All in a Day's Work [FINAL]

The final addition to Peder's story is here at last!  Enjoy!

To read the previous part, click here.

Final Part: Long Day

      Peder shook his head. “For years I think of Neris as nothing more than a legend, even a myth, and now twice in one day I meet two of her citizens.” The remark caused Slannin to look up sharply, his eyes meeting those of the Elf.  Jaron dipped his head in acknowledgment of a fellow countryman, a slight smile on his features.  But the moment of kinship was broken by the sound of Peder rummaging noisily through the wooden chests on the far side of the tent, hoping for a morsel of food.  To him, the earlier meal seemed hours ago.
      Jaron spoke suddenly, drawing the other man's attention away from his younger partner. “You may know of my brother.  He serves at the Castle of Neris, I believe.  Joel Jeremson.”  Slannin cocked an eyebrow in Peder's direction and returned his focus to Jaron to answer the question.
      “Yes,” Slannin mused, remembering a tall Elf, similar to Jaron in looks, yet with piercing green eyes, unlike the steel grey of his older brother.  Before he could say anything further, Peder interrupted them.
      “Anyone wanna stale biscuit?  Hey, look! I found some cheese.” 
      The former thief turned to stare in disgust at what Peder held in his hand. “That can't be cheese.”
      Peder shrugged, tossed it in a sack and produced a slightly bruised apple.  Rubbing the fruit on the fabric of his sleeve, he took a bite and sank happily onto the plush cushions surrounding the table.  Again, Slannin sent him an amused look.
      “What?  I'm hungry.  A growing boy, such as meself, has to keep up his strength.” He bit again into the juicy fruit, then muttered, “Never know when some stranger's gonna sock you in the skull and leave you for dead...” Jaron rubbed a hand across his face in exasperation.
      “Peder?”
      “Mmph?”
Pinterest
      “Go check the coffee.”
      With a grunt, Peder rose stiffly and obliged, growling something about sore muscles and “enslavement.”
      Jaron and Slannin waited quietly until he returned with three steaming mugs of hot coffee, the remainder of his apple in his mouth.  Placing the mugs before his companions, he tossed the applecore from the tent and once again settled comfortably among the cushions with his own mug.
      “Carry on, my good man,” he said cheerfully. “I do love a good tale after a long day's work.” Slannin cast a wry glance in his direction, but Peder took no notice.  He sighed, wondering where to begin.  In his mind, the memories resurfaced once more.

      “I was raised by a wealthy lord.  He was clever and powerful, one of the king's most trusted men.  For as long as I can remember, he was the one who brought me up, taught me everything I knew.  And he instilled in me a sense of loyalty, so I would do anything for him without question."  Slannin looked away, clasping and unclasping his fists uneasily.  "He raised me a killer."
      In silence, Peder and Jaron exchanged glances; they did not doubt the man's claim.  Slannin continued somewhat reluctantly, gazing intently at the ground.
    "Should there be any who were less than compliant," he spoke slowly, "I was the one sent to... convince them otherwise."  Peder felt a chill, wondering what Slannin had seen and, even worse, what he had done.  As though aware of his thoughts, Slannin redirected his narrative back to the lord who had raised him.
      “For years he grew in power and favor.  No one in all of Neris suspected him for what he truly was until a certain lord learned of his involvement with a slavery ring within the kingdom.  I stood by him, fought, and bled for him... But when he was cornered, he turned on me to save himself."  In the knit brows and sharp, green eyes, Peder could almost see the memories and raw emotions Slannin was reliving as he spoke.
      “All my life, he had been everything to me.  He was my family, all that I knew... ”  Slannin's low voice trailed off.  "I was imprisoned and sentenced to die while my master was freed, not to mention completely innocent in the king's eyes.  But there were those who wanted him put away for good; they came and appealed to me to help condemn him. I would have had nothing to do with the matter, I would have died, had it not been for them: the Princess and the knight."  Startled, Peder looked at Jaron, who's eyes flickered with interest at the mention of Neris royalty.  If Slannin took notice of their reactions, he gave no sign.
      "They didn't berate, torture, or fight with me to get my cooperation.  They didn't beg or wear me down with heartfelt pleas."  Slannin leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees.  "Instead, they plainly recounted to me all the many wrongs my master had done.  Then they told me that nothing I could do would make me any less guilty, but if I helped them, they might be able to lessen my charges."  He paused then sat back with a shrug.  
       "To tell the truth, their words meant nothing to me.  I was confused and torn.  But there was something about them.  They were so sure of where they stood, so certain of what they had to do and what was required of them...  I can remember wanting that certainty-- and wondering where it came from.  Everything I had ever been sure of had let me down.  I couldn't believe my purpose in life was to be no more than a scapegoat.  So I decided to help them.  My master was condemned and I was still imprisoned, though no longer under the immediate threat of death.  The knight visited me often; he showed me what a good man truly was and I knew I could never be that...  I escaped one night and ran as far away from everything familiar as I could.  Before I left, I asked the knight what made him who he was; he shared his faith in Eliadan and His Son Yoshan, explaining how this King's love changed him."  Wearily, he gave a short, humorless laugh.  "I've been on the run ever since."

