Aurina walked behind the guard, fighting the urge to wince at the pain in her ribs.  Gods above, why did they take so starlning long to heal?  She shifted the weight of the sack that was slung over her shoulder, hoping to get a little relief.  Granted this huge stinking sack didn’t help matters either.

Trying to take her mind off her discomfort, Aurina locked her eyes on the guard’s back as he continued to escort her through the lord’s palace, and thought back onto the first time she walked her father’s halls.

Aurina grew up a half elf among barbarians, daughter of their chieftain, Elga Serpentbane.  A former adventurer in a group called the Bloody Misfits, Elga traveled far and wide before settling down to rule, and nine short months later Aurina was born.

For most of her life the identity of her father was kept from her, her mother only saying that Aurina would know in time.  That time came almost five years earlier, when Aurina decided she wanted to be a ranger like her hero Berriam from her mother’s tales of adventuring.  It was then that Egla finally revealed the truth to her daughter, that her hero was also her father. Berriam Thornburst, lord of the neighboring Beriath’s Valley, and a fellow Misfit.  Elga told Aurina she was the result of a single night’s dalliance, the last night the Bloody Misfits were together where Berriam held a great feast for them in his hall.

Father and daughter were kept ignorant of each other, for Egla feared that being the daughter of such two infamous parents would bring too much dangerous attention upon her firstborn child.  But she swore that when Aurina came of age she could seek out her father, either at Elga’s side or with her blessing.

And so when Aurina turned fifteen, she bid her mother farewell and traveled to Beriath’s Valley to ask Lord Berriam to take her as an apprentice.  She was determined to keep her identity a secret from her father until he had accepted or denied her.  Aurina wanted to follow in his footsteps and wanted him to train her for her own skills and merits, not for the blood she carried.

The path between the lands of her people, the Bearskull barbarians and the elves of Beriaths’ valley was a well-traveled one, but Elga insisted her daughter travel with at least one companion, and sent along her own dire tiger Shadow to escort her daughter to the edge of the elf city.

Alone in a new city, but with funds gifted from her mother, Aurina was able to find lodgings close to the palace while she attempted to gain audience with her estranged father.  It took a week before Aurina learned of the petitioners’ line which the lord met with every day, and another month of standing in that line and being turned away for one reason or another before she was finally able to stand before Lord Berriam Thornburst.

He looked down at her from the dais and his throne with mild distaste.  Her clothes were clean but worn, patched and mended as her people did not throw anything away unless completely unusable.

“And what,” he drawled “Do we have here.”

“My lord,” Aurina bowed deeply and fought to keep her emotions in check.  Her mother had warned her to show no fear, and to display the utmost courtesy when presented to her father. “My lord I have come to ask a boon of you.” Berriam arched a brow at that.

“Of course you have, that is why you are here.  Very well then be quick about it, there are other who await their turn.” He motioned for her to speak and Aurina took a deep breath.

“My lord, tales of your greatness have traveled far, far enough to reach even my ears.  I grew up with tales of your prowess and ferocity in battle, and for so long have I dreamed of being great like you.” She licked suddenly dry lips, aware of the smirks and murmurs of the courtiers lining the walls.

“But to be great like you,” she continued, “I need to be trained like you.  So I have come to ask that you take me as your apprentice.”

Silence reigned over the audience chamber at her words, no one expected this little half breed to come with such an outrageous request.  She hurried on before her father could speak.

“I will prove myself worthy of this.  Give me a task my lord.  Any task, and I will see it through and prove to you my ability.”

“And who are you who have seemingly come so far to request such an honor?” Lord Berriam’s voice was cold and his eyes were hard.  Aurina’s heart hammered in her chest.

“Ah…Rina,” she stammered.  Berriam caught her hesitation and shook his head.

“Of course it is.  Tell me ‘Rina’, how old are you?  And why should I take someone such as you on when you cannot even be honest enough to give me your name?” Berriam leaned forward in his chair, waiting for her to answer.

“I have seen fifteen summers my lord, and forgive me but I do not want my name or lack of one to hold any sway over your decision.  I only ask for the chance to prove myself first.  Then on your acceptance or rejection I will tell you all.”  She looked up hopefully at her father, seeing him watching her she could not help but wonder if he saw any resemblance in her face, though she saw no recognition in his eyes.  Finally he made a rude noise and leaned back in his chair waiving a dismissive hand in her direction.

“You are a child.  An insolent, arrogant child. Your request is denied.” he motioned for the next petitioner as Aurina was led away.

Thankfully, she was more determined than heartbroken.  Knowing now the petitioner’s process, she came again every day for another month and every day was able to come before her father.  Most days he turned her away without a word, some days she was able to make her plea again before being escorted out as the next petitioner was escorted in, until that last day.

