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An Unlikely Heroine Part 6

Chapter 26 – The Power of Magic

The blood of the witches covered the area, and splattered across all present. Raynor relished the contact of the warm blood. It yielded easily to his warm tongue, and tasted of victory. As his mate flew into the now crowded eyrie, Raynor nuzzled her in affection. She was as magnificent as he, maybe more so.
Her feathers were kept immaculately, and she was larger than him. She was fierce, and proud, and he loved her. Sylvina reflected that no one was past love. All beings who had breath were capable of love. She had also noticed that there was no such thing as good or evil. Just different viewpoints. A soldier in a war fights on either side deciding devoutly that they are right. But at the end of the day, they just believe what they are told to believe, and each thinks they are fighting for the right cause.
Fiona may not be doing the right thing. Her view to a kill was that she was doing what was morally right. But her morals were obviously different to those she killed; otherwise they would not deserve to be killed.
Sylvina just hoped that in time, Fiona would gain wisdom. She would be an apt pupil. However, Sylvina could not see their futures entwined. She knew that Fiona would be leaving, and meanwhile, she would need her guidance.
She watched Fiona reach for her weapon, as if it were slow motion. “Be careful. Be sure in your mind that you are doing what is right. Do not trust your heart, trust in your wisdom.”
Fiona listened to Sylvina’s voice in her mind. She listened very carefully and considered all that she had to say. Then, she ignored it, and took out her weapon. She charged it with magic and malevolence, throwing all she had emotionally into the cross bolt.
The air tingled with magic, sending electrifying shivers up Fiona’s spine. The sprites, noticing her plans, added their spells to the bow. Eölfran added spells of accuracy, speed and flight. Fiona felt his magic, and looked up at him.
His reassuring smile made her feel as if she was safe, and that everything was alright. Against her better judgement, Sylvina added her power into the bolt. Fiona was surprised at the finesse of Sylvina’s spells; never before had she encountered a sprite spell master.
Sylvina added poison and death. She layered on blackness and fire. She was the one who added the final kick.
Julian watched helplessly as Fiona prepared blindly for the attack. This all happened in seconds, before the eagles even knew what was happening. As far as they were concerned, they had fed their children, they were in love, and they had nothing to fear from the inferior beasts that buzzed around their lair.
Unnoticed by Fiona, Phoenix had slunk around to the other side of the eyrie, behind the eagles. He could smell the other human, and was determined to get Julian.
Julian was a liability, and Phoenix didn’t like leaving a job unfinished. He was supposed to be dead. He had told Fiona that Julian was dead.
That was necessary for a number of reasons. Firstly, he needed Fiona to do the dirty work of eliminating the eagles for him. They had always been in the way, and he didn’t like sharing his airspace with others. Secondly, he wanted her to be miserable. She had destroyed his body, and had taken away his magic. She needed a bit of misery and humility in her life.
Fiona and the sprites stood strong. “Hey, Raynor.” She called nonchalantly. He looked up at her, and that was to be his last movement. She pulled the trigger, sending the supercharged arrow through his head, covering his mate in blood.
“Unkh.” He said as he collapsed lifeless to the floor. He was no longer a part of this world, and his mate was distraught.
“Kacharrrr!” she screamed in anguish. “I am Eldena, and I shall be your downfall!”
This was swiftly followed by a second, manlier scream. Julian shouted out as he was torched by an insistent Phoenix. Fiona was torn, she needed to save her lover, but there happened to be a very large bird standing between them.
Eölfran sprang to the rescue, along with Sylvina. “Come and have a go then!” He shouted bravely, moving across to his left, followed more sedately by Sylvina. Fiona edged to the right, mentally thanking Eölfran. He had given her the opportunity to go and help Julian, and she wouldn’t forget that he had practically sacrificed himself for her.
Eldena took the bait. She growled and she moved to attack the two sprites. The red mist had descended on her, and she blindly flailed at them, swiping with her talons. She aimed to do as much damage to them as possible, but because she was angry, her accuracy was compromised.
The sprites easily dodged the random attacks from the berserked giant eagle. In this case, being small, lithe and speedy was much more effective than brute strength.
Whilst Eldena was preoccupied, Fiona crept around her to confront Phoenix, who didn’t deserve the luxury of a new name. He was still as crooked as he was before, perhaps even more so. This time he was conniving and cunning, and used Fiona’s power against her.
“Let him be! I’m the one who you have a problem with. Let’s settle this, once and for all!” She issued the challenge with venom, mentally throwing down the gauntlet. Phoenix moved towards her, spitting fire and brimstone.
“You look like a firework. You aren’t threatening. I beat you once, I’ll beat you again!” The taunt was lost on Phoenix, who had no idea what a firework even was. He understood the gist of it, and laughed at her stupidity.
“You can’t hurt me!” he pointed out gleefully. “I am a part of you. If you hurt me, you hurt yourself.”
“To me, you are not any part of me.” Fiona said bravely “No part of me could be as evil and immoral as you are. No part of me could even bear to hurt or attack Julian. If you are a part of me, I cast you out and renounce you.”
She meant it. Even though she knew it would hurt her, and even possibly kill her, she would not be able to rest easy until Wainkor’s spirit was laid to rest. She no longer even thought of him as Phoenix. Yes, he had risen from the ashes of his former self, but it was not in glory, it was in vain.
Julian was oblivious to this conversation. He could only see the vindication in Fiona’s eyes, and the flash of fear in the dragons. He knew that she was going to deliver him from evil, and that he was saved.
Whilst Phoenix / Wainkor’s attention was elsewhere, he took the opportunity to reunite himself with Fiona. A quick touch was enough to reassure her, and she let loose the spell she had been preparing.
It sparkled of thunder and lightning. It held within it all the hurt that he had caused her, the regret that she had about even being pulled into this mess.
It was black and purple, and smelled of revenge. And it consumed Phoenix without a second thought, not even leaving ashes behind. One minute he was there, the next he was gone. He just vanished out of existence. Fiona just about survived long enough to see the dragon disappear. She knew that she had seen the last of him this time. She was certain.
There would be no more evil thoughts implanted in her brain. There would be no more irritating red flash on the edge of her peripheral vision. There would be no more scarlet nastiness encroaching on her personal space.
Fiona was as first relieved, until it hit her. The intolerable pain that erupted into her skull. The blinding flash across her eyes and the electric shot that seemed to paralyse her limbs before it shut down her brain. Once more, she was plunged into the darkness. Alone.
Julian thrust a fist into the air, feeling exhilarated. He turned to Fiona, so that they could share the joy, only to see her collapsed on the floor. He gathered her in his arms, and leaned against the mountaintop, keeping as far away from Eldena as possible.
The female giant eagle was a fearsome sight, with her feathers puffed up so that she looked as intimidating as possible. She occasionally shrieked into the night, sending shivers of fear down Julian’s spine.
Eölfran just gritted his teeth and tried to send spell bolts towards her, trying to inhibit her movements. They had no effect, even when they were combined with Sylvina’s stronger magics. She was an unstoppable force, cheered on by her children Lawsey and Gernic.
They were cheerful and buoyant after their unexpected meal, and squawked in inexplicably high voices. They were tiny fluff balls, who looked as though they could do no harm, even if they tried.
Erica and Enid, if they were alive, could contest to the fact that they were a force to be reckoned with, and that they should not be discounted. Julian gave them a wide berth as well, setting Fiona down gently in a corner and retrieving her crossbow from her limp grip.
He felt as if he should at least try to guard her, and he fired a few unsure shots towards the large intimidating target that was threatening the small, flying creatures that appeared to be Fiona’s friends.
“She would make friends with anything.” He muttered as he reloaded the crossbow. His first shot had gone wide, as he was surprised by the surprising amount of firepower that the weapon had.
He was more careful with his second shot. The melee in front of him was a blinding flash of fur and sparkles. Occasionally he felt the familiar pull behind his navel that indicated the use of magic. He didn’t want to hurt the sprites, and hoped fervently that they would move out of the way of his arrows.
His second shot missed, but he got an encouraging look from Sylvina. He was helping, he was sure of it. He loaded an arrow and wound up the spring, making sure it was as taut as it could be. He felt confident now that he knew the sprites were sure of him.
This was his final arrow, and he couldn’t ask Fiona to magic him up any more, as she had lost all interest in the proceedings. He pressed it to his lips before bringing the arrow up to his eye.
He looked straight along the arrow, whispering a huntsman’s prayer for aim and accuracy. It was important that this one hit. It was important that Eldena was distracted at least for long enough so that the Sprites had a chance. They were so small, and the eagle was so big. It seemed impossible that they even had any chance of winning.
He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. In hindsight, it may have been a better idea for him to keep his eyes open, but nevertheless, he closed his eyes.
He opened them a moment later to the sound of pain. His arrow had found its way directly to the eagle, and it was wounded, though not mortally. It pinned her wing back, and blood oozed across her wing.
She turned in rage and directed her anger at Julian, who quite suddenly wished that he hadn’t been quite so brave after all. The sprites, now that they had a chance to retaliate, sent fire after the bird, and circled around until they were between Julian and Eldena.
In a last ditch attempt to do some sort of damage, Julian threw the crossbow at Eldena. It had no effect, but now he really had done everything he could. Feeling a little bit helpless and defenceless, he picked up Fiona and cradled her in his arms.
It was like the final showdown. Julian with Fiona was stood behind the sprites, who were trying to look as menacing as it was possible to look for a small faerie like creature.
Stood opposite them was Eldena, with her children stood just behind her, squawking like inarticulate cheerleaders. Lawsey, the male chick, was slightly more insistent and was trying to muscle in on the fight. His mother held him back, not wanting him to get hurt. This was a primal instinct of motherly protection.


