What Secrets We Keep

mist at sunrise

© Sue Vincent

“You can’t escape us. This is only a temporary victory. Do you think we’ll really let you get to safety alive?”

Dani was standing on a cliff overlooking a dense wood with the mist covered valley beyond it. It was dawn and the pale blue sky was streaked with clouds, painted in long, ragged strokes.

She was dressed in blue and green, the ceremonial armor of Janellize’s people and silvery chain mail. Dani’s dark blond hair was bound in the back but she wore no helmet. Her sword was sheathed at her side.

Her adversary was also her counterpart, a twin of a sort, but a negative one. Her colors were red and black, which gave her chain mail a scarlet tinge in the morning, mimicking the sunrise. Her hair was also pulled back and tied, but was much darker, a deep brown approaching black.

Both of their eyes were sapphire blue.

“I’ve already escaped you. You are frozen in stone awaiting your final destination at the bottom of some water-filled abyss. I defeated you. I’m free.”

“No, you’ll never be free, Danijel. We will always be with you.”

“Would you care to go another round, demon?” She stepped back, pulled her blade free, and took an attack posture.

The demon’s laughter surprised the teenage girl. “You think that will help you here? Do you know where you are?”

Dani realized that she had no idea where she was. The last thing she remembered was returning to Direhaven in the company of the Queen’s court and guards.

The minion of Asmodeus freed her Kilij so quickly, its movement seemed like a streak of liquid light, and Dani,though prepared, barely had time to block a killing stroke.

“I was never alone, child,” the demon shrieked as she continued to strike.

Dani was on the defensive and being maneuvered to the cliff’s edge.

“But for a few small oases such as Direhaven, the Dark Hills are ours.”

Dani recovered her footing and pushed back against her foe. “The Grey God rules these Hills. You cannot possess them.”

“Then how can we be here at all, whelp? How could we have appeared as the cat Onyx and how could I have possessed you?”

How long had the demon been inside of her? No one, not even Shay had known. She had been with the dragons since she was hardly three and had learned so much. If the dragonrider was so vulnerable, so were the Davidson children.

“I beat you before. I will again.” She was beginning to tire. How had she beaten the demon before? The imp seemed to be inexhaustible.

“I doubt that, my dear twin. I doubt it very much.”

Suddenly, with a two-handed grip, the demon turned her sword toward Dani’s chest and thrust, shattering the chain mail and plunging the full length of the blade through her heart.

The demon cackled with delight as Dani staggered backward, staring at the steel and sword hilt between her breasts, blood streaming out and down her body to the ground.

She felt a sort of warmth spread throughout her torso. She thought it would hurt more.

“Have you ever wondered how I got inside of you in the first place, Danijel? Why were you the only one in the Hall of the Kings to resist the spirits of the guards?” Just how long have we been living together?”

The demon stood at the cliff’s edge as the fifteen-year-old fell backward into the distance and darkness below.

Dani woke up gasping for air, her body covered in sweat. She fought to free herself from the blankets and sheets tangled around her, twisting and yanking at them.

“Let me go!”

She freed herself only to fall onto the floor. The girl laid there for a second, willing herself to breathe more slowly. Her eyes fluttered and then she looked up.

The room. It was her room here at Direhaven, the one she woke up in with Paris, except the Davidson girl wasn’t here now. The night she was taken captive by the elves or whoever they were, Paris was moved into the other room with Mandy and Zooey so she wouldn’t be alone. Only Dani spent the night alone, although that wasn’t really true.

She’d have been consumed by the demon. It had been discovered and there was no reason for it to remain hidden any longer. Wynjeon and the four Mages were there or nearby, somehow keeping her safe until they could move her at dawn. It had cost Wynjeon something, though the girl didn’t know what. She could tell by how Janellize had reacted and the things she said.

A knock on her door. Probably Altha wanting to know if she wanted a bath or to take her to breakfast.

“Come in.”

The door creaked open. It was Mandy.

“Are you okay? I came to see how you were doing.”

The younger teen was dressed in what could be considered “casual” elven clothing, which consisted of a shimmering white top and a dark skirt that extended down to her ankles. Dani was in the same night clothes she’d found herself in the first time she woke up in this room, which was a somewhat exaggerated t-shirt abundant to cover her modesty.

“Fine, I think. Strange dreams.”

“Any stranger than what happens to us when we’re awake?”

Both of them chuckled, but there wasn’t very much humor in it.

“You’ve been asleep for two days, so I was beginning…”

“Two days? You’re kidding. No, you’re not. No wonder I’m starving.” She was suddenly aware of a ravenous emptiness in her stomach. “What time is it?”

