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Darkness and gloom swept over a barren valley. Black clouds shed their haunting array throughout the ash covered hills. The floor of the valley had once been infested with soft green moss that lulled even the coldest, hardest hearted men to sleep. Flowers had once blossomed and grown into vibrant beauties in the fresh, reviving breeze. Now they were ash.
The valley was now shunned and cursed. Ashes were all that remained from Death’s patrol, in search of those who proudly call themselves Elves.
A restless wind swept over the hills. Its constant whispers often filled the Sauntering Forest with the latest gossip. But now it was silent. There were no leaves to rustle and disrupt, for the Sauntering Forest had been demolished. In the forest beyond the valley, all that was heard was the mournful howls of the broken hearted wind.
A single flame. That was all it took to make a lively, radiant valley into a gray, ash covered pit.
A young boy’s keen and watchful eyes scanned each dark corner of the valley for any elves whom might have been spared. But it seemed as though he was the only survivor. He stood on a hill top at the edge of the valley, his eyes flickering desperately. Soot, blood and tears streaked his young face. His clothes which had once been very stylish and expensive were tattered and torn giving him the appearance of a beggar.
The boy scanned the valley once more and then turned angrily away. He closed his swollen eyes and lifted his face to the sky. He had to move on. But he knew nothing about the world beyond that valley. He had always wanted to explore, but that was when life was good. Memories of the day flashed through his mind’s eye. He remembered sneaking out of the village to take a peek at a world that was forbidden to him, he was to become a mighty priest and that required his full attention on the valley, and no other place. He had been sitting on this same hill, dreaming of exploration, when the world shook and he was sent rolling down the opposite side of the hill. Ash had nearly suffocated him and the heat from the fire raging on the other side nearly killed him, but nothing was worse then the tortured screams of innocent elves. Somehow the boy managed to remain alive until the fire died. A heavy rain had settled the ash floating around and doused the remaining fire. When the boy had enough strength he climbed to the top of the hill and stared in shock at the death defying sight. He nearly died of a broken heart. Everything he had ever known and loved was destroyed. He could smell and taste the bitter black magic in the air. This had been no accident.
Rumors had spread through the trees of the Sauntering Forest many weeks before, that the human King had been planning revenge on the elves, but the elves thought little of it. They had expected a war not black magic. Humans weren’t supposed to know black magic.
The boy realized he was probably one of the last elves to be alive. He spat on the ground and cursed the King of the human’s name. Just because one elf had made a foolish decision and had angered the King, it didn’t mean that all of them should be punished. The boy clenched his fist and thrust it towards the sky, “Just you wait! I’ll get revenge!”
The boy turned to the mountains and valleys that lay beyond the hill. He would find his way to a city and disguise himself as a human. He would blend in and learn the King’s secrets. Then he would find a way to get revenge.
The boy took one last look over his shoulder at the valley that had once been his home and whispered his final words of farewell. Then he bounded down the hill and disappeared into the deep unknown forest.
It was a beautiful, bright and busy day in the city of Withalm. The bustling town square at the center of the city was crowded with people excited for the return of the Prince Bavol with his new wife. And amongst those people, was me. My name is Willow. I am a peasant girl, daughter of an insane artist who doesn’t even know my own name. He paints with skill that none can compare with, but he is as crazy as a loon. And because he is as crazy as a loon my reputation was down the sewer drain. I have no friends besides my guardians.
Now, in this world every human has their own animal guardian. The guardian protects it’s human from evil. The two are bound by deep magic, so that they are able to communicate and sense each other’s feelings.
Usually every person has at most one guardian, I have three. Which only makes me look nuttier then I already seem. I have the most deadly kind of snake, which is a very rare guardian, a spotted horse, which is a guardian mainly acquired by those of royal blood, and the fastest animal known to man, a cheetah, also a very rare guardian. My snake whose name is Baldwin is a male, my horse whose name is Tashina, is a female, and my cheetah whose name is Sabir is a male. All three are the best and only friends I have ever known.
Sabir was by my side as I waited for the Princess to come. My other guardians stayed home. It often happened this way. I could never convince Sabir to leave me alone no matter the reason. He even slept at my feet during the night, never letting me out of his sight.
Sabir was my closest guardian. I had had him ever since I could remember. Even before Tashina and Baldwin came along.
For the first ten years of my life, I was raised by a fairly well off widow. I was her servant, and being her servant, I was taught how to work hard. I found no joy in those years, except for the rare days when a mysterious man visited me. I would get a day off of work and he would tell me stories, although, I do not remember any of them. One day when I was around five years old he brought me my two guardians Tashina and Baldwin. And after that, I never saw the man again. I liked to fantasize he was my father but when I was ten those dreams were crushed. In my tenth year of life, I was brought to meet my real father. When I saw he was crazy I knew it would be a great sacrifice to stay with him and love him. My father hated the people who took care of him, only because they treated him like trash, and even though he was crazy he could understand that they did not love him. I could not stand to see such a helpless man so angry and broken. So I chased away my father’s helpers and insisted on taking care of him by myself. Nobody protested. From then on I swore to take care of my father no matter the cost. And that is what I have done.
My father was painter of incomparable skill. It used to be that my father’s paintings sold as soon as they were on display, we were almost rich because of it, but the King found the paintings displeasing for some reason and banned me from selling them. I was left in the dark as to why. Now we are on the verge of starvation because we have no other way to make money. I have tried a thousand times over to find a job but no one has ever given me a chance to prove myself worthy. Instead they take one look at my scrawny body and terrible reputation, and discard me like trash. It used to leave scars but over time my heart became calloused. I learned to accept the fact that I would never fit in with the human crowd. I sighed, at least I had my animal friends.
My hand rested on Sabir’s head. I could tell he was feeling impatient and was longing to get out of the town and into the country where I lived with my father. Sabir absolutely hated the heat and crowdedness of the city he also hated not being able to see over everyone. He glanced at me and narrowed his eyes in anger, “May we please leave. You have no idea how bad it smells down here. Hygiene is something this city’s people must work on.”
I laughed and fingered his soft ear. He sidestepped away from me. He hated it when I would pet him, which was unusual for an animal. He was keen on his duty to protect me, and refused to show any signs of affection. He was also a perfectionist who was embarrassed easily. If I did anything beyond patting his head, he would get angry. If I had not known him for all my life, it would have been hard to make friends with him, but since that was not the case, we were the closest of friends.
I turned my attention back to the street and continued to look as far as I could see down the street. I was very excited to see what the Princess looked like. There had been rumors that she was the most beautiful woman in all the lands. I wondered if that was all a lie and she was merely a rich, ugly hag.
I strained my neck to see over the heads of other straining people. My eyes anxiously sought a royal carriage with pure white, royal bred horses leading the way. One of the horses was said to be the new Princess’ guardian. I wondered what my horse, Tashina would think of him. Or at least I assumed it was a ‘him’.
The minutes passed by and the people around me seemed to grow impatient, eager to continue on with the day’s tasks. A few left but others remained persistent and stayed.
Just when I was about to leave, a breeze blew my hair back and whispered into my ear, “The princess is here.”
That is another thing you must know about me, I can hear the wind. But that’s not it. I can see the wind. All it looks like is beautiful clear women with long flowing dresses. Along with this I can hear the trees chatting with the Wind Maidens, and I can see them dancing. Nobody knows about my sight for things that are usually unseen. That saves me from even more humiliation.
Then the long awaited sound reached my ears, the clip, clop of the royal horses.
Merchants suddenly stopped shouting out their products, minstrels stopped playing their instruments and dancers ceased their twirls and gracefully steps. Complete silence swept over the town square. All I could hear was the clip, clop, clip, clop of the royal hooves.
First the Prince Pashad came riding on his guardian, he waved and smiled kindly at everyone. He looked much happier then the last time I had seen him, which was over a year ago. Prince Pashad had always been very gloomy, moody, and demanding. I had never seen him in such good spirits. Everyone cheered. The cheers died down as Prince Pashad disappeared from sight and the horses of the royal carriage came into sight and then the royal carriage. A curtain hid the face that we all longed to see. But to my surprise and delight, a delicate hand showed itself and waved gracefully to the people. A cheer rose from a random minstrel in the middle of the square. Soon everyone else had joined it. Every voice in the square yelled joyfully except for one, that of a very average looking minstrel who sat in the dark corner of the square just behind me. He stared hostilely at the carriage. No one noticed him except for me.
I happened to notice him because of his bright unusual clothes that stuck out from the normal dull colored dresses and tunics of the common people. I turned and spoke excitedly to him, “The Prince has been so very good to his people. How can you keep silent during such an occasion?” then I paused unsure, “Are you angry towards the prince?”
The minstrel narrowed his eyes at me. He looked me over rudely and his eyes rested on my bare toes that were peeping out from under my tattered dress. He raised a dark eyebrow and raised his eyes to my face again. Under those prodding eyes, I felt ashamed of my features, ashamed of my unkempt, raven black hair and emerald green eyes that seemed to pop out dramatically because of my overly pale face. He stood up straight and looked me in the eye, “My feelings for the royal family are not of your business.” Then he surprised me with a question of his own, “You are loyal to the royal family?”
I nearly rolled my eyes. Of course I was loyal. Who wasn’t? But then I guess he wasn’t.
“They have been nothing but good to their people. They are just and kind.”
The man tilted his head, “Obviously you do not know that family very well.” His hazel eyes flashed as he took a step nearer to me, and into the light, setting his dark red hair aflame. I blinked at it’s bright orange flames flickering with every movement. I wanted to reach out and touch to make sure it was real. The man’s deep accusing voice brought me to attention, “Did you not hear that they know black magic and use it against innocent races.”
That ignited my temper.
“You lie!” I snapped.
“No, it is they who lie.”
“If you think that is so, you are the most brainless fool I have ever met!”
“How am I brainless? I am a witness to their cruelty! You are the one who believes blindly!”
I stopped short. He had witnessed their cruelty?
Sabir managed to turn around in the crowded space. He stepped beside me and glared at the man with his menacing bright orange eyes. He let out threatening, rowr. The man merely glanced at Sabir and continued to advance, “Ask the wind, and then you’ll see who the fool is!”
My mouth dropped open. How did he know I can hear the wind?
He smirked, “Do you think that any normal person would be able to have the privilege of a cheetah as their guardian? No.” His smirk turned into a sneer, he leaned very close to my face. I turned my head and closed my eyes. Then he whispered, his breath caressing my cheek, “Things are not always as they seem, and that includes you, dearie.” He reached out and turned my chin so that I was facing him, but my eyes were still closed.
That was when Sabir leaped to action. He wouldn’t let any man so much as touch me. But as he leaped through the air he was met by nothing but air. I opened my eyes when I noticed there was no longer hot breath on my cheek. I looked around. The man had completely disappeared. Then I noticed that the town square was entirely silent. I froze. My stomach dropped to my toes as I noticed everyone was staring at me. I lowered my eyes to the ground and didn’t say a thing. Slowly the whispers started up and then the giggles. Then everyone was busy again, though they still gave me strange looks and gave me a wide berth.
I felt very uneasy in my stomach, and there was a strange bitter smell in the air, so I quickly grabbed Sabir around the neck and whispered in his ear, “Let us leave this place. There is something stirring the air, and it isn’t good.”
Sabir broke from my embrace and began to make his way through the crowds, growling at those who didn’t move for him. I could tell he was very embarrassed and angered. I felt bad, but I knew nothing I said would make him feel better, he was too proud. I hurried after him. As we made our way through the town I could feel all eyes turn to us, no matter where I went. “I hate myself.” I said telepathically to Sabir.
Sabir glared at me, “You have no right to say such things. And it’s me who failed to help you; I am the one to be shamed.”
I shook my head disapprovingly, “You did not fail. You would beat that man any day in a fair fight. He was the one who ran instead of standing his ground. And I meant I hate myself because I see things that nobody else does. I wish with all my heart to be normal. Obviously nobody else saw that man, so it looked as though I were merely fighting with myself. How humiliating!”
“It just proves their suspicions that you are a nut much like your father.”
We made our way to the city gates. Just before I stepped out of the gates a handsome man, dressed very nicely walked up to me and said, “Madam, I was told to inform you that the new Princess is in need of a personal maid. I was told you would make a perfect fit.”
I looked at him bewildered, “Me? Who recommended me to you?”
“A man, a Minstrel in the King’s court. My apologies, I do not remember his name, I am new at this job… but if you please, come to the castle at sunrise tomorrow. At that time the Princess will see if you are her perfect fit.”
I nodded and curtsied politely, “I thank you.” I watched him leave making sure that he would not disappear. I had to make sure he was real.
As soon as he was out of sight I turned and made my way excitedly out of the city gates and onto the dusty dirt road. Sabir’s eyes met mine intently, “You better be planning to go. He was no figment of imagination!” He frowned, “No one has ever offered you a job before. It’s suspicious but also a great opportunity. Hopefully no one is going to make a fool out of you.”
I paused, “I do not think that anyone can make me look anymore foolish then I already am” Then thoughts of my crazed father flooded my mind. A worried look swept the joy out of my eyes.
Sabir read my mind, “You can easily ask the wind maidens to keep your father out of trouble. And I’m sure Baldwin won’t mind staying behind, he claims to be too old for any sort of adventure. Tashina and I will come along gladly.”
I smiled, “Sounds like a good plan. But it is such a long distance from our house to the castle. I do not know how I will make it back every night.”
As I walked, I could see the wind gliding over the road playfully throwing the loose dust into the air. I smiled at the sight. Then the wind maidens saw me. They left the dust and glided over to me, playing gently with my hair and caressing my skin. They swayed back and forth to an unheard melody. I looked directly at one who was very familiar to me and whispered, “Will you take care of my father during the day tomorrow. I have been offered a position in the castle as the Princess’s close companion!”
The maiden’s eyes widened with excitement. She was one of the most beautiful maidens, she had white blond hair with near translucent skin, her eyes were green, but a much more stunning green then mine. She, unlike most wind maidens, actually looked real; she wasn’t some clear barely visible shadow. Her name was Hannah. She was small but feisty and strong.
She, as well as all the others knew about my lack of a job and poverty stricken life. Many times they were the ones that saved my father and me from starvation. The Wind Maidens agreed to take care of my father for the day and even longer if I needed. I twirled happily like one of the dancers in the town square. The maidens giggled and imitated my twirl; two of them grabbed my hands and pulled me upwards. A few others lifted my feet from the ground. They lifted me high into the sky, twirling and laughing, high pitched joyful squeals filled the air. That seemed to be the only thing they ever did, dance, and laugh.
Then they started to sing. And that was the most beautiful sound that could ever exist, a choir of unique hypnotizing harmony. I relaxed as the maidens spun me and guided my feet in graceful steps. All my problems ceased their torment on my mind and melted into a puddle of nothing.
I glanced down at the road to see where Sabir was. I could barely see him because he was so fast. A blur of yellow was all that was visible. He was two times faster than any cheetah dead or alive, the wind had gifted him with that ability, but he could still only run for short sprints.
I noticed that we were getting closer and closer to the ground. The singing was fading into a soft hum. The maidens gently lay me on the carpet of grass, and danced off into the sunset.
But Hannah came back just for a second and whispered mischievously into my ear, “His name was Lance.” Then she was gone, chasing after her friends.
I sighed and stood up. I still couldn’t believe what this so called Lance had said about the Royal family. It seemed too unreal. Sabir sat beside me breathing heavily. I chuckled, “You sure got your exercise.”
Sabir bobbed his head up and down, “Haven’t done that in a while. You’re always too slow, even slower than normal humans. You run like you have weights on your feet, always dragging your steps.”
I scowled and hit him lightly on the back of his head. He purred but making it sound more like a chuckle.
I was happy until I heard smashing glass behind me. I turned to the familiar log cabin. My father was standing beside the house staring at me incredulously. He took an uncertain step towards me. Suddenly he screamed at the top of his lungs and whirled around to run away. Instead he bumped into the corner of the house.
“Ouch!” I said wincing.
My father fell over backwards and rolled down the hill from our house all the way down right to my feet. I shook my head and helped him up. I climbed the hill basically dragging him up. Sabir helped.
Then I heard a loving whinny to my left. I looked up to see Tashina, my guardian horse, watching with angry eyes, “He’s a waste of precious time. Why don’t you just abandon this place?! This type of thing happens every day and it’s getting on my nerves.”
I ignored her comment, “Where is Baldwin?”
Suddenly a snake’s head popped up in between Tashina’s ears, “I am here! Did you see the princess?”
I shook my head, “No, I only saw her hand. But I did have a more interesting encounter.”
“Really? Tell us about it.”
So as I was dragging my father into the house, I told them about the strange man who made a fool out of me. I told them that he somehow knew I could hear the wind and the last words he said, “Things aren’t always as they seem, and that includes you.” Those words haunted me. I assumed he knew about my reputation for being crazy. My guardians tried to analyze it with me. It was useless so I changed the subject to the royal white horses. Tashina was thrilled. She insisted on meeting them. That was when I told them about the job offer. Tashina was so excited she couldn’t even stand still. I told her to take a trot to calm herself. When she came back I told her that she would need to ride me in at sunrise while Baldwin would stay back and make sure father was alright. Baldwin was a little disappointed, “I know I do not usually like to go to town but on this occasion, it would please me greatly to tag along.”
“Then who will take care of father?” I asked.
Baldwin slithered away from me, “Fine, so be it. But next time, I am coming along.”
As we chatted I went around, cleaning up the house. Baldwin and Sabir rested by the fire while Tashina stayed outside and watched me through the window.
Sundown came and I put my father to bed. He looked at me with loving eyes and then cuddled up in his blankets and fell asleep. It was in those moments when I knew I could never leave him alone. He needed me.
I gazed around the house. Paintings covered every inch of the wall. Most of them were of scenery my father had never seen, or at least I doubted there could ever be such places on earth. Father was brilliant, and could make up any kind of detailed world if he wanted. My favorite painting was one that father kept in the darkest corner of the house. Whenever father was asleep I would take it out and gaze at it in awe. The sight never grew old.
The picture was so beautiful I wondered how my father ever came up with it. It was a picture of a bright green valley with a cozy town directly in the middle. There were steep, un-climbable mountains on every side and the only pass into the valley was over a fairly steep hill. Everything looked perfect in the valley, absolutely perfect, but then there was the sky. That was what confused me. Dark clouds were creeping over the mountains, and through the clouds fire licked the air. It seemed so real that I could almost feel the heat radiating from the sky. I wondered how simple clouds could possibly hold fire in its grip. It made no sense. But I guess my dad is crazy so his paintings are bound to be crazy.
I finished cleaning the house and then said good-night to my guardians. Then I went to lie on my sleeping mat near the fire (I didn’t have enough money for a proper bed). Sabir was beside me in a moment. I was grateful for his warmth and comforting presence, but sometimes he was overly protective.
He turned his head to look at me. His yellow eyes burned through the shadows, “Willow?”
I rolled over to look at him, “Yes?”
“I was thinking as I was running home that I recognized that man…”
I paused, “The man in the square?”
“Yes. The way his eyes flashed reminded me of someone I used to know. But I don’t remember exactly who.”
“Was he from before you knew me?”
“That’s not possible, I have known you ever since I was a kitten… I just know that I used to know him. Did you figure out his name from Hannah?”
I rose an eyebrow, “Yes, how did you know?”
“She tells you everything.”
I laughed. That wasn’t exactly right, she told me the things that I wanted to know. I could get almost anything out of her. Sometimes I felt guilty about it though, she tended to tell me things that I wasn’t supposed to know.
“Well, not everything but nearly, anyways, we can talk about this tomorrow on our way to Withalm. But for now I need to sleep in order to be ready and alert for tomorrow.”
Sabir didn’t argue he just turned his head from me and rested it on the ground.
That night was a long one. I was anxious for the next day so I fell asleep much later than normal. I was also disturbed by many dreams.
From when I was a baby till the age of ten I was raised by a widow, a very harsh widow for a fact. She occasionally beat me when she was really mad but if I worked hard enough then she would leave me be. So now, I know how to work till there was not an ounce of strength left in me. I did not hate her but I feared her. When I found my father and left the widow to help him, I tried to bury the fear. I thought it had worked, but every night when my mind was vulnerable the fear would resurface and present itself in the form of nightmares.
I would relive the past in those few seconds. But there was always someone saving me in each dream. I could never see his face clearly but he was always there. And he made my nights endurable.
So that night I had the same nightmares that haunted each sleep. When I woke, the sun was barely peeking over the distant mountains. I saw the sun and panicked. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be at the castle exactly at sunrise, during, or a little afterwards. So then I worried that maybe I was going to be late. I leaped from my mat and quickly combed my long hair. I splashed my face with water and then quickly made myself and my father some oatmeal. I woke my father and attempted to feed him the food but that was taking too long. I kept glancing outside as the sun slowly rose. Then Hannah came to my rescue as usual and took the spoon with her fragile hands and motioned for me to leave. I grabbed my satchel and raced from the house calling for Sabir at the top of my lungs. It turned out he was all ready as well as Tashina who even had her saddle on. I guessed it was Hannah who had gone the extra mile today. I stumbled down the hill in my hurry. Then I jumped into the saddle and kicked Tashina’s side. She whinnied in annoyance, “I know what I need to do here! No need to kick like those fools who treat their guardians like garbage!”
