Early the next morning, Mary went outside for a fresh breath of air and found Valkin sitting next to the door. She sat down too, and turned to him, her eyes full of question.
“I’ve been meaning to ask ye,” she said, chewing on her lip thoughtfully, “what did ye mean by tha’?” Valkin gave her a look.
“What do I mean?” he asked. Mary clarified.
“What ye said aboot my being able to help.” She said. Valkin’s brow cleared.
“Ah! I remember now. Yes, I think you can help us.”
“You’re a human.” He said simply. “The counselor won’t expect to have humans against him. He only thinks that elves will rise up in rebellion, but he’s wrong.”
“What if we won’t help?” Mary cautiously asked. Valkin looked at her warily out of the corner of his eye.
“Then Elliot would not have sent you.” He said. Mary gasped.
“Then he meant for us to come?” she asked. Valkin smiled at her surprise.
“Yes, I asked him to bring humans he knew and trusted.” He paused. “I was surprised, to say the least, when you and your brother’s happened to be the humans to show up. Your knowledge of our language was an even bigger surprise and I began to see why Elliot sent you three.” Mary allowed herself a small smile of amusement.
“We be somewhat tougher than we look, ye mean?” she asked. Valkin returned her smile and shrugged.
“One might say that.” He replied. There was a moment of silence and somewhere nearby a dog barked, and a horse returned it’s greeting with a whinny. Mary was the first to break it.
“So…” she started carefully, “Could ye tell me aboot yer people and their history? How came this counselor, and why did the king trust him?” Valkin took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. His brow furrowed and he looked darkly up at the castle. Obviously, the topic was upsetting him, and Mary almost told him to never mind, when he began.
“It’s a long and sad history.” He said, and sighed again. There was a long pause, and Mary was almost afraid he wouldn’t continue, but he took another deep breath and plunged into it. “It started, I believe, when the kings mother, may she rest in peace, began to grow ill about three years ago. She could no longer advise the king, and he started to grow power thirsty. He appointed several new officers, and when anyone complained, they were either thrown in prison or killed.
“One man, thirsty for power as the king was, was appointed as his new counselor, and though several of his wise, older advisors warned him against the man, the king rebelled and the counselor was elected.
“Far from happy, the queen went to her son, although ill, and ordered the king to have the man banished. The king refused and grew angry, striking his mother. She never rose again. The king, realizing what his hasty action had caused, fell to the ground next to his mother, imploring her through sobs to arise. He begged for forgiveness, but it was too late. His mother was dead. The only person that he knew was there was the counselor, and the counselor saw his big chance to overcome the kingdom. He started slowly killing the king himself using guilt and blackmail. Unknown to the counselor or the king, there was another witness.” Valkin stopped, and Mary saw a tear run down his cheek. “I was that witness.” His voice hardened, and he frowned. “Believe me; I shall not let the queen’s death go without vengeance, he shall pay for his deed. I shall capture the counselor and fling him into prison. The king shall be forgiven, but he must forfeit his job to someone more able and wise.”
“Like Glevanne Addets?” Mary asked softly. Valkin turned his searching gaze to her, and their eyes met.
“Yes.” He said shortly. “But to gain the throne, the counselor decided he had to keep all other threats under his finger of oppression, so he began to force himself upon the princess, putting guards at her door, proclaiming that he was trying to protect her, but both the princess and over half the elfish kingdom knew it was to keep her a prisoner. Secret letters was the only way she could communicate to her true love, Glevanne, but if any of them where found, it would mean the death of her lover. She and Glevanne entrusted their letters to only the most faithful servants, and they began to correspond. The princess kept Glevanne aware of dangers from the castle, and Glevanne kept the princess aware of new plans from his side. He was a high officer, and he kept himself clean of any suspicion. Thanks to your brothers, it is still that way. If any other human or elf had found the note, Glevanne would probably be on his way to the be-heading tower.” Mary gasped slightly, her face turning white. Valkin nodded grimly, agreeing with her unspoken thought.
“Yes, it’s a dangerous job, and a lot depends on the deliverers of the letters. But it’s been going on under the nose of the counselor for at least a year, probably more now. We have stayed safe for a long time and it will continue until the king finally has enough nerve to get rid of the counselor.” He stopped, and ran a hand through his hair. Mary looked thoughtfully at her shoes.
“Who did the king marry?” she asked, “Who was the princesses’ mother?” Valkin smiled, his face clearing for a moment.
“The princesses’ mother was one of the wisest decisions the king ever made. She was a wonderful wife, I’m told, but she died of childbirth before I was born. She was a young and beautiful bride. The king married only once, but his marriage was a happy one, though short. The princess looks a lot like her mother. It’s a shame the king doesn’t realize what a precious thing he may be hurting.” There was another pause and Mary again studied her shoes thoughtfully.
“But how can my brothers and I help?” she finally asked. Valkin raised an eyebrow.
“How can you help?” he said. “You could go into the castle and speak to the king alone, without his counselor. Tell him that other’s know what went on at the queen’s death, tell him that the counselor no longer has any power over him, tell him that he is free to be rid of him forever, just two words, and this land will be rid of its worst enemy.” Mary sighed, and she bit her lip. Valkin looked at her. “Afraid?” he asked softly. Mary returned his look.
“Aye.” She replied truthfully. “I am afraid, not only fer myself, but fer my brothers, fer this kingdom, fer the princess, fer Glevanne, fer Dusak an’ his wife, fer everyone who is involved with us. One wrong word an’ the whole kingdom may be destroyed.” Valkin nodded.
“This is true, and I have often felt the same way. It is not a shame to be afraid.” He paused, and a slight smile shadowed the corners of his mouth. “I am afraid too.” Mary let out a breath, watching it hang in the still, cold air, before dissolving into nothing again. There was movement inside the house, and Valkin stood, brushing a few fallen leaves off his shirt. Mary also stood.
“I will speak to my brothers. If they will come, then we shall help.” She said.
“And if not?” he asked. Mary paused.
“They will.” She said sturdily. Valkin smiled and the two went inside.
* * * * *
Her brothers were both at the table. She approached the subject slowly, but as she had expected, they both agreed eagerly. It was arranged for them to leave for the castle as soon as breakfast was finished, so they hurriedly ate and donned on their jackets, shawl, and boots. Valkin escorted them as far as the first gate, but he left them before suspicion would arise. Mary went boldly up to the gate and slapped her hand against it as she had watched Valkin do.
She stepped back, and the siblings waited for the guard to come, their breath held, and their hearts racing.