“Morning. The rest of us were about to get to breakfast.”

“If you can wait a few minutes, I’ll come, too. Why did you come instead of Altha.”

“She was going to, but I wanted to check in on you again.”

“Again?”

“I’ve been worried.”

“How’s everyone else?”

“Worried, confused, puzzled. We haven’t seen anyone except Altha and Edyn since we got back inside the city.”

“Just wait. I’ll be right with you.”

Their female and male escorts took the children to a small dining area nowhere near where they’d eaten with the Queen and her court before. Altha and Edyn served them personally, but though they were cordial, something had changed, as if something had created a distance between them.

“We’ve been eating here since we came back from…well, whatever that was that happened to you. Did you really fight a demon?”

Everyone had been happy to see Dani again, but after what happened, no one knew what to say.

“I’m not sure what it was. According to Wynjeon, it was a servant of a demon called Asmodeus. Her name was Sakhr.” She didn’t know if it was Sakhr or is after the dream she’d just had.

“Zooey, do you really have to play with that thing on your lap while we’re having breakfast?”

Paris, Jake, and Zooey were sitting on the opposite side of the table, so Dani couldn’t see what was going on.

“For your information, Sapplehenning isn’t a thing, he’s a mouse.”

“I remember the Mistress saying that Sapplehenning was welcome at her table, but only after everyone had finished up and left.”

“That was at her table. This is ours.” Zooey kept stroking the mouse’s head gently so he would remain calm while she argued with her sister.

“It’s okay, Paris. Sapplehenning isn’t hurting anyone, so if your sister wants to feed him on her lap, I don’t see a problem.”

“I think he’s kind of cool,” Jake broke in, his mouth still full of a half-chewed berry muffin.

Of all the children at the table, Taylor was the most quiet, not having said the proverbial two words since they all sat down. He kept looking at Dani and he had the strangest expression on his face, like it was half worry and half something else.

Mandy noticed it and wondered what was going on with him. A few years older than the other girl, Dani also noticed and was pretty sure what Taylor was feeling. She didn’t want to embarrass him, so she decided to talk about something else.

“Does anybody know what’s going on? Are we going to be able to leave soon? Shay is still expecting us to keep going to Vovin.”

“Nope. We haven’t seen anyone except for Altha and Edyn and even they’re not saying much. We’ve only been to our rooms and here.” Mandy leaned closer to Dani and lowered her voice. “I feel like we’re being held prisoner.”

“Can we get you something else?” No one had noticed Edyn approaching Mandy and Dani from behind.

“Oh, no thanks. I’m stuffed.” Mandy turned back to the table. “Anyone else?”

“Nothing for me,” Taylor quickly put his napkin on the table.

“No, thanks.” Paris put her hands in her lap. Jake just shook his head.

“I’m stuffed and so is Sapplehenning.” Zooey was grinning, oblivious to the embarrassment of the others.

“In that case, Altha and I will escort you back to your rooms.”

“Is it possible we could have a change of scenery?” Mandy thought something like, “nothing ventured.”

“Yeah, I’d love a tour of the Elf Castle. It’s boring just staying our room all day long.” While Mandy had been polite, Zooey’s tone communicated the impatience and bluntness of her age.

“You will all have to return to your rooms now, but perhaps something can be arranged for later today, especially now that Dani has awakened.”

“Thank you.” Mandy wondered if maybe she’d been unfair. It could have been that Janellize was waiting for Dani to wake up before speaking with them all again. Then again, probably not.

Dani rose. “Thank you. I think we’re all ready to go.” She was trying to get some sense of the two elves, but their expressions showed nothing but curt politeness. However, if something didn’t happen soon, she and the Davidson children would have to get out of Direhaven on their own. Even if they were stopped, it would force the Queen’s hand and some explanation would have to be offered.


“Oh my!” Paris looked at the elaborate gown that was on her bed, ignoring similar items on Mandy’s and Zooey’s.

“What’s this?” The kindergartener looked at the dress askance. Back home, she very rarely wore anything except t-shirts and jeans, and put on a dress or a skirt only for very special occasions, and even then, only because Mommy really wanted her to.

“Mine has a note. It’s addressed to all of us.” Mandy opened the envelope.

“What’s it say?” Paris was holding her dress up to herself. It was like something out of a fairy tale, and it felt the same way, incredibly light in spite of its size and the apparent thickness of the material.