I winced, “I am sorry. I am just in such a hurry! Please run as fast as you can!”
“As you wish darling!”
I wasn’t quite prepared for the sudden jerk she gave so I nearly flopped over her rump. But I quickly reassembled myself and somehow managed to pull myself forward meanwhile squinting against the rushing air. Whenever we went galloping we always ran through lots of wind maidens. They would usually get quite angry, but they knew the occasion so they tried to move out of the way or actually run with us so that we were faster.
Tashina didn’t exactly know the way so Sabir led her through the confusing forest paths and onto the larger common dirt road. From there she knew the way. We swept into the city, a tidal wave of wind maidens, animals, and speed. The streets were still fairly empty but we were going so fast we nearly ran into one of the only people in the street. Tashina slowed only a little. She continued to gallop through the streets just not at a mind blowing speed. We made it to the castle just as the sun was at its halfway point over the mountain. I swung off Tashina. The stable boy, a tall dark haired boy with black skin and a crooked smile took her. I half walked half ran up the palace steps with Sabir at my heels. The same man who had told me about the job in the first place met me at the door as though he’d been waiting for me and only me. He hurried me down the halls and into the throne room, where the King, Queen, Prince and new Princess waited.
I kept my eyes to the ground and tried not to stare at any of them but I wanted so badly to see the Princess’ face. I bowed to the ground. The King told me to rise, “Rise young one.” And so I did. While I was standing I glanced up at the Princesses face. What I saw shocked me to the core. It was the ugliest face I had ever seen. Her styled hair was very dirty blond and almost looked gray. Her lips were thin and her mouth was small with two large teeth that reminded me of a rabbit. But then her eyes, they were huge, far too big for her small heart shaped face. Her nose was long and pointy and so thin it looked like a small spear sticking out where her nose was supposed to be. As for the rest of the royal family they were all quite good looking with very perfect features.
I had to take it all in, in only a few seconds because then the Prince required my attention. He smiled warmly at me, “Greetings, Willow of… of…” He paused embarrassed, “I am sorry, I have forgotten your title. This does not usually happen. May I inquire as to what it is?”
My face turned red, “Uh, well I do not really have a title. That would be why you do not remember, I am only a poor country girl.”
The Prince raised his dark eyebrows, he let out a long breathy, “Ahhhhhhh... My apologies, I did not realize that. But you are Willow, are you not?”
“Yes” I was somewhat confused at this point as to why the Prince was doing all the talking and the King was sitting in the background.
“Good. I have heard so much about you and your servants’ heart from my right hand man here.” He motioned to the right of him where a man very familiar, stood with a harp slung over his shoulder. He looked more like a minstrel then an advisor. His hazel eyes sparkled with mischief as he nodded deeply to me.
I was dumbstruck and in shock as I realized he was the man from the square. I barely managed to curtsy for him. Why is he here if he hates the royal family so much? I asked Sabir telepathically.
I heard a slight growl behind me, “He must have some plans! Maybe he’s a spy or assassin undercover.”
“We must reveal his plans! But I know not how!”
“Either way, we shall not do it now, you have not even gotten the job yet.”
A smile tugged on the man’s mouth and laughter filled his eyes. Then I noticed that my mouth was wide open and my eyes were bulging out of their sockets. The Princess snickered but quickly covered her mouth. My face turned red once again and I quickly turned my attention back to the royal family. The Prince looked slightly confused, “Do you two know each other?”
I opened my mouth to reply but the man spoke before I could utter a single word, “Yes, but we are mere acquaintances.”
The Prince nodded and then turned to the Princess. As soon as his eyes found hers, they melted like butter. Seeing that look in his eyes made me feel as though I were in love with the Princess as well, “This is Princess Stephanie.” When the Prince said her name it sounded as though it was the most precious thing that had ever existed. I almost believed it, “You will be her personal servant from now on. You will keep her company when I am gone and you will help with anything she needs help with. Do you understand?”
I nodded, “Yes your majesty.”
The Prince smiled and then turned to the man behind me. I was surprised he had been standing there all along.
“Elisha, my messenger, will take you on a tour of the palace grounds. Pay careful attention. As soon as you are done you must report to the Princess’ chambers. Is that clear?”
“Yes, your majesty” I said again.
“You are dismissed.”
I curtsied low and left the room. As soon as we were out of sight Elisha turned to me and offered his hand, “I am sorry I have not had time to introduce myself properly, I am Elisha Winstok, His Royal Majesty the King’s messenger. If you ever need help with anything I would be more than willing to help you, though I will be gone quite often. May I inquire as to how you know Lance Regen?”
I paused and looked at him suspiciously. A kind smile lit up his blue eyes and crinkled the corners. He seemed nice enough, “Um, I met him the other day in the town square. Was he not the one that recommended me?”
“Yes, he was…” Elisha frowned deeply, “You must’ve made quite an impression. He’s very harsh when it comes to picking friends or even recommending someone.”
Elisha winked and smiled irresistibly. I couldn’t help but smile back and blush at the same time. He was very handsome and charming. He had long, blond, curly hair, it looked so soft and bouncy, I felt a sudden urge to run my hands through it. I shook my head and tried to pay close attention to the places he was showing me instead of his hair.
He took me through the kitchen and introduced me to the head cook. She was fat and jolly just like cooks should be. I liked her very much, but I could never remember her name no matter how many times she told me. It was something long and funny sounding. Sabir didn’t like her very much at all. As soon as we walked into the kitchen the cook dropped her tools and ran to give Sabir a huge suffocating hug. Sabir growled and tried his best to release himself from her grip but she held him until he finally nipped her lightly. And even then she thought it was his way of showing affection. After that Elisha showed me where the royal chambers were and where the princess slept. Then he took me to the gardens, through the court yards and to the stables. I saw Tashina in one of the stables. Her eyes brightened when she saw me, “Did you get the job?”
I winked slyly, “I certainly have the job and on top of that, this charming man that is giving me the tour, I really like him.”
“Well that seems quite delightful!”
I nodded and blushed.
Elisha looked at me, “I want you to meet our stable boy, Bavol.” He turned away from me and cupped his hands over his mouth, “Bavol!”
Almost immediately a boy, maybe sixteen or seventeen, with black skin, violet eyes and black hair peeked around the corner of the stable building. I smiled shyly at him. Bavol stepped out and offered his hand, “Hullo lady, I am Bavol.”
I took his hand and he kissed it very lightly, “Welcome to the palace. I am sure we’ll become great friends.”
I grinned, “I would like that.” I blurted and then blushed thinking the words sounded bold.
He nodded and winked, “As would I.”
Elisha rolled his eyes and pulled me gently away, “Now don’t go falling for his fatal charms.” And then he added as soon as we were out of hearing proximity, “But no doubt, he’ll make one very loyal and helpful friend. So making alliances with him will certainly do you good. Now come along. There is much more to see before lunch break.”
We toured the rest of the castle and then Elisha took me to the kitchen for a quick lunch. As we walked into the doors I heard angry cursing and plates smashing. Elisha heard it too. He took a defensive step in front of me. Sabir seemed angry that Elisha was taking his position, “Tell him that is not his place. He can flirt with you all he wants but he can’t take my position to protect you!”
I smacked the side of Sabir’s head, “Flirt?!”
“Of course, you’d have to be a great fool not to tell he’s trying to impress you!”
Elisha looked over his shoulder, “Would you mind waiting here while I check to see what’s going on?”
I nodded. Elisha opened the door and the shouting became clear. I could hear an angry woman’s voice along with the slightly familiar scared voice of the cook. Elisha closed the door behind himself but I opened it and peeked in.
I saw a tall thin woman dressed like a wild native warrior from the forests picking up plates and chucking them furiously at the cook’s head. The cook barely managed to duck in time. The wild woman was shouting something in a strange foreign language. Suddenly she grabbed a knife from her belt and rushed towards the cook. Elisha leaped to action. He threw himself in the woman’s path and bulldozed her over smashing her into a wooden cupboard. The woman’s eyes were wide with surprise but that didn’t stop her. She raised her knife to stab him. Elisha grabbed her arm and swung the woman around him, throwing her into a bucket of soapy dish water. She screamed and cursed, slapping the wet floor with her open palm.
Then she spoke in a language I could understand, “Elisha you foolish idiot! I want to kill that wench! I want to tear her apart limb from limb! Why do you stop me every time? I loathe you!”
Elisha chuckled and helped her up, “You will for sure face severe punishment if you kill the best cook in the realms.”
Then he looked towards the door and smiled at me, who was staring wide eyed and mouth open, “Come in Willow. It’s safe now.”
I opened the door and stepped carefully on the slippery floor. Elisha moved to help me. The woman narrowed her eyes dangerously, a jealous streak flashed through her eyes. I blushed and looked away from those murderous eyes. Just for a second her eyes flickered down to Sabir’s much more effective burning glare. She jumped slightly and returned to glaring at me. Elisha saw the glare and smacked the woman lightly across the cheek, “No need to be rude. This is the princess’s new personal maid, Willow.” Then he turned to me and winked, “Willow, this is a frequent visitor to the royal family. You will be seeing each other quite often so I suggest you get off to a good start.”
I curtsied and forced the best possible smile I could render onto my frightened face. Bayanai glanced from Elisha to me and then nodded very stiffly, “I’ll do the best I can under the circumstances.”
“Under what circumstances?” Elisha asked.
“You’re blind Elisha, blind!” Bayanai said and then turned and left us pondering her words.
Elisha led me from the Kitchen, “Please don’t mind her. Just be somewhat submissive and she’ll be satisfied. Just don’t be too submissive then she’ll for sure take advantage of you. As long as you are under Sabir’s protection she won’t dare to lay a hand on you. So I recommend keeping him at your side at all times.”
I thought of the wild, murderous look in that woman’s eyes and shuddered. I took a handful of Sabir’s soft fur in my hand. He let me. I quickly changed the subject, “Speaking of guardians, where is yours?”
“Mine is a grizzly bear and he’s outside at the moment. He unfortunately doesn’t fit in the halls of this castle very well, with all the other traffic.” Elisha chuckled, “He’s a huge softy but he scares the wits out of most people.”
I shivered thinking of the huge animal. I preferred somewhat smaller animals. Big ones had always scared me, even horses, until I got one.
Elisha led me through many halls and then up a flight of twisting stairs and then through more halls. By the time we made it to our destination, I was breathless. Elisha chuckled and led me by the hand towards a specially designed door, “Don’t worry, I’ll be here the first week to help you find your way in the mornings. From then on the Princess was willing enough keep you by her side and let you live in the castle with her.”
I froze and jerked my hand from his, “Live here?”
Elisha glanced down at my hand, “Uh, yeah? You should be happy to receive such an offer.” He looked up at my face with quizzical brow, “Is something wrong?”
I blushed, “No! I would be honored to live in this castle! But there is a predicament… My father, he is mentally ill and he needs my attention, especially during the evenings…”
Elisha’s eyes brightened, “Well then my dear Willow, we shall have to make accommodations for your father here as well. The Princess, I am sure, will be thrilled. She has such a kind heart!”
My heart fluttered at his use of ‘my dear’. I blushed once again. I think I must’ve blushed more than I ever have in my whole life, in just that one day. He saw my blush and smiled mischievously.
I looked down at the floor, “But what about our lot of land out in the country! I could not bear to sell it!”
Then a soft melodic hypnotizing voice spoke, “I will send my gardeners to tidy it up every week. And it will not be sold.”
I snapped my head around. The Princess was standing in her door way smiling warmly, “Willow.” She said nodding deeply and slowly. Then she looked up and grinned, suddenly a gush of words I could hardly understand burst from her mouth, “You may call me Steph, Stephanie I feel is much too long and my mother only used that name when she was mad. I absolutely loathe it! Anyways I have been waiting all day to meet you more personally. My husband does not believe in a higher status like myself being friends with servants. But I think it is a wonderful thing! Why not just be friends with everyone you meet?! It makes life so much more enjoyable. Now please, be gone with you Elisha, go get her father and her things. Quick! Shoo!”
I was surprised at how beautiful her voice was, it was as though she was singing while speaking. Now I could see why the Prince fell in love with her. Also, her mood was contagious. Who wouldn’t want to marry her?
Elisha grinned and sprinted down the hall, but not before he gave me a wink. I heard a growl come from Sabir, whom I’d almost forgotten about.
Steph, as I was to call her, watched me cautiously, “Hmmm… I do think he likes you!”
I bowed my head to cover up the redness that crept up my neck to my cheeks.
The Princess laughed. Her laugh sounded like wind chimes tinkling in the breeze. Steph grabbed my hand and yanked my off my feet and into her room. Sabir followed watched the princess guardedly. The Princess gracefully swept her hand acknowledging the grand room, “This is my room.”
I looked around and let my mouth fall open. It was two times the size of the house I lived in! All around the room there were instruments of all sizes and shapes hanging on walls and stacked in shelves. It didn’t surprise me that she was musical but to have all of those instruments shocked me! Wind chimes, of course, hung from the ceiling and from her balcony roof.
I gently ran my hand against a guitar’s strings, “Can you play all of these, My Princess?”
Steph’s eyes darkened slightly, “Please call me Steph. I cannot see how we’ll be friends if you constantly call me that distasteful name!” Then she lightened up, “But of course I can play all these instruments. Being royal can be very boring sometimes, having everyone do everything for me… so in my spare time I learn how to play instruments and I write music! It’s my passion!”
Then she pulled me excitedly into an adjoining room. It wasn’t quite as fancy or big but it was still a magnificent sight for my eyes, “This is your room, dearest Willow! I hope you do not mind that it is adjoined to mine but I really want us to be inseparable friends. I already love you deeply!”
She moved gracefully over the floor to my window seat and sat down. She looked at me expectantly. I moved slowly and uncertainly, I couldn’t believe that such an important person would want to be my friend and would want to help my family. The princess watched me with the warmest, friendliest eyes I had ever seen any human look at me with. I almost felt like crying right then and there. This whole day had been the most amazing day of my life. I had never had any humans accept me as warmly as this royal family and royal servants did. I knew I must be dreaming. It was impossible!
As soon as I was in arms reach of Steph she reached out and took my hand gently in hers. I slumped into the seat beside her, forgetting all manners of grace. Steph looked concerned, “Is there something wrong? Is this not what you want? Am I too bubbly for you?”
I shook my head and felt the tears coming. I blinked them back, “It’s just that I’ve never had such amounts of kindness bestowed upon me.”
Steph’s eyes sparkled, “Well, then I am succeeding at making you want to stay!”
I nodded and a smile spread out on my lips. Steph stood up, “I’ll let you get settled. The carriers will be here soon with your luggage and your father. He will stay a couple of hallways away. I will show you tomorrow morning. For now, explore your new closet and as soon as your stuff gets here, unpack. I’ll be just next door if you need me.”
The last sentence sounded out of place. I was the one who was supposed to be saying that. I was going to say something but then she was gone, as quietly and as softly as a breeze.
I smiled to myself; I had met the wind maiden Breeze and her followers. Breeze was so gentle and loving that it was overwhelming to be with her, it made one feel so rough and rude. I waited for the carriers to come and then I unpacked. I brought my clothes to the closet. I opened the grand doors and gasped, inside were gowns in all colors, and styles. I was beginning to feel more like a princess then a servant. I couldn’t understand why I had been given such beautiful dresses.
Sabir looked up at my face, “Is this a joke? Why is she doing this for you? She doesn’t even know you and she claims you’ll be best friends. Her voice is like music and her face is uglier than a wood nymph! She’s so kind and graceful it hurts to watch! I’m a bit suspicious about her, she doesn’t seem to be human!”
“I know. But I honestly do not believe we need to worry. If she plans to do some evil to the world she would not have chosen me to help, unless she wants you.”
“I do not believe so! She doesn’t even know I exist let alone want me! I swear she didn’t look at me once.”
I patted his head and spoke out loud, “This has to be a fairytale!”
I felt a hand on my shoulder; I had been so infatuated with my dresses that I had not heard the door open. Steph smiled, “You must look nice when we go to parties!”
“Oh my! I do not know what to say Steph! This must be a dream!”
Steph laughed her wind chime laugh, “Thank goodness it is not! Now, there is someone that would like to talk to you. Evening is coming so you mustn’t take long. He is down in the garden. I have a servant who will show you the way.”
My heart beat widely. I hoped that it was Elisha. I told Sabir to stay behind but he stubbornly refused and tagged along.
The servant took me through the halls all the while nervously glancing at Sabir. Then he left me by the entrance of the gardens. These were not the same gardens I remembered from Elisha’s tour of the palace. I felt butterflies in my stomach as I stepped through the gates. There was the gushing sound of a fountain in the middle of the garden, birds were still chirping, for the sun had not gone down yet. Every kind of tree in the world seemed to be planted here and every kind of flower colored the premises.
A deep rumbling voice spoke, “Willow.” I looked for the person who spoke my name but I could not see him. Suddenly a man seemed to vaporize from the dark inky shadows of the trees. Immediately I recognized his hazel eyes. They were cautious but friendly. My heart dropped, this was not the person I had wanted to see. Lance seemed to sense my disappointment and smiled knowingly, “Expecting someone else were you?” He chuckled, “You seemed quite surprised to see me standing by Prince Pashad’s side. I can understand that by the strange impression I gave you the other day.”
“I thought you hated the royal family!” I said exasperatedly, “But then you turn out to be the right hand man. Are you planning to undermine the family?”
Lance smirked, “Maybe…”
I saw that he was teasing me, “You were testing me in the square were you not?”
“I had to know what you thought of the royal family before I hired you. I must say you are one of the most loyal citizens I have ever met.”
I frowned, “Why did you send for me? Surely it was not to tell me that I am a loyal citizen.”
“I sent for you because I need to tell you why I picked you.” His dark long shadow fell on me.
I wandered over to the fountain and sat on its edge trying to act brave and unsurprised. But really, here with the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon I felt cornered and scared, “Go ahead.”
Lance followed me still cautious, “You are a very unique girl. Firstly, you have three guardians, a horse, a snake, and a cheetah. Secondly, you can hear wind maidens sing. Thirdly from what they have told me, you have met Breeze.” Then he frowned, “Wait, do you know the legends of Hurricane and Priest?”
I stiffened, “I have heard of Hurricane but never Priest.”
Lance’s eyes narrowed, “Of course, the maidens do not like to talk about Hurricane let alone Priest.” Lance sighed and sat down beside me, he still towered over me even when he was sitting, “Where do I begin? You do know that wind maidens belong to different groups right?”
I answered while trying to edge away from him, “Breeze is one leader. She has many followers, who are all very restless. They often split up into many groups and go to calm storms on sea and land.”
“Yes.” He murmured his low voice rumbling through the fountain wall, “Storm is another leader, and she also goes to the sea and land following dark clouds so that she can whip the rain around, her kind of entertainment. But the most powerful of all wind maidens… or shall we say wind beings, is Hurricane. Some call him Typhoon, but he prefers Hurricane.” Lance blinked at the sunset, “He is the only male wind-being. He holds all the power of the sea and land. But Hurricane barely ever touches land. Do you know why?”
I shook my head, intrigued. I had heard Hurricane’s name whispered through the trees but always with much fear. I was quite shocked with Lance’s bravery to say the name so freely.
Lance smiled at my expression, “It is because he fears it. Loathes it! Priest gave him that fear. Back in the beginning of this world, when there were only very few Humans, Dwarves and one single Wind Being, that Wind Being, fell in love with a human. The most fatal mistake he ever made. They had a son whom they named Jounit. He was the first of the elves.”
I let out a mocking laugh, “Elves? That’s rubbish!”
Lance’s expression suddenly hardened, his jaw clenched, and his eyes were set aflame, “They are just as real as you and I! Don’t be fooled by what humans think. They are often blinded and can only believe what is right in front of their eyes.”
I was going to protest but Lance’s expression made me bite my tongue.
