Fierce Heart (Elven Alliance #1) - Tara Grayce

MAP

THE TWO DEAD ELVES laid out on tables in the town morgue were young. At least, Essie guessed they were young. It was hard to tell with elves, since they didn’t start showing their age until they were at least eight or nine hundred years old. But elves were considered young if they were less than a hundred, and there was something about the slimness of their faces, the lankiness of their bodies, that reminded Essie of teenage boys, much like her older brothers had been a few years ago.

And their actions were the actions of the young. Just two boys sneaking across the border, causing trouble. Much like that of the four teenage boys who had sneaked across the border into Tarenhiel two weeks ago. Only one of the boys returned home to Escarland.

“Essie.” Her brother Averett’s voice came from the doorway behind her. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Why not? I’m a part of this diplomatic mission too. I needed to see...” Essie didn’t turn around. She wasn’t yet ready to leave. Something in her ached, seeing the blood covering the chests and stomachs of these two young elf males. One had been shot in the chest, and the musket ball had killed him instantly. The other had been stabbed after a lengthy fight to take him down, according to the townsfolk.

Yes, definitely young. Too young to fully come into their magic and defend themselves.

Too much blood shed on both sides. Again.

Averett halted next to her. The sunlight slanting through the cracks between the building’s board slat siding glinted on the crown he wore on hair that had the good taste to be auburn instead of her indecorous, flame-red hair. “Still, you shouldn’t have to see this. I can’t believe you talked me into letting you come.”

“This is a peaceful diplomatic meeting, and my presence will help reassure the elven king of our intentions.” Essie forced herself to turn away from the bodies laid out on the tables. This was the reason they were traveling to the border their country of Escarland shared with the elven forest kingdom of Tarenhiel. To stop the escalating incidents and deaths at the border from inciting another war.

She suppressed a shudder. No one wanted another war. She’d only been three when the last war between Escarland and Tarenhiel broke out. She’d been five when it ended. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t remember.

A girl didn’t forget the moment she learned her father had been killed.

If there was anything in her power she could do to stop another young daughter from feeling the pain she had back then, she would do it.

She let a smile cross her face, as she had done so many times in the fifteen years since her father had been killed. Smile and carry on. So many others carried on with frowns or constant melancholy, but she chose to smile and keep smiling no matter what. “I’m twenty years old, Avie. If all of you hadn’t spoiled me so much, you probably would’ve already married me off to form some alliance.”

Averett grimaced, as if what she’d said pained him. “I may be the king, but I’m first and foremost your big brother. I’m not going to sacrifice my little sister to some other kingdom just for political gain. I wouldn’t ever do that to you.”

Did he have to take everything so seriously? Probably. He had become king at twelve, though Mother had been his regent until he turned eighteen. He hadn’t had a lot to smile about growing up.

Essie patted his arm. “I know you won’t. But I also know it’s the