“It says, ‘To dearest Amanda, Paris, and, um, Zooey’.” It had really said ‘Danielle,’ but Mandy made a slight verbal edit for her sister’s sake. “‘You are cordially invited to meet with our beloved Queen, Mistress Janellize and her Royal Court in the main audience hall forthwith, together with your brothers Taylor and Jacob, as well as the warrior Danijel, friend to the golden dragon Shay. Our servants shall assist you with your apparel and escort you at the appointed time. With regards, the Vizer to Her Majesty, Wynjeon’.”

“Are we going to a party?” Zooey sounded dismayed. About the only parties she liked were birthday parties, her own and those of her friends, but grown up parties were boring.

“I hope so!” Paris was grinning and still holding the dress, twirled.

There was a knock at the door.

“I’ll get it.” Mandy put the note and envelope back on her bed and walked to the door.

“Hi, Altha.” She saw not only the familiar elf, but two others they hadn’t met. Mandy stepped aside. “Come in, please.”

“Thank you.” The trio entered. “I have brought my sisters, Ilivy and Nienna.” Ilivy and Nienna looked as slender and delicate as Altha, but the former had hair the color of dark honey, and Nienna’s hair and eyes were both lavender.

“Please to meet you both. I thought your sister’s name was Saige.”

“I have many sisters, and Saige will be assisting Danijel with her gown.”

Mandy tried to imagine the dragonrider and swordwielder wearing such an extraordinarily fanciful and feminine dress. She didn’t know who to feel more sorry for, Saige or Dani.

“I see.” She was still smiling at the thought of Dani so formally dressed up.

Ilivy walked over to Paris. “I see you are already excited.”

“It’s so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I would be most happy to help you with it. You are Paris, is that right?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Do I have to?” Zooey was looking up at Nienna.

“It would be impolite to attend a formal function with the entire court while dressed in common clothing. I assure you that everyone present will be similarly accoutred.”

“What?”

Everyone will be wearing really fancy clothes,” Mandy translated.

“Oh, well I guess so. Can Sapplehenning come?” Nienna’s gaze was drawn to the tiny mouse nestled in the middle of the little girl’s pillow. No one had noticed that the rodent had accompanied her from the dining room in her pocket.

“I don’t believe the Queen would appreciate it if he entered with you, but I have no doubt that a good many mice will be witnessing the event through the spaces in the floor stones and other vantage points.”

Zooey turned to the mouse who sat up at attention. “Did you hear that? You can watch. Just stay out of sight.”

The mouse couldn’t smile but he nodding his head up and down, and then leapt off the bed and vanished underneath.

Zooey looked back at her attendant. “I guess I’ll go. You’re here to show me how to put that on, right?”

“Of course.”

The youngest Davidson saw that her two sisters were already half undressed and reluctantly consented to take her turn.


“Wow!”

Taylor and Jake had just rounded a corner when they saw Dani and their sisters.

“You look amazing.”

“Thank you, Taylor.” Dani flashed the nine-year-old girl a coquettish smile and then immediately regretted it. In truth, Mandy had been right that for the most part, she resisted being clad in such attire, but there was a part of her, dimly remembered from a past when as a very little girl, when she appreciated “girly clothes.” On the other hand, she was sure Taylor didn’t appreciate her teasing him, even for just a moment.

Mandy saw the brief interplay between Dani and Taylor and frowned. She finally figured out why her brother had been acting so strangely these past few days and while he might have a childhood crush on the older girl, she didn’t like that the dragonrider was playing into it.

“Um, you’re welcome.” He hadn’t meant to say that out loud and the way Dani responded made it even worse. She was probably just messing with him.

“Hey, your face is red.” Jake pointed and giggled.

“Shut up, you little…”

“I believe our Mistress and her Court are awaiting you.”

“Yes, of course, Edyn. Thank you.” Mandy put enough of an edge in her voice to let everyone know to be quiet and go along with whatever they were about to encounter.

They hadn’t been in this section of the castle before and the doors they were approaching were at least as large and imposing as those to the royal library, except there were far more guards and they were dressed in much finer robes.

“We shall leave you here and bid you an enjoyable time in the company of our Queen.”

“You aren’t coming with us?” Over the past few days, Edyn and Altha had been with them whenever they had to go anywhere.

“We are not attired for the event, nor were we invited. We shall attend to you later on today.” Edyn, Altha, and her sisters all bowed to the six children and turned back the way they came.

“This way, please.” One of the guards was addressing them and several were opening the doors to the audience hall.

It was a lot larger than the library, which was huge. Guards flanked the Davidson party left and right as they accompanied them in. Far in the distance was the Queen seated upon the Amethyst Throne high upon a dias. Standing to her right and two steps below was the Vizer Wynjeon. To the left and to the right, were dozens, perhaps hundreds of seats, the full Court of the Queen. They stood as the children entered the expansive room.