“Now Hurricane and his wife had many other kids who had kids of their own, making the elf race, Hurricane’s wife didn’t want to ever be left by her husband so she asked him to turn her into a wind maiden. And so he did and they had many, many more children, very few still live today. Jounit had different ideas then his siblings. He refused to marry into his own race. So he charmed a wind maiden with magic that he had learned from his father, he would not have been able to catch her if it had not been for that magic. He and that wind maiden had a child, and they named him Priest. Priest was more Wind Being then elfish, the mix made him very, very powerful. All Wind Beings obeyed his commands, except for Hurricane. Hurricane saw how the elves were multiplying and learning deadly magic. So he planned to destroy them. He thought to himself that they did not belong here on this earth. Priest learned of these plans. Priest had already given humans the gift of one guardian to keep them safe. He originally didn’t think elves needed them because they could communicate with all animals anyway but he was afraid for them so he granted them that gift…
“Priest knew every kind of magic, more than his grandfather ever did. He used it to chase Hurricane from the land. The legends say that the magic was so terrible that no one could survive without constant heart wrenching fear that made thousands go mad. Hurricane was the only one who did not go mad. All his wind children and even his beloved wife were lost to fear. So Hurricane decided to end their pain. He faded them, which is a long painful process, but much less painful then the fear Priest embedded in their minds. Hurricane tried to start again and keep his Wind Beings away from land. But Priest was already making plans to take the sea too. Hurricane did not know what to do. Then a little insignificant wind maiden told him she could end it all. Her name was Hannah.”
My mouth was already wide open and I was clinging to the fountain with both hands. Then when Lance mentioned Hannah I fainted. I fell back into the fountain, the cold water woke me. I didn’t know how to swim and this fountain was dangerously deep. Dark water had always scared me because I could see ghosts in the water. I could see them, pale, pointed ears, and wise, slanted, haunting eyes. They reached for me I could feel their cold hands grasping my face pulling me to the depths. To my relief I felt stronger hands grasp my hair and yank me out of the water. Lance dragged me from the fountain and placed me gently on the grass. I coughed and turned over, “You are far too good at telling stories!”
Lance laughed but it was strained. I opened my eyes and peered up at his anxious face, “Can you continue the story? I want to find out what happened.”
Lance shook his head, “You need to get inside dearie, it won’t do you any good to get sick on your first day. And besides, it is late.”
I sat up very suddenly, my face inches from his, “No! I won’t be able to sleep!”
Lance rocked back on his heels, “Yes of course. That would be a problem” He took his cloak from around his shoulders and handed it to me. I drew it over my shoulders and pulled it snuggly around my body, it was already warm and soft black fur lined the inside. I smiled my thanks.
He stood up and helped me up as well. I must have been heavy with my soaking wet dress, “I will try to finish this quickly. Now where was I? Oh right, Hannah told him she could end it all. Of course Hurricane didn’t believe her but he was so desperate he sent the little maiden off without a second thought. Hannah was the first maiden who had disturbed the land in years. Clouds were constantly stuck in one place raining only on certain areas eroding the land so that there were valleys with huge mountains on all the sides, the only level places were deserts. Hannah moved the clouds ever so slightly and Priest noticed. Priest found her before she found him. He asked her why she was on land, she told him the truth. Priest laughed at her but he was impressed by her bravery and innocence. He had not seen such a being in his life. He invited her to stay with him for a while and she accepted. Priest was so amazed and taken by her that he would not have anything else but her. He asked her to give up her quest and marry him, he promised her the world. Hannah refused. Priest was so intent on winning her heart that he dropped all defenses and Hurricane’s weak bravery grew stronger.
“Priest’s lookouts saw the clouds moving fast and they warned him. Priest went out to meet Hurricane. Hurricane cowered at the sight of Priest but Priest said he would trade anything for Hannah’s heart. He said he would end the conflict and let Hurricane move the clouds on land again. Hurricane agreed and immediately fled back to the sea. He sent his new daughters Storm and Breeze to govern the land. And so they did. Priest and Hannah were happily married but never had any children of their own. And then one day Priest disappeared.
Lance paused and his eyes met mine. The sun was shedding its last rays making Lance’s hair glow. The breeze swayed the trees and whispered cautiously, “Don’t speak his name!”
Lance shook his head sadly, “No one knows how or why Priest disappeared. I have talked to Hannah numerous times but she refuses to even say his name. Ever since Priest disappeared, history has been very suggestive. But, what we do know for sure is that elves flourished. But they separated into their versions of good and evil. Dark elves dwelled below the ground and light elves dwelled above the ground. There were three strong nations that ruled the world, dark elves, light elves, and Humans. They are called the chosen races.”
I let that sink in. I could not believe what Lance was saying. I knew Hurricane was real but Priest just seemed to be an excuse for not controlling the land. And elves? How ridiculous! No one had ever seen such creatures. It was just a story, a fantasy.
Lance watched me, frustration was playing out on his face, “You do not believe me do you? You think me to be crazy, do you not?”
I shook my head, “You need to learn the difference between a story and actual history.”
Lances pursed his lips stubbornly, “Willow, listen to me! I am a century old! Also, how do you think we can hear the wind speaking? How do you think you managed to get three guardians?”
I saw his point but I was still convinced he was tricking me, trying to make a fool out of me. I tried to think of something to say, “Maybe I have inherited some of my father’s insanity!”
Lance rolled his eyes, “That is for certain! The reason we hear the wind is because it is in us, in our blood. It is a part of our being.”
“Well, that is not logical because wind does not even have blood!” I said raising my chin slightly.
Lance chuckled, “How do you know? If you get the right weapons you will see!”
“I do not plan on slaughtering any wind maidens if you please!”
“But do you not see my logic?”
I sighed, “Yes and the more you talk the more I believe you. I am thinking that it is just because you are skilled at telling stories. Now, if you please, let me get this straight, you are saying I am an elf?”
He inclined his head, “Not completely. Your father is human.”
I leaped to my feet, which was very unladylike, “You know my family? You know about my mother?”
Lance leaned back, his eyes were full of surprise, “I just saw your father so I assumed...”
Disappointment sunk in and a slumped back into my seat, “You can see it in the appearance?”
“Usually by the ears or the eyes.”
“Oh well that is disappointing.”
“That I can tell by the appearance?”
“No! That you did not know my mother! I do not know a single thing about her.”
“Well from what I can tell she was most likely an elf.”
“This is insane nonsense! You are just trying to make a fool out of me are you not?”
Lance stood and took hold of my hand, “The servant is here to escort you back to your room. Please, consider the things I have said. You have no idea how important you are. The story I have told has not ended. It goes on and you will play a part in it.” Then he bowed politely and walked away, fading into the shadows. The sun had gone completely down and I felt frightened as I watched him leave. As I turned I could have sworn I saw the shadow of the hugest lion go to meet him. But it must have been my imagination because no such lion could be that big.
The servant lead me silently back to my chambers. The whole time Sabir hurled questions at me, “What is the significance of three guardians?”
“I do not know. He barely mentioned that. I do not think it is important.” I answered
He fired off another one, “He is an elf himself right?”
I glanced at the servant, “From what he said I believe he thinks he is.”
“You think he is mad do you not?”
“Yes.” I thought angrily
“Do you like him?”
I gave Sabir an incredulous look, “No! I find him repulsive! Besides he is most likely mentally ill!”
Sabir’s lips pulled up into a cat smirk, “He saved your life. You could’ve drowned in that little fountain.”
I sneered, “It was not little! And I would have survived either way!”
“Not if he were not there.”
“If he were not there then I would not have been there either.” I snapped.
“I think you like the idea of being an elf.”
“Not particularly so.”
“But elves are wise, strong, agile! You must be very proud…”
I stopped in my tracks and whirled around to meet his amused eyes, “Not the slightest bit! Now keep your thoughts to yourself and leave me be!”
The servant did not turn to wonder why I was stopping; he simply continued to walk, knowing I would follow him soon. And I did. Sabir stopped talking but his eyes glinted with amusement and pleasure. Every glance at him fueled my anger. Finally we made it to my chambers and I collapsed onto my bed. I got up a few minutes later and readied myself for bed. After I had washed up I began to read a book to ease my mind. I did not get past the first page for a knock sounded on my door. I knew right away who it was because the knock was very rhythmic and strangely sweet. I answered it in a flash.
Steph stood there smiling broadly, “How was your talk with Lance?”
I made a face, “Pleasant, he told me old legends.”
Steph giggled, “May I come in?”
“Yes, of course.”
I stepped out of the way and watched her jealously as she glided like a gazelle into the room, “How do you know it was Mr. Regan?” I asked.
“Oh well, we are friends of course and he requested it to me, though I’m not sure why, you are your own person.”
Suddenly I felt something slither over my foot. I jumped and then gasped, “Oh dear Baldwin! Why did you not let me know you were here? I have missed you and Tashina dearly! How is father?”
Baldwin winked, “Very well. Happier than I’ve ever seen him, except for when he’s painting. Which reminds me, he does need some easels or else he might use the walls.”
“That is good. I cannot believe that everything is working out so wonderfully today!”
“Yes but I do believe we were brought here for a purpose besides just serving the Princess.”
“Yes this man summoned me to the gardens and told me old legends. I did not believe a word he said.” I stated this proudly. All the while Steph watched us quietly and curiously.
Baldwin gave me a look of disapproval, “I am afraid, he is not the mad one.”
I blushed, “You heard Sabir and I arguing?”
“Yes of course it is hard to block from my mind. But do not worry, I will not judge you. I will simply say that he is more correct then you are.”
I glared at my snake, “Do not be absurd! How would you know?”
His eyes turned sad, “I will tell you when the time comes. But for now please entertain your guest.”
I wanted to force it out of him but the reminder that Steph was nearby made me decide otherwise. I turned back to Steph and smiled, “Sorry, just a quick reunion with my guardian.”
Steph watched Baldwin slither away curiously, “So it is true. You talk with animals.”
My brow furrowed, “Yes of course? I thought you had a guardian too!”
Steph laughed, “No of course not! Where I come from there is no such thing as animals that are so smart.”
“But does not everyone have guardians?”
“Were you not listening to the legends? Priest only gave the guardians to humans and elves.”
I froze, “Excuse me? But are you not a human?”
Steph’s eyes went wide and her face turned red, “Oh dear! I have spilled the beans haven’t I? How dreadful! I was not expecting to, until much later but I’m so used to having my mind completely exposed.” She sighed and shook her head, “No I suppose I am not privileged to be human”
“What are you then?” I blurted immediately regretting the rude question.
But Steph was gracious and smiled, “Part dwarf, and part wind maiden. Very maddening!”
I slumped into a nearby seat, “This day is the best and most confusing, surprising day of my entire life?!”
Steph looked very worried. She moved to my side, “Oh! I am so sorry! I did not mean for this to happen. Lance and I were planning to slowly give you the secrets and now two of them are already out!”
I grabbed the arm rest, “Are you saying there are more?”
Steph smacked herself across the cheek, “Sorry! And there’s no use begging we won’t tell you any more until the time is right! Now please get some sleep and forgive me!” Then she rushed from the room muttering and scolding herself.
I sighed and turned to my bed. I fell asleep immediately, my mind was exhausted from all the new information I had gotten that day.
The next day was bright as usual. I woke at sunrise ready to serve the Princess. I went down to the kitchen and waited while the cook prepared her breakfast. Meanwhile we talked about life at the palace. The cook told me all the gossip there was to know.
She told me how the King had recently became dumb and now his son did all the talking. The Prince was to take over soon, for the King was going mentally ill. She also told me how the Prince and Princess met, “It was last fall and there were strange mysterious things going on towards the South Seas. The Prince thought he was responsible … I do believe he thinks he rules the world… so he went out there to settle the rumors. But then he found that almost every rumor was true. There was a new dwarf princess who was not at all like a dwarf, she was not rough and barbaric instead she was so graceful she puts gazelles to shame. Her voice was like music floating in the breeze. Dwarf women were so jealous of her that they started riots and attempted to murder her many times over.
“Now the Dwarf King knew he could not keep his daughter there so once the Prince came the King tried to play matchmaker. The Prince found out right away and was appalled. He had only seen the Princess and he found her repulsive.
“Then one day while going for a horseback ride in the dense forest, the Prince was attacked by wild wolves. The Prince had never seen such vicious animals so he did not know what to do. The wolves killed his horse and were advancing on him when suddenly drifting through the breeze was the most divine voice any human had ever heard. The wolves were stunned and while they were, the Princess came with a dainty dagger and cut everyone of them on the heel disabling them. I do not know why but then she released them and they ran like the wind. I fear some deep magic in that woman’s voice for as soon as the Prince was safe he knelt to the ground and asked her to marry him. I swear she must have bewitched him. If you see the way he looks at her then you will see what I mean.”
I listened to this story with interest as I helped her clean up the breakfast dishes. I took the platter and just as I was about to reach for the door it flew open, barely missing me and slamming against the wall. I gasped and stepped back, I was losing my balance so I quickly placed the platter on the counter and steadied myself.
I turned to look at the person standing in the door way. I recognized her immediately for the wild woman from yesterday. Her knife was out and ready. Suddenly she pounced like a jaguar so agile and so quick, towards the cook. The cook screamed and ducked behind the counter. I watched in amazement as Bayanai catapulted herself off a table and landed perfectly on the counter. She raised her knife to stab.
Then out of pure reflex and adrenaline I somehow, with my stiff maid’s dress, leaped and slammed into Bayanai crashing onto a burning stove. Bayanai screamed in pain and threw me halfway across the room. I heard a vicious growl and then saw a yellow streak flash across the room like a lightning bolt. I scrambled to my feet and took another diving leap for Bayanai, “Leave the cook alone!” I screamed as I collided head on with Bayanai. But, I guess I was too late because I flew right past her as Sabir wildly attacked her. I had never really been in a fight before so I never knew Sabir could be so deadly. But now when I saw him fight, I didn’t think I would ever be afraid of dying by a single man’s hand with Sabir around to protect me. Bayanai had a look of pure terror on her face now and I could see by the glint in Sabir’s eyes that he was not about to stop.
I did not want to see any blood so I screamed for him to stop. But it was as though he had gone completely wild, as though he were no longer a guardian, “Sabir! No!” I once again got to my feet. I tried to grab Sabir off while avoiding snapping teeth, angry claws and a sharp knife but I had no success. The knife seemed to be everywhere at once as did Sabir’s teeth. The knife got my hand and cut deep. I yelped and grasped it to my chest, “Sabir, do not dare to shed any blood just because she pushed me!” I yelled halfheartedly.
Sabir was not listening; he growled and took a strong hold on Bayanai’s arm. I gasped as I saw blood flowing from her wound, “Oh somebody please help.” I prayed silently, and then as though he had been called, Lance Regan stepped through the doorway. He took the scene in with one smooth glance. His expression was a mess. He seemed amused yet angry, confused yet understanding. His emotions battled over his face, I did not want to see which one won.
I felt eyes burning holes in my head, I knew it wasn’t Lance because his eyes were fixed on Sabir and Bayanai, so my eyes shifted to the shadows behind him. Two maroon eyes peered at me, not with curiosity but with knowledge, gentleness and a kind of vicious wildness. Those eyes seemed to understand every worry that was going through my head.
The creature nudged Lance aside and took a step into the room. My eyes widened in awe as I realized I was probably looking at the hugest lion ever to live. I wondered how he had even fit through the door.
The creature shook his huge mass of fur and let out the most deafening roar I had ever heard. The whole kitchen shook. Pots and pans vibrated uncontrollably while a couple even fell off of their hooks. My ears screamed in protest! My mouth fell open and my knees collapsed beneath me.
Strong arms kept me from hitting the cold stone floor. They lay me down gently. I saw that it was Lance but I couldn’t understand how he had moved so fast to catch me. I tried to clear my spinning head but it only got worse. My head began to throb and my breathing became uneven. My ears rang uncontrollably. I feared I was deaf. I closed my eyes and tried once again to rearrange myself. Something rough and wet licked my face. I gasped and opened my eyes to see the lion’s maroon eyes searching mine, “I apologize for shocking you so. It was meant only to calm the fight.”
I sat up and realized that my head was suddenly very clear, even clearer then on a normal basis. The lion continued, “I am Merlin Priest. You may call me Merlin. And you are Willow are you not?”
I nodded weakly.
“Fitting name for one such as you.” the corners of his mouth turned up in what seemed to be a smile. I wasn’t sure.
I declined my head, “Thank-you.” I replied, not entirely knowing what he meant, “You are Lance’s Guardian?”
The lion shook his mane proudly, “Yes. I am his proud and loyal guardian. No one shall lay a hand on him when I am near.” He laughed, a low rumbling purr, “Although, he seems to protect me from harm at times as well. We share the burden of protection.” He narrowed his eyes at me, “You do know that Lance thinks very highly of you?”
I frowned, “No. And I find him disagreeable and uncompassionate.”
A deep rumble came again from his chest, “Is that so?” His eyes suddenly became hard and stern, “I find him overly compassionate. He may be disagreeable at times, but is not everyone at times? You do not know him well enough to judge him so.” His wild eyes searched mine, “You are very special, Willow.” He said suddenly.
Those words made their way to my heart. The air seemed to cool and a strange but familiar bitter smell scented it, “Why do you say that?”
Merlin smiled, “Only time will tell. The world has waited for you for a long time.”
With that he turned to look at Bayanai and Sabir. I stared at him in confusion. When he did not return my questioning gaze I turned as well. I never was one to press matters when people left them. I believed him when he said ‘only time will tell’.
Bayanai and Sabir had ceased fighting and Sabir was watching us with a murderous look on his face. I flinched and realized he was probably very angry at this other cat’s power over him. Lance was tenderly wrapping a bandage around Bayanai’s arm meanwhile scolding her silently. She was taking deep breaths. She glanced at me, I expected her to glare but instead she looked away quickly as though she was afraid of me. I guessed Sabir had done something to her pride.
Lance pinned the bandage in place and then helped Bayanai up. He whispered something to her and then she turned and left without a word. Lance turned and his eyes met mine. He shook his head and sighed, “You were lucky you were here. The cook has had enough close calls with that woman.”
I looked around the kitchen, “Speaking of the cook, where did she go?”
Lance chuckled deeply, “She ran out with the Princess’s food while you were doing your amazing dive for Bayanai.”
I blushed and ignored the last part, “She took the food?”
“Yes, I guess in those few moments she had to escape, she thought that was the best thing she could do to repay you.” He laughed his slanted hazel eyes crinkled up and sparkled, “This whole thing was quite the sight for one’s eyes.”
My eyes narrowed and I peered up at his face, which was towering above me, trying to read his expression, “You mean you’re not angry?”
Lance scoffed, “Why would I be?”
“You looked like you could murder Sabir and Bayanai when you were standing in the door.”
He smiled and winked making me look away in embarrassment, which only made him smile broader, “I did feel that way for one second but your dive was so funny I couldn’t keep serious for long.”
I stood up so I could take a better look at his face, I still had to lean far back to see his eyes but it was slightly better, “Stop mentioning my dive. I missed her just because Sabir got her first.”
Lance tried to keep a straight face, “I’m sorry. I won’t mention it again.”
“Do not even think of it! If you please, forget the whole thing!”
Lance took my hand in his and grinned teasingly, “I am sorry dearest Willow, I will not even dare to think of your silly dive again.”
I ripped my hand from his, “You mock me!”
Lance sighed exasperatedly, “Please Willow! I am asking for forgiveness because I must. Why can you not take my slight teasing? Are you that disagreeable?”
My mouth fell open, “You were eavesdropping! How dare you?”
Lance laughed, “I could not help it. I had to hear your opinion of me. I must say it quite surprised me.”
Suddenly Merlin Priest stepped in between us. He was nearly as tall as me, “Willow has duties to get back to. It’s her first full day working here and the Princess will not be pleased if she is busy all day.”
Lance raised an eyebrow, “There is nothing that the Princess can find to be displeased with Miss Willow no matter what Miss Willow would do.” He paused and looked at me curiously, “And neither can I.” He gazed at me like I was someone who had done something never accomplished before. I couldn’t hold his gaze for longer than a second so I looked down at the floor and shifted uncomfortably. The silence dragged on as he searched my face. Finally Sabir broke it, “Like Mr. Merlin said, the Princess is waiting.” I thought his tone had a bit of mock politeness.
I nodded quickly, and anxiously scuffled from the room. I glanced up at Lance once more before I left. His gaze was still fixed on my face as he said faintly, “Yes, the Princess is waiting.” Then he added as I stepped out the door, “Good-day Miss Willow.”
I did not reply but hurried away. I found my way to the Princess’s chambers with Sabir’s help. As soon as I stepped through the doors I was greeted with a huge hug. I was so surprised I nearly screamed. But the hug did not last for long. The Princess pulled back and smiled, “Today we shall paint in our spare time!”
And so went the next few weeks. We painted, sewed, sang (even though I did not have a preferable voice compared to Steph), played music, walked through gardens, and I talked more than I ever had in my whole life put together. I told her how the Cook had told me the story of how Steph me the Prince. Steph blushed, “I was raised in dwarf country. Of course I never looked like a dwarf but it was obvious I was the King’s daughter. We look very much alike but at the same time very different. I was extremely beautiful compared to all the dwarf women, and so they all became jealous.