Chapter 27 – A Curse Upon Magic Users

Behind them, in the corner, Raynor was still alive, but barely. He interrupted the stand off with a feeble squawk. His mate dropped her offensive as soon as she heard his voice and rushed to his side, forgetting about the intruders.
Julian, Eölfran and Sylvina stood wordless as they watched the touching moment. It seemed as if the world had stopped turning so that they would have time to say goodbye. Eagles had only one life mate and they formed bonds that some would say were stronger than conventional human love.
These two had been a breeding pair for many years now; this was obvious from the extent of their eyrie, and for their fearless dedication to each other.
Raynor gasped out his last words. He was so weak that they were barely a croak, but none of them had to strain to hear them. It was a curse, one laid down on all magic users.
“Magicians, witches, warlocks, they are all the scum of the earth. They care for none but themselves, and seek to change this perfect world. It will be people like this that will cause the world to be destroyed. Why do people not realise that this world was designed perfectly, evenly and in balance.
“I die now; my body will rot and provide nutrients for the trees, and provide nesting grounds for my young. And they will find other eagles and breed to produce new young. And eventually they will die. The circle of life is completed.
“I accept this. But you people, with unnatural life spans, unnatural ways of living. You deplete the forest; you think you have the right to kill because you hold the power to kill.” He coughed, straining to get the last of his words out.
Eldena cradled his head in her uninjured wing. She clucked soothingly, all her attention focused on her dying mate. They connected through their gleaming black eyes. Tears ran unashamedly down Sylvina’s face, and the chicks were silent. Even they understood that this was something important, and that it meant a lot. Even when they were years older, they would remember this day.
Eldena would have cried if she was physically capable of doing so. Eagles are born without tear ducts, but this didn’t mean that she felt the pain any less keenly. Raynor clicked his beak, and started gasping.
“Remember this, those who would interrupt the circle of life. You will be your own downfall and the downfall of mankind unless you leave, and never return. I don’t care how you do it, whether you leave by your own magical means or by your deaths.
“For the earth to be saved, you must no longer exist here.” Here he looked up at his mate and crooned to her in their own language. “I love you. You must be strong, look after Lawsey and Gernic. One day you shall follow me, and fly into the sun.”
And with that, the king of the sky was dead. Raynor was still and lifeless, and his heart no longer beat within his breast. Eldena, knowing this, bent her head to his breast, and slowly lay him down on the floor of the eyrie.
She sent out an ululating cry into the air, and then turned on her captives. Her black beady eye glinted murderously in the sunlight. The clear blue sky was like the ominous depths of the oceans. “My mate is dead – because of you.” She took one step forward.
“I must raise my children alone – because of you” She stepped forwards again, and Julian took a step back. “How do you expect me to hunt or defend my home with my wing like this?” She lifted her wing which flapped uselessly by her side.
“Um… it can be healed” said Julian nervously. He really felt bad about what had happened. He believed that there had to be a non violent way out of this, and it involved embracing magic. Implementing it in daily life to benefit all.
“I guess that’s with magic then.” She almost spat the word, glaring at Julian for even daring to suggest such a stupid idea. “To even think that I would even contemplate such an idea! Especially after my mate…”
She faltered then, but rescued herself by producing a glare. Eölfran whispered to Sylvina “What’s the plan?” She shrugged, “Keep these two alive. Do as little killing as possible. And keep away from the m word?”
“What, magic?” Eölfran asked a little too loudly. He winced as soon as he heard himself, and he became Eldena’s next target.
The eagle puffed out her chest again and stretched out her uninjured wing. It stretched across the full width of the eyrie. It cast an immense shadow across all of them and sent shivers down their spine.
“Are you taunting me?” She regarded Eölfran with a wicked twitch of her head. “Do you not believe that I have the power to take you down, and to destroy you?”
Out of her feet, a shining, sharpened talon sprang forth. In the following silence, Eölfran could only hear the terrified thumping of three petrified hearts. There was the soft springing squeak of the organic material on the floor of the eyrie. It creaked dangerously as the eagle advanced towards them.
Sylvina daringly darted forwards with her tiny yellow dagger, but this did little damage to the Eagle, who was full of wrath. “It’s now or never.” Murmured Julian to his companions. Eölfran gulped nervously and offered Julian a weapon, which he refused.
Julian wasn’t going to let go of her now. She had risked her life to come and save him, the least he could do now it to keep hold of her. They may not survive this ordeal; in fact it was very likely that they wouldn’t. He pressed his cool lips to her forehead, and looked adoringly down towards her.
The three of them were almost up against the wall now. They had nowhere to go, and they were trapped. The eaglets had resumed their relentless noise, and this only served to spur on their mother.
Julian stepped back, expecting to feel his heels grind against the cold granite of the mountaintop. Instead, he felt nothing. Clasping his partner to his hip, he waved behind him with one hand, expecting to meet resistance.
The stone that formed the mountain was just an illusion. It was almost perfect, and Eldena was the guardian. It was a kind of natural magic, which had been there for countless generations. It was this specific location that gave Raynor the status of king of the skies and ruler of all giant eagles.
He was the loyal guardian of this portal, and kept it safe from invaders. Doubtless, if the sprites had known of its existence, they would have tried to take command of it earlier.
The eagles didn’t know where the portal led to. They just knew that it was sacred. From time to time it spat out things and people. It was these people that first taught the eagles to speak, and gave them responsibility to protect the portal.
And it was from this portal that the first magic users came from. Years before, a sorcerer first opened the portal. He stepped through, and betrayed the eagles. It was him that had led to their mistrust of magic.
He had killed their ruler and taken their most sacred artefact, the statue of Scran. Had Julian known, he would have been able to return it to them, it lay in the scavenged remains of Heaton Hall, and at this precise moment, Geoff was trying to sell it to a roaming pedlar in Heaton village.
The portal was a swirling mass of energy, about 20m behind the fake granite wall. As soon as Julian was in the secret cavern, he turned in awe to watch it.
The sprites had followed him through. Sylvina gasped and bowed down to the giant circular swirl of colour. Eölfran just stood and gawped in awe, until he was prodded by Sylvina and told to “Show some respect.”
They were followed into the cavern by the still fuming Eldena. “This is our most sacred place.” She scowled. “Following the death of my mate, I am now the protector and guardian of this place.”
Julian was slowly being hypnotised by the massive portal in front of him. Eldena’s words were rhythmic and lulled him into a false sense of security. Soon, she knew that he would be under her control.
“The giant eagles have held this place in high regard for centuries. Sometimes, about once in a generation, and eagle is compelled to go through the portal. They are never seen again, no one knows where they go to.”
Julian nodded, half listening, half drawn in. Eölfran noticed that he wasn’t paying attention any more, and that he was mesmerised by the flashing colours. Not gently, he pinched Julian’s calf, and was rewarded by a sharp glare.
Eölfran grinned impishly. Julian would thank him later. Even if it hurt for now. He would need all his wits about him, Eldena was obviously planning something, and she wasn’t about to let them turn around and walk out of here freely.
“My mate, who has now flown into the sun and waits for me, gave you an ultimatum. You can either choose death, a fate that I am more than happy to carry out for you. Or you must leave. He never intended for you to use the portal, but I think that it is a more appropriate fate for you.
“It is the unknown that you fear.” She regarded Julian sharply. “You fear the unplanned future, you fear your dreams not being realised.”
He nodded his head. She spoke truly, and he was shaking as he even thought about walking into that mess. But then he looked down at Fiona. If they died, they would never have a chance together. And if they walked into the portal, they would at least have a chance of a life together.
They would be together. That much was certain. And that was good enough for the tall blonde man.


Chapter 28 – A Vision From the Past

Fiona floated alone in the blackness. Whereas before there was a vision, this time there was nothing. Not even a smell or a sound for her to go by. She was glowing softly and cast a dim light on her surroundings to no avail.
It was if she were in the middle of deepest space, but without even the stars to light the way. As soon as this thought crossed her mind, she was surrounded by pinpricks of light.
She was moving, without even realising it. The lights were moving slowly as she pushed forwards into the darkness. Even if she closed her eyes, the lights danced about in front of her.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, she could hear something else. She could hear voices in her darkness. She was barely aware of what was happening to her body, but she could hear the words around her. She could hear the thump thump of Julian’s heart.
She could hear the keening cry of the female eagle as she watched her mate die. But soon, these noises faded away, and a figure appeared in front of her.
It started off in the distance and was calling her name, in a familiar voice. “Fiona! Fiona!” It was urgent and compelling, and Fiona tried to will herself towards the voice. She knew that she had to meet this person, to be with them.
The voice was male. She could tell that much, but everything else was unclear. She was frustrated, because she was powerless and could not control her own actions.
Painstakingly slowly, the figure grew closer and closer. The small fuzzy edges became sharper and sharper. Fiona thought she knew who it was.
“But it couldn’t be…” she said aloud in disbelief. The figure looked identical to Jamie. Her dear Jamie. The one who she was sure that she was going to marry when she was older. The one who had promised his heart to her and her alone.
She felt guilty about his death, and guiltier still when she remembered Julian. Jamie was supposed to be her one true love. She had never expected to meet him face to face again. And here she was, after falling in love once more. She felt as if her heart was about to rip in two.
As the figure came closer, she was left in no doubt that it was him. She could once more see his smiling face. She could see his shining blue eyes and randomly spiked dark hair. “Fiona.” He said, finally.
The two of them embraced, and it was just as passionate as it always was. She rested her head on his comforting and welcoming chest. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, and she felt a kiss on her forehead at the same time.
She could only assume that it was the relief of meeting him once more. He murmured sweet nothings into her ear, in his deep, soothing voice. She smiled, and she felt safe, despite the fact that she knew her friends were in dire peril. Nothing mattered now that they were back together, even though she could still feel the pull that Julian had on her heart strings.
She looked up at Jamie, drinking him in. He had finely carved cheekbones and soft sensuous pale lips. He had the softest of goatee’s that graced his chin, and made him look as if he were an Italian model.
Jamie was dressed exactly as she remembered last seeing him; cold and dead in his coffin. He had much more colour in his cheeks than he did then though, and Fiona could feel the warmth of the blood running through his veins.
He wore smart clothes. His suit was tailored and fitted him well, accentuating his slim figure. He wore an open collared white shirt, that opened just enough for Fiona to see his chiselled chest. He even smelled the same as she remembered, that comforting and sexual smell of his cologne still managed to drive her wild.
He was the first one to break the embrace. She would have been happy to stay there forever, cradled in his arms. He held her by the shoulders and looked down into her eyes. “My death is not your fault. I can feel and see that you think you are guilty. Stop blaming yourself. It was my time.”
“But if I hadn’t called my dad… If he hadn’t answered the phone and had paid more attention to the phone…” She protested feebly, but was soon put to rights by her boyfriend.
“No buts” he said firmly. “It wasn’t your fault. It was my time to leave that world. You needed to meet your soul mate.”
“But you are my soul mate.” She said surprised. But as soon as she heard those words, she knew it was a lie. The fact that she could lie there in Jamie’s arms and still be thinking of Julian gave her the right answer.
“Julian” she said simply. “Julian is my soul mate.”
Jamie just nodded, and with a final kiss, more of friendship and finality than of passion, he left her, drifting away as serenely as he arrived.
Fiona tried to go back, tried to find a way to connect herself back together again. She tried to go back, she tried calling her body like a dog might be called by its owner. All of this was to no avail.
Frustrated, she sent dancing pattern’s across the wall, expressing herself as best she could, trying to jolt herself back into reality.
The splashes of colour swirled together in front of her, forming a portal that mirrored the one that Julian was facing in the cavern.
And then, as one, they both stepped forwards, not knowing where they were going, not sure of what was going to happen. Just hoping that they would end up together.
If the experience with Jamie had taught her anything, it was that true love must prevail. True love had lead to Jamie’s death, and she understood that now. It was a great relief to her and a great weight from her shoulders now that she knew that Jamie’s death wasn’t her fault.
It was destiny, and now she had to go and face hers.


Chapter 29 – The Portal of Judgement

Julian stepped into the maelstrom, his feet unsteady on the invisible floor beneath him. As he did so, the unconscious body in his arms began to stir.
Fiona opened her eyes to look up at Julian. Their eyes met and sparks flew. Their lips met and crushed together, in pure relief. They knew that they were both alive, and together.
Julian set Fiona gently down onto her feet and they held hands tightly. Just that slight physical touch sent chills up and down their arms.
“Why did you come back?” he asked Fiona.
“Because I love you. Because I don’t care about whatever you did with Holly anymore.”
Julian looked confused. “Holly?” he asked. “Nothing has ever happened between me and her. She’s like a little sister. She’s too young for me. And I’m far too much in love with you.” His amber eyes twinkled and Fiona could see that he was telling the truth.
“But I thought…” Fiona was lost for words. “I saw you in the garden. You were holding her like you hold me. You kissed her on the cheek. I could see that look in your eyes…”
“She was hurting inside.” He explained. “She was alone and homeless. She needed to feel that she mattered to someone. And she’s my friend.”
And that was explanation enough. To reassure her that she was the only one for him, he kissed her thoroughly. First, lightly on the lips, then on her eyelids, and down her cheek. Then back to her lips, slowly seeking with his tongue.
She responded eagerly, but then Eölfran rudely interrupted with a loud wolf whistle. Fiona giggled as she saw her friend emerge into the head spinning portal. He was accompanied by Sylvina.
“It’s good to see you on your feet.” She said, looking at her pupil fondly. “I guess I haven’t really taught you anything.” She smiled. “But then again, I guess I never needed to. Love will light the way.”
Julian looked at Eölfran. “I thought you wouldn’t follow us through. You could have escaped, gone back. You are fast enough to escape Eldena.”
“I felt like an adventure.” He grinned. “And I needed someone to keep an eye on me.”
“Not to mention the fact that Eldena threatened to follow us home and destroy the rest of the sprites in order to eliminate all traces of magic from the forest.” Added Sylvina wryly.
“Yeah, there was that bit too. My father would never forgive me if I caused the entire destruction of our race.” He looked a little bit guilty, but he didn’t regret a moment of it.
The four of them stepped out, walking in a random direction. Any way except backwards. They didn’t know where they were going, or why.
Eventually, they came across a courtroom. The judge towered over them, and exuded an ethereal glow. The jury was on his right hand side, and they were all solemn. There were all different kinds of species, some that they had never seen before.
Fiona gulped, and stepped forwards into the clearing. Immediately, it seemed as though the confusing dizziness had gone away. Instead, there only remained the central fear of the courtroom.
She felt instantly nervous and guilty, even though she hadn’t done anything wrong.
A big booming voice rang out across the room. It commanded attention and instilled fear into all those who heard it. It was the supernatural voice of a judge, one who knew what was right, and what was true and fair.
“Welcome to the courtroom. Here we will weigh and measure you heart, and find if you may pass. It is your choice, truly, but destiny will be fulfilled.”
“I am Fiona Naisbitt.” She intended to speak out confidently, but her voice sounded shaky and feeble in comparison to the Judge’s. “I belong in Sheffield, in 2008. I somehow ended up in Julian’s time.” She held up their linked hands. “Destiny brought us together, and love will make sure that we are together for eternity.”
“And you, Julian.” The judge turned his attention to the man at her side. “Do you love her?”
“Yes.” That was all he needed to say. The conviction in his voice rang true across the room and the judge was satisfied.
“You two may pass through together. Choose any door. One leads to an opportunity, the other leads to a certainty. Either way, destiny will be fulfilled.” This was an ominous warning. They looked at each other, and held a hurried whispered conference.
“It’s your choice.” Said Julian. “Wherever you lead, I shall follow. As long as I am with you, it doesn’t matter.”
“But I don’t know which door to choose.” Fiona said uncertainly.
“Then don’t be sure.” Said Julian unexpectedly. “We’ve both been running on impulse for the last few days, and I haven’t regretted a minute of it. It doesn’t matter what happens. As long as we are together, we will make it work.”
She nodded, feeling a bit happier. The two of them moved across to the opposite side of the jury, and watched hand in hand as the Sprites were weighed and measured. Fiona hoped that they would not be found wanting.
“Your species should never have met.” Admitted the judge with a heavy heart. “I cannot permit you to share the same future as these two. You two cannot choose the same path as Fiona and Julian.”
Eölfran stepped forwards. “I am the prince of sprites. I have left my home in the forest in order to protect my people. If I returned to the forest, they would face certain death fro the giant eagles, protectors of the portal.
“We are a magical people, and the eagles fear magic. I cannot turn back; I refuse to condemn my people to death because of our nature, and because of the prejudice against what we are.
“This is my mentor and teacher, Sylvina. She has taught me my morals, my magic, and I respect her greatly. She was also Fiona’s tutor, but her duties are now fulfilled, she has love to show her the way now.
“I only ask that you show us mercy, and let us pass unheeded somewhere where we are protected.” This was a long speech for Eölfran and Fiona was impressed. He never usually flashed his royalty about, but it was important here. It was a part of who he was, and it was in his heart of hearts.
His duty to his people came first, and he was a selfless person. Sylvina simply stood behind him, letting him speak in deference to his rank. The judge turned his attention to her, focusing her in his even stare. “What of you Sylvina? What do you want?”
She matched his stare evenly. Level headedly, she raised her chin and spoke out proudly. “I trust my sire. I just want you to grant us asylum, in order to protect our people. More than anything, I want to go home, but to do so appears to be impossible, unless you can deliver us straight from this place back to the citadel.”
The judge considered this, clasping and unclasping his hands. He stood up and turned to the jury. “It is risky what she asks, but it is possible. I cannot guarantee their safe passage, but I can do it. The other option is for me to send them to a safe planet, where they will be accepted. To the home planet of sprites. They will be amongst their own and safe from prejudice.
“To send them home, risking their possible death, send up a red globe into the air. To send them to their planet of origin safely, send up a blue globe into the air.”
The jury spent a moment deliberating. Then the first globe rose into the air, it was blue, and Sylvina’s heart sank. Eölfran watched, not betraying his emotions at all. He would accept his fate, whatever it may be.
The second, third and fourth globes rose into the air and promptly turned red. There were fifteen members of the jury, carefully designed to ensure that a verdict was always reached.
Eventually, there was only one member of the jury left to vote, and it was a sprite. She was larger than most sprites, and was pure silver. She shone like moonlight reflected on a lake, and she was the most beautiful thing that Eölfran had ever seen.
He was instantly in love with her, and couldn’t take his eyes from her. She looked like a goddess, and she could see the devotion in his eyes. “Eölfran.” She said. “Tell me what is in your heart.”
“I love you.” He said, which made her giggle. “What?” he asked, confused by her reaction.
“I meant, where do you want to be? Where does your heart tell you to go?” She smiled and fluttered her eyelashes, which did nothing to help his predicament.
“I want to… I want to be with you.” He said, which wasn’t really an answer at all. But it was the truth. He was well and truly infatuated.
Sylvina was a little more observant and learned. She whispered to Eölfran, “She is a goddess. She is anywhere and everywhere, and looks over all sprites. And between you and me, you don’t have a chance with her.”
Eölfran’s face dropped as he heard this news, and he blushed bright red. He had never expected her to be immortal, all powerful or divine. The goddess smiled as she saw his reaction.
“Your mentor is right. I am Sylvie, the goddess from whom she gained her name. I am the first sprite, created at the start of universe from the centre of a star. I will be with you when you have need of me, wherever you are.” Sylvie flew down next to Eölfran and took his hand. She then kissed him on the cheek and spoke lightly in silvery tones.
“Where do you wish to go?”
“Home.” He said, as if her were in a daze. And it was the truth. The goddess hadn’t bewitched him, but he did want to go home. He could feel that it was his destiny to rule his people one day, as the sole heir to the citadel.
“Then let it be so.” From her slender fingertips, a globe rose into the air and shone red. Behind Fiona a door opened for them which looked out into the forest.
“I wish you well and good luck.” Said the judge, gesturing towards the door. Fiona let go of Julian’s hand and ran towards her friends, holding them both tight in a warm embrace.
“I’ll miss you.” She said, struggling to hold back the tears that threatened. “You will be magnificent, Eölfran, and Sylvina, you are truly wise.”
The two sprites returned the embrace. They flew towards the door, saying goodbye to Julian as they left. The two of them took a deep breath and crossed the threshold, promptly vanishing.
All Fiona and Julian could do was hope.