“Oh gods you again child?” Berriam reclined to the side of his throne, head supported by his fist as Aurina made her way into the audience chamber, bowing before her unwitting father.  He sighed. “Same request as before?”

“Yes my lord,” Aurina said as she straightened.  “Give me a task to complete, and when I come back successful, accept me as your apprentice.”

Barriam studied the stubborn little half breed before him.  Taller than most half elves he had seen, long auburn hair braided behind her slightly pointed ears, large hazel eyes, common clothes, there was nothing about the girl that should set her apart from anyone else.  But she was brazen, and determined.   He sighed again, knowing now he would need to give her something else she would never cease.  “How many times have you come before me now?”

“This time makes thirty one my lord.”

“Well I for one do not want to see you here another thirty one days in a row.”  Berriam straightened as an idea came to him.  This would either provide the proof the child was so desperate for, or send her home with her tail between her legs.  He thought more likely it would be the latter.

“I have recently received word of an ettin among the hills, on the eastern edge of the valley,” he smiled as her eyes widened. “It is becoming a nuisance.  Kill the ettin, and I will consider your proposal.”  Aurina was silent as she mulled it over.

“If I kill the ettin,” she said slowly, “You will take that as proof enough and accept me as your apprentice.”  Berriam’s brows shot up as the courtiers whispered.

“You make demands of me?” he asked incredulously.

“I ask the same thing I have asked these last thirty one days my lord,” she replied. “Give me a task, accept my apprenticeship upon completion of it.  You have given me a task, will you accept my apprenticeship upon completion of it?”  Now it was Berriam who turned the words over.  The spies he had following the girl were unable to find anything out.  She simply showed up at the northern end of the valley a little over two months ago, found a place to stay, and almost every day since then had been here, making the same request of him over and over again.  Damn if he wasn’t beginning to like the little half breed.  If only a bit.  Berriam nodded to himself.

“Agreed, under one additional condition.  Since you will not tell me your name before your task, once you return you tell me here, before all the court, who you are.  Depending on that, I will accept you.” Aurina opened her mouth to protest but Berriam held up a hand to forestall her.  “That is nonnegotiable, I will not allow an unknown nor an enemy so unconditionally close to me.  This is also my final offer,” he looked hard at Aurina. “You either accept these terms, or you will be banished from the valley on pain of death.”

Aurina nodded slowly. “Agreed.”

“Good,” Berriam stood up and straightened his clothes, signaling that the audiences were over for the day.  But as he made to leave he hesitated and turned back to the little half breed, waiting to be escorted from the hall.  “And as you have come before me for thirty one days, you have just as many to find the creature, kill it, and return.  The commander will give you more details on where to find the ettin,” he said left the audience chamber.

That was thirty one days ago, and here Aruina was again, a little more dirty, a little more disheveled, and with a large, stinking, gore-dripping sack in tow.

No waiting in the petitioner’s line this time.  The guards knew her, by reputation as the Stubborn Little Half Breed if not by sight, and the sack over her shoulder could only mean one thing.  She was ushered into the hall before her father as soon as he was finished with the current petitioner.  She strode forward boldly, ignoring the soft gasps of surprise from those assembled at the sight of her.  Eyes trained on Berriam, she reached the foot of the dais and swung the sack around to land with a wet sound on the marble floor and bowing low once freed of her burden.

“I have returned successful my lord,” she said as she straightened and looked at her father.  Berriam stared down at her, eyes flicking between her and the bloody sack.

“That stain is not going to come out easily,” he quipped as he stood up and sauntered down towards her, fighting to keep the surprise and suspicion off his face.  He had his people shadow the girl, and so knew she was indeed able to track down and kill the ettin as he had bid her, but she was little more than a child!  There was something more to this for one so young to take out a giant kin alone, and he was determined to discover what it was.

“So you are back and successful O Unknown One? Let’s see just how successful you were,” he nonchalantly opened the sack and looked inside, nodding as he saw the rotting ettin head and confirmed what his scouts had already reported.  Looking back up to her, Berriam straightened and tapped a long forefinger against his lips in thought as he studied the young female before him.

“A task successfully completed, but something seems amiss here,” he said as he voiced his earlier thoughts.  “By the standards of most races you are young, practically a child.  How was it that you, alone and unaided, were able to accomplish this?  Track and kill a giant almost three times your size and strength?”  Aurina gave a little shrug.

“My mother knows a little of hunting giants and giant-kin, I simply remembered what she taught me,” she said simply.

“Ah yes, your mysterious parentage,” he drawled.  “And now we come to the second half of our little agreement.  Who are you exactly child, who has come to my home and demanded so much of me?” Aurina straightened as much as she could, heart pounding as she spoke the words she had rehearsed in her head so many times.

“My name is Aurina Bearskull, blooded and firstborn daughter to Chief Elga Serpentbane,” her voice carried clearly across the hall.  As soon as Berriam heard the name of his old comrade he closed his eyes and sighed as he rubbed at his temples.

