran princes. They seemed to be of similar ages to Seres and Princess Elia and both had russet hair touched with white, notably on the tips of their ears.

As Rowan had the sudden realisation that there may end up being more to this breakfast than she had believed, Queen Elarin gave both her and Alena a warm smile and said, “Good morning, Rowan, Lady Alena. Might I introduce you to our guests? This is Princess Yona of Særis and to her left are Prince Tomas and Prince Kiaran, the eldest and youngest children of the Prince Sovereign of Ferran, respectively. Princess Yona, Prince Tomas, Prince Kiaran, this is Lady Rowan’efrii, the Ardent Flame, and her newfound partner, Lady Alena of House Muun.”

Alena immediately curtsied to everyone, showing particular deference to the two princes of Ferran. Rowan also curtsied to everyone. If it were just the Royal family, she would have settled with a slight bow of the head with how the Queen had insisted she didn’t need to be so formal. The presence of guests, however, changed everything. Rowan had to be on her best behaviour. She wasn’t hopeful. 

“Good morning, Your Majesty, Your Highnesses, and to your illuminated guests.”

Immediately after greeting everyone, Rowan felt like she had just said something extremely cringe worthy. She wanted to sound polite and sophisticated. Instead she sounded like a perfumed sycophant or worse, a flowery buffoon. She just knew it. She just…

“Why are they holding hands, Mother?”

Illusion shattered. In just a few words, the great Ardent Flame of Midiris had by slain by the mighty Prince Rikta. Why? Rowan didn’t know why. Something about his tone, maybe? Or perhaps it was his inquisitive gaze. Either way, Rowan wasn’t looking forward to the answer. It seemed like Alena wasn’t doing much better.

Unfortunately, the Queen was all too happy to answer her unreasonably adorable demon child and from the looks of it, he wasn’t the only person who wanted to know.

Queen Elarin gave Prince Rikta a sage look and told him, “You see, dear. Lady Rowan and Lady Alena are very close friends and…”

“Just say it how it is, Mother,” interrupted Seres with a surprising hint of annoyance. “Leave the sugar-coating to the historians.”

Rowan heard a slight chuckle to her left. Part of her wanted to glance over to see who it was. The other, more dominant side, however, was enraptured in stunned silence.

Following the rogue laughter, Seres fully took on the reins of explaining the Rowan and Alena situation before her mother could fill Prince Rikta’s head with unnecessary, partial truths. 

“What Mother meant to say, Rikta, is that they like each other romantically and hand-holding is a sign of affection between loved ones.”

“But they aren’t men?”

The facepalm was immediate as was the laughter on the left. The laughter was in turn followed by what Rowan could only assume was a slap and a yelp. 

Rowan had to look that time. Prince Kiara was rubbing the back of his head whilst Tomas seemed completely unphased and was sitting patiently.

How did he get his hand back so quickly?

Meanwhile, Princess Yona was clearly veiling a smirk behind a napkin.

Turning to look at the other guests had another purpose as well in that it gave Rowan the chance to see what Alena’s reaction to the whole sequence of events. Shocked. Mortified. Confused. Horrified. All were apt descriptors of Alena’s expression at that exact moment of time. Rowan decided to give her a slight nudge in the right direction, which is to say guide her to their seats. It was all she could do to not be stunned into catatonia herself.

Meanwhile Queen Elarin seemed perfectly happy to let Seres finish what she had started. It was almost cruel in a ‘not really but you took responsibility by interrupting’ way. Thankfully Seres regained her composure as Rowan and Alena took their seats.

Removing her palm from her face, Seres decided to get right to the root of the issue by asking, “What do you think romance is, Rikta?”

“It’s what men do to make people like them and want to get married so that they can have babies.”

An exchange of looks immediately followed that was a conversation in their own right.

Seriously? – Seres.

Not my job – Elia.

He’s too young for the talk – Elarin.

He’s nine! – Seres.

Admittedly that last one was guess from how exasperated Seres looked. After the quick silent conversation, Seres turned back to Rikta. 