Chapter 30 – The Choice of a Lifetime

Then it was just the two of them left standing small and insignificant in the court of the gods. With a final nod to the divine guidance they had received, Fiona stretched a hand out in front of her. It brushed up against the unlikely looking brass doorknob in front of them.
It was one in the centre of three. She had no idea where it led to; she had deliberately ignored the writing on the plaques of each of the doors. It was a totally random choice, and she just followed her heart. Julian was right behind her, every step of the way. And she opened the door, slowly twisting the cold door handle.
She felt the touch of his hand as they went through the door. She felt the warmth and love inside her, and she felt truly happy. As she stepped through that door frame, she left behind the ghost of Jamie that had haunted her for years, and had torn her world apart.
Julian blindly followed his lover, trusting in her decision. He followed her because she had saved his life, put herself in danger time and time again for him, and she was his guardian angel.
The doorway was shadowed and dark. It held mysteries that were beyond the concepts that either of them could understand. But within moments, it was dark. It wasn’t the kind of dark that either of them was used to. It was a soul stripping fearful dark. It was one that had a lack of all types of sensory stimulation. And it scared both of them beyond belief.


Chapter 31 – Back to the Daily Grind

Fiona woke up, and she was looking at a very familiar ceiling. It was the same ceiling that she had woken up to for the majority of her life. She knew it intimately.
She was in her own bed, in her own bedroom. She reached a hand across to her left hand side, expecting to find Julian there. But it was vacant. She was alone in her room.
It had felt so real, like the experiences had actually happened to her. She remembered it all vividly, and her muscles still ached from the arduous trek up to the eyrie, and from the final showdown.
The voice of the judge still rang in her ears, and she could not, would not, believe that it was a dream. But if it was real, then Julian should be there, next to her.
She looked at her alarm clock next to her bed and saw that it was 7.30 AM on Friday morning. She needed to get ready and go to work. But on the plus side, she was going to see her best friends tomorrow, and that was more exciting than anything that had happened to her recently.
She swung her legs around and got out of bed, enjoying the feel of the carpet beneath her feet. She shivered as she felt the cold air on her skin after the warmth of her duvet. She grinned as she remembered the wind chilling her bones on the moors, and Julian warming her in his powerful arms. It had felt so real.
Yawning, she ran her fingers through her hair, and found a twig there. This was most perplexing to her; the only time she had been near any sort of tree recently was in her dream.
Because it had to have been a dream. Things like that are impossible. She definitely wasn’t magic, there was no such thing as sprites, and it was definitely impossible to go back in time.
She dismissed it as pure forgetfulness, and got ready for work. She pulled her long white nightdress over her head, and enjoyed the soothing warmth of her shower. She emerged from the cubicle, feeling much more awake, and much less fanciful.
Of course it was a dream, she scoffed. You were just being hopeful. People like Julian don’t exist. Perfect men are only a figment of the imagination.
She pulled on her work clothes, a smart skirt and jacket, matched with a simple blouse. She was running late, so she pulled her hair up into a ponytail, not bothering to style and preen as she usually would. She applied the necessary mascara, and looked at herself in the mirror for a moment.
She looked different somehow. More at peace, with a healthy, happy glow. Something had changed within her, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She tilted her head to one side, and her reflection stared back at her. She finally broke her gaze, and rushed downstairs, grabbing an apple and her handbag before making her way out of the house.
She opened the door to a perfect day. It was balmy, but the skies were clear, and the sun was shining. She locked the door and skipped down the garden path to the street. A man driving past in the car gave her a strange look, and she immediately stopped, feeling foolish.
Nevertheless, a smile remained on her face as she walked down to the bus stop, with a definite spring in her step. She had been depressed for so long, but things were looking up and she was just glad to be alive.
Her mood was infectious. The bus driver smiled as she showed him her bus pass. It was nice to see someone in such a good mood. She put her music on as the bus trundled into the town centre. She hummed along, dancing with her fingers as she looked out of the window.
She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. If they wanted to be miserable, let them be, she thought. The bus journey seemed to pass a lot quicker than it usually did, and it wasn’t long before she reached her stop.
She jumped off the bus, clicking her heels in the air. She stomped in the puddles from yesterday’s rain, not caring that the splashes jumped up her legs. She walked to her office, walking around the revolving doors twice, just because she could.
She waltzed up to her desk and sat down, spinning on her office chair before finally settling down at her computer. She tapped in her username and password and tapped her fingernails on the desk as she waited for it to load.
She heard someone walk through the front door, but didn’t bother looking up. It wasn’t anything unusual. “Fiona?” asked a voice hopefully.
She looked up into a familiar pair of amber eyes. Julian was stood there, in an immaculate suit, looking down at her. He held a bunch of flowers in his hand, and her heart immediately melted.
She got up from her chair and walked slowly around the desk. “I thought you were a dream. I thought you were just made up inside my head.”
“I’m real. I’m here and I’m real. It all happened. And at the end of it all, I’m here, with you.” He put the flowers down on the desk and stroked her face tenderly.
Fiona disbelievingly felt his touch, and knew that it was reality. She had lived her dream, and her perfect man was standing there in front of her, against all odds.
She pulled him towards her, and stood on tiptoes to kiss him. He picked her up around her waist and lifted her up, placing her on the desk.
She buried her hands in his hair, revelling in the soft silky texture. They kissed deeply, pausing only to come up for air. She knew him so well, and he was just happy that he had found her again.
He pulled apart from her, and ducked down onto one knee, holding her hand.
She gasped, not expecting this of him at all. He pulled a box from his pocket. It fitted neatly in the palm of his hand. It was coloured a deep red velvet, and it could only contain one thing. He opened it up, and asked her, tenderly, “Will you marry me Fiona? You are the only one I could ever love, my soul mate and my guardian angel.”
She smiled as tears of happiness rolled down her face. “Yes, of course I will. I couldn’t ever think of marrying anyone else apart from you. You are the only one I have ever dreamed of, the only one I could ever want.”
The ring was made of white gold, and had a gleaming diamond set into it. It fitted perfectly onto Fiona’s slender finger, and she pulled her new fiancé into a hug, admiring the new addition to her hand over his shoulder.
“I love you.” She whispered into his ear as he picked her up and took her out of the office. Today was not a day to be wasted on work. Today was the first day of the rest of their lives.

