Juniper stood at the windowsill looking down into the small courtyard that wrapped around the Soulon Embassy in Xylon. Her party was sleeping inside and Juniper made sure to move silently so she would not wake them. Down in the courtyard stood a figure whistling a gentle song that sounded a bit like whistling winds in the woods. Juniper stood in the window looking at them. Once the figure saw Juniper in the window, they stopped whistling. They just stood there, almost waiting for Juniper to make her move.
Juniper looked around the room and over to the pile of her stuff. On top sat an elven bow and a quiver of arrows. Next to that there was Juniper’s bag with Piakol the small, red Dragon sleeping inside. Juniper hesitated for a moment not knowing what to do. She tiptoed over and grabbed a small dagger she had rarely used and strapped it to her waist. Then she slipped on her boots and went back to the window.
Still the figure remained, looking up at her.
She gingerly opened the window making as little sound as possible and then she climbed out onto the wooden trestle which was covered in thick, green vines. Juniper quickly climbed down and dropped to the ground with a soft thud. She then turned around to look at this figure.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Juniper asked, her hand gripping the handle of her dagger.
The figure was silent for a moment before they put down their hood.
“You won’t need that. I’m not here to harm you,” The man said. “I’m here to warn you.”
The man brushed back his blond hair and Juniper noticed his pointy ears.
“Warn me about what? And who are you? Why are you here?” Juniper asked.
“You are inquisitive,” The man said, flashing a smile. “I will answer them all, I promise. Just… can we not pull blades on each other?”
Juniper loosened her grip on the dagger.
“Speak quickly,” Juniper said.
“Fair enough,” The man said. “First, my name is Romair and I am a hunter. A tracker like you.”
“How do you know I’m a tracker?” Juniper asked.
“Many ways. One by the way you stand and hold yourself. You’re quick and ready for action. Your eyes dart back and forth like a squirrel on a branch. Second, your boots. Boots like those belong to someone who wanders through the woods, tracking prey and hunting predators. Lastly, it’s because…well.. I’ve been tracking you myself ever since you saved that girl in the woods.”
“Wait. The girl? Are you with them?” Juniper asked as she pulled her dagger from the sheath.
“No. No. Hold on there,” Romair raised his hands. “My business is not with the slavers or with the girl.”
“Then why are you following me?” Juniper asked.
“Honestly I was just out in the woods doing my rounds. Keeping an eye on things. That’s when I saw those slavers out in the woods. I was taking a moment to make my plan when I saw you barrelling out from the trees. You and your…”
He paused for a moment.
“…your fire breathing friend.”
Juniper took a breath, not lowering the knife.
“If you’re here for him, you’ll have to kill me first,” Juniper said.
“Woah, nobody said anything about killing or stealing. I know I didn’t really start on the right foot by just showing up here but I’m not here to kill you or take anything from you,” Romair said with a sigh. “I’m here because I could use your help.”
“And what could you possibly need me for?” Juniper asked.
“Look there’s a lot going on, ok. It’s hard to explain everything but you and your friends seem like the hero type, yeah? And I need heroes,” Romair explained.
With that Juniper lowered the dagger a bit, but still held it in her hand.
“Go on,” She said.
“Right. Well I’ll start with this. You’re from Ohn’serine, right? I only presume because you’re an elf like me.”
“Yeah. Perralyth,” Juniper nodded.
“Yeah? Me too. Me too. Well things are real sour in the Capital,” Romair said. “The King and Queen went away on some journey to Frost Haven with a Princess and when they returned, things turned.”
“Turned? What do you mean?
“I don’t exactly but the King and Queen haven’t made a public appearance since. Apparently they’ve both fallen ill. Prince Illis and Princess Trisbella have taken over all royal appointments. Then guards have stepped up patrols and people have gone missing. People taken in the middle of the night. That sort of thing.”
“How? How do you know this?” Juniper asked.
Romair let out a sigh.
“I’m only telling you this because I want to trust you, ok?”
“There’s a group of freedom fighters out in the woods. Defectors from Ohn’serine. Some have been there for years, but the numbers grow everyday. In the most recent batch of defectors was Council Member Khilla Dogwood. Apparently the Prince and Princess are making big moves and royal families are running scared.”
“And you’re one of these defectors?” Juniper asked.
“My family and I left the city eight years ago after our family’s leatherworking shop burnt down. My Dad claimed that a rival leatherworker was responsible, but he had no proof. The guards didn’t investigate it and tried to blame a burning candle. That was enough for my parents. They left and took me to the camp in the woods. It was just a peaceful little village that lived off nature and I grew up a hunter there. But as people come and keep on coming, there’s talk of revolt. Of war.”
