"Enter… stranger." A slim figure stepped through the doorway. The dusty light shone on her as she made her way silently forward.
"Stranger, sire?" The Elf-King gave her a small smile, devoid of warmth, as he watched her approach like a cat watching his prey. He had a considerable amount of magic at his disposal, even for an elf, and within the confines of his realm Annw, it is doubtful if any could equal it.
"How else should I address you, Lady Velda? I hardly know you anymore." He stood and came towards her. She sensed other elves moving in the shadows at the edge of the chamber. "You were once the favourite of my court." He began to circle her. "Sir Linden and Sir Rowan competed for your favour. None could match your speed and no other elf-maid has your skill in combat." He looked her straight in the face. Her dark eyes stared defiantly back. "Now you are disgraced. None want your association. You deserve no mercy for your betrayal."
"But you gave your word to Lord Treguard!" The Elf-King's face twisted in fury.
"I know what promises the mortal forced from me!" He turned his back on her and returned to his throne. When he faced her again he was calmer. "I gave my word I should not punish you and I would not go back on my word. But I have been giving consideration as to how you might best show your remorse for your crime. You know as well as I that you shall not be accepted back until you have been seen to pay penance." Velda frowned.
"Do you mean to punish me in spite of your word?"
"I would say I was giving you an opportunity to redeem yourself." King Arawn considered her elfin face. Her hair looked black against her pale cheek in the dim light. "Since your crime was in aiding the mortal Treguard, it is fitting that you may redeem yourself with his aid. It has concerned me that my realm is accessible from his castle. It leaves us open to attack from that side."
"Lord Treguard would not…"
"Enough!" He rose suddenly and flung out his cloak. A cold chill made Velda shiver and the candles flicker. The elves in the shadows scuttled away from the angry king. "You may trust the mortal but I do not. I am not so willing to place the safety of my people in his hands." The King's eyes narrowed and the elf-maid looked down abashed. "You shall travel across the barrier that separates us and guard the portal from all intruders until it can be blocked." He sat down once again.
"But my Lord! That means I must go through the Dream Caverns!" The Elf-King truly smiled now.
"Indeed. You fear that travelling that path will bring you death. You can refuse to go of course. After all, you've defied me before. But this time there will be no mortal to protect you."
"Do you wish me to die for my redemption then?"
"No. But if you stay, I shall of course be forced to punish you. You may avoid further disgrace by leaving. In your absence people will forget your faults and remember only your merits. Surely that is what you wish?" For a moment Velda feared a trap. His words were too sweet. But she reproached herself immediately for her suspicions. After all, she had asked if he wished her dead and the answer had been an unambiguous no. She trusted King Arawn's word.
"Of course my Lord." She bowed her head. "I am grateful for this opportunity. I shall not disappoint you."
"I am sure you won't." She looked up at his tone but his face was filled with kindness. "And I shall gift you the use of a spell to ensure you know what must be done. The spell is called REVEAL and it will show you what you may not otherwise see. Not in a physical sense but it will reveal, for example, how you may have been deceived. Now then, do you have any last requests?"
"I would like to take an elven horn with me."
"I doubt it'll be of any use to you. Not when you are through the Dream Caverns."
"I may meet with other friends or elves. And even though I may know none will come to my aid, others will not realise that." The King gave her a shrewd look.
"It will be a shame to lose you, Lady Velda. There are few in my court who possess your optimism, courage and wisdom."
"But I shall return, my Lord." The King smiled but said nothing. In a moment though the smile was gone and he was the harsh king once more.
"Very well. Take a horn and go."
"Until we meet again, my Lord." Velda bowed low before turning and making her way out. King Arawn watched her go as the light faded from his land.