An Unlikely Heroine Part 5

Chapter 21 – Another Quest is Begun

Julian awoke to a strange sensation about his midriff. When he opened his eyes, he realised that it wasn’t just his midriff that had a strange sensation. The wind was rushing past his face and he had a strange sensation of déjà vu.
He looked down towards his chest and saw a giant pair of claws. They belonged to a rather large pair of fluffy legs, which in turn belonged to a giant feathered chest. The wing beats kind of gave it away.
A giant eagle was holding him in its grasp. It had swooped down in stealthy silence and plucked Julian from his nest. It climbed higher and higher into the sky, gaining altitude with every flap of its immense wingspan. It took him high above the forest, until he could barely see where he had been held. There had been a furore after he had left, and he could just see a bustle of activity. There were four white apparitions and he couldn’t decide whether he was delirious or not.
He was so grateful that Fiona had healed him before they parted ways. He could already feel the claws slicing into him, creating new slits in his skin. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, he prayed in his head to be saved. Or at the very least spared.
“Oh stop fussing” said a voice inside his head, shocking the terrified man. “I rescued you, be grateful.” The voice was thickly accented, like one of the deep mountain dwellers. It was similar to the miner’s, but it sounded more educated.
“Um. Thanks.” Said Julian, squirming a little bit so that he could get more comfortable. The eagle relaxed its grip so that Julian wasn’t quite as restricted. He changed his path and wheeled towards the sun, gliding gracefully on the draughts of air.
“Where are we going?” asked Julian, thankful that it wasn’t raining quite as much as it had been the last time that he had been suspended from an unlikely beast. “And who are you?”
The eagle’s golden eyes glinted in the sunlight as it regarded Julian’s question. It was an intelligent beast, and knew a lot more than it was telling. They were regarded as kings of the sky, and rightly so.
“I am Raynor, king of the eastern skies. I am taking you back to my eyrie in the western mountains, to my mate, and my chicks. You will be safe there, and you shall have a place among us until the rest of your days.”
Julian barely dared to even think, knowing that Raynor could hear his thoughts. But he was suspicious. It was hard not to call to mind the children’s tales of the eagles. The old wives often scared the children into behaving well, by telling them that the giant eagles would come and carry them away, never to return.
The eagle chuckled, reading his surface thoughts. Humans were easy to read, he reflected. Luckily, Julian couldn’t tell what Raynor was thinking. He would have been disturbed by the images of other humans being torn into pieces by his hungry developing chicks.
Raynor was just playing with his food. He liked them to feel at ease; it made it easier for the chicks to kill. This one was more suspicious than most, but that should just make it more interesting and entertaining.
Raynor’s eyrie was perched precariously on the top of a mountain. It was constructed of various sizes of branches and greenery from the forest. Some of them were twice as tall as Julian, and he wasn’t a man to be sniffed at. The interior was scattered with past meals and eggshells on a carpet of moss and old feathers. It was big enough to fully accommodate the four eagles that lived there, even when the eaglets were fully grown.
Sceptical as always, Julian hoped that his guardian angel would come and save him. Again. He felt kind of pathetic and insignificant. The man of the relationship should be the strong and dependent one, the one in control. They were strange, and they shouldn’t feel ashamed of it.
Fiona woke up to see one of the elder sprites peering down at her, prodding her cheek with a twig. She batted it away lazily and rolled over, only to find Eölfran’s face looking at her, warning her to get up. “That’s one of the elders, your tutor. I’d treat her with respect. And I wouldn’t mess with them!” he hissed.
Realising the tone in his voice, Fiona scrambled over herself to get up, immediately regretting it as her head swam. The next thing she knew, her legs had crumpled underneath her and everything had gone black. Again.
She supposed it was to do with the alcohol. But seeing as she was supposing, this probably wasn’t unconsciousness. She felt as if her mind had left her body again, but this time, she was surrounded by blackness.
In the distance she heard a man’s voice, calling, calling for help. She saw visions of giant eagles and hungry mouths. But the most frightening thing was seeing Julian being torn limb from limb.
With a gasp, she was sucked back into herself. It was an alarming feeling, like trying to feed a ship’s rope through the eye of a needle. It all happened in less than a second, and as she woke, she pulled in a deep breath, as if she had been swimming underwater.
“Hmm. Interesting. How did that make you feel?” asked Sylvina the elder. She had seen others like this before, they generally had talents of farseeing and foresight. But by the look on Fiona’s face, she could tell that she had never been through anything like that in her life before.
“Like I want to hit you.” Growled Fiona. It hadn’t been a pleasant experience, especially the part where she had seen the man that she loved torn to pieces. It was then that she realised that she did love him, and he obviously loved her, otherwise he wouldn’t be here. He hadn’t followed her just to say that she had left her necklace behind on the dresser.
“I need to see Julian.” She said, trying to push her way forwards. At a nod from Sylvina, Eölfran stepped forwards. He bit his lip and wrung his hands together, obviously nervous about what he had to say.
“He isn’t there. That is, I mean, he’s gone. He was there, and then he wasn’t. All the guard knows is that there was a great noise, like a gust of wind, and then there was blackness.” He stepped back, wanting to avoid the inevitable mild violence that was heading towards him.
Fiona surprised them all by acting calmly. “It was an eagle.” She said. “A giant Eagle. It took him away, and it’s going to feed him to it’s chicks. And it’s all my fault. Everyone I love is doomed to a torturous death. I should have learned not to get involved.”
“Are you basing this on your visions?” asked Sylvina, who had decided to kindly overlook her previous rudeness. It was only to be expected, she had been through a lot, and so was therefore allowed a bit more leeway than most.
Fiona nodded, prompting Sylvina to go on. “What you saw is not a definite future. It is one of an infinite number of possible futures. It is up to you to use this information, and to use the future to your advantage. It will help you know what to do.”
“Then I must go and save Julian.” She was determined that he would not fall into any danger. She had said that she was always going to be there for him, and she wasn’t going to go back on her word.
“But you do not know enough yet!” protested Eölfran, echoed by Sylvina. It wouldn’t have mattered what they had said, Fiona was going. She had made up her mind. She used her magic, fashioned comfortable travelling clothes, and strode out of the clearing.
She was quickly followed by Sylvina and Eölfran. “I am your tutor; I am assigned to you and only you. I am responsible for you until I deem that you are good enough to be allowed loose into the world.”
“You aren’t stopping me” said Fiona obstinately.
“If you go, then I’m coming too!” said Eölfran. Fiona smiled, she would be glad of his company, and was glad that her friend hadn’t deserted her.
The triplets poked their heads out of their respective bedrooms, disturbed by the commotion. Elise soon realised that it wasn’t based on sprites, so immediately lost interest. She was really taking it too far, but seeing as though it was the first time she had ever met them, it was acceptable. For the first week or so anyway.
Erica and Enid were determined to follow Fiona. She had helped them out, and given them a purpose once more. So they wanted to help her, and make sure that she got her happy ending. It would be their first actions as white witches, and they were looking forward to it.
The group that was heading through the forest consisted of Fiona, Eölfran, Erica, Enid and a reluctant Sylvina, who insisted that she was only following them to the edge of the forest.
All five of them were magic users, and this accelerated their journey. They sped through the forest as fast as their mind could take them, but this was not fast enough for Fiona.
She needed to be there, she needed to get to him before it was too late. Her lips were drawn taught as she concentrated on going as fast as she could. As she flew through the forest, the wind streamed into her face, making her eyes stream and her nose run. The others were similarly afflicted, apart from the sprites, which were used to flying at great speeds. Their bodies were designed to withstand the pressure.
Within minutes they were at the edge of the forest, and heading towards the mountains. Sylvina was still with them, and when Eölfran asked about it, she didn’t reply, only nodding at Fiona. It was only right that she was repaid for what she had done.
After an hour, the tallest mountains still seemed miles away, and they were mentally drained. Enid was almost dropping out of the air, so Erica called a halt. They all needed a rest and some food. Fiona took hers in silence.
Eölfran noticed that she was still clutching his carved wooden dragon. It cut into her hands, leaving a reddened imprint. It was almost glowing; as if she put her energy into whilst she was flying. It was almost a store for her magic, and it would help supply her when she was feeling drained.
This made Eölfran look at her even more admiringly. She had earned more of his respect; it was an amazing feat to be able to fly like they had done, never mind simultaneously casting another spell. The magic gave the wooden carving a sense of life, and of being alive. If he closed his eyes, it almost had its own spirit. He could sense the individual fires of life burning within the members of the party, as if they were candles lighting up a darkened cave.
Eölfran couldn’t pinpoint why he had been inspired to carve her this dragon. He had intended to make her a flute, in the style of the sprites. He wanted to play a duet with her, and fill the glens with their beautiful music.
But as soon as he had picked up his carving knife and the block of wood, he was compelled to make the dragon. It was as if his hands were no longer his own. His quick clever hands made short work of the wood, creating tiny details that made it alive. The tiny indentations in the pupils of the eyes to make it look as if the firelight was reflecting in its eyes. The miniscule veins that ran like street maps across its wings. In his minds eye, Eölfran saw the dragon as a scarlet beast, with ruby eyes. As he recalled this, he felt sickened as he realised it was the mirror of Wainkor.
It was made with him in mind, and carried part of his power. Perhaps he was inhabited by the dying remnants of the dragon’s spirit. Because it was impossible for him to be alive. Because their angel of destruction had come to protect them. And because the scriptures wrote that she would prevail, and her name sung in the halls of the forest forever.
The carving obviously meant a lot to Fiona. She carried it around with her like it was worth a fortune and it was too precious to let out of her sight. When she needed both her hands, it was kept in her breast pocket, with its snout and eyes peeping out, as if it were keeping tabs on the world.
As they rested, they talked casually about their plans for the future. By mutual consent they all avoided talk of their mission. Sylvina attempted to talk to Fiona, but she remained sullen and silent. She was intent on her cause, and woe betide any who stood in her way.


Chapter 22 – Julian is Suspicious

I tried to make light conversation with the eagle, but it was intent on asking me questions. I felt like I was being interrogated. It was an uncomfortable feeling, and I didn’t like it much.
He asked about who I was close to, and this inevitably led to a conversation about Fiona. It made me feel as if I had no-one else left in this world. But she had to come. She had saved me before, and promised that she would keep me safe.
We waited on the edge of the eyrie. I could hear the insistent cries of the chicks, and they were quelled by their father’s insistent screams. I didn’t understand what was going on, or what they were saying.
Once more I sent up a prayer, hoping it would be heard. If there was a god, he was having tremendous fun right now, I thought pessimistically. And then I sent up another prayer, this one directed at his saving grace: Fiona.
Raynor scratched nervously at the floor of the eyrie, dislodging small twigs. Bark flew towards me like shrapnel, and I ducked to avoid it. I had been much happier when I was captive in the forest. They probably didn’t even know that I had gone.
But at least there I had food and water. The mere thought of food sent my stomach into a symphony of growls. I had not eaten or drunk since the previous night, and even then the meal was sparse. I was used to eating mainly meat based meals, and the vegetables of the night before seemed insignificant in comparison.
Raynor heard the growls emanating from my torso and chuckled. “Can I get you anything to eat?” he asked. In my mind, it seemed like he was offering me my last meal, and I jumped at the chance, despite the sinister connotations.
I nodded and he launched himself out of the eyrie. As he left he sounded a cry, which sounded like a death toll. I resigned myself to my fate, and slumped down against the wall. I closed my eyes and faced inwards, anything to avoid the sinking sense of vertigo that I got when I looked out across the countryside.
I will never be able to understand how creatures of flight could have no fear. They seemed to catapult themselves across the sky, completely trusting in their powers of flight. I could never do anything like that. Not ever. I was never even fond of walking out onto the roof of Heaton Hall. Not that I’d ever be doing that again.
I wish she was here now. I wish she was here so I could hold her in my arms, like a comforting cushion. I wish that she was here so that I had to be strong for her. Right now, I am weak. I am crumbling and I am weak. And I am going to die.
I close my eyes and listen. Listen for the impending wing beats that herald the return of the eagle king. Listen for the squalling cries of the eaglets. The only thing I can hear is the lonely call of the wind as it blasts around the mountain summit.
Whilst I am alone, I may as well search the eyrie. I may even be able to escape! With renewed hope, I look around the edges of the eyrie, even chancing a look down the rocky mountainside to see if it is climbable. I don’t dare to go too near to the small eagles. I look too much like lunch to them, and the idea of being on the menu really doesn’t appeal to me.
I find a corner stuffed with moss, and the suspicious remains of their last meal. The bones could well have been sheep bones, I tell myself. It’s kind of hard to keep up this kind of charade when the open eyes of a fresh skull is staring you in the face.
My hands were shaking from a mixture of adrenaline and fear. I just knew that I needed to hide, and quickly. I didn’t want to eat my last meal here; I definitely didn’t want to die with bad blood between Fiona and me.
I heaved some greenery out from the base of the nest, creating a human sized hollow. I made sure it was in an out of the way place, where I was unlikely to be stepped on or discovered.
I looked around at the eyrie before secreting myself into the hole I had made. It was snug, but comfortable enough. I just hoped that I would be able to stay her, unmoving, for as long as it took. And I especially hoped that I wouldn’t sneeze.


Chapter 23 – Fiona Meets an Old Friend

I insisted that we began to move again. I just knew that he was in danger, and that he may not survive the day. I clutched the figure in my hand, feeling the smooth wood in my grasp. It made me feel reassured, and I slowly fed my power into it as I flew.
The periodical rest stops irritated me, because my magic appeared to be endless. It was like a flowing river that never ran dry. It was the spring from which all magic began. And I could have gone faster.
But something was telling me that I needed all the help I could get. The others had their part to play, and I could sense that this mission would only be successful if no-one was left behind.
I could almost hear Julian’s voice in my mind, pleading for help, trying to worm his way out of the situation. He always believed that words were more powerful than weapons. I can’t say that I share his beliefs; I think that magic is the most powerful.
Now that I think of it, if magic is the most powerful weapon, and I have an unlimited supply of it, that gives me the most power. I guess that I am the most important then. And I know that it is important for me to make the right decision, and not be a tyrant.
Last night, Eölfran told me the threefold rule, and the general code of conduct of his people. It rang true with my ideals. The sprites live in my perfect society. He said “do unto others what you would have done to yourself. Respect all other living creatures and respect the power that you wield. Only then can you be all powerful, and only then shall you be wise and happy.”
It seemed as if he had read it from a scroll, but he knew it by heart. It was as if it had been drilled into him, until he acquiesced. Not that it was a bad idea at all.
The dragon moved beneath my hands. I felt it. The wings twitched, as if it were trying to fly. I can hear a distressed mumbling inside my head.
It must be alive. I thought that it was alive before, but Eölfran made it, and he said that it wasn’t. And I believe him, truly I do. It feels familiar to me, not just because it’s filled with my magic. I have heard this voice before.
“Fiona…”
It knows me, as I know it. It’s a niggling feeling, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. And then, with a blast of memory, I know.
Once more, I feel the exhilarating feeling of riding inside a dragon’s mind. I feel the betrayal, and I remember watching Heaton Hall burn, powerless to help.
“Wainkor!” I shout, startling my companions. The wooden figure is now stained with the redness of my blood, where I have been clutching it tightly. I didn’t even realise that I had broken the skin.
As I look at the figure, watching it parade about my hand incredulously, it takes flight, circling my head.
“What are you doing?” I ask angrily inside my head. “You have no right to be here. I killed you, and watched you die. I felt your spirit drain into the earth. You should not be here!”
The dragon laughed in a sinister manner. “I did not truly die: I cannot. But I have seen things that have made me think. I have readjusted my views on life. And now, I only exist as an extension of you and Eölfran.”
“I don’t understand.” I said, still angry that Wainkor was alive. Things that I kill are supposed to stay dead. It took so much courage for me to face him, and it was mostly in retaliation. “How can you be a part of me?”
“I am the thoughts that you don’t dare to think. I am the conscience, and your guide. And I cannot betray you; I am of your blood.” And I understood. His was the voice that had been persuading her to go and help him. He was the one who knew where the eyrie was, and he was the one who was leading them there.
I explained this to the group, who were very sceptical. It took all my persuasive skills to convince Enid and Erica not to kill him. I needed Wainkor now, in a cruel twist of fate. He was the only one who could save Julian, whereas before, he was the one who was trying to kill him, to get revenge.
“You need a new name.” I mused aloud. “One that doesn’t remind me of who you were. One that shows you have changed.”
“Phoenix.” Whispered Eölfran. “The one reborn from the flames.”