“Okay, I’ve just got a couple more questions,” she told him. “First, do you think a man can be romantic to a man?”

Prince Rikta rolled his eyes. “Obviously.”

“That’s right. Do you think two men can have baby together without any extenuating circumstances?”

“If they get married.”

“Let me just put that answer to the side. How about a woman being romantic to a man?”

“No.”

He said it with confidence that Rowan wasn’t sure how to process it. So many gaps. From the looks of it, Seres was on the verge of tearing her hair out. After a few breaths, however, she turned to their guests and apologised.

 “It seems that my younger brother has a few gaps in his education and I’m sorry you all had to witness the discovery of such. I’ll have to amend this at a later date. Until then. Rikta.”

“Yes?”

“Romance refers to a special kind of love and intimacy between two people as well as the expression of those feelings. It can be initiated by anyone, not just men. And romance doesn’t necessarily lead to marriage and babies can occur independently of marriage. I’ll tell you more soon enough. Understand?”

“Yes,” Rikta nodded glumly. 

“Excellent. I think now might be a good time to eat, don’t you, Mother?”

“Indeed,” Queen Elarin answered before giving the servants a quick nod. They swept immediately into action and breakfast was served within moments. 

It was clear that extra care had been put into the meal as it was not only for the Royal family but visiting royals as well.

“This is delicious,” the Særan princess announced, speaking for the first time since Rowan and Alena had entered the room. She spoke with a mature timbre that gave her a strong presence on top of her rather unique appearance.

“I’m glad it is to your liking, Princess Yona,” Queen Elarin smiled, “this is a favourite of mine. How about you, Prince Tomas? Prince Kiaran?”

Prince Tomas answered first with a polite nod. “It is indeed an exquisite dish. The balance is divine.”

Kiatan was next. “I think my actions speak louder than words.” He was already finished and his plate was sparking.

Rowan was amazed. She hadn’t even seen him touch his silverware, yet here he was.

Did he inhale it or something? 

“Indeed,” Queen Elarin responded. “With that said, I think it is time to bring up why I wished for you all to meet today.” 

That got everyone’s attention.

“As you all know, my daughter here, Seres, was kidnapped roughly five years ago, as were Lady Rowan and countless others.”

The three visiting royals nodded at that.

“From what Seres and Lady Rowan have told me, young adolescents were taken from across Llen Fær, Sæeis, and Ferran over the course of several years to a series of caves underneath the Earldom of Fendras near the great fjord. The purpose? To enslave and torture them until they Awakened. It is clear to me that someone is engineering an army of Awakened soldiers for some foul scheme. I’m sure we can all agree that this is of grave concern to us all.”

Another round of nodding. Princess Yona looked pale at the implications while Tomas maintained a level expression. Kiaran on the other hand looked to be a mix of fear and excitement. He may be seventeen or so, but the idea of epic battle and adventure clearly appealed to him.

“With that in mind, it has also been brought to my attention that Lord Feilan Takiir, Earl of Fendras, is involved and was taking advantage of many young female prisoners.”

“That is a serious accusation, Your Majesty,” Princess Yona interjected. 

“And one that will need to be thoroughly investigated, as will this entire operation. Between us, we only have so many Awakened individuals to combat this threat. Especially when we don’t know where the main operation is based or where they are targeting. With that in mind, I would like to request that Lady Rowan and Seres be permitted to serve as my representatives on the mainland for the investigation and execution of the threat.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Yona replied.

“Agreed,” Tomas added.

“Umm,” Rowan interrupted, “Would it be okay if I visit my family first? I need to see my father and find my sister.”

“Of course,” Elarin answered.

“Not alone you aren’t,” Seres interrupted, shaking her head. Rowan gave her a betrayed look. Seres only smiled and added, “I’m going with you.”

Alena giggled on Rowan’s other flank. “You didn’t think she was going to leave you alone, did you? I wish I could go with you as well, but we’ve already been away from the university for far too long. Promise me you’ll visit me?”