“Of course you are, the only female I know more stubborn than you is her,” he muttered.    But Aurina saw him still as he made the connection and slowly looked up at her, peering more closely.  “Ah…how old are you again?  Exactly?”  She couldn’t help a small smile.

“Fifteen summers my lord.  I was born shortly after the Bloody Misfits retired.”

Berriam couldn’t help but stare at her as the truth slowly took form in his mind.  Fifteen years.  Oh bleeding bloody hells, it was little more than fifteen years to the date since the Misfits retired and he hosted their farewell feast in this very hall.  Fifteen years since he spent one passionate night with the only human female from that group. And now this child appears, this half elf child of the woman he lay with, the one he could have sent to her death or worse, was most likely his child, unknown for all these years.  Throat suddenly dry, he visibly swallowed before attempting to speak.

“And how is your mother?” he asked, his voice thankfully sounding stronger than he feared, at least to his ears.  Aurina inclined her head to him.

“She was well when we parted.  My mother sends her greeting and bids me to give you this,” Aurina reached inside her tunic and searched for a moment before drawing forth a much crumpled but still sealed parchment.  “She remembers her last night here in Beriaths’ Valley in detail and with great fondness. She hopes you do as well, and that one day she is able to return the favor.”

Berriam keep his eyes on his daughter’s as he reached for the parchment and broke the seal, looking away long enough to read the contents.  Long minutes later he took a deep breath and turned back to her, seemingly having had the chance to gather his thoughts.

“You know what this letter says?”  Aurina nodded.  “You do realize there was an easier way to go about this,” he indicated the stinking sack on the floor beside them.  Aurina nodded again and grinned.

“I would not be my mother’s daughter if I took the easy way.”  Berriam chuckled at that as he tucked the letter away.

“Very well then,” he turned towards the courtiers that were watching every second of this first true meeting between father and daughter.  “Ladies and gentle males, may I present to you Aurina Bearskull, my apprentice…and my daughter.” He laid his hands on Aurina’s shoulders as a flurry of whispers and murmurs arose at those words, and Berriam had to raise his voice to be heard as he continued.

“She will be named as my daughter and co-heir alongside my son, granted lands and titles, a position here at court, and shall be accorded every respect and privilege that comes with bearing my name even should she not take it.”  He winked at a very shocked Aurina and whispered so only she would hear.  “It’s mostly paperwork and formalities, but it will all be yours to do with as you please, to use as much or as little as you desire.”

Drawing her back up the dais with him, he motioned to young half elf male.  “Come and see to your sister.  Find her rooms to rest in until we can get her properly situated.  We will all speak over dinner tonight.”  And with that he turned from them to deal with the rest of the court who were understandably in an uproar, calling for order.

The two half siblings blinked at each other for a few moments before the male shrugged and beckoned Aruina to follow him.  In the quiet of the corridor beyond the hall, Aurina found the courage to speak again.

“That was…uh…unexpected,” she said softly.  The male turned towards her with a grin.

“Welcome to the Thornbursts,” he said.

******

Elga’s Letter:

Forgive me my friend, if I can still call you that.

I know you are no fool, and have by now guessed outright or suspected that Aurina is our daughter. Believe me when I say I did not know the truth of her parentage until after she was born. When I left you the possibility of conception never crossed my mind, and when I learned I was with child I had returned to my husband Tanta and assumed the child his. I would have sent word, but I confess fear stilled my hand, fear of upsetting your world for you already had one half breed child, and fear for Aurina herself. I felt that having me for a mother put her in enough peril, but having you as her father? A child of two Misfits, both leaders of their respective peoples, both heroes of the Realms? A fine prize she would have made.

I told Aurina the truth of you some years ago, when she decided the ways of our people were not for her and she wanted to walk your path. She had always been fascinated with your stories as a child. Tales of the Misfits are told often around the campfires of my people, and the stories of Berriam Elf Brother, Breaker of Hordes were always her favorite. Nightly she would beg of one more tale of you, ‘just one more Mata,’ she would plead. And I obliged as often as I could.

I had planned to tell you of her when she came of age, even before she made the choice to come train under you. I know not if you have accepted her as your apprentice or denied her. If you have, I thank you and I know you will care for our daughter well. If not, I hope you broke it to her gently, and that you do not extend an offer based solely on her blood. She is much like me in that regard, taking only what she has earned.

I know not what else to say, except that I leave this knowledge in your hands, to do with as you will. I know Aurina would love to have you in her life, she knows as well it was wholly in my hands why you two never knew of each other before now. But we have no expectations, and place no obligations on you. I can only imagine the effect this knowledge has upon you, and I can only pray the one day you will find it in your heart to forgive me.

Yours faithfully,

                        Elga

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