“They were also maddeningly envious about my musical talent and sweet character. So they thought that by removing me then the dwarf men would stop noticing me and notice them instead. There were riots and many people died, just because of me. I begged my father to just let them get me. I was so tired of all the mean comments and having no friends anywhere. But my father insisted it would turn out all right. I was so miserable I thought of taking my own life to end it all. Then Prince Pashad came into my life. I had never seen someone so handsome. I thought I had reason to live again, but then I heard that he thought I was disgusting, so I sauntered wearily into the nearby forest with a knife in my hand. I thought it would be romantic and dramatic to kill myself amongst the willow trees.” Steph smiled sheepishly, “Then I heard terrified yells and the growling and howl of wolves. I ran to see what was wrong. I saw the Prince cowering against a tree with the wolves advancing on him. In those parts, the animals are very wild. I thought about leaving Pashad there to die but my compassion got the best of me and I sang. The animals were hypnotized by my voice and I sent them on their way. Pashad’s heart has been mine ever since.” She looked up at me and smiled, “That is my version of the story. Do you have any romantic stories?”
I did not have a story to tell so I merely told Steph about some of my childhood memories. The weeks went by quickly. I often visited my father, he was doing exceedingly well. I also went to many balls and social events, often when I appeared publicly along with the Princess, whispers and gasps of awe spread through the crowds. Everyone knew me as a crazy girl and no one knew how I had earned the respect of the Princess. Other then the constant judgmental eyes and gossipy whispers, I enjoyed the balls. Elisha asked me to dance many times over. My first ball was a disaster because I knew nothing about dancing but soon I got private lessons and I became one of the most skilled dancers at the balls. I enjoyed dressing up and looking beautiful. I had put on some more weight so that I was no longer as skinny as a stick.
Steph and I also went horseback riding often so that Sabir and Tashina got their exercise. Tashina liked Steph very much and wished she could talk to her. I had to interpret for them often. During those next month’s I very rarely saw Lance, only in passing, we never greeted each other or talked. I did converse with Elisha more than necessary though. Often when I went down to the kitchen he would be there eating. Always, he would look up and wink at me. I saw little of Bayanai and I was grateful. She did not bother the cook very much at all since our fight.
A year passed, it was the most perfect year of my life. On days when Steph didn’t need me I went back to my old home. I did miss the perfectly green grass and the freedom of the wind maidens dancing around me and singing with voices that could silence the world with awe.
One day I went home just to visit with Sabir, Tashina and Baldwin. Tashina grazed silently on the fresh grass and Sabir wove in and out between trees trying to catch a butterfly in his mouth for me. Baldwin lay loosely around my shoulders. The trees rustled as Wind maidens emerged into the meadow. I smiled when I saw it was Hannah. I had not spoken to her for a long time and it saddened me. Hannah glided gracefully to me, “How is the palace life?”
I met her piercing green eyes, “Nearly perfect.”
“Have you spoken often with Lance Regan?”
My brow wrinkled, “No. I do not like him very much.”
Hannah looked surprised, “Why? He is my favorite man.” She said with twinkling eyes.
“Then why do you not speak with him?”
“It is such a burden to get through those palace walls. It is not pleasant to have to go high up and then descend so quickly into a tiny court yard.”
“I see. He has told me about some of your past.”
I could feel Hannah’s warm wind grow colder. Her face was expressionless, “What did he say?”
“He told me about Pri..”
Suddenly Hannah’s hand became flesh and blood and she slapped her hand over my mouth, “Do not speak or even think his name!” She looked around as though she expected something to pounce on her. Her hand became air again and she removed it from my mouth. Sabir had stopped running and was watching us cautiously.
I stared at Hannah’s hand, “How did you do that? You’re a wind maiden!”
Hannah raised her chin stubbornly, “You really want to know? I learnt it from him.” Suddenly the sky darkened. Hannah stiffened, “I really must go, and you must get back to the palace.” She turned to leave then she saw I was not moving, “Quickly, if you know what’s best for you!” Then she was gone with the rustle of leaves.
I looked up and shivered. The air had grown cold and the sky was quickly darkening. I ran quickly to Tashina and leaped on her back. “I feel something brewing in the air, let us leave in haste!” Tashina needed no encouragement she ran as though she knew much better then I, what was coming.
Baldwin was strangely anxious as well, “Hurry, Hurry! Run like your life depends on it.”
As we were running I noticed that there were no Wind Maidens in sight. The air was still. We burst through the palace gates. Lance was there and as soon as he saw me he raced to where I was and helped me down from my seat, “Get inside the palace! There is some evil storm brewing!”
I felt as though my legs would not move. I was terrified. I had seen few storms in my life and I hated them. It was the worst sight anyone could see. Storms were where Wind maidens fought viciously. Storm was the leader and she thought that fighting was entertaining. She was a nomad and fought wherever the dark clouds dwelled winning the fear of the Wind Maidens living in the area. I hated her. Even thinking about her made me feel faint.
Lance saw that my legs would not move. He did not even ask, he picked me up and raced for the palace. I bounced limply in his arms, “What is happening?” I managed to gasp. From what I could see the air was completely still, all the wind maidens had run to hide. Lance did not answer instead he ran into the library. Sabir was running behind, I could hear the soft pad of his feet. Baldwin was still wound tightly around my neck. It made me wonder where Tashina would hide.
Lance wove through the shelves of books to the opposite edge of the Library. He set me down on a window seat and then preceded stand by a shelf and to say strange words. Suddenly an opening revealed itself in the floor. I gaped at the dark hole and wondered how it came to be there. Lance rushed back to me. He glanced out the window as he picked me up. I could see determination reflecting in his eyes. He grasped me against his chest and then flung himself into the dark hole. I screamed as the air rushed past us. I heard a growl above us and I suspected it was Sabir preparing to jump. We somehow landed right side up on the ground and Lance set me down. I heard a thump behind us and then soon afterwards felt a wet nose nudge my hand, “I’m here Willow.” I sighed with relief.
Lance took hold of my hand and led me into darkness. I stumbled over a prominent cobblestone and fell forward. Lance caught me around the waist then proceeded to throw me over his back like a potato sack. My breath came out of me in an echoing Umph. Lance grunted, “Sorry.”
I didn’t say anything but this was the most embarrassing and uncomfortable ride I had ever had. Embarrassing because Lance was holding me firmly around my thighs and uncomfortable because I was bouncing around and Lance’s shoulder was jutted into my stomach. When I finally found my voice I asked, “Where are we going? And why do we have to go so far away from the storm?”
Lance was silent for a while. Then he said, “We are going to a hideout that was used for elves in the days of destruction. The reason is that this is no usual storm. I know this might sound crazy, but its… um… what should I name him… Let us just say Typhoon is here.” He whispered the name. I remembered what Lance had told me about Hurricane’s different names. I suspected that the name Hurricane was probably the most powerful name. I still did not understand the power of names though.
All the same, I was shocked, “Why? Why is he here?!”
Lance stiffened, “Because I told you his story. There is a reason why no one dares to tell his story or even speak his name.”
A shiver ran down my spine, “Will the others be safe? Steph? Elisha? Tashina?”
“Yes they will.” His deep voice echoed hauntingly through the passage but it was firm with confidence and reassurance. There was no doubt.
I believed him of course. Suddenly light blinded me and took me by surprise. Lance stepped into a room. I had not seen it coming because I was facing the other way and it was just around a corner. There was a chorus of voices greeting us as we stepped in. A voice that I knew was Elisha’s said, “Thank-goodness! I thought you two would never come.”
I was once again embarrassed that they all could only see my backside so I struggled to get off of Lance’s shoulder. Then I realized what a great height it was. Lance reached up and put his large hands all the way around my waist. He lifted me easily and set me on the ground. I blushed at the sight of my silent audience and quickly ducked to straighten out my dress. From the corner of my eye I could see the corners of Lance’s mouth twitch with amusement. Elisha stood to greet me eagerly, “Hello Miss Willow! Fancy meeting you here.”
I felt Baldwin uncurl from my neck and make his way down to the floor. I helped him, “Hello Mr. Winstok.” I looked up to greet my other friends, “Hello everyone.” I curtsied. Steph was there, Bavol was there, and Bayanai was there. Their guardians also were there. I was surprised to see Elisha’s bear. But I was pleased to finally see him with my own eyes. He greeted me kindly with a nod of his large head.
Merlin Priest was the one I was most eager to meet again. I smiled broadly at him and he smiled back. I heard Sabir growl behind me. I turned around and smiled helplessly, “No need for jealousy Sabir.”
Sabir rolled his eyes, “Of course.”
Then I turned warily to Lance, “What are we here for?”
Lance tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at the ceiling, “Safety my dear.” Then he winked and smiled smugly at Elisha who rolled his eyes. I thought I saw a faint blush appear on his cheeks.
I turned away and went to talk to Steph. I asked her why only these specific people were here. She told me that each of them had some kind of elfish blood in them. I glanced at Bavol uncertainly, “Is he descendant of dark elves?”
Bavol’s sharp ears caught my question he smiled kindly, “Yes, I am. I was sixteen when all the elves were destroyed. My mother and I were living above in the sun. Although my mother loved my father she could not stand to stay away from the sun so often. So my father, the King, visited her as often as he could. When I felt the rumble on that day I took my father’s guardian who was with us at the time and tried to find my father. Of course I found nothing but ash and magic floating in the air. I was exposed to the magic and therefore my body froze at the age of sixteen.” Bavol grimaced, “And just like Lance, I want revenge.”
I turned to look at Lance who was watching us, “What was your story Mr. Regan?”
Lance shook his head, “It is not a pleasant one, so I will not make you suffer by listening.”
I was unsatisfied but I saw that he would not speak of it at all. So I turned to Elisha and asked shyly, “What about you Mr. Winstok?”
Elisha came to where I was sitting and sat close beside me, “I was raised with humans and had no idea of my heritage until I realized I was not growing any older when all my friends and family were graying. I asked my mother about it and she became terrified of me. You see, my father was not a kind elf. He loved her, then he killed all the people she loved and then he left. She told me to leave. She thought that because I was living long that I would become like my father. So I left.” Elisha smiled sadly.
I felt sad for Elisha, that he was shunned by his own mother. We continued talking. I told them my story which was very simple and short, telling them I did not know anything about my mother.
Everything was fine until I felt a breeze make goose bumps rise on my skin. I froze. Immediately my eyes sought Lance, he was stiff as a statue as well. Suddenly all the talking ceased and everyone froze.
“They have come,” Said Bavol, “Finally.”
I glanced at him to see that he look more excited than scared. Lance rose from his seat slowly and bowed towards the doorway. My eyes searched the darkness but I could see no one. Then I heard the most ancient voice, it was shrill yet so beautiful. It hurt my ears, “You summoned me Lance Regan.”
If Lance was afraid, he did not show it, “I did Master Hurricane.” A tremor shook the ground and a waking magic drifted in the air.
Hurricane stepped forward into the light. The temperature went down a notch. I shivered and took a step away. I narrowed my eyes at Hurricane’s figure. It was more faded then most Wind Beings, “You dare say my name so freely?” His slightly high voice danced through the air hypnotizing each of us. I could feel my mouth dropping open in awe. Lance was the only one who seemed unaffected. Hurricane continued, “You are one brave lad. You even dared to tell my story in the open air.” He paused and reached out to touch Lance. I thought his hand would go right through, but it surprisingly did not, “Who do you think you are?” He asked wonderingly.
Lance stepped away from the outstretched hand, “I am an Elf, entirely. The last one of my kind, and I summoned you here with these witnesses so that you would tell me why you destroyed the Elves.”
Hurricane laughed suddenly. It bounced off the walls and pierced my ears like the peals of twelve o clock bells, “You think it was me? No, no my friend, you were right when you were younger, it was the Humans. I swear on Priest’s name.” The ground shook far more than before and I thought I heard ancient, lost words floating to my well tuned ears. The words grasped at my soul and chilled it. There was so much power in that name. I saw a glow of red to my right. I turned to see that Merlin’s eyes were glowing, like beams of blood red light. He stepped forward and a deep rumbling came from his chest, “You think Priest’s name is something to be sworn on? I think not. Do not swear if you do not know it to be true. There is no proof that the Humans killed the Elves. How do you think that is possible? How would they ever make the sky hold fire in its grasp?”
Suddenly I gasped, “My father painted a picture of that!”
Hurricane’s head snapped in my direction, “Who is your father?”
All eyes were on me, “Janretin, sir.” I bowed and kept my eyes to the ground.
Hurricane swept over to where I was and lifted my chin with his strange hand, “And who was your mother, love?”
I did not look in Hurricanes eyes, “I do not know, sir.”
Hurricane dropped my chin and narrowed his frosty eyes, “That is a shame. Your father’s name and your face spark a memory in my mind. How old are you, girl?”
“I am 18.”
“Hmm…” He said studying my face, “You are very attractive, obviously you have elfish blood in you. But as to how much I am not sure. Are you married?”
Suddenly Lance stepped forward, “That does not matter! Leave her be, it is I who summoned you.”
Hurricane clenched his jaw, “Usually I have patience, but it is running dry with you young man. I find you disturbingly rude! You already know I did not kill your race! I would like to leave if you don’t mind.” Then he paused and turned back to me, “And I would like to take her along.”
I recoiled and stepped away. Elisha stood up and stood between me and Hurricane, “Leave her be.”
Hurricane’s white lips curved into a wicked sneer, “Make me.” Suddenly with the flick of his wrist, Elisha was bound in clear crystal chains and he was slamming against the nearby wall. Hurricane grabbed me and pulled me into his strong but translucent arms. I felt a chill seep through my skin and create a dull ache in my bones. Suddenly Lance was moving. His sword was drawn and he was muttering something under his breath. I heard a shrill, hideous screech that ripped through my mind. I screamed in pain. My knees buckled beneath me and I covered my ears desperately.
Terror filled Hurricane’s eyes, but that did not stop him. Lance brought his sword down on Hurricane. But Hurricane was too quick. He spun, swirled and dodged around everyone. I could tell he was in extreme pain from the screech by the way his face was controrted. Wind Being’s are known for their sensitive ears. Hurricane’s whole body was rigid and suddenly his back arched and he began to scream in agony. He released me, his hands covering his ears. I wasn’t sure what was worse, the pain I felt or the pain I saw screaming in Hurricanes crystal clear eyes. I felt unexplained compassion for him. I reached for him and caressed his face trying to make his pain go away. I turned around to Lance and screamed for him to stop. Lance froze completely confused. Suddenly Hurricane’s arms were around me again slamming me against his chest.
Hurricane was out the door flying at the speed of sound down the tunnel. The screeching faded; a second later there was light and then a blur of green and brown. I guessed we were outside. The sky was apparently no longer dark. Hurricane had seen no need to strike. I heard him shout in his shrill but still deep, voice but I could not understand what he was saying. I saw through his translucent self a huge army of wind maidens following him. Most of them glared at me.
Hurricane looked down at me, “Sleep, love!” I could not resist the musical and hypnotizing qualities of his voice. So I unwillingly lay my head down on his chest and closed my eyes. A soft hum came from inside Hurricane’s chest. Slowly he got louder and louder. All thoughts were erased from my burdened mind, all I knew was the melody, harmony and enchantment of the voice that bewitched me. At what seemed to be the chorus every single Wind maiden in Hurricane’s army joined in. I am sure that there were a thousand different harmonies. I could only hear one melody that was Hurricane’s voice. As we flew over mountains Hurricane stroked my hair and sang me into a deep and dreamless sleep.
As day dawned we arrived at the sea. The singing had ceased and I had awakened. The rising sun made the sea a fiery orange and lit up blue skies above, sandy shores and green hills lay beneath us. I had never seen the sea and now, I could not turn my eyes from the heavenly sight of the endless foamy crescents of the waves. Hurricane descended from the sky and set feet upon the water. I was afraid but also very curious. I reached down and touched it with my toe. Hurricane chuckled, “This is the honor you will get for the rest of your life if you stay with me Willow.”
I stiffened and drew back my foot. Hurricane sensed my discomfort and lifted me from the water. He brought me up to the top of a high cliff. On the edge of that cliff was a large palace much different from the one I had served in. There was a grand glass window every few meters and each one was wide open. Hurricane drifted to the highest window and glided into a vacant room. He set me down on the solid floor and stepped away, “This will be your room for the time being.”
I looked around. The walls were white marble. Paintings and draperies of sunsets, starry nights, and stormy seas flapped from Hurricane’s presence. I turned back to Hurricane, “Let me go home. I do not belong here!”
Hurricane smiled. I realized that he was less translucent then before, he almost looked human, except for his perfect face. He had white blond hair and turquoise eyes that flickered violet at times. His smile did not reach his eyes though, “Dear, you belong here. Do you think I take humans to this castle every day? I think not! You are special, love. Now, rest and think on my offer.”
I waited for him to leave until I went to bed. I did not change my clothes, I just lay down and tried to sleep. But, it was morning, an odd time to sleep and I felt the urge to run away somehow. I was not adventurous and I preferred to stay safe until someone rescued me so I eliminated that option from my mind. Instead of sleeping or running away I decided to sit in my window seat and smell the salty breeze.
I saw hundreds of Wind maidens going about their own business, making waves, singing songs, playing in the grass, and some were leaving to go help ships be on their way. I sat and listened to the music. Then they started to sing a song I knew. Hannah often sang it, hauntingly and sadly. I knew the words off by heart so I started to sing along. I had never really given myself a chance to sing beautifully and now I was surprised that my voice wasn’t terribly unpleasant.
As I got braver I sung louder until suddenly with a whirl of air and water Hurricane was sitting opposite of me. I closed my mouth and glared hostile-like at him, “Bring me back home!” I said through clenched teeth.
Hurricane reached out and stroked my skin, “No. Now that I have heard you sing, it binds my heart even more. Marry me, Willow.”
I stumbled off the window seat away from him, “Sir! You do not even know me! I do not know you! I am not foolish enough to give my heart so unapprehensively. You may believe that I am a naive eighteen year old, but I am not!”
Hurricane rushed after me, “No, no, love! I never thought such a thing. Maybe I am being the foolish one but I swear there has only ever been one other woman who has made me feel as strongly as you make me feel. And that was thousands of years ago. Trust me when I say that I feel a bind to you, a bind of deep magic. You remind me of my past love…” He grabbed my hand, “You have said nearly the exact same words she has.”
I whirled around only to see his eyes were soft, melting into mine. He stepped closer, “I must have you.”
He leaned forward to kiss me but I turned my head, “I am not her.”
Hurricane’s cool lips kissed my jaw, “No, but you are what I have been waiting for.” His hands moved around my waist.
I raised my hand to strike him but his hand grabbed mine. I stepped away and he dropped my arm. I spoke through my teeth again, “You threaten my honor and dignity, sir. Leave me be.”
Hurricane bowed low, “As you wish love.”
As he turned he began to sing softly, it was a sad, love song I had never heard before. I wished I could plug my ears and run from that divine voice. Instead I could only stand and feel a strange longing for… for… something. Hurricane peeked slyly at my face and smiled. His voice became stronger and louder and with its increase of power I fell deeper into a trance. His voice soared as I felt the wind in my room pick up. He turned back to me and looked deep into my eyes taking a look at my soul. Just then he thrust his hands outwards. In that motion the wind became like a whirl wind, the draperies flapped uncontrollably with the terrible Hurricane’s power. My hair whirled wildly around me. Hurricanes voice was carried with the wind, it was everywhere at once. I heard it from behind me and from the front too. I gasped for air when I realized I was not breathing. The wind rocked me forward pushing me towards Hurricane. He stood with his arms wide open singing for me with the voice of an angel. I took one look in his turquoise eyes and I could not look away. I felt a sense of safety, protection, and peace wash over me. I felt accepted and loved. I could not stop myself, the music pulled me forward into the arms of a stranger. I could not turn away from the turquoise eyes that bewitched me. Hurricane wrapped translucent arms around me and lifted me into the air.
We flew out of the wide open window with a whoosh. Suddenly the ground was rushing up to us but I was not afraid. I had complete trust in Hurricane. He continued to sing, hypnotizing me, making me trust him. His voice seemed to do twirls around us. I could hear his song somehow moving, dancing.
Hurricane’s voice reminded me of the sea, it was warm, and sunny yet suddenly shocking me out of sleep like a foamy wave rolling in and refreshing yet chilling me.
Then all the rest of the Wind Maidens joined us. They glided to where we were and began to do circles around us while dancing in sync. Hurricane held me firmly in the middle of all of them. The Wind Beings spun, darted, flitted and danced a deadly dance that thwarted all other dances. Their voices changed from joyous to haunting and sad but always Hurricane’s voice broke the sadness with warmth. Now I could see how actual hurricanes were created. They all played a part. The Wind Beings swirling around lifted water. Where Hurricane and I stood in the midst of them all it was still and peaceful. The eye of the Hurricane, I thought to myself. Water was lifted from the sea with some glorious power and whirled around us. Then without warning the music became angry and filled with vengeance. It made me think of my father. I had never allowed myself to think it, but now I realized that I was really very bitter towards my father for not being the proper father I had wished for all my life. I felt my fists clench and my eyes flash angrily. I paused, no, that wasn’t my eyes. I looked up to see Hurricane’s eyes flashing like a raging fire. He felt my anger. Suddenly Hurricane’s grip tightened and his body stiffened. I was not ready for what he would do next. With no warning we jerked into action. We hurled through the air and into the walls of water and Wind Maidens. For only seconds we traveled like a flash through the walls. In those moments I felt all the anger and burdens of my life renew themselves and weigh me down. I felt frustration like never before. I screamed but it was not heard, just as was true here, it was true in my whole life. My cries and agony was never fully understood. Just when I thought I could take no more, we burst through the walls and into clear open air. The burden of my anger fell away as though it had never been there. I stared in amazement at Hurricane. He watched me with a strange look in his eyes, “I heard your scream. There is no need to hide anything when you are with me. I will love you and understand you till eternity has finished its course.”