Especially to Zooey, it seemed to take a long time to get anywhere near the throne as they passed between the two rows of nobles. They had only seen those closest to Janellize before, so this must be everybody, all the royal elves in Direhaven. Every one bore smiles, not broad happy ones, but rather somewhat pleased or pleasant ones, which were up to some interpretation.

The guards stopped a few yards from the dias and bowed, which was the signal for the children to bow as well.

The Queen stood. Wynjeon took her hand and guided her down the steps.

“We are pleased that you have entered our presence.”

The formal language really excited Paris just like everything else, but particularly to Jake and Zooey, it sounded dumb.

“We are pleased that you have invited us here to be in your august presence, your Majesty.”

Mandy didn’t know if Dani naturally knew how to say these things or not. They sounded right, but after seeing the girl fight with spears and swords, and covered with blood and bruises, it was still hard to imagine she had such a different side, even dressed in a fantasy gown that looked like it was made of silk and gold.

“We speak for the entire royal assemblage and the citizens of Direhaven when we express our sincere thanks that you have recovered and are among us again, Danijel.”

“Thank you, your Majesty.”

The guards subtly maneuvered the six of them so they were facing in the opposite direction. All of the court looked at the children expectantly. Behind them, Janellize spoke.

“We wish to present to the court our esteemed guests. The first is Danijel of Vovin, friend to Shay.”

Dani bowed which seemed to be the right thing to do as all of the nobles bowed in return.

“Next is Amanda Davidson, eldest of her family.”

Fortunately, Mandy got to go second, so knew she was supposed to bow.

I present Taylor Davidson, eldest son.”

Taylor bowed wishing this whole thing could be over. He had already been embarrassed enough for one day.

“His twin sister, Paris Davidson.”

Paris was probably the only one of the six of them who was really enjoying herself. She’d read so many stories about castles and Queens, being presented to royalty with honor and dignity. She was really living it instead of just reading about it all in a story.

“This is Jacob Davidson.” He bowed figuring Mandy would probably sock him if he did anything else.

“And finally Zooey Davidson.” The little girl sighed with relief that the Queen hadn’t called her ‘Danielle.’ As she bowed, she saw Sapplehenning at her feet. As quick as a flash, he scurried up her gown and into a convenient fold so he could be out of sight. Zooey was grinning as she came up from her bow, though no one knew exactly why.

The Queen spent quite a bit of time introducing each of the lords and nobles starting with Wynjeon, continuing with the other five they had already seen, and then one by one, going all the way down the left row and then coming up all the way to the right. Even for Paris, this was a bit of a stretch. Mandy hoped Zooey or Jake wouldn’t start yawning or thoughtlessly announce they were bored.

Fortunately none of that happened, though Zooey seemed periodically distracted by something. After a very long time, or so it seemed, the last of the elven court was presented and then they were all seated.

The children turned back toward Janellize.

“We thought you might enjoy a tour of our royal home and the surrounding city. It was promised to you before, but other matters delayed our attention to this detail.”

Dani figured the other matters must have been her possession by a demon and the subsequent exorcism.

“We would be delighted, your Majesty.” Dani bowed and then so did Mandy and the others.

Zooey was excited to finally get to see a whole city of elves but hoped it would be more exciting than this throne room.

Jake was sorry he complained about being bored, and would rather have been back in his room doing nothing than being dressed in this uncomfortable costume and going on some dumb tour.

“Our Vizer and our honor guard shall accompany us.” Janellize and Wynjeon led the way and the guards maintained their position on either side of the kids.

A lot of the castle tour was like the museums that Mom and Dad sometimes took them to. Some of the tours had a guide who explained what this thing and that room was, while others made you listen to a recording instead of a live person.

Dani had the keenest eye for detail among them and could tell that there were large areas of the castle they weren’t seeing. Some of it could have been personal living space, but she was willing to believe that Janellize and her people had secrets.

They finally got outside about mid-afternoon. Fortunately before that, they were able to lunch in the same dining hall where they had first met the Mistress of Direhaven.

The homes of the elves outside the castle were humble in size but ornate in appearance, like the castle, mingling the manufactured with the natural, leaves and roots as common as stone and mortar.

These elves weren’t dressed very formally, and they all seemed happy, smiling, and welcoming.

There were homes, and stores, and shops, and stables, and everything you’d expect to see in a rustic and fairy tale village. In the distance were fields, and sheep were grazing as were horses, and other animals too far away to see.