      Slannin grew quiet.  For a moment, the sounds of the night and the occasional grumble of a dragon was all that could be heard.  Peder drew in a breath and let it out in a quiet whistle.
      “Sounds like you've been running from more than simply your past," Jaron remarked quietly.  Slannin raised his eyes to meet Jaron's steady gaze, a tired, haunted look pushing through his stoic mask.  They held, then flickered to Peder.
      "I apologize for my mark,” said Slannin, humbly.  Peder accepted the apology.
      “All is forgiven.  You may not believe it, but now that I think about it, I deserved the hit.  My confidence in my own abilities and skill had made me into a thoughtless wolf in the clothes of a Guard.  It took a jarring blow to my ego to bring me to my senses.  I believe I owe you an apology, Cap.”
      Jaron nodded wisely. “It seems to me we have all learned valuable lessons on this journey.” His eyes met those of the younger men in turn, first to Slannin, “Our King is a King of mercy.  He grants that virtue to those who seek it.  Even if it takes bringing us to our knees in order for us in our blindness to see what He sees.” Jaron paused and turned to Peder. “Humility.  Often a lesson hard-learned.  Arrogance is her enemy.  On the other hand, confidence in oneself is good, and yet too much can drive a man into the dirt.  Doubt will lead to failure.  But the beginning of success is to try.  Strength comes from inside – it is not just a power of physicality but one of faith.  A humble man is a noble man.  Remember that.” Peder nodded, as did Slannin.  The Elf stood and gave both men an encouraging pat on the shoulder.  The company was silent, mulling over the discussion.  Jaron moved to stand in the opening of the tent, looking out into the night.
      After a while, Peder spoke, “Cap?” Jaron turned. “What of the bodies?”
      Jaron hesitated before speaking. “They will be buried. We will leave no trace of this evil.” Peder nodded once, then posed a new question.
    “And Slannin?” The former thief stood as Jaron turned.  Silently, the Elf approached, his expression thoughtful.
    “Perhaps it is time he stopped running.” Slannin looked up sharply, but just as quickly looked away, avoiding Jaron's eyes.  He remained quiet.
      At that moment, the familiar cry of a hawk echoed in the forest.  Jaron moved to the tent flap and welcomed the messenger bird, who lit lightly on his forearm.
     “Come.  Kyrod's men are here.” Lifting the creature to his shoulder, he stepped out into the night with Peder following behind.  The two captains exchanged grim greetings in light of the circumstances.  Kyrod Finnegan, another captain of the Red Guard, listened quietly to Jaron's tale, all the while taking in his surroundings.  Finally, his eyes came to rest on the dragons, and even he could not stop the look of awe on his features.
      Nodding, he replied to Jaron and called an order to the twelve men accompanying him, who promptly obeyed and scattered across the grounds in three groups.  Peder watched as they set to work; one group relieved the dragons of their prisoners, another gathered the horses from the corral, while the remaining four men began to dispose of the damaged tents.  What was salvageable was saved and stored in a wagon brought from the castle, the rest was fed to the fire.
      Jaron joined Peder, who stood at the border of trees watching and suddenly feeling helpless.  In the fifteen minutes the company had been there, the clearing transformed, looking more like a forest than a battlefield.
      “Kyrod's men have this well under control,” said the Elf, speaking his native Elvish. “Our orders now are to return for a full report.”
      “Have they recovered the documents?”
      “All is well.  Measures have been taken to ensure better security.”
      Peder nodded, running a hand over his face. “Well, then.  Homeward bound?”
      “Aye, soldier.  Find us supplies for the trip, while I speak once more with Kyrod.  Keighvyn and Valtiramiir have agreed to take us home.” Peder sighed in relief and looked to where the two creatures rested a dozen yards away.
      “Can't say I'll miss the long hours of riding horse-back...” Jaron chuckled.  Peder stretched sore limbs and turned to head to the large tent in search of supplies.   “Right, I'll fetch us a stale biscuit or two – Wait. Where's Slannin?” They stopped.  Peder made for the tent, but one glance inside was enough to know his unexpected friend had disappeared.
      When he emerged from the canvas shelter, Valtiramiir stood with Jaron.
      “He is gone.  And it will not be easy to follow.”  For a moment, no one spoke.
      “We will not pursue.” Peder looked at Jaron and the Elf continued. “He is out of our hands.” 
      The young man felt disappointment.  Deep down, he had hoped Slannin had changed.  Obviously, he was still running.
      Valtiramiir's slender head lowered to the eye level of Man and Elf.  “All is not lost.  Perhaps you have served him in more ways than you know.”
      “How so?” Peder's expression was puzzled.  The red lady lifted her head once more and looked in the direction Slannin must have gone. 
      “His Light is no longer smothered.”