I noticed the music was fading and Hurricane was the only one filling my head with sweet images. He took me to the cliff by the castle and set me on a grassy hill. I stared at him with eyes that were lost in a trance. He smiled and leaned close to me, “Stay and be my queen. My song will be for you only.”
As I stared at him I was tempted to say yes. Hannah was the one who saved me from that commitment. She came streaming over the hill, her dress floating and dancing around her. Hurricane sensed her immediately. The warmth in his eyes drained as he turned away from me, “Hannah.” He said simply.
Hannah came and drifted between us. She folded her legs into sitting position, “Hurricane you have no right to keep this girl hostage! I hope for your sake you have done no harm to her.” She reached out a hand to me and brushed my cheek lightly with a breeze, “Are you alright dear?”
I did not respond, I was still in a trance from Hurricane’s angelic voice. Hannah noticed this and turned angrily to Hurricane, “Hypnotizing her is not fair! You are forcing her to say yes! If he finds out he shall surly punish you.”
Hurricane’s features hardened, “He is dead!”
Hannah scoffed at him, “If you think that, then why does that terrible fear enter your eyes every time we speak of him?”
Immediately my curiosity brought me out of my half trance and I turned carefully to Hannah, “Who?”
Hannah gave Hurricane a murderous look, “I shall bring her home now.”
I frowned as she pulled me away from my small glimpse of heaven, Hurricane. I looked over my shoulder at his disappointed face. I heard the sad song he would sing, in my head and my heart broke for him. I reached out, “Hurricane.” I whispered.
Hannah grabbed me and lifted me into the air, “Do not be fooled by him. There is a reason why Priest hated him.” The name made the air cool and I heard the familiar ancient whispers.
I looked behind me and saw that the whole sky was darkening. I looked to where Hurricane was standing. His fists were clenched and I heard a scream like none I have ever heard before. It pierced my ears like the screech Lance had released previously. It split the air and the world shook, sharing Hurricane’s pain. I plugged my ears and cried silently, “Why is he doing that?”
Hannah looked furious, “He did not get his own way. I swear that devil does not belong in this world!”
I frowned, “I thought that you were friends. You saved him from… Priest.” I said carefully. Thunder rumbled through the sky and this time the whispers were louder. I did not understand what they were saying, though I wished I could, “And why does that happen every time he is mentioned?”
“His name is powerful, and everyone was fooled, including me.”
“Was he more powerful then Hurricane?” I asked innocently.
“He still is far more powerful.”
I did not miss the present tense, “He’s still alive!” I gasped. It was a statement because somehow all along I knew it to be true.
Hannah threw me an annoyed look, “It will all become clear soon.”
“Do you consider Priest the good guy?”
“Yes.” She said simply, “His only goal in life was to save mankind and Elves.” She tightened her arms around me, “Wind Maidens were never meant to be. They were never supposed to be created.”
My mouth dropped open, “What? But they have always existed! Since the beginning of time! How can that be?”
I dropped the subject mainly because I found for some reason that I did not want to know. I did not want to understand all the dark legends and secrets of Wind Beings. I had a feeling that if I knew, I would never see the world through the same eyes again. I would see the world more clearly, not through a foggy vision that let me see only what I wanted to see. It was frightening.
The world rushed underneath us. I felt as though I had a hole dug into my heart from the stay with Hurricane. I told myself that I could not be in love with one such as Hurricane. He was a Wind Being and I was a Human. The two were not meant to be together. If they were, then I’m sure there would still be plenty of elves inhabiting the earth.
In a few hours we were home. The sky was clear and beautiful just like it should be. Hannah grasped me tighter as we made the steep descent into the palace court yard. There was no one in sight so my landing had gone unseen. I rushed to the palace doors and pushed them open. Elisha was receiving a message from the Prince just as I stepped inside. He glanced at me but was not distracted. The Prince looked at me curiously but did not say anything as I rushed by. As soon as I was around the corner I began to run upstairs to the Princess’ chambers. But I did not get far before a hand grabbed me and spun me around. Elisha stared at me with relief filled eyes, “He did not hurt you?”
I blushed at the show of his concern, “He did no harm to me. Hannah saved me and brought me back.”
Elisha’s eyes lit up with excitement and the concern disappeared, “Did they fight?”
I stepped back appalled, “What? No! They had a civilized…” I searched for the right word, “argument.”
Elisha’s face fell, “A fight between those two powerful Wind Beings would have certainly been a sight to see.”
I smiled wryly and began to hurry away. Elisha hurried after me, “I’m so glad you are unharmed. I did worry greatly. Did he ask you to become his queen?”
“Yes.” I said smirking, “But I refused, I was sorely tempted to say yes though.”
Elisha stopped. To my pleasure I could see jealousy seeping into his expression, “But you barely know him!”
I decided to rub it in, “Yes but he is very handsome, very charming, and his voice is irresistible. He is also very rich, I stayed in his palace!”
“You let him put your honor in jeopardy?”
I flushed. I wasn’t expecting this to backfire on me, “I had no choice in the matter. Now, I must relieve everyone else’s mind of anxiousness.”
Elisha grunted, “Lance already knows you’re safe and he passed the message on to Princess Stephanie. Lance left already; he wasn’t interested in crowding you like all the others.”
“I do not mind it too much. It’s nice to be home.” I said pleasantly. I paused for a second, “Um… I hope you do not mind me asking, but how did you get out of those chains that Hurricane wrapped you in?”
Elisha’s cheeks flared, “Uh, Lance got me out without a problem… I am sorry I was not able to protect you from that wretched beast! I was expecting a more realistic and fair fight, not the use of magic.”
“Do not worry. I thought you to be very noble and brave to jump in front of a powerful being such as he. Although, next time, we shall not sit around idly waiting for him to strike, instead, I believe we shall be much more alert. You see, we learn from our mistakes.”
“You think there shall be a next time?” Elisha asked.
I did not want to seem proud in saying that Hurricane would try to get me no matter so I just nodded and said, “He is stubborn. A defeat will only make him want to try harder next time.”
We talked for much longer as we made our way to Steph’s room. When we arrived there, Elisha left and I was met with the tightest hug I had ever received from Steph. Sabir rushed from my room and rubbed against me purring. I was shocked by his show of affection, “I’m so glad you are safe Willow! Even when Lance said you would be fine I was afraid for you! I am so sorry I failed you! I swear I shall make it up to you. The next time Hurricane comes I shall take a chunk out of his buttocks”
I went down on my knees and kissed Sabir’s head, “It was impossible for me to be saved at that moment, you need not make it up to me. And I was treated well. There was no reason to worry.”
Sabir’s eyes searched mine for any hint of false compassion. They lit up with pure joy when he found none. Baldwin came slithering to me in seconds, shouting exclamations of joy in my head, “Willow! Dearest girl you are alive and well! We all worried about you, but no one worried more the Sabir! I’d say it was terribly annoying the way he paced about day and night. It was everything we could do to keep him from going after you. I swear you have very loving guardian there… not that Tashina and I do not love you, but he loves you so much it’s ridiculous.” I lifted him up and hung him around my neck.
Sabir glared at him, “And you were telepathically talking in your sleep about her. Do not tell me you were any less worried then I was.”
I laughed, “Oh bother you two! No need to argue. I am flattered that you were worried but I was perfectly safe. And now everything is all right.”
Sabir purred, “You do know that Lance was very, very upset he failed you also. He seems overly protective about you.”
I rolled my eyes, “I am sure that is not true.”
“Oh but it is… He was mumbling to himself about how stupid he was without ceasing. He cursed and swore under his breath until Bavol gave him a good smack on the head and told him it was of no use to bring himself down. After that, Lance shut his mouth but I could see from the looks he exchanged with Merlin, that he was not yet finished whining.”
Baldwin hissed beside my ear, “Sabir, no need to attempt to make Lance look immature, you were far worse then he ever was.”
Suddenly Steph butted in, “I do not mean to be rude or inconsiderate, but I would also like to speak with our dearest Willow.” Then she turned to me and smiled kindly, “I know you must be tired and longing to sleep but I cannot let you do so. I have been in suspense for the last day and a half and I can take it no longer. Tell me every detail of your time with that frightful being named Hurricane. You must have been terrified.”
I laughed lightly, “Terrified? No… not the slightest.” And I went on to tell her every single detail of my trip. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking. Steph made me explain the part where Hurricane sung to me, in such detail that I thought we had exhausted every enchanting word in the dictionary. She thought it was irresistibly romantic and she told me that she only wished that Prince Pashad could sing. Finally I untangled myself from Steph’s anxious grasp and left her royal chambers.
I was not exhausted like everyone else had thought I would be so instead of relaxing, I went to say hello to Tashina. She was thrilled to see me in one piece, “Oh Willow! What happened? What did that creature do to you? Did he cast a spell on you?”
I ran my fingers through her mane and spoke out loud, “Yes, in fact he did cast some sort of spell over me. He used no ancient words but his voice alone captured me and placed a veil over my eyes. Come, why do I not tell you more while we get some exercise.”
Tashina whinnied in response.
I searched the stables for Bavol and found him saddling up his own horse. I asked Bavol to saddle Tashina up and then I asked him if he were in need of companion for a few hours. Bavol’s purplish eyes lit up, “That would be wonderful. I have been very lonely today and your company would be most pleasing.”
So, we set out into the nearby forest outside of the palace walls. I enjoyed Bavol’s company a lot. He was very funny and sometimes I was laughing so hard I nearly fell off my horse. Bavol had a lot of wisdom wrapped up in his head and he shared plenty with me. He told me about the many adventures he had, had in his life. This included the attempt to save his father, and the time he went searching for his kidnapped mother. In neither of these quests was he successful, and it took him forever to forgive himself.
“What happened to your father?” I asked.
Bavol sighed, “It is a painful subject, but they say that talking about painful things is better then keeping them wrapped up inside.” He smiled crookedly, “I was the son of a King… He ruled the worlds underneath the surface of the ground. My mother was a dreamer, a very talkative dreamer. She was a girl whose head was filled with thousands of foolish fantasies. Her parents thought she was ridiculous and decided to marry her off to an old ugly clerk. Maria, my mother, would not stand to have her dreams crushed so she ran away hoping that she could become a beautiful and wild maiden of some forest. She believed that one day a Prince would come riding through the forest and then would somehow be attacked by an animal. Maria thought that she would save him and he would love her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. She saw no flaws in her plan except that she knew nothing of the wilderness. My mother became sick and weak in the dark forests and she was attacked by a large lion, ravenous with hunger.” Bavol paused and looked at my face, “But she was saved, by a strange man clad in dark robes. My mother said he looked like a ghost, the way he glided over uneven ground and the way his red hair swirled around his face even though there was no wind.”
I frowned, “He sounds strangely like Lance. Red hair, a lion by his side…”
Bavol nodded, “But Lance is only one year older then me. That was a full grown man. Perhaps he was a Forest Wanderer…”
I frowned, “But you are not yet seventeen! Am I wrong? How can Lance only be one year older then you? He is a century old!”
Bavol smiled, “Let me finish my story and then you shall know why I do not grow… Now, this man called the lion away from my mother’s body, but he did not stop to nurse her no matter how pitiful she looked. He just disappeared into thin air. Hours passed and my mother had given up hope. She knew she was going to die a lonely and unromantic death. Then she heard a strange wind above her. She looked up and through the trees she saw a dragon, black as coal with red eyes. She screamed in horror. That is what saved her. The sharp ears of a dark elf caught the sound of her scream and he descended near her. At first he was merely curious and it was not his intention to help her. But he fell in love with her strange violet eyes and beautiful face. So the King swept the young girl up into his arms and they flew into the underworld on the back of a dragon. My father was very good looking but also very frightening, he expected my mother to be terror struck by him but instead she was enchanted. And so she talked her way into the cold crevasses of his heart and made it warm. But my mother could not stand the constant darkness so she pleaded with my father to let her see the sun. My father was terrified of losing her but he was more terrified of losing her love, so they compromised. Every two months my mother would go up to the surface for a month. And during one of those months that she was above ground, my father and the whole underworld of dark elves were destroyed. I was sixteen at the time and I was riding around on my father’s guardian. My father’s guardian sensed the death. He was desperate and frightened but instead of accepting that my father was dead, he flew into the underworld to search. That was when I was exposed to dark magic, and ever since, I have not been able to grow.”
I stared at him, “The elves were all destroyed?”
Bavol nodded, “Lance was the last of his kind and I, even though I am not full blood, am the last of my kind. All other elves are dead.”
We went on to the subject of his guardian. I was terrified when I found it was a dragon, his father’s dragon. I had thought those things never existed. Bavol asked me if I would like to see him. I was dreadfully curious so I said yes. After a few minutes I heard a loud whoosh, whoosh above us. I looked up to see a giant black dragon landing near to Bavol. I could not hear their conversation but it looked heated. The dragon never even said hello.
Bavol suddenly turned to me, “Do you mind taking my horse back to the stable. Breacher here needs to talk with me.”
I agreed and left them. I began to ride back to the castle thinking deeply about what Bavol had told me. The story was very strange and mysterious, the man with red hair made me the most curious.
It was good to think, but soon my thoughts turned to memories of Hurricane. I realized how much I wanted to become his queen and listen to his voice singing for me for eternity. As I was thinking about his turquoise eyes and heavenly voice I saw a movement to my left. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that someone was on the horse beside me. I screamed in surprise and sudden fear. I released the other horse’s reigns and I kicked Tashina violently in the sides. But she was running already, she had heard my scream. I did not think to look at who it was. We just galloped like our life depended on. In our flight we seemed to have missed the path and I realized we were in unfamiliar forest. I didn’t care, I continued to flee. The trees flew past us in blurs of green. I finally dared to look behind me, but I did not see anyone. As I turned forward I gasped as suddenly an unexpected tree branch was coming straight for my head. Adrenaline rushed through my veins. Out of pure reflex I jumped off my horse only to slam into another tree. I blacked out for only a second. When I could see clearly and the blackness had faded I felt my head. It was bloody.
I saw a figure approaching from the shadow of the trees. I shuddered thinking it was Hurricane come to take me back. I did not understand why suddenly I was so afraid of him when I had just been dreaming sweetly of him beforehand.
The figure emerged from the shadows and looked at me disapprovingly, “Oh Willow! Did I scare you that bad?”
As soon as I saw who it was I felt my face become redder then red. Lance kneeled beside me and touched my head. Immediately I felt the pain subside. I looked at him wonderingly, “Lance? I thought Elisha said you left.”
Lance laughed, “How long did you expect me to be away? I had to come and say welcome back.”
I laughed too, “How ridiculous did I look this time?”
“Hmmm… your gown flying, hair disheveled, eyes wide with fright, it was funnier than last time. I had to stop laughing before I came out from the shadows.”
“But I could have died.” I stated.
Lance shook his head, “You aren’t due to die until much later.”
I squinted into Lance’s face, “Oh so you know when I am supposed to die.”
Lance nodded, “Yes, it’s sometime after you rule the world with some lucky fellow. Who knows, it could be thousands of years later.”
Immediately I thought of Hurricane, “Rule the world?”
“Yes, and I thought that time had come when you ran off with your handsome Hurricane.”
I glared at him maliciously, “You heard my conversation with Elisha?”
Lance took my face gently in his hands, “Do not be mad. I was only curious about what you thought of the whole adventure.” He whispered. Then he dropped his hands suddenly and stood up awkwardly, “Anyways, Elisha was so mad he told me to knock some sense into you. I told him that you were so naive that you fell for Hurricane’s hypnotizing charms the first time without questioning his motives.”
I turned tomato red and fiddled with a piece of my dress. I was ashamed. I should have known that Hurricane did not have pure motives. Lance was silent for a while and then suddenly burst out, “Oh! I only meant that he’d heard the prophesies about you and wanted to be powerful.”
I just rolled my eyes and made my way over to where Tashina stood waiting, “He’s already powerful.” I muttered, than I added louder, “It is getting dark, we should get going.”
Lance was at my side lifting me into my saddle before I could blink. As he lifted me he spoke quietly into my ear. His breath caressed my cheek, “It is good to have you out of harm’s way, Willow.” I could feel his voice vibrating through his firm chest. It felt funny.
We rode back home without saying much. Tashina was bugging me about the way Lance held me so close when he lifted me. Lance heard us and laughed nervously while he actually flushed slightly. That was the first time I had seen Lance embarrassed and it made me laugh. I asked if Lance had heard Bavol’s story about his father. Lance read my mind immediately, “You think that I might have been that man in forest, do you not?”
I nodded innocently.
Lance laughed, “Willow, there are many people besides me that have red hair.”
“But the lion!”
Lance paused, “There was a lion?” His eyes narrowed, “Bavol told me it was a bear.” Suddenly he sighed and shook his head, “That boy is always afraid of insulting me. I should’ve known there was more reason than just my red hair for why he suspected me to be that man. Never mind that, Bavol will be embarrassed if I ask him about it.”
Life went on as normal at the castle although I talked more often with Lance. He teased me about Hurricane relentlessly but he also warned me to be very careful, Hurricane was sure to come back for me. I found myself feeling anxious for that day when he would. Whenever the sky darkened I felt a thrill of excitement and nervousness run through me. But it never was Hurricane. Elisha continued with his flirtations and I found myself somewhat annoyed with him. I often compared him to Hurricane, not a fair comparison.
Then the day arrived when he came back for me. It was a sunny day and I had my window open to my bedroom. I was painting a portrait of the Princess (it looked hideous) when suddenly there was a rush of wind that chilled me to the bone. I shivered and glanced casually at the window. Then I saw him standing there like an angel descended from heaven. “Oh!” I gasped as I spilt my paint on my dress.
Steph stared at Hurricane in horror. I didn’t know how she could; Hurricane was too beautiful for that. Steph stood slowly, “I guess I shall leave.” She rushed from the room like a scared child.
Hurricane merely glanced at her and then turned back to me, “I hear you have been anxious for my coming.” His voice was better then I remembered it. It was crystal clear ringing shrilly yet deeply through the room. It soaked through me and into my heart.
I tried to hide the painting while looking casual and pretending my heart wasn’t failing me, “Where did you hear that?”
Hurricane moved near me, “I know your feelings Willow. You want to accept my offer.”
I rolled up the still wet painting and threw it in the trash, “You are misled.”
Hurricane wrapped his arms around my waist. I froze. Then he whispered, his teeth grazing my ear, “Say yes, love.”
I pried Hurricane’s hand away and moved to the door, “Do not touch me and do not tempt me into saying yes.”
“Why should I have to tempt you if you know it is what you want?”
I turned the door knob but Hurricane’s hand was over mine in a flash, removing it gently, “Come away with me. Never look back… all your fears and responsibilities will be lost behind you.”
The words sounded so good. It took all my strength to keep from saying yes. Hurricane took my hand and led me to the window. He hummed softly making my mind spin. I tried to resist the voice but he led me like a herder leads his mindless sheep.
Just as I stepped on the window sill Lance burst into the room moving like an impossible flash across the floor. He had his arms around me in moments, ripping my hand from Hurricane’s. He threw me behind himself and turned, sword pointed at Hurricane’s throat. I hit the hard floor with a sickening smack! I gasped in terror as I saw Lance moving for his kill, “Oh no! Do not!”
But Hurricane was not silenced by the blade. He did a spiral, somehow twirling around Lance and landing firmly beside me. He drew his sword and lunged at Lance. Lance twisted away and dodged the blade. It sliced the curtain. Lance’s dodge looked more like a twirl, as defined and as graceful as the dancers in the town square. They both moved in almost invisible flashes. I could feel Hurricane’s wind swirling around himself and yanking me towards him. I pulled back, hanging on my bed pole for my life. Hurricane was spinning and slashing with deadly accuracy. Lance only barely managed to dodge the blows at times. It looked like a dance, the way their feet moved together. There was a defensive move for every offensive move. They spun, twirled and lunged gracefully. Sometimes they were posed in impossible positions that accented their talent and inhumanness.
The enraged Wind Being accidentally blew Lance’s long hair out of his loose pony tail. I gasped at how beautiful his red hair was swirling with tide of the air. The sun shone through the window setting Lance’s hair on fire. Each strand looked as though it had the sun’s rays somehow trapped in it. I was mesmerized and I thought Lance to be more beautiful then Hurricane for a moment. But then Hurricane’s turquoise eyes found mine and I forgot that thought.