“Woah. That’s.. That’s insane. You can’t go to war against the Prince and Princess. They have a whole army.
“You’re right. We can’t. We’re just simple farmers. Hunters. Fisherman. But you. You got magic. You got a whole party of warriors in there. You have a dragon,” Romair said as his eyes drifted to the open window on the second floor. “With that kind of power, we could topple the Prince and Princess. Give power to the people like us. The people of Ohn’ Nalore would be truly free.”
There was a long silence as that last sentence hung in the air.
“Ohn’ Nalore. Elvish for Nature’s Paradise,” Juniper said.
“Ohn’ Nalore can mean many things. Paradise, sure. But also sanctuary, hope, home. It’s my home and it’s the home to a lot of people who are scared and on the run,” Romair said. I saw what you did when you rescued that girl from the slavers. You are a hero. A hero that can really do good for all of us.”
“Wait. Sorry. Hold on. You came here and followed me to Xylon just to ask me to join your freedom fighter band out in the woods? That’s’ crazy. You’re crazy,” Juniper replied.
“Maybe. But you said it yourself. They have an army. They have the gold and the land and the soldiers to back them up. But the public. Right now the public doesn’t know what is going on. If we can rally them to our side. If we can get them to fight. Then the Prince and Princess will have to surrender.”
“Then do that.”
Romair shook his head.
“Not without you and friends. We need someone strong to rally behind. We need you and your dragon leading the charge.”
“I’m…I’m not a warrior ok. I’m not some soldier who’s going to lead an army. I’m…I’m not, ok?”
There was a brief moment of silence as Romair hung his head.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not. And Piakol. He’s…he’s just a little dragon and this is all too much,” Juniper said.
“I understand. I’m sorry,” Romair said, still looking at the ground. “I know this is a lot. Just. Just know that things are likely to get worse. If you have friends, family still in the city, they could be next. Every moment we delay…things could get bad.”
“Why don’t you go talk to the Xylon Guards or the military or whoever?” Juniper asked.
Romair shook his head.
“People in power want to stay in power and will support others in power. You really think the King of Soulon or the King of Mardrec want to stick their head into Ohn’serine’s business? No. Not until the blood is spilling across the border. And by then it will be too late.”
Again the night grew silent.
“Look, Romair. I wish I could help. I really do. I can reach out to my family, ok? They know people. If things are really as bad as you say, they will be fighting to stop it, ok? You have to trust me on this,” Juniper said.
Romair didn’t respond. He just raised his hood over his ears and his golden locks.
“Goodbye…uh..I actually didn’t get your name,” Romair said.
“Goodbye Juniper,” Romair said as he walked past her, toward the iron fence surrounding the property.
Juniper put out a hand and opened her mouth to speak, but she let the words fall away. Romair quickly scaled the iron fence and landed on the other side, barely making a sound. Then without saying a word he walked off into the darkness and disappeared from Juniper’s view.
Juniper just clenched her fist and let out a few choice elven curse words before climbing up the wooden trestle and sneaking back into the bedroom.
As Juniper placed the dagger beside her stuff and saw the small, scaly body of Piakol. He laid there deep in sleep, slowly breathing in and out as his tail wagged back and forth. She couldn’t believe someone would come to her wanting Piakol to be the symbol of some rebellion. Juniper a leader of a war? No way.
Juniper shook her head as she sat down on the bed.
She heard a bit of movement as Grace rolled over in the bed.
“Everything ok?” Grace asked, keeping her voice silent.
“Yeah I’m fine,” Juniper said. “Go back to sleep, ok?”
Grace reached out a hand and placed it on Juniper’s hand.
“We’re going to be ok,” Grace said. “We’re going to get me and Riffen to Frost Haven and we’ll be fine.”
Grace let out a yawn and pulled back her hand.
“Of course,” Juniper said, turning to look over at Grace, but she had already fallen back to sleep.
Juniper laid down and stared up at the ceiling of the room. She just laid there taking in the sounds of the room, listening to the rest of her companions deep in sleep. Juniper’s thoughts went to her brother, Julian. She expected to find him and bring him home but Romair’s words kept repeating in her mind.
She wasn’t sure if her parents were safe at home. Who knew if there would even be a home to return to.
Header Photo Credit to Kimsokol on DeviantArt