This story comprises the first part of book two World of Ryyah: Unlikely Alliance, and picks up where book one 'Birth of the Half Elves' left off.
As events unfold, Brandela is not the only one who must do significant soul searching to ensure a gratifying future for herself and her people. Kerala and Akenji must seek to understand each other, and what it means to be bonded out of duty rather than choice. As they prepare to be joined in marital union, Kerala cannot help but worry about a bond made from political necessity.
Also by H.L. Watson on obooko: World of Ryyah: Birth of the Half Elves
On a hilltop overlooking the Kshearry River, a small, solemn group watched in silence as two Rangers lowered the rough wooden coffin into the ground. Akenji flinched slightly as the first shovelful of soil thumped against the box. His chest tightened as he thought of Donovan's body lying there, about to be buried in a dark finality, and a single tear escaped his eye. He didn't bother to wipe it away but as it slipped down his dark cheek, he took a deep breath and restrained the emotion that was threatening to overtake him. Years of training as a Ranger had given him the ability to control his emotions under almost any circumstance, but burying his best friend was proving to be a test. He glanced over at Brandela, standing so stoically, her hand resting protectively across her belly, and turned his mind in a direction he could more easily manage - the protection of his friend's unborn child.
This child would never have to experience the horrors its father had endured. He swore, then and there on Donovan's grave, that Donovan's child would grow up in safety. Never would it be enslaved or experience the anguish of watching its entire family being murdered in front of its eyes. He swore on Donovan's lifeless body that his offspring would have the one thing that had always seemed to elude Donovan, himself and all of the Rangers - security and happiness. Suffering and loss had been their lot in life. It would not be that way for Donovan's child, not if Akenji could prevent it.
Slowly, Brandela's maidservants and most of the Rangers left the graveside and drifted back toward the settlement, leaving only Akenji, Brandela, Kerala and a few remaining Rangers to bear witness to the completion of the burial. They watched in silence, each lost in their own memories and feelings, as the two coffin bearers tossed the final shovelfuls of soil onto Donovan's grave. Akenji stood for a moment longer, eyes cast upon the mound of dirt and with heavy sorrow in his heart. Finally, he looked up at his men, nodded, and then turned and began walking back to the encampment. The other Rangers soon followed, leaving only Brandela and Kerala.
Kerala watched her mistress with deep concern. Brandela had not cried or spoken during the entire service. She had simply stared at Donovan's grave as though willing him to rise from it and embrace her once again. Kerala, sensing the emotional turmoil within her mistress, decided to stay by Brandela's side to quietly wait for any sign that she may be needed.
After several long minutes, Brandela finally spoke, her voice low and trembling with constrained emotion. "Kerala, you may head back with the others."
"I am your humble servant, Mistress. My duty is to remain by your side," Kerala replied.
Brandela smiled slightly and her eyes left the grave for the first time to look into the face of her head maidservant. The girl was incredibly devoted and loyal and had become as much a friend and confidante as a servant. Her voice was soft when she replied, "Thank you, Kerala, but I would like to be alone with Donovan for a while, please. I will be along soon."
Kerala nodded her understanding, touched Brandela's arm in sympathy and turned toward the encampment. She had not gone far before the sounds of Brandela's mourning reached her. The sound of
her mistress' weeping brought tears to her eyes, but she did not turn back. She would respect Brandela's desire to be alone and go ahead to prepare whatever comfort she could for when Brandela returned to camp.
Two hours later, Akenji strode to the door of Brandela's tent and slipped quietly inside. He had not seen her since the burial and wanted to check that she was all right. As the wife of his fallen best friend, he felt completely responsible for her well-being, and he knew this day would be hard for her.
As his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light in the tent, he noticed Kerala sitting alone at one of the makeshift desks. She turned as he entered the tent and her eyes widened slightly. He stopped in the doorway, feeling suddenly awkward and inexplicably nervous. He glanced around the tent but saw no sign of Brandela. Kerala stood up and he turned his attention back to her.
"Hello, Kerala," he said, struggling to present a confidence that had strangely escaped him all of a sudden. "I've come to check on Brandela. Is she resting?"
"Yes," replied Kerala, "she returned about an hour ago and has requested to be undisturbed in her chamber. I'm afraid the day has been difficult for her."
"Difficult for all of us," agreed Akenji.
"The past months have been challenging in many ways," said Kerala softly. "Perhaps now, with Donovan laid to rest and the settlement started, we will find some days of peace ahead."
Akenji frowned. "There is much to be done before we can be certain of our security. These things, I will discuss with Brandela as soon as she is feeling up to it. I hate to push such serious affairs on her so soon after her loss, and in her delicate condition, but they are important matters and decisions will need to be made very soon."
Kerala stood silently, staring at Akenji, lost in the way his enormous frame filled the entrance of the tent, the fierce strength behind the seriousness of his face, the way his voice resonated, deep and low, through the room and through her. His words came to her, but as a secondary feature. She was too absorbed in his presence to really hear him. Suddenly, she realized that he had not spoken for several moments and was staring back at her with a slightly puzzled and expectant look on his face.
Kerala's cheeks flushed and she lowered her eyes in utter humility. "I'm sure with you as the leader of the Rangers, we will be safe enough," she stammered.
In her moments of silence, Akenji had found himself appraising Kerala's unique looks and finding her quite attractive. Her high cheekbones, auburn hair and hazel-green eyes were not as stunningly beautiful as the more petite bone structure, red-gold hair and turquoise eyes of the Western Wood Elves, and her small, freckled nose was very unusual amongst the Elven maidens he had seen, but there was an intelligent, sophisticated quality about her and she was not ugly by any stretch of the imagination. At about 5'8", she was also taller than the average Elven maiden, although to him she seemed delightfully small.
Something about her filled him with wonder and she was not alone in her flustered feelings when she snapped back to the moment at hand.
Akenji cleared his throat uncomfortably and muttered, "I'd better get back to my men. Please pass my condolences on to Brandela." As he turned to leave, he stumbled over his own foot and staggered. As he caught his balance, he cursed softly with humiliation and hurried from Kerala's sight before he could make things any worse.