Hurricane disarmed Lance of his sword seconds later and without missing a beat, swung for him. Lance dove and rolled over my bed hitting the ground without a sound. Hurricane sliced my mattress and then growled in frustration as he realized he missed. He leapt after Lance, barely touching the double bed as he flew over. Lance moved back around the end of the bed and picked up his sword in one movement. Hurricane came at him, his eyes glinted a hideous, and death defying violet.
Lance stepped to the side and batted at Hurricane’s sword growling like a cat ready to pounce on his prey. Then I realized that the growl had not come from Lance, it came from Merlin who stood behind me. Hurricane stiffened at the sound. Lance took that moment to lunge and slash the side of Hurricane’s leg. I screamed and quickly covered my mouth. The wind stopped and the room was still. Suddenly I realized that Hurricane was no longer in the middle of the room but at the window ready to flee. He gave me one last longing look and glided away. But before he could go too far, he was caught on the arm by the jagged teeth of Merlin. It was unusual for any animal or human to have the ability to catch a Wind Being like that. I stared with my mouth open.
For the first time I could see real fear in Hurricane’s eyes, “She wants me!” He gasped trying to defend himself, “Let her choose!”
Lance took his sword and started to carve a strange symbol into Hurricanes arm. I stared in amazement as purplish blood flowed from the marks. Lance stepped back and sneered, “It is impossible to give her that decision after you have influenced her mind so much. I will let her know your real intentions and then we shall see.” He turned to me, “Maybe we can knock some of that school girl stupidity out of her.”
I felt sick to my stomach as I heard Lance’s words cut through the air with a perplexing sharpness. I was very ashamed of my feelings for Hurricane but I could not stifle them. Lance would never understand.
Lance motioned for Merlin to let Hurricane go. As soon as he did, Hurricane disappeared into the open air. I glared sulkily at the floor, “You had no right to insult me so.”
Lance made a face, “No need to pout Miss Willow. He will be back.”
I turned my glare from the floor to his face which I had to lean far back to see, “I was trying to get away from him! He would not let me! Of course you would assume that I would fly into his arms immediately without resisting his fatal powers.”
“Powers? They are just simple charms dear. And yes, I do believe that you would fly into his arm immediately.”
“And? What is it to you if I do? Why do you care if I love him or not?!”
Lance narrowed his eyes, “Because it cannot be true love! Hurricane is a Wind Being; he cannot and will not feel the full extent of it.” He stepped forward and took hold of my hand. He leaned anxiously towards me, “Do you want to be hypnotized your whole life? Do you want to love him mindlessly just because he has a beautiful voice?” His voice was soft and gentle now, “I will not let such a thing happen to you. I will not let your life be wasted away.”
I took in a shaky breath, “Oh.”
Lance released my hand and made his way to the door, “Close your window.”
I did without a second thought. I was afraid now, the way Lance described what my life could be with Hurricane. It sounded terrible. I felt a tinge of disgust towards Hurricane but not enough to put my mind at peace about my decision. I did not want to be alone so I found Steph and we continued our painting session as though nothing had happened. That’s what I liked about Steph she never seemed to judge and she didn’t let problems hinder us from having fun.
Sabir had been out during the day, he had wanted to take a run and I had let him. When he found out that he had missed a fight then he became very angry and swore he was not going to leave me for a second. I tried to reason with him but he refused stubbornly.
A week went by with no strange happenings. Life seemed to be going back to normal. I felt surprisingly bored and I wanted an adventure, which was strange because all throughout my childhood, I hated change or anything surprising.
I visited my father one day only to find he had completed another painting. When I saw it, the sight shocked me to the core. It was of a young woman with pure white hair and dark brown eyes. She was insanely beautiful. Her skin was so dark it looked purple. She was tall and looked a lot like me. I frowned.
My father was very proud of his painting and was blabbering away. Most of his words were incomprehensible but when he said something about daughter of two Kings I tuned in, “Hir fadur was… uh… heir tu… elf. Yes! Elf… and mader was… uh… uh… heir… tu dark!” Then he turned to me and grinned broadly, “You are hir… um… dababubsssser.”
I made a face. His last word was a mix of slobber and uncontrolled lip movement. He wiped his chin and patted my head with his wet hand, “I l… llloced hir.”
I narrowed my eyes in concentration, “You what?”
My father just laughed and turned back to his painting.
I stared at the picture for a bit longer and then turned to leave. But something caught my eye just then. I leaned closer to the painting and realized with a jolt of surprise that there was a familiar snake wrapped around her neck. I shook my head and closed my eyes for a moment. It was of no use the snake was still there. I turned suddenly to Sabir who was by my side, “Is that Baldwin?”
Sabir straightened his neck in an attempt to see, “How am I to know if I can’t see it?”
I picked up his front legs so he could see better, “See? Around her neck.”
Sabir growled under his breath, “What is that fool not telling us? And you are a spitting image of that woman!”
I released Sabir and turned to stomp from the room, “He better tell me what is going on.”
I had my suspicions that maybe that woman was my mother and that Baldwin had known her intimately. He may have even been her guardian. I could only ask, why did he not tell me?
I rushed into my room with a firm determination. Suddenly Steph was in front of me, “Do you want to go for a horseback ride? Right now?”
I did not want to say no but I really wanted to find out why Baldwin was in that painting. By the looks of it, Baldwin was not in my room so I decided to wait until after the ride, “Sure.”
Steph suggested we go for a ride to an old castle out in the country. It was called Western Bothlew Castle. I gladly accepted, thinking it sounded fascinating and I really wanted some kind of adventure. We did not tell anyone where we were going because we wanted no bodyguards. Bavol was the only one who knew we even left. We galloped freely through the country. It felt great to fly down the road. Soon Hannah joined us and helped Tashina go faster. Her friends came too, giggling and singing like usual.
We made it to the castle in a few hours with the wind on our side. We had left the country road hours before and were deep in a forest. Hannah left as soon as we arrived. I felt excited to explore the place. I jumped off of Tashina and thanked her for the long ride.
Steph, Sabir and I went through the crumbled gateway. Trees and weeds grew everywhere in the court yard. I picked a wildflower and placed it in my dark windblown hair. We made our way over rubble to the grand, vine infested doors. I took a dagger out of the pocket in my loose riding pants and cut the vines carefully. They parted like a curtain and did not stay stuck to the door. I was surprised. The door opened with a loud protesting creak as it opened suddenly the hinges broke and it started to fall backwards into the building. I screamed as it hit the ground making a huge dust cloud. I coughed and waved my hand in front of my face, “Oops.”
Steph giggled and glided in without fear. She went carefully over the door and walked up the waiting stairs. We had to clear many dusty cobwebs on our way up but eventually we made it to the next floor. We searched nearly every room except for the ones with doors that were stuck or with debris blocking their entrance. There were moths that scared us but other than that we went undisturbed. Sabir often went ahead of us to survey the path we walked on. Steph was also ahead of me and was hurrying to catch up with Sabir when I saw something in a room that she had missed. I didn’t bother calling Steph because I knew I would catch up with her. The strange glorious rays of light were what caught my eyes at first and then I saw a statue. It was perfectly carved with no flaws. I stepped into the room to take a closer look. It was a statue of a very tall and muscular man with a large lion at his side. The man had long strangely braided hair that was hanging over his cloaked shoulder.
I turned my head slightly, “Stephanie! Come and see.” No one replied. I was too mesmerized to notice.
My first thought was that it was a statue of Lance. I tilted my head and gazed at the lion. It seemed so lifelike. I felt as though the man saw me and the lion was ready at his master’s command to pounce on me. It was frightening but I reminded myself it was merely a carving. As I observed the man’s facial features closer I realized it couldn’t possibly be Lance. Lance had a much slimmer face and his jaw was more pronounced.
I felt a chilly breeze caressed my skin. I froze, I knew who it was.
“That is Priest.” The familiar shrill voice made terrible shivers rip down my spine. It was colder then I remembered. It seemed like winter itself, I almost expected snow to begin to fall, “He ruined me and my life, my own grandson, more powerful than me. He was never supposed to be born. He was a mistake.” The bitterness in his voice was overwhelming.
I turned slowly, “Hurricane.” I whispered in awe, “You found me again.”
Hurricane did not look his usual self. His eyes were that dark horrible violet, deep, haunting, and filled with death. I had used to think that color was beautiful but for some reason I now thought it was most vile, revolting color I had ever seen. It made me afraid.
Hurricane’s lips twisted into a hideous smile, “Of course, love. You have Steph to thank for the privacy.” He laughed, it was angry, “You have avoided my request far too long dear.”
I narrowed my eyes when he mentioned Steph. I had a strong suspicion he was just trying to make her look bad. I took a deep breath, “No.” I said firmly, “I do not want to be your queen.”
Hurricanes smile faded and his eyes glinted dangerously, “How can you say that?! I offered you everything! The world would be yours!”
I stepped away, “Lance helped me see it clearly. Your voice blinded…”
Suddenly a strong gust of wind threw me backwards against the statue. I saw Hurricane’s hands moving, he picked me up again and slammed me against the cold stone. His nostrils were flaring and his jaw was clenched, “Say yes!”
I screamed as he slammed me against the statue again, “No! You cannot make me!” The corner of the statue penetrated my side sending a searing pain through me. I grasped my side and cringed away from the Wind Being who advanced dangerously on me. He stood over me staring with no pity and no love, “I will kill you.”
I gasped for air, “Then do it!” I managed.
Hurricane lifted me up again, screaming in rage, “You dare defy me!” He hurled me towards the wall, then, everything went black.
When I woke I was still in the same room and Hurricane was standing over me with an ashamed expression on his face. When he saw I was awake he kneeled beside me and grabbed my hand frantically, “I am so dearly sorry Willow! I do not know what came over me!”
I turned away from him and massaged my throbbing head, “You lie.”
Hurricane took my face lightly in his hands and I felt the throbbing go away. I glanced at him only to realize his eyes were turquoise again. I shook my head and tried to stand. The pain in my side stopped me from getting far. Hurricane touched that also and the pain subsided but along with the absence of pain there came a sense of peace. Not just peace for me individually but peace between the two of us. I thought myself to be insane, for I was already near forgiving him.
Hurricane’s face was twisted in raw anguish, “I am sorry.” He repeated, “I just need you so bad! Please, tell me you’ll think about it a little longer. I know we are meant for each other.”
I could not understand how he could ask me to think any longer after what he had done to me. But, I also knew he was never going to let me say no. I stared at him incredulously, “How can you ask that of me?! Who do you think I am?”
Hurricane’s eyes softened, “You are my queen.”
“Your queen?” I felt my temper reach its boiling point, “Hurricane! Listen to me! I do not love you! I do not want to be your queen.” I spat that word out like it was poison in my mouth, “You may have deceived me for a while but I am not entirely blind! I know what you will do to me if I say no, and I do not care! Kill me if you wish but I am not going to be forced to love you.” I had so much more to say but when I looked up and met Hurricane’s eyes, my words were caught in my throat and I soon forgot them. His eyes shone brightly with a hypnotizing force. All of my surroundings blurred out, it was just him in front of me. His white cloak swirled around him with the power of his wind. The wind felt warm now, just like the wind from the sea, it took my styled hair out of its up do and made it whip wildly around my face.
He stepped towards me and took hold of my hand. I felt his thumb run over my knuckles gently, “Willow, love, say yes.” The words echoed through the room, shrill and beautiful, “Come to me. Choose me.” He smiled, “I love you.”
Suddenly he swirled around me, his mouth was by my ear, “I love you.” He repeated but this time singing the words. I believed him, I trusted him. Suddenly he was in front of me again, his eyes were glowing and a perfect smile curved on his lips, “Do you love me?”
The words somehow gripped at my heart and danced through my brain. I knew the answer in my head, in my heart, it was there on my tongue. My lips parted, “Yes.” I whispered quietly. Hurricane threw back his head and laughed, it soared like the peals of joyful wedding bells from his perfect, cursed lips. The laughter twisted around me and vibrated through me. I could not help but smile, “Yes, I love you.” I said more confidently. I reached for his hands.
Hurricane’s face was suddenly inches from mine, “I knew you did.” His wind blew my hair across my face. He lightly brushed the strands away and leaned closer. I felt something tug at my hypnotized mind. It was a strong jolting tug but not enough to save me. Hurricane’s lips barely brushed mine when suddenly the tug in my mind somehow jolted me backwards so that I slammed against the blood stained statue. Hurricane rushed to me. I could see he was talking but I could not hear him. A voice shouted into my head, “WILLOW! Do not listen to him! Do not let him kiss you! Run! Run away.”
I was scrambling to my feet and crawling out the window before Hurricane could even think. I noticed the great height but I had no time to lose. I leaped from the window sill. My riding pants were flying wildly as I hit the ground running. I stumbled but quickly regained my footing and ran. All the while I was screaming in my head, “Sabir! I cannot resist and you cannot save me! He is too strong for that. Run, run like the wind and tell Lance that I need him! He is the only one who can save me. Run Sabir! I know that not even the wind maidens can catch you. Lance is our only hope.” Then in my mind’s eye I saw through Sabir’s eyes, I saw the ground rushing from beneath him. He was running like no other being could. He ran over an open field. The grass seemed only to be touched by a breeze for at the speed Sabir was running, it was more like a flying wind being.
I stumbled wildly, not able to see where I was going all I knew was I had to run. Hurricane would catch me in no time. In my mind I could see that Sabir was running through dense forest. It was a wonder he did not hit the trees, he seemed to only miss them by luck. Suddenly with a burst of light he was through and I could see the city up ahead. How in the world had Sabir made it to the city in a few minutes when it took me and Steph a few hours to get from there to the old castle?
Sabir was through the gates in moments and running through the city. People did not even see or sense him go by. He was a quick streak of yellow in the streets, nothing noticeable. Sabir raced through the palace gates and through the halls to the library where Lance sat reading. Sabir skidded to a halt, slamming against the table where Lance sat. The surprised and frightened look on Lance’s face was one I was not going to forget. But soon it turned to a look of terror one that I shamefully wished I could forget. He was out of his seat and running out the library, his cloak flapping behind him. Sabir followed him for a distance but, he was exhausted so he stopped at the palace gate and watched helplessly as Lance ran. Lance had not even stopped to take a horse, he just ran, faster than any man could. His red hair was a flame behind him.
My mind’s eye vision faded and I saw my surroundings once more. I was stumbling up a rocky hill. My hands were bleeding from crawling frantically. Somehow I had lost one of my boots and my foot was torn from the sharp rocks. I had not felt the pain before but now I felt it. I had no time to dwell on it, I ran. I reached the top of the hill and raced over it. I did not see it was a cliff until the last second. Out of reflex, I flopped onto my backside and grabbed handfuls of grass so I could stop myself. I pulled myself back up and looked around. There was a stone wall to my left and the hill sloped down on my right. I staggered to my feet.
Suddenly I heard his voice. My heart stopped and the panic faded.
“Willow. Trust me. I love you.”
I turned my head to the sound of his voice and met his heavenly eyes. I fought against the peace and trust that flooded over me. I took a strong hold on a nearby tree, “No!” I screamed, “Leave me!”
Hurricane reached out his hand, “Come.” He commanded.
My body began to obey his command. My fingers released the tree and my feet took a small step towards him.
Hurricane’s voice surrounded me and pulled me. My fingers shot out and sunk into the bark of the tree once more. But Hurricane started to sing like an angel and that was the last straw. My mind was surrendering without much of a fight. The trees and all of nature were on Hurricanes side. Birds whistled their harmony to the song and trees swayed to the rhythm. I struggled to think of anything that would consume my mind but the only consumer was Hurricane, I released the tree and began to walk slowly to him. My mind gave in and my footsteps quickened. I reached out my hand to grab Hurricane’s. Our finger tips nearly touched when suddenly something hit me from my right. I slammed mercilessly against the cold wall to my left. Hands grabbed my shoulders and shook me. But I did not see him, I did not even hear him. I was in the depths of blindness and it was dragging me down further. There was nothing that could save me now. I loved Hurricane and I had to go to him. I screamed and writhed underneath the arms that held me back. I bit the person who held me and clawed at him with unexplained strength.
I could tell the person was having a hard time holding me back. The singing was louder now and I was drawn towards it. It was calling me and only me, whispering, chanting, laughing, a thousand voices in one. I stared into Hurricanes eyes desperate for him to take me away from this insane man holding me back. I pushed forward screaming angrily. I felt strong hands take hold of my face. He was trying to make me look at him but I could not take my eyes away from my angel.
I desperately tried to take the hands off of my face but he was too strong. I scratched his wrists but he did not let go of me. I screamed in rage. Then I felt warm lips press against my own with deranged urgency. They moved with fear and force as though I was his only hope. Then something clicked and I felt the blindness collapsing. The singing became just singing and the trees stopped swaying. I could hear the pathetic sobs of a man. I found myself in Lance’s arms. My body felt so weak and torn. I could not stand so I slumped to the ground. Lance let me, “Willow, Willow. Oh dearest Willow!” He whispered over and over.
I reached up to touch his swollen eyes, “Lance, you saved me.” Just as I uttered those words the wild screech of heartbroken Hurricane pierced my ears. I cowered against the rock and covered them. Lance silenced his sobs and drew his sword. He turned and met the ferocious oncoming attack of the Hurricane.
Hurricane was blind with fury therefore, he did not fight as I had seen previously. He swung his sword without the normal grace, but he was still an expert fighter. The blades moved in blurs countering each other with experience and anger. I watched wide eyed as they fought like mad men. Blood was shed on both parts as they twirled through trees and leaped over rocks. The wind in the forest picked up. The sky grew dark in response to Hurricane’s anger.
Suddenly a huge gust of wind knocked me from my feet and sent me tumbling down the hill towards the engaged pair. The trees moaned and groaned in protest. I thought they were going to snap in half from the power of the wind. The wind increased, howling in its haunting and mysterious voice. Lance was the only being besides Hurricane that was not affected by the strong gusts.
Lance jumped off a rock and swung from a branch, flipping smoothly in the air and landing firmly on his feet while slicing Hurricane across the cheek. Hurricane growled and lunged for Lance’s leg. Lance somehow appeared on the other side and sliced Hurricane across his back. I realized that Lance did not want to kill Hurricane for some mysterious reason. I watched as Hurricane hit Lance’s sword so hard that he went tumbling down the hill with Hurricane close behind. Lance rolled into a cold stream and was on his feet in a flash. He shook his wet hair and dove out of the way of Hurricane’s deadly blow. I was following them closely to see how the fight would turn out.
The wild wind pushed me away from them and up against trees. I looked for shelter cause I was sure if I did not find some, the wind would carry me away and drop me, killing me. I saw a crevasse in a nearby rock and scrambled towards it meanwhile glancing backwards to see how the fight was fairing.
Hurricane was summoning the water from the stream that Lance had stumbled in with the strong gusts of his wind. The water lifted from its place and came to swirl like a whirlwind around Hurricane and Lance. I squinted trying to see was going on inside that curtain of water. I made it to my shelter and hid myself away from the powerful wind. I waited through anxious moments that seemed like hours for the fighters to show themselves.
Suddenly someone was spat out of the whirling wall of water and back into the stream. I expected it to be Lance but instead to my great surprise it was Hurricane. His stomach was cut and bleeding uncontrollably making the stream water a gross putrid purple. My stomach turned at the revolting sight. I leaned over towards the far back of my small cave and unloaded the contents of my stomach. I turned back just in time to see Lance step out from the curtain of water.
He had his back turned to me as he spoke to Hurricane, “Be gone with you Hurricane, leave this girl be.” He made strange motions with his hands and spoke dark words. The air was completely still, a lot different from what it should be with a Wind Being around. I gasped as a black horrible ball formed in Lance’s hands. He raised his hand ready to throw the smoking ball of darkness at Hurricane. I tried to hold in my scream but it was of no use, as soon as the ball left his hand I screamed at the top of my lungs and hid my face in my hands. There was a boom and the ground shook underneath our feet. I toppled over and fell face first out of my cave and onto the grass. I looked over to where Lance was and sighed with relief. There was nothing gruesome. Hurricane was gone as though he had never been there.
Lance was staring at me, eyes full of fury, “WHY DID YOU LEAVE THE CASTLE WITHOUT TELLING ME?!” His voice echoed through the forest, “I could KILL you right now and save Hurricane the trouble!”
I cringed away, I felt the tears coming. I tried to hold them back but I burst out into embarrassing sobs. I covered my face and shook. Lance was beside me in seconds, “Willow. I’m sorry. I did not mean it! You just had me scared so bad, you have no idea how anxious I felt. And when you did not hear me or even see me before, I did not know what to do. You were crazed, driven by some strange force. I was not sure how to break it. I thought I had lost you. I thought you were past the point of return. Then, out of pure intuition, I… I kissed you.” He blushed, “I hope you are not mad at me.”