Chapter 24 – Hide and Seek

They continued the trek up the mountainside. If they looked carefully, they could just about see the eyrie. Fiona was on constant alert, and all of them kept one eye on the skies, just in case the eagle came for them.
Despite straining his eyes, Eölfran couldn’t tell if there was anyone in the nest. Phoenix kindly offered to go and look, but then found that he couldn’t. If he travelled further than 100m away from Fiona, she felt stabbing pains which threatened to cause her to black out. And a black out wasn’t the best thing to have happen when you are travelling very quickly in mid air.
There was a sudden movement in the azure sky above them. They all flinched as they looked upwards, craning their necks, expecting to see a winged figure bearing down on them. It wasn’t coming towards them; it was circling high and heading towards the eyrie. From this distance, it looked as if it were a normal bird, but it was well capable of dealing with the entire party.
Fiona put a hand to her chest and took a deep breath of relief. She couldn’t deal with having to protect all these people when she had to think about how to rescue Julian, and the implications of the newly named phoenix.
Although he had changed, it was obvious, she still couldn’t trust him. It was just the way the eyes glinted, the way that he comfortably slipped into her mind and told her what to do and where to go. It was subversive, sneaky and very very strange. He sounded just like her conscience, but instead of giving her moral guidance, he just made her edgy, and made her question herself.
Eölfran could tell that she was becoming paranoid, and flew up beside her, making light conversation, trying to get her mind back on track. She appreciated the effort, but it wasn’t helping. She tried to tell him what she meant, but it came out all wrong. “Will you just leave me alone?” she snapped at him. Eölfran backed away, feeling a little bit hurt by the sudden outburst.
“That wasn’t called for!” Sylvina retaliated, rebuking her for the unnecessary attack. Instead of rising to the bait, and starting an argument with the friends she knew she would later need, she sped up, separating herself from the group, but staying within shouting distance.
“You should just leave them. They don’t understand you.” Said Phoenix, meddling and frustrating Fiona. He flew about her head in dizzying acrobatics, annoying Fiona as a bluebottle annoys a horse.
“I wish you would leave me alone.” She muttered, knowing that even if she didn’t speak, he would hear her. If it didn’t hurt her so much, she would kill him. She knew where the eyrie was now, he was unnecessary.
She lunged at him, grasping him around his neck. She immediately regretted it as a burst of fire shot from between his jaws, singeing her clothes. “You can’t harm me. I won’t allow it.” He said with a sinister smile.
Fiona responded with a sickly sweet smile of her own and released him. She was just going to have to play by his rules and beat him at his own game.
Meanwhile, Raynor had returned to his eyrie, and Julian was nowhere to be found. He stalked about the platform, announcing his rage with primal screeches. These were heard by the rescue party far below, who immediately feared the worst.
The noise hurt Julian’s ears, and he badly wanted to cover them with his hands. But he didn’t dare to move, he didn’t want to give himself away. So he remained silent and still, listening to Raynor rant and shout in frustration.
“Julian! Come out! I shall soon be losing my patience. Have I not been hospitable towards you? Have I not rescued you and brought you back to my home? I was going to introduce you to my two lovely children, Lawsey and Gernic. But now you will not be granted that pleasure.
“I know you haven’t climbed down the mountain. I even know that your precious so called friends are on their way up here to rescue you. Perhaps they should take your place as guest of honour at tonight’s meal.
“Maybe they shall serve as entertainment for my children, and charm them with their sparkling wit and magic tricks. I can sense their magic from here. It is like a stench, a stain on the landscape. You have been tainted by it too. In the end it shall be your downfall.
“But I’m talking metaphorically now, because I am destined to be your downfall. The only destiny I can foresee for you is that you are to become my lunch. Now, I command you! Reveal yourself!”
By the end he was bellowing, torturing Julian’s unprotected ears. But he dared not move. He knew that he was right not to trust the eagle with his silver tongue. He just didn’t know how he was going to escape.
When Raynor told him that Fiona was coming, he was at first overjoyed, and then fearful for her. She was putting herself into danger, and she was surely doomed to die. Raynor wouldn’t allow his prey to escape for a second time.
But then again, it was obviously not just her on her own. He had said friends. And they all had magic, so it definitely wasn’t Holly, or Anna, or Geoff. In fact, the only other people that he knew with magic were the witches and the dragon.
But he was certain that they were dead. When he had been having nightmares, Fiona had soothed him, telling him in soft whispers that she had “Taken care of them.” They were never going to get him again.
He trusted her, and her word. So therefore it had to be the dragon, holding her captive. Or maybe it was someone new. He racked his brains, but drew a blank. He would just have to wait and see what happened. He had little choice; to do anything else was certain death.


Chapter 25 – Lies and Deceit

The group looked up and they inspected the underside of the well constructed eyrie. It was built carefully and well, and the only way that they could see to go was to fly over the edge. This would mean that they had to pick their moments carefully. Phoenix flew up to the brim of the large basket like structure and hid amongst the twigs.
He relayed what Raynor was saying to Fiona, who relayed it to the rest of the group. From their convenient spy, they gathered that the eagle knew of their existence. However, Phoenix chose not to tell them that Julian was missing. Instead, he told them that the ferocious cries were ones of victory, and that Julian was dead.
He wove a tale of deceit, telling Fiona of the gory scene before him, where he had been torn limb from limb and fed to the ravenous chicks. Fiona’s voice caught in her throat as she repeated Phoenix’s words to the group.
“Enough!” she said to Phoenix, making him stop the agonising narration of a bloody death. He had left out none of the details, even giving her a mental image of what was happening. Fiona had lost her suspicions of Phoenix as soon as she saw that picture. No creature in their right mind would think of something that horrendous.
But then again, Phoenix was not in his right mind. He was the broken and twisted fragments of an evil beast, reborn and reformed. It was hardly right to expect him to be nice after all that, was it?
With tears streaming down her face, she looked ugly and puffy. Wordlessly Eölfran embraced her, followed by Enid and Erica. They had only recently taken their pledge, but they were both taking it very seriously and to heart. Therefore any human suffering was hard for them to watch.
Finally Sylvina embraced her, kissing her on the cheek, trying to take away some of the pain. Fiona realised that she had many friends, and all was not lost. She stopped crying and the sorrow she felt was replaced by the need for cold, hard retribution.
Revenge and anger flowed through her veins and she motioned to the others to ascend. It was time to make the eagle pay for what he had done. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, thought Fiona as she followed her friends higher and higher.
They rose up in an inverted pyramid, with Fiona at the bottom, at the point. She had the witches on either side of her and they were flanked by the sprites. It was not for them to know, but Raynor was well aware of their actions. The appearance of the dragon was noticed by him, and he was on his guard, ready to defend his children and to provide them with their dinner.
As soon as he saw the heads of Erica and Enid, he lunged in with his razor sharp claws. They had no chance, and were forced to submit to his onslaught.
The eagle grasped one of them in each of his claws, dangling them precariously by their heads. They both turned a whiter shade of pale as Raynor tapped a talon on their foreheads.
“Hollow.” He sneered maliciously. “Just like all magic users eh? These certainly are a pretty pair. It would be a shame if one of them were to…break.” With the last word he slightly increased the pressure on their heads, making them yelp in pain.
“You leave them alone.” Said Fiona with a murderous glint in her eye. She wielded a hefty crossbow, and was aiming it directly at the eagle. It was a stalemate, neither of them could do anything.
Fiona was the first to break the deadlock. She couldn’t just stand there and do nothing whilst her friends were in trouble. Both of them were trembling in fear, and pleading for their lives.
She sent a spell of calming towards the kitchen, and one of peace towards the eagle. It worked well on the witches, and they seemed to be a lot more in control. Raynor’s reaction puzzled her. He started laughing maniacally.
“The stench of your magic is in the air. It really gets up my nostrils. It’s a shame it has no other effect on me.” Fiona was confused; her magic had never failed her before.
“You look confused,” he continued. “I’ll make this nice and easy for your little brain to handle.” She snarled at his condescending manner. Fiona hated it when people talked down to her. This just made her even angrier.
“I’ll give you a choice.” She looked up at him questioningly. “You get to choose which of your little friends gets to live, and which gets to have the honour of feeding my children. I believe that Lawsey is particularly hungry today.”
“You’re a monster, you know that?” said Fiona, shaking her head. “Neither of them should die. They haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of the circle of life?” Raynor smiled. “I am the predator. These two are my prey. You should be thankful I’m feeling nice today. Kind and merciful, that’s me.” He gave her an inane grin, and Fiona resigned herself to the choice.
As soon as Erica and Enid saw her shoulders sink, they knew that one of them must die. Fiona looked up and met their eyes, glancing from one to the other. She was apologetic, and they were fearful. Erica was the first to look away. She knew that she had a responsibility as the eldest child to look after her siblings.
Fiona nodded, and accepted her decision. Enid went wide eyed with fear. “You can’t die! You’re my leader, my older sister. You matter much more than I do. You have a gift! I’m just an accountant. I don’t matter.” She sobbed wildly, but Erica refused to give in.
Fiona gestured helplessly towards Erica, and Raynor smiled. “A good decision, may I say. I’m sure that Lawsey and Gernic will enjoy it.” He was just about to deliver the blow to her head, when something caught his eye over Fiona’s shoulder.
Fiona and the sprites turned to see what it was, but as soon as their attention was on the second, larger eagle flying towards them, Raynor dealt the final blow.
Fiona cried out in anguish as two loud sickening cracks rang out across the mountainside. Julian heard her pain, and decided that now was his time. His lady needed him and he would defend him with her life.
Raynor tossed the limp and lifeless bodies to his children. They were devoured hungrily, and the meat was eagerly stripped from the bones with a surgeon’s precision.
Meanwhile, in the forest, the sprites were halted in their daily business by the heart wrenching cry of Elise. She felt as if she had lost a part of herself. The community were gathered to her, and they sat in mourning. The emotional pain was shared amongst them all. A life was a terrible thing to lose, never mind two at once.
Elise only regretted one thing, that she had not said goodbye. She had been selfish, and had not cared for her sisters and her friend. Now, she was alone, except for those who she had abandoned them for. Suddenly, the sprites didn’t seem quite so important.

An Unlikely Heroine Part 4

Chapter 16 – Betrayal!