“Of course I will,” Rowan blushed.

“Looks like Rowan is ready to tie the knot,” Seres teased.

“I am not!” said Rowan a little bit too loudly.

“Remember where we are, Rowan,” chided Alena.

“Oh sorry.”

“I can definitely see the Ardent in her,” Yona laughed.

“This is tame,” Seres replied with laughter of her own.

Rowan gave her an accusative look and with several notes of mock betrayal, exclaimed, “Traitor!” 

“Oh to be young,” Queen Elarin sighed. “However, before that goes any further I must bring the conversation back on course. Rowan.”

“Yes?”

“Last night I granted you the title of Ardent Flame. If I’m being truthful, you aren’t ready for it. You are the third person in the history of Llen Fær to be granted the title and it is not done lightly.”

“Then why?”

“Because I’ve seen your strength and your passion. In time you will grow to become a legend in your own right, just like those who came before you. With that in mind, I grant you full leave to carry Elan Fiir as you see fit.”

“Thank you,” Rowan replied meekly.

The conversation for the rest of the breakfast was mostly on logistics. Eventually,  Rowan and Alena excused themselves to spend some time together while Seres took her younger brother aside to give him a more rounded education on sex and romance.

Overall it was a quiet day. A calm before the storm. Alena would be leaving soon, as were the rest of her party. It also seemed as if all the prisoners desiring passage to Særis would be leaving as well. That included both Amran and Maro. In a sense it was sad news, but at the same time, she would be making her way to the Azure City. Before then, however, she was going home.

Rowan was finally going home.

This actually ended up being roughly 1k words longer than I had originally anticipated. It may be a bit wordy and heavy on dialogue but I hope it was still an enjoyable read.

Now that I’ve done my post chapter comment, I’m going to take a leaf out of Selkie’s metaphorical book, and start shamelessly plugging at the end of each of my chapters. I’ll also be doing this retroactively for anyone that starts reading after I’ve done this.

First off, I’d like to invite you all to my discord server where you can engage with the community, discuss the story and come up with wild theories that I will totally judge for being wrong. Not really, I just like theories. The engagement also makes me happy and a happy Ren is a Ren who is in a better position to write.

Next is my Patreon, which is the go to place to support me while also getting some curated bonuses. It isn’t at all required but it does help massively and it is really appreciated. Down the line it will also let me call myself a full time writer which is a heart felt dream of mine.

If you want to support me with a one off donation, you can do so through my Ko-fi.

I’m also on Top Web Fiction, so boost me there.
http://topwebfiction.com/listings/ardent-tears/

Just to recap, here are the links

Discord – For Chatting
https://discord.gg/MG433BhXBK

Support Me – Patreon
https://www.patreon.com/Ardent_Tears

Support Me – Ko-fi
https://ko-fi.com/rencarlisle96437

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1 thought on “Chapter 23: The Next Step

  1. From the pre-chapter notes:

    “So i did a poll to see what to do while I build up my backlog of early access chapters for patrons.”
    first i should be capitalized

    From the chapter:

    “First of all, you and your guest have been invited to break fast with Her Majesty and the rest of the Royal family.
    Missing quotation marks at end of sentence

    “Secondly, I have arranged a change of clothes for your guest. I do not believe that she would rather not wear a ball gown to breakfast.
    Missing quotation marks at end of sentence

    “It is fortunate that rest of the Sunfall Apartments are without guests at this moment in time.
    missing word the between that and rest

    “No buts. You don’t get to have sex with me and then chicken put at breakfast.”
    put should be out

    “Turning to look at the other guests had another purpose as well in that it gave Rowan the chance to see what Alena’s reaction to the whole sequence of events.”
    missing word was at end of sentence

    “That’s right. Do you think two men can have baby together without any extenuating circumstances?”
    baby should be either a baby or babies

    “He said it with confidence that Rowan wasn’t sure how to process it.”
    missing word such between with and confidence

    “Kiatan was next.”
    Kiaran

    Like

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