Elinor and Con watched from a distance as the flames from Aebelm’s funeral pyre flared into life. Elinor’s left arm was wrapped in a makeshift sling, and tears filled her eyes as smoke rose into the sky.
Last Dawn Keep was a tumbled ruin. The two towers were shattered, and anything they had hit had been crushed as well. The outermost walls of the main keep remained whole, however, and it gave the impression of a wounded animal of cold, gray rock.
A long line of people stretched through the town, almost to the mouth of the ravine. Elinor was sure that the entire population of Timberline March had come.
The large gate to Last Dawn Keep remained standing, a lone arch of perfect stonework amidst the ruins. In the shadow of that arch, Tae and Bilia stood, receiving all who had come to pay their respects to the fallen Aebelm.
Tae’s injuries had been severe, but she insisted she was strong enough to stand in the place of honor and say farewell to her grandfather properly. The girl was pale and leaned on a cane, but despite this, she stood tall as she greeted each person.
Elinor and Con watched in heavy silence as the line of mourners dwindled and the flames sunk into embers.
Con cleared his throat. “So you still intend to acknowledge her as the heir to Timberline?”
“She is the heir,” Elinor said, her mind replaying the image of Lady Lliane and Tae’s father holding hands in the clearing, married in the old manner.
“Yes, I know. But think what you are doing,” he urged. “You are elevating a commoner of non-ascended blood to noble status. Every other lord, whether they have holdings in the marches or in Resa, will know what you have done here. And they will all hate you for it.”
Elinor was silent for long moments. “Let them,” she said. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Con blinked. “No, but as you said, this isn’t the Academy anymore, Elinor.”
“Not it is not,” she said. “It’s more important now.” She was quiet for a moment. “The lords will never change. They think everything I do is an affront to them. Their vision is so limited, so focused only on themselves that, of course, they think this is only about them. But they’re wrong. This has never been about them.” She took a deep breath, taking in the clean air of Timberline and feeling it fill her lungs. “It was about Lida. It was about Tae. I did it for them. And I would do so again for any who would need it. If that is an affront to the lords, then so be it.”
Fixing her with a long look, Con lowered his voice. “If the other lords cannot have your blood, then they will look to make Timberline bleed in your stead, Elinor.”
“Not immediately,” she replied. “Not openly. Piersym murdered another noble. He broke the First Covenant of the Ascended. And I know he is not alone in this treachery. As much as the nobles feel themselves above the law, none of them would truly wish to test the king. They will want to keep this quiet, and a direct attack on me or Timberline will only cause more attention they can ill afford.”
“But they will come. Eventually, they will strike.”
“Yes,” Elinor said gently. “And that is why whatever will become of Timberline, it must be Tae’s decision. I cannot make that choice for her. I can only promise that if she chooses that path, she will not fight alone.”
From behind, Elinor heard Tae’s voice. “Then that makes the choice an easy one, doesn’t it?”
Up close now, Elinor saw just how badly the girl was hurt. She was pale and there were dark circles under her eyes, made even starker by the whiteness of her skin. She leaned heavily on a cane and one arm was cradled protectively over her wounded abdomen. Still, there was a bright intensity in her eyes that shone despite her condition.
Elinor looked the girl directly in the eyes. “My duty to the king will take me away from here. You will have many enemies, Tae. For now, they won’t dare strike at you directly. But they will come for you. When that day comes, call for me. No matter how dire it may seem, just hold, and I will be here by your side. I promise you that.”
Tae nodded, tears in her eyes. “I will not fail you, nor this gift you have given me.”
Elinor embraced the girl, careful of her injuries. Then, she looked back at Con. “We have some time before we go, and we have the engineers and the crews. What would it take to train the villagers to help rebuild Last Dawn Keep?”
“Rebuild her? I suppose I could put some plans together,” Con said, but his face fell. “But she’ll never be as she was.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Journeyman Engineer. Timberline is sacred. It is the ancient seat of a power that shaped the world. It may still surprise you.”
Con smiled. “You’ve done a good thing here, Elinor.”
“I did not do it alone.”
Con bowed his head slightly. “Still, I wish I could have been there when you faced those Earth Tyrants. Just for old times’ sake. That must have truly been a sight to see.”
Elinor was quiet for a moment, and then shrugged.
“I don’t know. From the stories, I thought they would be bigger.”
Follow the continuing stories of Elinor in Book 2, Broken Banners.