I wiped my tears away, “Mad? You think I would be mad at you? You saved my life! How could I be mad?!”
Lance laughed, “Well, I did threaten your honor greatly. But we will not tell anyone about the kiss.”
I rolled my eyes, “I think you are the one more afraid of honor being lost on your part. I do not really care. All I care about is that I am not eternally bound by that sorcerer of a Wind Being. What exactly did you do to him?”
“I sent him home to the sea, he will rest there for a year to think on what he has done.”
“You mean he isn’t dead?”
Lance tilted his head, “No, he will be back. This gives us some time to prepare. Although I did not know you wanted him to die.”
“Of course I did!” I said angrily, although it was partly a lie.
Lance took my face in his hands. My cheeks felt like flames underneath his touch. He noticed my blush and laughed, “You are blushing?! Did my kiss affect you so much?”
“Yes.” I whispered, barely audible.
Lance heard me and dropped my face, “You need to get home.” He stood up and started to walk in the direction of the castle.
My mouth fell open, I was surprised by his quick departure. Finally I hurried after him, “Why did you let Hurricane live?”
Lance sighed, “He is the original Wind Being. This world needs him to survive. But someday…”
“Hannah said she was a mistake, what did she mean?”
“Hurricane was meant to be the one and only Wind Being. He was never supposed to love, that is why he is not capable of those feelings. But he saw humans and the love that they had so he decided to copy them and charm a woman of his own. The world was never the same ever since. Hurricane thought elves to be the greatest mistake of all. They were so powerful and their power frightened him. So he wanted to kill them all. That is why I suspected him to be the one who destroyed my race. But Priest saved them many times over and so did their guardians. You see, guardians were made so that they can kill and attack Wind Beings. That was their goal in life.” Lance looked down at the ground, “Merlin would have been very eager for this chance to get back at Hurricane, but I forgot to tell him.” He made a face, “He’s not going to be happy.”
Just then I remembered the sight of Lance running across the field, “How did you get here so fast? You had no horse!”
Lance looked at me confused, “I am a fast long distance sprinter. Elves are born with that ability. But, tell me, how did you know I came with no horse?”
I smiled proudly, “I saw through Sabir’s eyes.”
Lance’s eyes bulged and became huge and round, “You what?”
“I, uh, saw through Sabir’s eyes.”
Lance turned to me with bubbling excitement, “Then that part of the prophesy is true! I thought it was not at first because you do not look anything like them. But your mother, yes she was black skinned. I just forgot.”
I snapped my head towards him at the mention of my mother, “What about my mother?”
Lance suddenly got a sheepish look on his face.
“I asked you something sir!”
“Um, well, I guess you should know.” His eyes sparkled mischievously as he began yet another story, “I knew your mother. Wait, let me start from the beginning. In my early years I dwelled in the elfin valley training to be a priest- one of the many that leave to search their whole lives for the great Priest. Back then there were certain positions and being a priest was the most honored and highest position, even higher than the Queen and King. We were honored because we were the few who studied magic endlessly and we were the ones who searched our whole lives for our original leader. I did not want to become a priest but my father told me I had more potential than most so I continued my studies.” He paused shamefaced, “Truly, I was more interested in exploring than magic. So one day I went out of bounds and that was the day the elves were destroyed. Because of my curiosity, I was saved though I wished I could be dead. Merlin found me in the forest and led me to civilization. It was there after many years in that city that I met your mother. She was running from some man who wanted to kill her. She told me that he had not seen her daughter or her husband yet. So she thrust you into my arms. She told me to swear to take care of you no matter the cost. At that time Sabir was also only a little kitten so he did not remember me, he just followed you around relentlessly. I did not want the responsibility of an endangered child so I gave you to a lonely widow and visited you every few years. I never saw your mother again but there was something powerful about her.” Lance watched me face intently, “I never knew what happened to your father though. I am sure he was not insane when your mother loved him.”
It was not as comforting as I had wished it to be to know all this information, it made me feel sad and very empty inside. I sighed, “I only wonder who she was running from and why he wanted to kill her.”
Lance shook his head, “I cannot answer that question. But, if you please, for your own good, do not tell anyone about your mother. She had something strange about her and if that man is still out there, he might want to get you too.”
I shivered. In my mind’s eye I saw a dark figure coming at me with a bloody knife. I shook my head, “Thank you for the pleasant image.”
Lance chuckled but then his smile faded and his eyes found mine, “I am only warning you. I will always do everything in my power to keep you safe Willow. No matter what, I promise to never hurt you.”
As I looked at him I felt trust, the real kind, “I believe that.”
Lance reached out and brushed back a strand of hair. He placed his other hand on my cheek and whispered something in an ancient language. I was going to ask him what he said but he turned from me just then and let his hand fall limply to his side. I looked to where he was looking and saw his giant lion standing darkly beside my hero Sabir. I grinned broadly and rushed to throw my arms around Sabir, “You saved me!” I said meaningfully.
Sabir’s lips turned up in a smile, “I am very glad you are safe. Now, if you please, do not get into anymore deranged trouble.”
I kissed the top of his furry head, “How did you know Hurricane was with me?”
“I felt our connection fading and then I realized you were not with Steph and I, so I began to run to find Lance. I knew before you told me that he was our only hope. I called you many times but you did not hear me. I was so frightened and then I broke through and I was relieved only for a while.”
I suddenly felt panic wash through me, “Speaking of Steph, where is she?”
“She rode home. There is something you must know.” Sabir shook his head and showed his teeth in a sign of disgust, “She betrayed us. She led us to the castle so that Hurricane would have more time to hypnotize you.”
My mouth fell open in shock. I was about to start shouting but Sabir interrupted me quickly, “She had to. If she did not Hurricane was going to kill her father.” As soon as he said this my shock faded, “Thankfully he let her father go as soon as she agreed. She is very ashamed of herself. Please, do not shout or be unpleasant to her.”
I nodded, “I would have done the same thing in her place. I cannot hold it against her.”
Sabir agreed with a dip of his head and turned to walk off towards the city. I sighed, my feet were torn and I had a very bad headache. I did not want to walk all the way home. I limped along side the other three. Lance had wounds but he did not show that he was in pain at all, he didn’t limp or clutch his side. I wished I could be so tough. Lance saw my limp and suggested I ride Merlin. I rolled my eyes and said, “I am too heavy and I shall slow him down.”
Merlin looked at me and I heard a deep rumble come from his chest, “With you walking, we are slowed down by hours. If you let all of us run then we shall make it there in minutes.”
I shook my head in disbelief, “How can you all run so fast?”
They all laughed at the same time, a mixture of deep rumbling. Lance answered, “We were born that way. Now, get onto Merlin’s back and let us run!”
I had some trouble climbing onto Merlin’s back because he was very, very tall. Probably as tall as Tashina and he was even thicker so I had trouble putting my legs firmly around him. Lance lifted me up and told me to knot my fingers into his hair so that I had a firm grip. I was very scared at first and when they suddenly jerked into motion without telling me I nearly fell off. This experience was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was accustomed to Wind Maidens taking me up high into the sky but I was not used to traveling so fast near the ground. I squinted my eyes and closed my mouth so that bugs would not fly in.
It was very strange feeling Merlin’s muscles move underneath my legs. He moved like lightning and amazingly Lance kept up with him. Sabir was far ahead. If he was the fastest living thing on earth, I would not be surprised. I gasped and shrieked as trees barely missed us. Merlin chuckled, “It is all right Willow. We are not anywhere near clumsy.”
We came to a steep rocky descent and stopped. I watched as Sabir jumped agile-like from rock to rock with no problems. He looked back and winked at me. I smiled, “That was pretty impr…” I stopped mid-sentence when we suddenly were yanked into action. Lance was right beside us as we skidded and twisted barely keeping a foot hold. Rocks and dust flew all around us as Merlin’s great mass barely kept upright. I coughed and tried to see through the dust but it was impossible. I was jerked and was nearly thrown off of Merlin as he made sudden and sharp turns. Suddenly Merlin took a great leap through the clouds of dust and landed firmly on solid ground. I would have flipped over his head if my legs had not been so tightly wound around his stomach.
Sabir was laughing at us hysterically, actually, he was just shaking and purring.
Seconds later, Lance came rolling down the hill. I gasped at the sight of his torn clothes and limp body. I crawled frantically off of Merlin. Merlin gave me an exasperated look but I didn’t see it. I knelt down beside Lance who had his face buried in the grass and put my hand lightly on his back. I could feel his tight rigid back muscles. Only then did I notice he was shaking uncontrollably with laughter. He turned over and clutched his stomach, “I am so sorry! That was just a very ungraceful descent Merlin.”
I turned to Merlin with a look of disbelief.
Lance continued, “I fell because you made me laugh so hard. My eyes began to water so I could not see and then I tripped very ungracefully over a rock.”
Then he looked at my shocked face and his grin faded, “Did I do something wrong?”
I rolled my eyes, got up and stomped my foot childlike. I felt annoyed that everyone had seen me so concerned for him and then he only turned out to be laughing. But of course, he was a guy, so he did not care about little dirty cuts on every inch of his body.
Lance caught my hand and yanked me backwards. I gasped as I tripped over a rock and fell right on top of him. My elbow happened to jab right into his hard stomach. All of his breath came out of him in a loud UMFF. He threw me off of himself and rolled over clutching his stomach, “Ow! I was not expecting that to happen!”
Meanwhile, I flew a few feet, flailing my arms wildly and landed head first in an unpleasant bush. The branches scratched my face and entangled in my hair. I screamed, not because I was afraid but because I was very, very angry. I growled and kicked my feet which were still in the open air, “Get me out of here! Be a gentleman, Lance, and set me free!”
I heard laughing from behind me and then it suddenly stopped and there was a surprised gasp. Nearby someone hit the ground with a hard thud. I tried frantically to get out of the bush but it was to no avail. I glared murderously at the green leaves that surrounded me. I never thought it could be so hard to get my head out of a bush. As I reached my hands inside the bush to push myself free, I heard a loud snap of teeth near my head. I froze in fear but I did not hear it again. There was shuffling of feet and then suddenly a new sound, the zing of sword play. That was when I started to panic. I pushed, clawed and pulled my way out of the bush. When I came out my face stung from the scratches. I immediately looked around me to see what was going on. But there was not a single being in sight. I frowned and ran my fingers through my wild mess of disarrayed hair.
I started off into the forest, not knowing where I was going or what I was looking for. The first thought that came to mind was that it was all a joke, “Lance!” I called with much annoyance. He did not answer so I moved on, “Sabir!” I cried telepathically. But he too did not heed my calling, “Merlin!” I yelled. Still no one answered. Slowly I felt fear creep into my heart. I had thought the battle was over.
When I realized that I was alone and very defenseless, I began to run like a mad man. I continued to call loudly knowing that if it was Wind Being’s that were after me then they would already know where I was. I stumbled over protruding roots and uneven ground. I had no idea where I was running I just knew I needed to run, just as I had when running from Hurricane.
I was running so fast that when I arrived at a steep descent I had no time to stop. I tried to grab grass or anything but it was of no use. I went tumbling, rolling, and screaming down the hill. Then suddenly there was no more ground and I was freefalling through the air. I flailed my arms and screamed even louder, thinking I was going to die. But then I hit something cold and unpleasantly wet with a painful smack, as soon as I realized what it was, I panicked. Water, in my mind was worse then death.
As I plunged through the surface of that cursed beast, that dreadful monster, the water enclosed around me. I sunk farther and farther, flapping my arms helplessly. My heavy clothes weighed me down so I did not float to the surface like most people would do. As I sunk farther from the light of day I saw and heard the dead laughing at me with cruel mockery. They all watched me like they were watching an entertaining show. Pale hands reached for my hair and arms, they pulled me farther into the depths. I tried to hit them away but I could not, their hands remained. Their voices told me to breathe. I shook my head, wishing I could scream, cry, and yell bloody murder. The air in my lungs begged to be renewed and the ghosts only tried to convince me to do the same. My ears screamed from the pressure of the water and my eyes bulged with effort. Finally I could take it no longer. I let the air flee from my lungs and instead of air I filled them with water, that dark, horrible, mysterious substance. Then, everything went black.
In the darkness, I was not alone. Sad melancholy voices sung a song of the Daughter of Three Kings. I strained to hear the words to the haunting song. They sang about a princess, the enemy and lover of a priest. They sang of her cruel unfortunate life filled with constant confusion. Her heart was broken many times and never completely reassembled. Her life was cursed yet blessed, cursed because of never ending hardships blessed because she is a helper, the savior of many humans. I felt deep sorrow for this girl. I wanted to leave this depressing place; I wanted to see light again. I saw three doors as I looked around, one that led onto a path paved with gold and another that led to the ragging fires of Hell, and the last led to life. A voice whispered gently into my ear, “Not many get a choice. You were meant for more.” So, somehow, I turned and walked to the door with light streaming through it and walked into life.
The white light faded into red and I felt hands pushing on my stomach and whispering something in an ancient language. Suddenly I felt water gush from my mouth. I rolled over and coughed violently, my whole body constricted. A roughed calloused hand touched my cheek gently, “I knew your time had not come”, said a feminine voice. I opened my eyes with great effort and gazed wonderingly into the dark eyes of Bayanai. Her long hair was no longer in a braid but was in a soaked mess around her head. She smiled at me and offered her hand.
I grabbed it and she pulled me up. I stared at her, “You saved me? I thought I was dead! The water filled my lungs, I was so far down! How did you save me?”
Bayanai laughed, “It was impossible not to hear your screams. But you were quite a ways away so when I finally got here, I thought it was going to be too late. You were very deep in the water as you mentioned and your clothes were so heavy it was nearly impossible to drag you out. But after much difficulty and a little help from friends of mine, we got you to land.”
I looked around and took a deep unsteady breath, “Where are your friends now?”
She followed my sweeping gaze, “They are somewhere around here, watching.”
Suddenly I turned to her and grabbed her shoulders, “Lance! Sabir! Merlin! Where are they? Are they dead?”
Bayanai took my hands and held them gently. I never knew she could be so nice, “No. They are having the time of their lives fighting intensely alongside my fellow Forest Wanderers against Hurricane’s lot of Wind Maidens. They laid siege on our forest city so that we would not interfere with Hurricane’s plans to capture you, a few of our wanderers got away and found Lance, Merlin and Sabir. They did not tell you because we were in a hurry. Our city was just about to be attacked and surely we would’ve died if it had not been for them.” She smiled excitedly, “Come, we should not want to miss the show.”
My mouth dropped, “What? Show? But this is serious! I can not go near them, they want me!!”
Bayanai shook her head, “Oh Willow, after all you have been through, how can you be afraid when Lance, Merlin, and Sabir are all fighting alongside each other? They are undefeatable together. And when the Forest Wanderers are helping, it is nothing but a game. You have nothing to fear.”
I felt my fear dissipate slightly, “What are Forest Wanderers?” I asked as Bayanai cupped her hands and took a drink from the Lake. I shuddered, thinking of the dead people she was basically slurping up.
Bayanai stood up and her eyes twinkled with amusement, “Have you heard none of the stories? Or did you not listen because you thought them to be blasphemy?”
I blushed from the accusation, “I have not heard the stories.” I said getting slightly defensive.
Bayanai sighed, “My goodness! It seems that no one in his right mind ever wondered where all the criminals and castaways flee to. Here in the forest, we have no rules… We fight, we steal, and we kill without a second thought. This is the place where people go to hire assassins, and if they don’t have enough money… well then, they’re done for.
“To be one of us, you must be strong, independent, and very brave, or you might be lucky and happen to be nice enough for one of the rogues to fall in love with you and vow to protect you with their life. But that means that he’ll never leave your side. That’s what happened to me. Until finally I got so fed up with him being my master and guardian that I decided to learn the tough ways of the forest. I got my dear lover to teach me everything he knew. Now, no one can catch me in this forest and to kill me would be the greatest feat ever accomplished.”
I thought back on our fight in the kitchen, she didn’t seem so hard to kill when Sabir was her opponent. She turned from me then and stuck two of her fingers in her mouth. A shrill whistle echoed through the forest. At first nothing happened, but then without any warning, a large jaguar leaped through the trees and landed at Bayanai’s feet. Bayanai grabbed me around my waist and placed me on top of her guardian. Then with a graceful gait she disappeared into the thick underbrush. Her jaguar followed in hot pursuit, climbing trees and leaping from branch to branch. From what I could see Bayanai looked like a monkey swinging from the branches, twisting herself at odd angles so that she could catch the next branch and landing in full sprint on the ground. I clung to the jaguar’s neck with all my might, knowing that if I let go then that would surely be the death of me. I swear that if the Jaguar didn’t have such a huge muscled neck, then I would’ve choked him.
Finally the leaves branches and thick bushes gave way to a clearing. I recognized it as the same clearing that Sabir had run across. Now that I saw it fully I could not imagine how Sabir had sprinted across it in mere seconds. It was so more like a field then a simple clearing.
I could see small figures in the distance running around with swords but I could not see the Wind Maidens.
As we made our way across the open space, I noticed skeletons lying everywhere, staring at me with their nonexistent eyes. I shivered as I realized that this was not a clearing… instead it was a dreadful, repulsive battle field.
We drew nearer to the mini battle. I saw Lance’s flaming hair swirling around him. I thought he was so beautiful and graceful, it made my heart ache as I saw him dance around his opponents. I wished I could be like him, if he weren’t my friend, jealousy would have killed me by now. He saw me coming on my prowling ride and he grinned, “Good to see you again Willow!” As he fought he took the time to look me over. He saw my wet hair and clothes and his eyes darkened, “What did you do this time? I thought I heard screams.”
I jumped off of the jaguar. My first thought was to tell him a lie and tell him that I simply went for a swim, but then Bayanai was right beside me so I told the truth, “I fell from a cliff into a lake and nearly drowned. Bayanai saved me.”
Lance laughed as he stabbed a Wind Maiden in the heart. I grimaced and turned away as she began to fade. Bayanai was suddenly beside me, “Do not watch. Fading is an unpleasant thing, especially since this is your first time seeing it.”
I growled under my breath, “Why does Lance laugh when such destruction is taking place?”
Bayanai shook her head, “Lance has seen much worse, this does not even move him the slightest. I see there is much you need to learn about that warrior.” Then she laughed, “Ahh, see! My fellow warriors are trying their hardest to fight Wind Beings that they cannot even see.”
I looked up and could not help but laugh at the green clad rogues swinging their swords as though they were blindfolded. If I had seen this about a year ago I would have thought them to be very impressive but after the graceful duels I had seen between Lance and Hurricane, I could only think that those men looked like fools. Lance fought his way towards me. I watched intently as he danced over rocks and uneven ground. I wondered if he had ever been to a dance I also couldn’t help but wonder what kinds of gracefully beauties he had danced with. The thought made my insides burn. Lance was suddenly directly in front of me staring into my eyes, “Sorry we left you with no notice. It was not my intention but the Forest Wanderers came and hurried us away, it is not easy for them to fight something they cannot see.”
I narrowed my eyes, “How did they find you?”
“They knew where we were all along. Over many years, the Forest Wanderers become the forest… legends say that they can even turn into trees and animals of the forest… it ignites my curiosity, but when I asked Bayanai she was very insulted and refused to answer me. Maybe for a period of my long life I’ll become a Forest Wanderer and then reveal all of their many secrets.”
I shook my head disapprovingly, “You long for power do you not? Every time there is a secret or mystery you must solve it, hoping it will reveal some dark secret. That is why you summoned Hurricane, that is why you speak of Priest so freely.” I looked intently into his eyes, “And tell me sir, did you discover anything? Did you solve any unknown mystery?”
Lance suddenly turned from me and stabbed a Wind Maiden in the heart. She screamed and fell backwards. I winced. Lance turned back to me, “I have discovered very little actually. Beyond the legends, I know nothing. So far, Hurricane is incapable of love, capable of deadly charm, and incapable of dying. But someday I will kill him… no matter what the cost.”
I gave him a look of disgust, “Your words fill me with confusion… You say he is incapable of dying yet you swear to kill him. I think that you will die instead! Your foolish plans of a long life and solving mysteries seem unlikely to me. I doubt you shall ever live out your goals.”
Lance’s eyes hardened, “You have a hard heart Willow. I do not know why you speak so harshly. Maybe it is because part of you still wishes that Hurricane would win…”
I did not answer but I turned my face away from his questioning eyes.
“Why is that, Willow? Why do you long for him?” He took my face gently in his hands and looked into my eyes with earnest concern. “What must I do to make you see the truth?”
“I do not know…” I whispered in shame, “I see the truth clearly but I feel a strange connection to him. It is as though he is an addiction, as though his voice is my drug.”
“If there were another voice, another drug, do you think I could stifle his?”
I did not miss his reference to himself, “Lance, I have never even heard you sing? And I do not mean to offend you, but I do not believe any voice could be more divine then his.”
“I do believe that there is a more divine voice…” Lance said.