Morning reared its head, but none of them were awake to see it. It was at least ten o’ clock before any of them were awake, rubbing bleary eyes. The pain wasn’t quite as raw as it had seemed the night before, and Anna even managed to whistle a tune as she bustled about the kitchen, preparing a meal for her friends.
Holly went out to collect the eggs from the chickens that pecked and scratched in the back yard. There were six of them, and the five hens all clamoured for the attention of the rooster. She laughed aloud at their antics as she scattered corn about the yard, watching them scramble to find the food. She had always liked being on a farm. Perhaps she would find work on one of the farms surrounding the area. She needed to find work soon, she couldn’t stay here forever, even though she knew that Julian would have no qualms about her doing so.
She was surprised by Julian coming up behind her and hugging her from behind, a gesture of affection for his friend who obviously needed some love and attention. He had heard Geoff and Anna, and knew that Holly must have been on her own all night; he couldn’t have done that, he was too broken inside.
They stayed like that for a while, enjoying the sunshine and relaxing in the breeze. She relaxed into his powerful arms and he rested his head on her shoulder. They looked as if they were in love, but they were both just seeking comfort. Any attempt at human contact, to breach the impossibly high walls standing between their souls.
Fiona awoke alone in a conspicuously empty bed. The sheets beside her were cold, and she knew that he must have been awake for some time. She stretched out like a cat, enjoying the feeling of expanding out into the bed. It was impossibly comfortable, and reluctantly, she pushed herself up onto her elbows, looking out of the window.
The sunlight streamed through into her eyes, and she shielded them to get a better view of the magnificent countryside. It looked tantalising, and she couldn’t wait to get out there. She rolled out of bed and padded over to the window. Her feet recoiled at the cold wooden flooring that had been sanded down and well walked on. She leaned on the windowsill and took in the view.
What she saw shocked her. In the back yard, Julian had his arms about Holly’s waist, and his head resting on her shoulder. This hurt her more than she could ever have imagined. The outrageous tenacity of the blonde haired man brought tears to her eyes. She wiped them away in anger and frustration.
He was all she held onto in this strange world. If he was like this with Holly, how could he ever be the same with her? He had come clean to her about his chequered past, but this was beyond belief.
He kissed her on the cheek, lingering a little too long for Fiona’s liking. This decided her. If he thought that she would wait around for him, and let him do whatever he liked, he was wrong. Wondering how she could ever be so stupid, she hunted around in the bureau for a pen and paper.
Through the tears, she wrote a note to him. “How could you ever be so stupid? I thought you were mine. Goodbye, F” She reread it, until the words were just a blur. And then, she crept downstairs, and left the cottage. She took one rose and held it tightly, the thorns breaking her skin. The blood ran down her wrist, miniature rivulets staining her soul.
She could have healed them, but she didn’t. She wanted to feel the pain. The physical pain was better than the pain she felt within her soul. Her heart was shattered and she didn’t look back as she walked down the lonely path.
She took nothing with her. She was content with just memories. But the only one that kept running through her head was her with him. If only she had woken up earlier. If only she had fallen in love with the right man.
Angrily, she walked into the forest, not feeling the weight from her shoulders lift. She had hoped, expected, that leaving him behind would help. She couldn’t bear to think of his face, but he was the only one who she could have talked to to allay her fears. He was more than a lover; he was her best friend who she intimately trusted. And then he broke her trust. She had known that he was arrogant, but the sheer rudeness of what he had done was more than she could bear.
The only one who had seen her leave was Geoff. He had been in the front room, but she had been too distracted to notice him. He had thought it was a little odd that she hadn’t said good morning, but dismissed it as bleariness from just waking up.
Anna came in, and kissed him on the cheek, and he thought no more about it. After all, Holly and Julian were outside, it made sense that she had gone to see them.
Anna called everyone to the kitchen to break their fast. Julian frowned as he noticed that Fiona was absent. “I’ll go and wake Fiona, she must still be asleep.” He stood up to go upstairs, when Geoff mentioned that she had gone out earlier.
“I thought she was with you?” Julian looked concerned, and shook his head. He went pale suddenly, and ran upstairs.
“Fiona?! Fiona?” he called out in desperation. There was no reply, and he burst into the room they had shared the night before. There was an empty space on the bed where she had been, and a note remained, written with her shaking hands.
The others were summoned upstairs by his cry of anguish. Geoff was the first on the scene, and his friend was sat on the bed, his head in his hands. There was a crumpled note within his grasp, which Geoff carefully prised out.
His eyebrows shot up as he realised what it meant; he had heard her leave this morning, but it was for good. She had taken nothing, but nothing was hers to take.
“What’s happened?” asked Holly. Geoff explained as Julian was unable to. He was lost for words and couldn’t take much more. With all that had happened, he couldn’t lose her. All he knew was that he had to go and find her. He wasn’t complete without her.
He had to be forced to eat before he left. He wanted to leave immediately, go after her. There was only one path that she knew, and he knew that she would be trying to find a way home. Over breakfast, Julian formulated a plan. The others had no choice but to follow his commands.
Anna and Geoff were to stay here. This was to be their home, to do with as they pleased. Holly had the choice to stay with them, or to go into the village. She had friends there, and she was much more likely to find work. They had discussed which farms she should go to, and she wasn’t short of options.
Julian needed to go after her. As soon as he had finished his meal, he packed a small bag of essentials whilst Geoff prepared the horse. The chestnut mare was raring to go and Geoff swore that she was the fastest horse he had ever ridden. Fiona was on foot, so he should find her easily.
Julian clasped hands with his best friend and pulled him into an embrace. “Come back” said Geoff. He didn’t want to lose his friend, but he knew that if Fiona went anywhere, he would follow. It was obvious to them all that they were meant to be together always.
“If I can, I will” Julian promised. He hoped that he would be able to make it back. But there was no guarantee he would be able to find her, or if he did that she would listen. He really had no idea why she had left. He was confused and lost and just wanted to be forgiven
She had been walking through the forest for some time, and couldn’t go on any further. This separation had been more than she could handle. It was hard enough for her to pull himself away from him. He was all she had ever wanted, and more. She made her way off the path and sat upon a mossy log. She remembered all the fun times, when they had shared that precious night together amongst the heather.
She could smell the raw spirit of the forest. It was a mixture of the earth and the supernatural. It surrounded her and she felt the intoxication take over her soul. She wasn’t sure whether it was just how she was feeling, or whether it was the magic of the forest, but something was going on.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something flit amongst the bushes. She turned to see what it was, but there was nothing there. It was almost as if something was teasing her, trying to catch her attention and put her off guard.
She had just about gathered herself together and was about to leave, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was keeping tabs on her. She moved to stand up, but was confronted by a tiny creature with a loud voice.
“Stop. Follow me. Find peace within the forest.” He spoke, sounding as if he was not from this time. He was straight out of Celtic mythology, and sounded soft and mystical. He had silken wings that flapped slowly, keeping him aloft. A sprinkling of sparkles followed him as he swayed in the air beckoning to her.
She felt compelled to follow him; she was under a spell. Her feet took her to a glade whilst she marvelled at the sprite. He had a pointed face, like an elf. There was an air of childlike innocence, as if he could do no wrong. He had the same colour skin as his eyes, a sparkling blue. His wings were more like a butterfly’s than an angel’s.
The glade was defined in a million different shades of green. From emerald to jade, Fiona’s senses were overwhelmed by the spectrum of colour. She sat down and took in the scenery as more and more sprites surrounded her. Within 20 minutes, there were at least 600 sprites in the air circling her. They were male, female and every colour of the rainbow. She was showered in sparkles until the glitter lifted her up from her seat, until she was hovering amongst them.
The largest of them hovered in the centre, and without saying a word, they all knew he commanded attention. It was time for the assembly to begin, and Fiona was their honoured guest. They were in a semicircle, and it was almost like an amphitheatre. The head sprite stood on the stage and amplified his voice, in courtesy to Fiona who couldn’t hear their normal voices.
“Welcome to the sprite meet, one and all,” he began, “We extend our welcome to the first human who has ever been in our midst, Fiona.” She had no idea how they knew her name, but it was alright, somehow. “She is here, against some of your wishes,” he indicated a group who had separated and settles as far from Fiona as they could get, “because this sprite meet concerns her.”
He addressed Fiona directly “You would not be able to pronounce, or even comprehend my name, so you shall know me as Croifan.” She nodded as she closed her eyes and imprinted his name into her memory.
“Last night, you rid this area of a great evil” he continued. “We no longer have to suffer the full might of the witches’ coven. We know we have nothing to fear from the white witches of the forest. I believe you know them as Laurie and Joanne. They are the two that swore their allegiance to us, and they work as a pair.”
Fiona recognised them by Croifan’s description. She had not thought to look through the devastation to see if there were any survivors. She had just assumed that all of them had been killed in the destruction. She should have known that it was harder to kill a witch than that. Previously she had just sent out a spell of evil and destruction, with no specific thought. She probably shouldn’t be surprised that they had survived.
Croifan went on to describe a plan of action. They needed to eliminate the triplets. The sprites had no idea where their allegiance lay, and that was a problem. If they were against them, they needed to be dealt with now, whilst they were still weak.
The sprites had seen them retreat into the forest to lick their wounds. They knew roughly where they lay, but they weren’t prepared to reveal themselves to the witches until they knew their true intentions.


Chapter 17 – A Quest is Begun

Julian rode as fast as he could. He knew that she had gone this way, because it was the direction that she had come from. If she thought that he wasn’t there for her, she had nothing too keep her here. It was logical that she would head home.
As the scenery flashed past him, he began to relax. He had had less than a good night’s sleep, and the rhythmic motion of the horse below him lulled him into a trance. He was still watching the road ahead like a hawk.
An hour had passed before he saw any change in scenery. He passed out of the forest, and was soon in the open countryside. He had seen no sign of her yet, and he had really expected to by now. But he kept on going, because if there was any hope, any hope at all that she was still out there, he would keep on searching.
“Fiona!” he shouted himself hoarse as he kept calling her name. His voice seemed lost and empty, just as he was without her by his side. He went to sit down by a stream when he was sure that he must have passed her by now. He was on the fastest horse Geoff knew, and she was on foot. Something must have happened in the forest. After gathering himself, he decided to head back into the green depths.
Meanwhile, Fiona had lost her train of thought and was merely watching the sprites. They wove in and out of each other gracefully, turning somersaults in the air like acrobats. They knew exactly where each one of them was going.
Shaking her head, she forced herself to focus on the debate. They knew exactly where the triplets were, and the plan was for Fiona to confront them. Either they disbanded the coven and swore to become white witches, or they were to be destroyed.
Fiona was so torn up inside, she didn’t even care about the imminent deaths. It didn’t matter that she was about to end a life. She felt as if all the humanity had been sucked out of her when Julian was unfaithful.
“How could I have been so stupid?” she asked herself, wallowing about in her own self pity. Life could be so unfair at times, she reflected, as the green sprite she had first met stepped forwards.
“I am Eölfran. I first met Fiona, and I have little to fear from humans, magical though some of them may be. I shall guide her to the witches.” This was quite a speech, for someone with such low standing within the sprite culture.
He was little more than a boy, speaking out against the wise and learned elders of his culture. But Eölfran was brave. Perhaps a little reckless, but brave. He also had a personal grudge against the witches. His family had been taken from him by a rogue magic spell. He only escaped unharmed by pure luck.
It was because of this that other sprites were wary of him. It was not up to pure luck to say who was to live or die. By all rights, he should have been dead, but he walked away with no injuries.
“You are an unusual sprite” mused Croifan. “You have been through much and emerged without harm. This is unnatural to us, but if you go without coercion and with an honest conscience, I cannot refuse.”
“Thank you Croifan.” Said Eölfran, surprised. He had not expected it to be that easy. He looked at Fiona with an impish grin, and was surprised to see her sullen face. She was miserable, it was easy to see, and that was strange when he was so triumphant. He made a mental not to talk to her about what was troubling her when they were in private.
“However, there are a few conditions.” Eölfran rolled his eyes. He should have known that it wouldn’t be as easy as it first seemed. It never was. Croifan continued; “You must not reveal yourself to anyone but Fiona. You must go unseen and unheard. You may not use your magic to aid or abet unless Fiona is in mortal danger.”
“Also, if they agree to become white witches, we shall reveal ourselves to them. But they must not be brought to our sacred clearing, or near any of our homes. We shall meet in the clearing where Fiona once sat.”
Eölfran was relieved. It wasn’t anything that was unreasonable, and he had noticed that Croifan had given him pretty much free rein. The conditions that were placed on him were similar to the same rules that had been impressed onto him from an early age.
“So mote it be!” chorused the sprites, before disappearing off to their homes in a veritable swarm. It looked like a rainbow, with streams and ribbons of colour flowing through the air.
As the last sparkles died away, Fiona and Eölfran were left in the clearing on their own. Fiona had been watching in rapture, and seemed unapproachable until the last creature had left her sight.
Reluctantly she stood up, and addressed Eölfran for the first time since he had volunteered himself. “Lets go then.” She sighed. Her heart obviously wasn’t in it, but she felt duty bound to do the right thing. She knew that it was morally right to help those who couldn’t help themselves. But as soon as this was done, she was finding her way home.
“What, no questions?” Eölfran was startled. He had expected there to be questions. He expected her to ask why he had put himself forward, why he couldn’t reveal himself, at least where they were going.
He hovered in front of her face, forcing her to stop. He tweaked her nose lightly, and she sneezed. “What is your problem?” he asked. “Its obvious you aren’t going to be any use until your heart is in it, so please just tell me what’s going on. A troubled soul cannot be a bastion of good.”
She smiled at his formal language. It seemed that everything that was done by the sprites needed to be formal and proper. It seemed like a fair society, but they needed to relax and let go a little bit. “Well, I was on my way home actually.” She admitted.
“Running away from your troubles?” he guessed. She nodded and explained about Julian. It felt good to get it all off her chest, even if it did result in crying until she felt she couldn’t breathe any more. She hiccupped until Eölfran managed to calm her down.
“It’s alright to cry.” He said soothingly as he stroked her cheek. “Everybody needs to cry. Yes, he was wrong to do what he did. And yes, I know you love him. Every creature in the valley knows that, especially after last night!” This elicited a smile from her. Eölfran inwardly smiled, knowing that making her laugh was the first stage of recovery. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
They talked about Julian as they walked through the forest. Fiona delighted in the feel of the crunching leaves below her. She felt childish and immature, but she felt free. It was as if the spirit of the forest was laughing with her, making her feel buoyant.
Eölfran led her through a maze of paths, unerringly following a walkway seen only to him. Fiona had long lost her sense of direction, and despite being in the midst of so much living greenery, she realised she hadn’t seen another mortal animal in the last 20 minutes. She hadn’t been bitten by midges, or seen a bird fly overhead. She hadn’t heard the rustle of small mammals scurrying about in the undergrowth.
It was as unnerving as a vulture circling high above. The only sound was her voice, and her feet. She fell silent, feeling awkward that she had disturbed the silence. She wasn’t afraid, she just felt as if she was intruding.
Eölfran noticed that she had stopped talking, and was looking about with shifty eyes. “This is the dead zone” he explained. “Nothing lives here, few people walk here. No one knows why. Legend has it that a malevolent spirit rests here. It makes people uneasy.”
She nodded. “I feel like a burglar, like I’ve crossed a boundary” she admitted. With a shiver, the pair kept going, eager to escape the will that was set against them.