* * *

      Peder dipped his head in a bow to his good friend.  With the promise of two days of rest from his captain, he'd retired to the safety of the old tree house, built decades ago for the royal family's use and had become in days past the familiar haunt of two reckless boys on the look-out for adventure.  Tired as he was, it would have been a struggle to rise from his current reclining position by the low-cut windows to stand and properly acknowledge the crown prince of his home country.  Thankfully, Rydan didn't seem to notice and had long ago made it clear he was a friend, not just a prince.
      Peder offered a mug to his childhood companion as Rydan settled on the pillows beside him, matching his own position.  The prince accepted and allowed Peder to pour him a hot cup of coffee from the pot beside the roaring log fire.  He blew on the coffee, thoroughly enjoying the chill of a late evening.  At least as long as he had a mug of the scorching liquid on hand.
      “Long day?”
      Peder shrugged at the question. “Ah, you know.  The usual stuff.” 
      Rydan laughed, running a hand through his thick, brown hair.  He looked at his exhausted friend. “Corps keeping you busy?”  Peder lifted the mug to his lips but jerked back.  Too hot, he thought, annoyed, rubbing at the bit of stubble growing on his chin.  He looked at Rydan, eyebrows raised, and answered the question.
      “Like you wouldn't believe.”
      Both men turned to stare out the open windows at the forest surrounding them.  He could just make out the golden-pink rays of the sunset through the tall giants that made up the Wyndor Wood, a forest he felt he now knew quite well.
      Peder chuckled and held up his mug in a toast.
      “All in a day's work.”

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At last, it is now completed!  Needless to say, posting this seems to have taken a load off my shoulders.  I can breathe again! And start working, officially, on something else!  Don't get me wrong.  Peder's story was a lot of fun for me.  He's shaping up to be one of my favorite characters.  ;D

I hope you enjoyed reading this series as much as I did in writing it.  I realize there may be numerous mistakes and contradictions throughout the seven parts, but do keep in mind that technically, this is the first draft...  I know it is rather amateur and unprofessional, but hey, as a writer (or in anything, for that matter) that's how you start!  

[edit:] A huge thank you to my sister, Julia, and my mama (as well as the rest of my family for the encouragement and anticipation, always asking for the next part) for editing and spotting the simple mistakes.  The majority of credit goes to Julia in this final part, because it was she who wrote the background and story of Slannin, who is in fact, her character.  I did mention that, didn't I?  All throughout this short series, she corrected, suggested, and overall helped me to make sure Slannin remained -- for lack of a better phrase -- in character.  Thank you, Ju!

My advice to aspiring writers:  don't hoard your work! don't be selfish and keep it to yourself!  If you wish to someday become a published author, the BEST thing you can do is share your WIPs with family and/or friends.  An outside opinion is so very helpful.  Usually, a reader will catch something you won't, even though you've reread the piece a hundred times.

Many thanks, dear readers, for sticking with me to the end.  Though it is the first, it won't be the last!

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Previous Chapters:
Part 1          Part 4
Part 2          Part 5
Part 3          Part 6


10 comments

Christina L said...

Wow! That was a great story, I really enjoyed it! Keep up the good work!

Brittney Ann said...

I have a question for you- would you be willing and available to guest post on my blog next week while I'm away at camp? If you are what day would you be available? If you can't do it or don't want to that is totally OK. I just wanted to see if you would like to!

Hope your having a GREAT week!

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Many thanks, Christina!!! ^__^

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Brittney Ann: I would love to guest post! And am flattered you would ask me!! Thanks! ^__^

Brittney Ann said...

Oh good! So glad you can do it! What days are you available? Would Monday & Wednesday be OK with you? Are would you only be able to do it one day of the week? Thanks so much for doing this for me!

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Not a problem! Happy to! (I left a comment on your blog, Daughter of the King, with the details...) =]

Lauriloth said...

I loved this story so much! Peder is definitely an awesome character. Love him! Loved them all! Such a fun read. You have a real talent, girl! Thank you so much for sharing this story with us.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

You are far too kind, Lady Lauriloth! Thank you so much for the sweet encouragement all throughout! =3

Anonymous said...

You should write a book! That story was AWSOME!

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Aww, thank you! This was a fun one to write :]