Then they approached a large glen and beyond the glen was the great waterfall. It extended hundreds of feet above their heads and the waters crashed into a lake or river hundreds of feet below, so all they could see was the rising mist, and all they could hear was the insistent roar, like continual thunder.

The guard escorted all of them back so while they could still witness the falls, they could once again hear each other.

“I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of our lands, children.”

Even the oldest of them admitted to themselves this was hardly brief. At least away from the court, Janellize wasn’t constantly using the “royal we.”

“I have one final guest to introduce, though at least one of you knows her so well.”

The Mistress and Wyjeon looked upward and Dani heard a familiar cry.

“Shay!”

Dani forgot herself and started jumping up and down, which prompted Jake and Zooey to do the same until Mandy hushed them.

Zooey felt Sapplehenning trembling and thought any second, the mouse would dash off, terrified of the approaching dragon. She found the fold of her dress in which he was hiding and gently stroked his furry head. “There, there. She’s a friend. Shay won’t hurt you.” The mouse was still trembling but kept his place.

The golden dragon circled as she descended and then landed in the middle of the glen. Tucking her wings behind her back, she approached the party and upon reaching them, bowed her great head.

“Thank you for accepting me into your land of Direheaven, your Majesty. On behalf of all of my kind and all of the inhabitants of Vovin, I greet you.”

Janellize had been lightly holding Wyjeon’s hand and now released it as she approached the dragon. Shay still had her head bowed and the Queen reached up and placed her palm on the side of her snout.

“I regret a good many things in my life, but none more than how we have treated your kind. Upon your exile to this realm, we should have welcomed you. Instead, we perceived you to be a threat and shunned you. What mighty allies we could have made.”

“We can still, your Majesty. We can still.”

Janellize stepped back several paces allowing Shay to raise her head a bit, though she was still looking directly at the Queen.

Dani was dying to talk with Shay, to sing and laugh with her friend again, but something was going on between her and the Queen. Before they had come to Direhaven, she didn’t even know about the elves, except through rumor and legend. Obviously, Shay knew all about them, and something bad happened between Direhaven and Vovin, but how long ago? Shay had never told even her brother or her just how long the dragons had been here before the first of the children arrived.

“May I?”

“Of course.” The Queen stepped aside.

“Dani, children, I’ve missed you so much.”

Tears welled up in the dragonrider’s eyes and she ran over to her old friend as fast as her elaborate gown would allow. Then the others joined her and Shay once again lowered her head so they could touch and greet her.

“Now children, there are things you must know and tales that must be told before you continue on your journey.”

“What do you mean, Shay?

They all heard a clattering from the direction of the castle and saw a lot of workers and laborers bringing tables, chairs, and portions of tents. Rapidly, they set to work and constructed a comfortable shelter for the Queen and her party. The guards remained standing, but everyone else was able to sit. Light refreshments were served, though none for the dragon, and once the service people had left, they all turned their attention back to Shay.

For her part, she sat on the glen, looking comfortable in spite of her size, and against the backdrop of the immense falls and the mist rising behind her, she again addressed the Queen.

“Shall I begin, your Majesty?”

Janellize turned to Wyjeon who smiled and nodded. Then she replied. “Let us begin together.”

The Queen walked to the dragon and joining her, they looked back at their listeners.

“This is not an easy tale to tell, my children, and what appears as friendship between her Majesty and myself is a very recent artifact.”

“Indeed. Our kind have been in exile in these Dark Hills and in this isolated portion of the Creation for time without measure, and it had been so before the coming of the dragons. Now together we shall tell you of those days, for if dragons are what they seem to be, that is, dragons, not so the elves of Direhaven.”

“Please proceed Queen Janellize.”

And so she did.

I wrote this for Thursday photo prompt: Valley #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Each Thursday, Sue posts another of her photos for participants in her challenge to use as a prompt for authoring a poem, short story, or other creative work.

As always, I’m using them to continue the story of Dani, Shay, and the Davidson children exiled in a strange place both beautiful and terrible. I thought I should stop today’s story here since what comes next is bound to be lengthy. Sorry there wasn’t more adventure or excitement outside of Dani’s dream (or was it just a dream?), but a lot more is coming.

In the meantime, here’s a partial list of what I’ve written about the Davidson childrens’ adventures with Dani and Shay so far:

  1. Mr. Covingham’s Secret
  2. Wilderness Pilgrims
  3. The God of the Dark Hills
  4. Hall of the Mountain Kings
  5. Sojourn in Direhaven
  6. Trial at Sakhr

I’ll flesh it out as time allows.

Let me know what you think of this story and the very uncertain future of the five Davidson kids. Thanks.

The next chapter is The Uneasy Pact.

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