Chapter 18 – A Natural Prison

Julian went back along the path considerably slower than he had set out. Maybe she was hiding from him in the forest, he thought. He noticed that some branches had been bent back, a little way away from the path.
It was behind a particularly luxurious looking green log. The delicate plants were bent and trampled. One particular toadstool had been crushed flat by an uncaring foot. Its insides had burst forth, creating a messy explosion of red and white. Its family had been spared, but stood impassively behind the destruction.
This was more than enough to tell Julian that someone had passed this way recently, with some urgency. He could just imagine her now, pushing her way through the undergrowth until she could find some peace, and think about everything.
He knew what it was like to have too much going on in his mind, and not know where to turn. He reasoned that she must have just run away because she couldn’t cope. He couldn’t think of any other reason.
He tied the reins of his horse to a tree, and slackened them so that she had some freedom, but couldn’t go far. He didn’t intend to be gone long. Just enough to persuade her to come back, listen to reason and explain what was going on. He just wanted her to let him in, and tell him what was going on inside her mind.
He followed the trail for a little way, until it suddenly stopped. No evidence of it leading anywhere else. He looked around, seeing if there was an obvious way through the trees. They seemed impassive, a wall of golden reds and browns.
He thought that he saw an entrance, but as soon as he moved towards it, it closed in front of him. The leaves of the trees actively moved to bar his path and it was the same each way he turned. He was trapped inside a woven circle of vegetation. It was useless.
Taking the issue into his own hands, he tried to climb his way up to the top of the trees. Sneezing, he felt dizzy almost immediately. It was the same feeling that he had got when he was watching Fiona morph her clothing. But this was different. Where her magic was warm and comforting, and enveloped him in a marshmallow like pillow, this was alien, almost venomous.
Croifan was watching, impassively. He knew fine well who he was. He knew that this may be the only hope for Fiona. But he also knew that no gentleman who cared about a lady would let her walk in this forest alone. He knew that all the humans, without exception, were petrified of the sinister presence. Perhaps it was Fiona’s magic, but she didn’t feel it. She just simply didn’t have the sixth sense that everyone else had.
Perhaps it was the same for all the witches. Perhaps this was a way that the sprites could get to them. They were invisible, especially if someone was immune to the sense of being watched. Julian had it now, and was looking around curiously to see if anyone was behind this sorcery. He was very wary, and you couldn’t blame him. Hr had been oblivious to his so called mother’s enchantments all him life. It was only natural that he would mistrust mysterious goings on.
Julian sat down in the middle of his natural trap, and Croifan watched him. Any move that he made, any glimpse, was covered. Could he be trusted? Or would he reveal their presence, want to test them and rule them? And what was going on with Fiona – why weren’t they together?
The only way he would get any answers was if he asked Julian himself. But that would mean revealing himself to the man. It was a dilemma, and one that needed serious thought. Croifan sat cross legged in mid air and hovered, peering through the leaves, contemplating the man sat before him.
Julian, unaware of the sprite that was measuring him up, gave up. He sat on a tree stump, and started humming. He remembered the song that Fiona was singing to him only yesterday. “I am a sex machine, ready to reload, like an atom bomb, about to wooooaah explode!”
He laughed at the absurdity of the lyrics. From the way Fiona behaved, and her antics in bed, the future was obviously a lot more open, and a lot more sex orientated. And that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, he smiled and kept humming. It seemed that he would be stuck there for quite some time. And Queen, he rolled the name around his tongue, was something he could rather get used to.
Fiona walked out of a glade, and felt the weight lifted from her shoulders. It was if there was no malevolence any more. They had passed from the area of darkness, and it was as if nothing had happened. Almost immediately she began to spot wildlife. A squirrel took a flying leap of faith over their heads. Its burnished red tail flew out behind it to keep its balance, and not for the first time, Fiona marvelled at the wonder and perfection of nature.
Tiring, Eölfran rested on her shoulder, and sang a song to help pass the time. The words were simple, and Fiona soon found herself singing along.

“Walking out upon the forest,
Sky so blue and trees so green,
Walking through our mother nature,
Wonders that we’ve never seen.

Rumpitty tum, fol diddy dee,
Wild is nature, I am free,
Rumpitty tum, fol diddy dee,
Walking in pure and honest glee.

Leaves of spring are young and green,
In autumn they turn red,
In fallen leaves of golden brown,
The creatures make their bed.

Rumpitty tum, fol diddy dee,
Wild is nature, I am free,
Rumpitty tum, fol diddy dee,
Walking in pure and honest glee.

Branches full above our heads,
Bearing nuts and fruit,
Collecting lots of things to eat,
Until first springtime’s shoot

Rumpitty tum, fol diddy dee,
Wild is nature, I am free,
Rumpitty tum, fol diddy dee,
Walking in pure and honest glee.”

The singing took Fiona’s mind far from her distress. Her steps were light and she was living in the moment, with only the slightest thought about her task ahead. She was dreading it. The witches had been tainted by Angela’s forceful mind. Even though she was dead, her legacy still lived on.
Suddenly, Eölfran fell silent, leaving Fiona to sing alone. As soon as she realised, she fell silent, and listened. She could hear nothing, but trusted Eölfran’s senses more than her own. They continued in silence, Fiona waiting for any clue. She guessed that they must be nearing the witches’ camp.
Eventually, she could smell campfire smoke. She couldn’t see any movement, but she knew they must be there. They shouldn’t have known of their arrival, Fiona had enchanted their footsteps so that they could walk hidden from sight, sound or senses.
They were almost at the camp when Eölfran hissed “Get down. Behind that bush. You can’t just walk in unannounced. You’ll be killed!”
She nodded and followed his instructions. Using what she had learned from the dragon, she tried to meld her mind with Eölfran’s. She suddenly withdrew her consciousness from his, as she felt the equivalent of lightning bolts and barbed wire stabbing her in her brain. She decided that maybe it wasn’t a great idea.
Eölfran hid his smirk as he watched her expression. He could tell what she was trying to do, but knew that she probably wouldn’t cope. She probably had done it before, but dragons were huge, old, and had big minds. Sprites were small and fast, and completely different. It just wouldn’t have worked. It was a good idea though, thought Eölfran. Maybe we should work on this. It could be good for when we do this again.
He mentally kicked himself when he realised that she wouldn’t be here to do it again. She was intending to leave. Her man had broken her heart. She had nothing to stay for, so she wouldn’t be staying. With a thought of regret, he turned to look into the camp.
It was an artificial clearing that had obviously been prepared with haste. The three triplets were lying down in a circle around the fire. They were each glowing in their own bubbles. They were in a regenerative state, trying to reclaim their strength. They had been totally drained in the fight, and it had been nearly impossible for them to even get here.
For their sins, the spirit had made it hell for them to reach here. Their spirits had been oppressed, and they had been metaphorically crushed. They barely had the energy to stumble this far from the edge of his realm, and since then, they had been frozen immobile.
“Time to wake up” said Fiona with a wicked grin on her face. She stood up and peered over the bush. Like a pin popping a balloon, she mentally jabbed at each of the witches. Simultaneously, they all woke up, rubbing their eyes and sitting up. They instinctively knew they weren’t meant to be awake yet. They still felt drained, their levels of magic were low and they were rubbing sleep from their eyes. It was if they had been out late and had to get up early for work the next morning, thought Fiona, remembering her office days fondly. But she’d rather be here than there any day.
The three triplets looked around bewildered. They swept their long hair from their faces as Erica put her hand out to her ever present basket. She withdrew a crystal globe, and threw it up into the air, using its latent power to cast a strong pure white light over the clearing. It illuminated them all. It lit up Fiona’s face, but they didn’t see her. Her magic made her invisible, and she grinned at their confusion.
“Was that you? Did you do that?” demanded Enid, immediately accusing her sisters. She didn’t like to be woken up. In fact she hated it. If she had the choice, she would sleep all day, and wake up when the need took her. She believed that she needed to sleep longer than most people, and tended to disregard the health advice that Erica gave her.
She was jealous of her sister. Erica had been given a gift for numbers, but that was never really appreciated by anyone. Because Erica’s talent as a healer, she was recognised. The villagers treated her as an exalted goddess, because she could save people’s lives. But she couldn’t do it without Enid behind her, regulating money, making sure they could survive.
Elise didn’t care. She just was happy to be away from people. She was sociable enough, when she had to be, but she was happy. This was her serene environment, here in the forest. She was here and this was where she could heal. She had the most power out of the three of them, and had stolen the dragon’s technique of draining power from nature. But her nature prevented her from taking more than she needed. Without Elise, they wouldn’t have made it through the forest, and they needed to be here more than anything else. The fact that they had come to the forest indicated their innate closeness to nature, and Fiona was sure they could be convinced to swear that they were white witches.
In response to Enid’s question, Erica was defensive. “Of course it wasn’t me. Do you think I’d wake myself up? Do you think I’d stop the both of us from getting our magic back, just to get the kick out of waking you up? Idiot…”
She was very sarcastic. Like Enid, she wasn’t at her best in the morning. Elise was always away with the fairies anyway, and the other two weren’t always certain that she actually slept. They thought that she slipped out into the night to talk to the forest. They all knew that the forest had a voice of its own. It was a magical mystical place, and it had its own specific allure.
Elise stretched out her legs, and stood elegantly, not deigning to acknowledge Enid’s question. It was a stupid question she thought. Then something niggled at the back of her mind. She had felt it often before. She knew that other sentient beings lived in the forest, but she had never seen them before. She spent her days and nights wandering aimlessly about the forest, trying to find them. Sometimes she sat, silent, hoping they would come to her. She knew that they were watching.
“Shhh.” She hissed quietly. Her sisters took no notice and carried on bickering.
“Oh, I forgot that you were so perfect.” Snarled Enid.
“I’m not!” said her sister. “I’m just not stupid. I’m tired, exhausted, and I don’t appreciate being woken up!”
“Shhh!” said Elise, a little louder than before. Why couldn’t Enid and Erica see that this was important to her?
“Erica, you think you’re the best because you’re the oldest. It’s only by a few seconds. You’ve spent your life lording it over us. And I’ve had enough of it!” Enid was really annoyed. Her sister acted as if she was so great, but she had an inflated head.
“You’re just jealous. You could have been more confident, but you weren’t. I was. So deal with it!”
“Will you just both be quiet?” Elise shouted. The clearing fell silent. The normally reclusive Elise had shocked her sisters by speaking out. They hadn’t heard her shout in years. They barely heard her speak. Elise had tears in her eyes. “You never listen to me. Just shut up. Be still. And listen. Did it cross your mind that maybe someone else is here? Maybe we’ve been discovered?”
“For a pair of girls who think so much of themselves, you can be so stupid!” The two of them fell silent, at once feeling childish and selfish. They stood in silence, waiting.
Chapter 19 – A Switching of Allegiances