I shook my head, “Do not encourage me with false hopes… There is no such person.”
“But if there were…”
“Then I would take the offer.”
Lance nodded watching me with an undecided expression, “We shall see.”
Just then Merlin and Sabir walked up to us and both grinned their cat-ish grins. I couldn’t help but laugh, “Is it over?”
They both nodded at the same time.
I sighed with relief, “Then we shall make our way home.”
Lance grabbed me around my waist and lifted me from the ground, “Sorry but first we’re having a celebration with the Forest Wanderers.” Then he plopped me on top of Merlin. Bayanai came behind me and tied a piece of dirty cloth around my eyes. I sighed; I just wanted to go home. Once again I held onto Merlin with desperate strength. It was even more frightening riding on Merlin with no sight. I had to bite my lip to keep from screaming every two seconds. After what seemed like hours of jerking and nearly flying off of Merlin we came to a sudden stop. When I was un-blindfolded I was awed at the sight in front of me. It was a city in the trees. There were no normal bridges connecting the tree houses, instead there were vines and branches. Hundreds of green clad people swung from branch to branch like a bunch of monkeys. Suddenly a cry of happiness reached our ears. A man high above us was looking down with a broad grin and open arms, “You’ve brought her back!”
I frowned, “Who?”
The man grabbed a vine and slid down. He walked over to Bayanai and picked her up in a huge bear hug. This was not what I was expecting; I was expecting heartless rogues staring at us with unbearable hatred. Soon a whole crowd had surrounded us, they all pat us on the back and smiled kindly. The man who hugged Bayanai started talking really loud, “My runaway wife is back! See! I told you she could not stay away from me for long.”
Bayanai looked annoyed, “No of course I could not… I love you far too much!” I heard the sarcasm in her voice but nobody else did. They all just laughed and the couple was engulfed by a crowd of cheering rouges.
I turned to see where Lance was. I saw Merlin and Sabir but it took me a while to find where Lance was in the big crowd. When I found him, he was surrounded by a crowd of very beautiful women who were touching his hair and stroking his face. He was smiling his most charming smile. I growled and shoved my way through the crowd of women. The women looked at me in surprise and anger. Before I had even made it past the first few, a knife was at my throat. I gasped. But, I was not afraid because I was too angry to be afraid. I smacked the knife away and was about to hit the woman when Lance was suddenly in front of me holding my wrist and staring into my eyes with soft eyes. My breath caught in my throat. Lance laughed, “Willow, there is no need to make enemies because of jealousy.”
I glared at him, my hands created a fist, “Jealousy?!”
“Don’t lie Willow.”
I threw my other fist at him. He grabbed that one too, “Obviously you are mad with jealousy.”
I tried to stay mad at him but his soft eyes softened me, “I just want to go home.” I said exasperatedly.
Lance shook his head, “We have to be here, we helped save them.”
“They could have defeated the Wind Maidens on their own.”
Lance’s grip on my wrist lessened, but he did not let go instead he took hold of my hand and led me through the crowds towards a vine, “Ready to climb?” he asked.
“Climb?!” I shrieked, “I cannot climb!”
“Well then,” Lance said grinning, “Get on my back.”
And that is what I did, very reluctantly. Lance hoisted himself up the vine and climbed the whole way with me clinging on his neck. I was utterly amazed by his strength, when we made it to the branch above us, he let me off his back but he still kept a strong hold on my hand and led me along the branch into a large tree house. The place was already packed with people eating, drinking, laughing, and dancing. I spotted Bayanai sitting beside her husband with a sullen look on her face. I tapped Lance, who was standing right beside me, on the shoulder without looking at him. He turned to me. I looked at him and then realized it was not Lance at all. I blushed, “Sorry! I thought you were Lance!”
I looked around only to see Lance on the dance floor with some random girl. Jealousy streaked through me, but instead of getting mad, I felt miserable and very melancholy. My face fell. Suddenly Bayanai was beside me, “He’s doing that on purpose you know. He’s just trying to tease you into showing your true feelings for him.”
“Why can he not just ask me? I am tired of his games.” I said, my eyes glued to the pair dancing.
Bayanai smiled, “Do you wish to impress him?”
“Yes.” I said sighing.
“There is a more official party tonight, we expect you to come. Everyone will dress as fancy as possible, and that means ball gowns and tuxedoes. I, have the most beautiful ball gowns in this whole village and I can fix your hair up just perfectly. Then he shall want you more then ever.”
“I accept.” I said simply.
Bayanai laughed lightly, “Then come, we shall begin to prepare you. You need a proper bath.”
So Bayanai and I left and spent the remainder of the afternoon preparing for the ball. I was scrubbed clean, the cuts on my face were tended too, we found a perfect dress and then we spent most of our time doing my hair. After I was complete, we did Bayanai who at first was not planning to go to the ball but I insisted that she keep me company.
Finally the hour of the ball came and Bayanai and I made our way to the forest floor by means of a rope ladder, almost impossible to get down with a gigantic dress on. It was a very disgraceful sight to behold but thankfully nobody was watching me. When we joined the party my eyes immediately searched the crowds for Lance. When I found him, he was already staring at me with a strange light in his eyes. Lance smiled at me and waved. I waved back and made my way over to where he was, “Hello Lance.” I said trying not to sound too excited, “How was your afternoon?” Secretly I wondered if he had danced with any more beautiful dames.
Lance smiled mischievously at me, “It was very pleasant… I went hunting and killed a wild boar.”
My eyes widened, “Oh my! Was it big?”
“Yes… about as big as you, just slightly smaller then Merlin.” Lance paused and looked at me curiously, “I’m sure you do not want to hear about my slaughtering of the boar…” He paused to make sure that I didn’t.
I quickly shook my head, “Killing boars sounds like a ghastly job.”
Lance laughed good-humoredly, “Come, let us dance.”
He took my hand and led me too the dance floor. I frowned, “I do not know how to dance very well.”
“Just follow everyone else, this song is not a hard one.”
So I cautiously and timidly took a step, twirling awkwardly and then facing Lance once again. He watched me with an amused look on his face, “You will improve.”
For the remainder of the song I followed the graceful movements of all the other women. I stumbled over my own feet many times over but Lance never failed to catch me before I fell. He asked me on no more dances after that and I thought it might have been because of my clumsy footwork, but soon I realized that Lance had disappeared from the ball entirely. I was asked by many other gentlemen and I did not have as much trouble dancing with them as I did with the intimidating Lance Regan.
The night dragged on, the flashes of bright dresses and rhythm of the upbeat music began to give me a headache. The heat of the crowded rooms and nonstop demand for my attention drove me to exhaustion. As I was talking with a group of Bayanai’s friends I felt the world begin to spin and my headache nearly drove me to the edge of madness. I gasped as suddenly I toppled forwards unable to stay on my feet. I saw the ground racing towards my face and then everything went black.
When I woke I was in a dark room. Bayanai was sitting beside my bed and gazing at me compassionately, “It was a long day for you. You were nearly captured by Hurricane and then you nearly drowned and then you somehow still managed to attend a ball. I find you quite fascinating, Willow. You have a strange and inhuman endurance, especially for being so inexperienced in these areas.”
I smiled weakly, “May I please go home tomorrow?”
“Yes, as soon as day breaks, you shall be on your way.”
I felt very content in that moment so I turned over and fell into deep and dreamless sleep. It was the first night I had ever slept without Sabir by my side. I would have been afraid if it had not been for my complete and utter exhaustion.
Morning dawned and I woke to Sabir staring at me with his bright yellow eyes, “Today we make our way home.”
I smiled with eager delight. As soon as we were all ready the Forest Wanderers blindfolded us and brought us to the edge of the forest. From there Lance and I were provided with horses to carry us home. Merlin and Sabir ran beside us. Lance rode his horse like a King and I bounced around like a rag doll. Lance did not hesitate to tease me. Sabir and Merlin laughed along and I flushed crimson like usual. By midday we had arrived at the city gates and rode in together. As I rode through the streets I felt all eyes on me. To the people of the city I was the lucky nut who happened to get a job with the Princess, who must also be a nut for picking me. I looked over to see if Lance had noticed all the eyes on me. It seemed as though he had because he watched me with a curious expression on his face,
“They will see you clearly one day Willow.” He said kindly.
I did not answer him instead I turned forward and sighed. Lance seemed to know more about me then I even knew. He knew my past and future. I only wished that he would tell me and save me the suspense. I wanted to ask him to tell me the Prophesy that he had mentioned many weeks before. I had not forgotten I had just been too frightened to inquire. I was afraid of a painful and horrible fate but I was too curious to just sit and wait to find out. I wanted to be prepared. So I decided I would ask him once I got the chance.
We made our way to the castle and then to the stables. Bavol was there to take our horses and he was very curious about our journey. Lance told me to go on and he would explain all that had happened. I left them and went to my room.
As soon as I had closed the door behind me the door that adjoined Steph’s and my room burst open and Steph came gliding through. She rushed to me and threw her arms around me. Immediately the tears came and she sobbed onto my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around Steph and stroked her hair, “Oh Steph, please know that you are forgiven. I know you had no other choice! I would have done the same thing if my father was involved. Do not worry! I forgive you!”
Steph looked up at me with wonder in her eyes, “How? I have done the most unspeakably wretched thing on this earth.”
“Do not fret Steph. You should not have been made to choose between two lives.”
Steph whipped her tears away, “Oh Willow! I knew you would be the perfect friend from the first moment I saw you but I did not know that you would be this perfect! How will I ever make it up to you?”
I shook my head, “You have already done so much for me! You have given me a job, my father a good place to stay, and a friend. I have never had a human…” I paused, “or dwarf or Wind Being friend. Just having you as a friend is the best gift I could ever ask for.”
Steph smiled, “You are so wonderful! I think I am going to write a song about you and your loyalty and love. Its like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
We talked for much longer and mostly it was about my dances with the Forest Wanderers. Steph was terribly curious about how they lived in the forest and she was fascinated when she found out they lived in trees and swung around on vines. She concluded that she would write a poem about them as well. I laughed and left her to it.
After Steph had left I went and sat on my window seal wondering about my fate. Sabir interrupted my thoughts, “To think, you came so close to being a blind possession of Hurricane.”
I stared up at the blue sky, “I have only one year to prepare for his return… right?”
“Lance did mention that. I only wish Hurricane could’ve died for good. I do not want to have to worry about more dangerous adventures happening. I’m worn out from this one.”
A week passed by and life was right back to normal. Lance could not stay away from me for more then a day. He took me on many walks in the gardens during the evenings and I discovered much about him. He told me that he had seen the fire in the clouds coming over the mountains with his own eyes. I could see and almost feel his pain when he talked about it. I told him he did not have to talk about it but he insisted that I must know everything about him so I listened. He told me about his weeks in the forest barely holding on to life, wishing for death. Merlin saved him. Merlin was also grieving from some loss but he never told Lance what it was and Lance never forced it, it seemed to be a far greater pain then even Lance felt. They comforted each other and kept each other alive.
I was surprised when I found out that Lance had lived many years thinking that the humans had killed the elfin race, but through Hannah he found that they had no power over the clouds or fire. After many years of gathering information he concluded that Hurricane was the culprit. Then, after his first encounter with Hurricane he was lead to believe otherwise. No being can swear on Priests name and not die unless they speak what they believe to be true. Although, that does not mean that it is necessarily the real truth, it must only be true on the being’s heart.
Lance told me he was set on revenge and set on revealing the mystery. I, of course, could not understand the full extent of his driven mission and he did not expect me to. He only asked that I listen and I did, very attentively. One of those days I finally got the nerve to ask Lance about my fate.
Lance gave me a disapproving look, “I do not know how you will die, but I do know when you will die. Let me tell you firstly that it is not a specific date, it is after a sequence of things happen in your life.”
“Tell me the Prophesy!” I said anxiously.
Lance shook his head, “I do not remember the exact words, but it says that the Daughter of Three Kings, Dark Elf, Light Elf, and Human will live a life filled with confusion. It says that she’ll make a lot of decisions that she’ll regret. But will eventually rule with a powerful being at her side. Friends will betray her and close companions will shun her. When she finally finds the truth and understands her purpose, then she shall restore order to a confused and broken world. Then she will be killed. That is all I know. And we do not know for sure that the Prophesy is about you. You don’t seem like the type to make a whole bunch of foolish decisions.”
In truth the Prophesy frightened me and I wished so bad that it wasn’t about me but somehow deep down inside I knew that it was. There wasn’t anything I could do to change it.
“What does it mean by Daughter of Three Kings? How is that possible?”
Lance squinted up at the sun, “Well I do believe that your mother was the daughter of both heirs for the elfish thrones. And…” He paused with an excited glint in his eyes, “Your father is the original heir for the human throne.”
My mouth fell open, “Excuse me? Did I hear you correctly?”
“You might want to ask Baldwin about the details.”
I left him then and rushed to my room. I had completely forgotten about the painting of my mother and now that Lance reminded me, I was more curious then ever.
I burst into my room with impatience, “Baldwin!”
Baldwin slithered from underneath my bed and looked up at me, “Yes Willow? Is there something wrong?”
I didn’t know how to begin so I sputtered and fumed for a few seconds and then burst out, “You knew my mother!”
Baldwin’s eyes widened, “How did you know?”
“My father painted a picture of you wrapped around a woman’s neck. And she looks strangely like me. Also, Lance told me that my father was the heir to the human throne. Is this true?”
Baldwin slithered across the floor and onto his small tree in the corner of my room, “Yes. You see, I was your mother’s guardian. But even though I am her guardian she kept many things from me. There was a man trying to kill her but I am not sure who and I am not sure if I have ever encountered him. In the last few months of your mother’s life she refused to let me out of the house. I was there watching over you.”
“What about my father?” I asked, “Was he sane back then? And how do you know he was the heir?”
“He was sane. In fact, he was more brilliant then any man I have ever met. He had intellect like no other. He would have been a great king! But, he was lost as a baby. His mother went for a walk one day and placed him in the care of very silly maid. The maid was in love at the time and wanted to sneak out to see her lover. So instead of leaving him behind, she took him along. She placed him at the corner of an ally way and went away. Soon she forgot all about him and ran off with her lover. An old blacksmith found the child and took him in. The Maid was hung for her crime.”
I frowned, “How do you know all this?” I asked aloud.
“I put it all together… and I talked to a stray dog who happened to see it all. Your father knew that he was found by the blacksmith in royal blankets. The only reason the Blacksmith never gave the boy back was because he was lonely for a companion and when your father was grown, he was content with his status and did not even want to think of returning.”
“Why did you never tell me about my mother? I wish I knew what she was like.”
Baldwin looked at me with pained eyes, “I never had the strength to talk about her. It breaks my heart to even think of her. She died gruesomely and I felt every ounce of her pain. She screamed in my mind and whenever I think of her, those screams return. I’m sorry I kept such a secret from you. I should not have.”
“If that was the reason then I understand and my heart aches for you. But can you bear to tell me what she was like?”
“I can bear it…the pain has dulled over the years. She was a strange and wild beauty, always getting into trouble when she was a child. Her father was an elfin outcast. His parents, the King and Queen of light elves threw him out for a murder he did not commit. Your mother was treasured by her father and grew up knowing her history and heritage. Her mother she never knew. Your mother was so beautiful that she made men stop in their tracks when she walked by. Many hearts she broke except for one. She met your father in the market. He was selling his paintings when your mother walked by. He was so struck by her beauty that he had to paint a picture of her. She allowed him to and instead of any normal painting, your father showed every flaw and every perfection in her. He painted her as she was. From there they fell in love and married. Once you were born your mother put her full concentration on you. She loved you like no other mother could and then she died. I do not know why or how anyone could kill her. I cannot think of any man so vile. She was far too kind to ever make enemies.”
I looked closely at Baldwin and saw a tear trickle down his cheek, “Thank-you Baldwin. That is all I needed to know.” I turned from him and walked from the room with many thoughts heavy on my heart.
One day about four months later, early in the morning, Lance threw rocks at my window and told me to come down. I had not been able to sleep the whole night so I was not angered by his disturbance, instead, very pleased. Sabir for the first time in his life insisted that he stayed behind.
I went down to the garden where we first conversed at twilight over a year ago. Lance stood there, his hair glowing in the morning sun. The dew sparkled on the leaves and blades of grass. Spring flowers were blooming in the trees and on the bushes scenting the air with a lavender smell. I smiled; it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Lance watched me with soft eyes as I approached. My feet were bare and made no sound on the grass.
As soon as I was near enough Lance reached out and caressed my face, “Willow.” He whispered passionately, “I must ask you something.” He paused to swallow, “Willow, I love you vehemently and ardently.” His hazel eye stared into mine and without looking away he knelt to the ground, “I have been wanting to ask you this for a long time but I have not had the nerve. You see, I wanted you to be completely over Hurricane before I asked.”
I stiffened slightly at the mention of Hurricane, “Do not worry, I am by far finished with him.”
Lance smiled the light of love burning wildly in his eyes, “Good! Then will you marry me Willow?” He held out a small diamond ring with a silver band.
I stared at it in awe. The sun reflected off of it sending gentle silver rays to play across Lance’s face, “Yes, of course!” I said full of enthusiasm.
A broad grin broke out across Lance’s face. He quickly slipped the ring on my finger and stood beaming even brighter then the sun. Lance took in a deep breath and looked around awkwardly, “Now what?”
I shook my head and laughed, “Kiss me.”
Lance raised an eyebrow, “Oh yes… I forgot.” Then he slid his hands around my waist and brought me against his chest. He leaned far down and kissed me clumsily at first but with a blazing passion.
We spent the rest of the morning talking and spending time together, the joyful morning came to an abrupt end when suddenly Hannah glided into the garden and interrupted our conversation saying, “Lance Regan, I need to talk to you urgently.” And from there, Lance left hurriedly following Hannah. I saw no more of him for a week afterwards. I was very worried of course thinking that maybe Hurricane had become free early. I thought that if I were happily married I would not have to worry about Hurricane bothering me again, but my fears returned.
After one week of fretting and trying desperately to find something to do with myself, Hannah came to me. I was in the middle of getting Steph’s dinner when Hannah came into the kitchen (I was not sure how she made it, Hurricane is the only Wind Being that can go into buildings). I was desperate to hear about Lance so I told the cook to bring the Princess her dinner. Hannah was much more translucent then normal, “Willow, Lance is in the forest by the tree where you once fell and hit your head. He said you’d remember the place.”
I did not even wait to reply, I was out the door in seconds and very impatiently asking Bavol to saddle Tashina up. Soon but not soon enough, we were on our way.
Sabir who had been following me around intently for the whole day said, “Willow, I think you’d better take this meeting on your own. I do not want to invade your privacy.” I thanked Sabir for his consideration.
I found my way easily to the spot where I had fallen off Tashina. At first when I looked around I saw no one there but then I saw something orange out of the corner of my eye. Then I realized that it was Lance with his back turned to me. He was deep in the shadows of the evening sun.
Excitement lit up my face, “Lance!” I rushed forward to throw my arms around him but his hand shot out and stopped me from coming any nearer, “Lance? Are you alright?” I asked, “You’ve been gone so long. Where have you been?”
Lance lowered his hand slowly, “Do not come any nearer.” His voice sounded like music, deep lulling music. It was sweet and heavenly, almost better then Hurricane’s voice. I could still tell that it was Lance’s voice but at the same time it sounded like a completely different person.
I frowned deeply, “Lance? What’s wrong?”
Lance took in a deep shaky breath, “Priest has returned.” As soon as he said those words the world shook like never before, groaning and expressing dread. I fell to the ground but Lance remained standing until the shaking was over.
I stood back up, “How? Where? Who?”
Lance took a step backwards and out of the deep shadows then he turned around slowly, each movement filled with dread.
I gasped in fear when I saw that he was suddenly very, very different. His hair was even more fiery than normal. I nearly fainted as I realized what it was. What before had looked like flames was actually flames now. And when I looked into his eyes for answers, I saw only the whites of his eyes! His eyes were pupil-less… no longer the mischievous hazel that had brightened many of my days. I also realized that he was much taller then before. He was an ugly horrid sightless giant.
Slowly I felt my whole body numbing, first my legs, then to my arms, and then lastly my mouth and face. I stared in horror at this beast that stood in front of me.
I could see pain in Lance’s expression, or was that really Lance? My heart screamed for it to be all a lie, but I knew it wasn’t, it was as true as the sun over my head. Terror rocked through me. Suddenly an anguished cry pierced the air. Lance shuddered as though the scream ripped through his soul and tore it in two. It took me a while to realize that it was me that was screaming. Tears were rolling down my face though I didn’t know why. Was it because he was ugly? Was it because he was the monster I had so diligently feared? Or was it merely because he was not my Lance anymore?
Lance was staring at me with his blank eyes so that my whole being felt exposed. Then he spoke his voice deep, tremulous, and strangely sweet. His next three words were so beautiful yet so full of dreaded fate that they made my heart cease its rhythm for more then a second, “I am he…”