“I’m glad to see at least one of you has some sense.” Fiona stepped out from behind the bush. The three of them were surprised to see her. Erica was the first to act, firing a shot of fire at Fiona.
She easily deflected the shot, relieved that she had thought to protect herself with a shield before confronting them. She should have known that they would have hated her. She did kill their coven mates; she had taken away their livelihood, and potentially ruined them.
“I’m not here to do you any harm. It would be below the belt to attack you when you are so obviously weakened. I am here to appeal to you.” She explained.
“We’re listening.” Said Enid. Erica was far too concerned with looking out for the sprite. She didn’t know what it was, or where it was, just that it was nearby. In reality, it was hiding in Fiona’s hair, close enough to see and hear every word, and in close enough contact to help her out should she need any magical assistance.
“I come to you, asking you to pledge to become white witches. The forest folk…”
“You’ve met them?!” interrupted Erica in amazement.
“Yes, I have. And they want to meet you. But not without being white witches. That means no coven, no wrongdoing, and no manipulation. You must be open about your magic, and be willing to help those who ask of it earnestly. Otherwise, you are too much of a danger, and I will not be held accountable for their actions.”
Guilty she changed that in her head to “My actions.” She had no guarantee that they would believe her, but she had to try. Elise surprised her, by speaking out first. Her eyes glimmered with tears of happiness. “Yes.” Her voice caught in her throat, and she just nodded at Fiona. It meant so much to Elise, much more than anything else. She had never wanted to be part of the coven anyway. Her sisters had joined, so she had too, or otherwise face a fight. It had been easier to agree. Now there was nothing to hold her back.
Her sisters watched her in amazement as she walked across the clearing and grasped Fiona’s wrist. She looked her straight in the eyes and said “I swear, upon my life, that I shall be a white witch. Now, for the rest of my days and forever. I wish to meet the forest people and live with them, withdrawn from humanity henceforth.”
Fiona was amazed by her sincerity. She inclined her head backwards, indicating to the way she had come. “Walk until you reach the edge of the unseen spirit. Wait there and a sprite will meet you.” These words were given to her to speak by Eölfran, who was whispering into her ear. Elise looked euphoric, and made her way without delay, not pausing to say goodbye to her sisters, or pick up any of her belongings. Her dreams had become reality.
Her sisters were speechless. They just stood gawping at each other, not quite knowing what to say. They had lost a third of themselves. They had never been separated in their lives, and just like that, Elise had walked out of their lives. More than anything, Enid wanted to follow her. Primarily to be with her sister, but also because it would be a new start. No unequal footing. No superiority. She would have a chance to be herself.
Erica was unsure. She badly wanted to follow her sister. But as a healer, was she not already a white witch? Couldn’t she just keep the same life?
“Can I keep doing what I’m doing? And still be able to see Elise I mean?” She asked hopefully. She didn’t want to leave the village. She had steadfast friends there, and she was the only healer. She had been there for so long, that no one else had the ability to heal. Leaving them would be a death sentence.
Eölfran whispered into Fiona’s ear, and she repeated it. “As long as you swear that you will do no harm, that you will not reveal the presence of the sprites, and then there will be no problem. I urge you to remember the threefold rule.”
The threefold rule was the first rule that all users of magic learned. “Whatever spell you cast, the effects of it will come back to you threefold.” Whispered Enid. The two of them looked at each other and nodded. This would be good for them. Necessary even.
They couldn’t face another battle. They couldn’t face the heartache. They pledged themselves, and followed their sister. Conversationally, Erica asked “Where’s your boyfriend? I would have thought that he wouldn’t tear himself away from your side.”
“He’s not my boyfriend” snapped Fiona, perhaps unnecessarily harshly. It still hurt to even to even think about him. The wounds were still too raw.
“But you two were so good together!” Said Enid, who was intentionally stirring up some sort of trouble. Fiona took the bait, and told them everything, forgetting that they were trying to kill her just days before.
She was a very trusting person. It meant a lot to her to trust someone, but she would let anyone know anything they asked unless she had explicit personal experiences of why she shouldn’t. So she told them about the amazing sex, the betrayal with someone she had thought was her friend, and his chequered past.
She told them about her running away, and she told them about her experiences. And when the two gossipmongers were sure that they had wrung every last piece of information out of her, only then did they ask to meet a sprite.
At this request, Eölfran emerged from behind the curtain of hair and introduced himself. Naturally, they found him an enigma, wondering at his tiny wings and innocent face. The ogling and flattery went straight to Eölfran’s face. He was lovely, but he didn’t quite know how to take a compliment. The girls watched him show off as he turned somersaults in the air and zipped to and fro, showering them in a fine sprinkling of sparkle dust.
Fiona just raised her eyebrows in amusement as Enid and Erica oohed and aaahed in all the right places. She wouldn’t be able to even live with him now. At this thought she was surprised. Before she had spent time with the sprites, she was dead set on finding her way home. Now she just wanted to stay in the forest, learn their ways and become a white witch.
She didn’t have to talk to Julian. She didn’t have to see him if she didn’t want to. But a niggling voice reminded her not to be bitter. A voice reminded her that she loved him, and would do anything to get him back, if only he guaranteed that he loved her. And that he wouldn’t be dishonest, and that he would do anything for her.
She sighed, as she realised she probably wouldn’t see her friends again. But if this was the same world, then they would never know her at all, because she wouldn’t exist in her time. It was only her that was losing out, and she realised it would have been for the best. Without her, her father and Jamie would have lived. Without her, her mum would have been able to live out the rest of her life with her soul mate and not with Philip, who was always going to be second best.
She looked around her and smiled back at the faces in front of her. This would be her home now, and she would be happy here. She didn’t need any man to tell her what to do. These witches were proof of the fact that a strong woman didn’t need a man to survive.
They met up with Elise, who was surrounded in a swarm of sprites. They were as interested in her as she was in them. She looked like a small child in a sweet shop, not knowing which candy to pick out.
The sprites were as varied as sweets too. They were striped and spotted, rainbow coloured and glittering. She followed them with pointing fingers, laughing in glee. She was like a toddler, and she didn’t regret it at all. She was completely enraptured by the friendly beings and was under their spell. Barely noticing her sisters and Fiona, she just followed the sprites as they travelled unheeded through the dead zone.
The journey passed quickly, Fiona gleaning knowledge from the witches. It was agreed that they would train her, along with the sprites. She knew nothing of their ways, and wished to help. A helpful face would never be turned away.
They reached the sprite citadel, a towering construction of wooden spires adorned with intricate carvings. Each bough was laden with homes. From the windows waved friendly hands, in greeting and welcome. Croifan met them at the centre, smiling in the knowledge that his fiefdom was safe.
“Welcome Erica, Enid and Elise. We hope that you will find your lodgings hospitable, and stay here for a while. I understand that Erica, you wish to remain in the village. This is disappointing to us, and we shall miss your presence. There will always be a space in our community for you.” He spoke in a lilting voice, and bowed to the eldest sister.
“Thank you. I shall visit often to seek your guidance and visit my siblings.” She bowed in response, and they regarded each other keenly.
“Elise,” he continued, “I am glad you are so taken with our species. We invite you to stay among us for as long as you wish. One with as much enthusiasm as you will always be welcome.”
She could only smile and nod. It would be a few days before she would be able to put into words the way she felt. It was like a dumb person breaking out into song, or a deaf person hearing a symphony.
“Enid.” He finally addressed the middle twin. “You have unique talents. You will always be appreciated. Once again, I extend the hand of welcome.”
She swept her hair behind her shoulders and curtseyed. She looked like she was a raven haired princess greeting her subjects. For one moment, time froze and Fiona kept a snapshot in her memory. It remained there forever.
“I hope you will all join me for an evening meal tonight. There are many people who are eager to meet you, and a proposition we would like to make to all four of you. Fiona, a word if you please.”
The crowds dispersed and the three witches were led away to their lodgings amongst the trees.


Chapter 20 – A Feast Fit for a Prince

“That was easier than I thought it would be” said Fiona to Croifan as they walked through the forest to a secluded glade. “Eölfran was a great help to me, and a fine friend. I should like to know him as a person, for life.”
“He is a promising young lad.” Agreed Croifan. “He is my son, and heir to this realm.” He revealed, making Fiona gasp in amazement. Now that she knew, she could see the similarities between the pair. They had the same eyes and the same nose.
But, privately she thought that Eölfran was more handsome. She shook her head to clear it of the impossible thoughts as she brought her attention back to Croifan’s words. “Thank you for performing that task. It has helped us greatly. Now we can live peacefully in the knowledge that we, and future generations are safe.”
“Just doing my job” she said modestly. Croifan smiled at her, knowing that it had taken a lot more for her to complete the task than she had let on. “What did you want to speak to me about?”
“Well, I believe that there is someone who you should talk to, just beyond those leaves.” He half smiled, not knowing whether she would react positively. She just looked at him sardonically.
“I’m guessing it’s Julian.” He nodded, half ashamed that he had dared to ask. Maybe it was too early for her to be able to confront him. It had only been earlier today that she had left Rose cottage, running from her problems. “I can’t see him just now. But I guess I’m the only one who is allowed to.”
She looked up at the sky, judging the time of day. It was almost dusk, too late for her to send him back. She wasn’t happy with him, but she wasn’t going to condemn him to a journey home in the dark.
“When did he get here?”
“Just after you left. He looked tired. There is a horse out on the main path. We have fed and watered it, made it comfortable. She is a truly fine beast.”
Fiona smiled. “I know. Keep them both safe for the night. I can’t deal with him right now, but I will tomorrow. I need to say goodbye to him, otherwise I won’t be able to leave it behind me. I don’t want to become bitter, or twisted.”
Croifan smiled. “Go, find Eölfran. He will find somewhere for you to rest and change. You are a valuable friend in these changeable times. I am glad, on behalf of my people, that you have come.”
He flew up to her face, and kissed her on the cheek, leaving a delicious feeling of calm that spread into her.
Surprised, she turned and left the glade to find Eölfran waiting for her. They slipped into their easy friendship, and he led her to a personalised clearing. This would be where she studied, worked, slept and ate. It was a place to call her own.
Tears of gratitude flooded her face as she looked at Eölfran’s pleasure at giving her this gift.
He picked up a small wooden carving of a dragon, and pressed it into her hand. “Never forget. If we forget, then we cannot learn from our mistakes, and we are fools.” He had carved it himself, especially for her.
To her surprise, as she stroked it, it turned towards her, and its knotted eye winked at her. “Did you do that?” she asked him, not believing that his magic could manifest itself in that way.
“I’d like to be able to say yes,” he said “but I’m not quite sure what it was you saw.”
“It was… never mind.” She dismissed it, thinking that her eyes were playing tricks on her mind. She needed to rest. It had been a long traumatic day. “I think I’ll just sleep, for a little while. Can you come and wake me up so I have time to get ready before dinner?”
“Of course.” Said Eölfran, and he gave her a hug before he left. “It’s been fun today. I’m glad it was you, and I’m glad I accompanied you.”
She smiled as she lay down on her bed. It was a wild contrast to the forest around her, but it was snug and comfortable. She burrowed down deep inside, and closed her eyes. She was asleep almost immediately, and had no dreams. She was to be thankful of this later, she was simply too exhausted to struggle with sleep.
Julian, on the other hand, was struggling with the concept of sleep. His mysterious captors, who refused to reveal themselves, had given him food and water, and had told him that he was safe.
“Hello?!” he shouted, hoping that someone would hear him. “Hello?!” His shouts went unanswered as he resigned himself to being stuck there for the night. He fashioned a kind of burrow out of leaves, digging himself inside, trying to keep himself warm. It had been a mild day, but as soon as the sun disappeared to be replaced by its shining brother, chills raced up and down his spine.
More than ever before, he missed the warmth of Fiona’s body next to him, and the raging heat of their passion. After a brief meal, he tried to sleep, but couldn’t. His dreams were tortured, and after only snatched moments of sleep, he gave up. It was easier to lie awake, with his eyes staring into the night. His memories were haunting him; taunting him with visions of the past.
He gave in to his misery and cried himself to sleep, not noticing the softly woven blanket that wrapped itself around him as he tossed and turned. Whilst the girls were making merry, he was being humbled by the elements. He slept unaware for hours, not knowing that he was being watched by two pairs of eyes; the eyes of his guard, and the eyes of a solemn tawny owl.
Eölfran went to go and wake up Fiona. He was stopped in his tracks by the sight that greeted him as he walked inside. She was curled up defensively with her pale face peeping out from behind her blanket. She looked so peaceful and serene, a marked change from when they had first met. Keeping quiet, as so not to wake her, he tucked a strand of dark brown hair behind one of her ears, smoothing her cheek.
It was with a fondness, not devotion. She was beautiful, but she was not a sprite. He was glad that she was around still. He sat on the bed and shook her gently.
“Fiona? Wake up. It’s time to wake up.” He slowly coaxed her out of her slumber. Sleepily, before she opened her eyes she asked, “Julian?” She was disappointed when she saw Eölfran’s face hovering in front of her.
“You sounded just like him…”
“You miss him, don’t you?” It was an obvious question, so it received a raise of the eyebrows from the sleepy girl. She yawned and stretched, looking around her.
The miniature glade was no different than it was before, except for a white dress with a simple belt and a white circlet headdress. “Would you mind...?” she asked Eölfran. At first he was confused, but then remembered that human’s had different cultures.
The sprites barely wore any clothing, and their children were more often than not naked. They had no concept of modesty, and it made no difference to them that they wore no clothes. It was just a different way of living, with different values.
Eölfran left the room, but waited outside, talking to her as she dressed. They spoke about how the witches were settling in, what she was going to do about Julian.
It only took her a couple of minutes to get dressed, but they didn’t run out of things to talk about. They were like best friends and they just clicked immediately. They just agreed about everything, but had enough individuality to make life a little bit more fun and worthwhile.
When she walked out she was stunning. Her long dress flowed down to her ankles, and was adorned in a plain lace. The bodice was fitted tightly to her bosom, and flared out into an a line skirt. The neckline was square cut, and accentuated her curving cleavage. Her hair was sleek and wavy.
In short, she looked like a forest goddess. She walked barefoot, and appeared to shimmer in radiance. Eölfran gasped as he saw her emerge from her natural bedroom. “You look beautiful” he said, honestly. She shook her head modestly. She wasn’t beautiful in her mind.
“Can I escort you to this evening meal?” said Eölfran with mock sincerity. Fiona giggled, and took his arm with her fingers. He led the way, taking her down through the citadel. She received lots of admiring looks as she seemed to float through the crowds.
She smiled and waved as she sat down at Croifan’s right hand as his guest of honour. They ate a banquet. All the meals were vegetarian, but cooked exquisitely. They ate fresh mushrooms and leeks, with a creamy pepper sauce. They ate fresh greens and relished the good friendship and fine wines.
Fiona was giddy from the alcohol and the atmosphere. They sang around the fire and spent the night in a state of euphoria. It was a night never to be forgotten. They made memories, friends and generally celebrated until the dawn. Fiona didn’t even think about Julian, she was having far too much fun. By the end of the night, she was sure that she could see Brussels sprouts running around the forest, flashing their bare bottoms in the moonlight.