I hurt all over, and the sun stabbed into my squinting eyes. I was cradled against Ehd Wyrd, and I knew I was lucky to be alive. I tried to sit up, but the pain was too much, and I fought not to faint. Slowly I took stock of my situation. I was bandaged around the middle, and what was left of my clothes as well as the bandages, were soaked in blood.
"Here, drink this." Ehd Wyrd held a beat up metal cup to my lips, and I sipped the water. Even my tongue hurt.
"What happened?" As Ehd Wyrd talked, telling me how I'd been snatched by a glimmering, I cast spells on myself to heal my injuries. My magic still worked, since it came from within rather than without.
"How did you get away from it?" I could finally sit up, and his answer surprised me more than it should have.
"J'Spurr and Ghar'rett somehow killed it. I...it was using you to get to me. They eat dragons. As soon as I changed and chased it, it dropped you. It almost killed us both. I don't know how they killed it, but I found its body in the woods while I was looking for you. I was afraid to keep looking for the others in the dark, but I had to find you. I was afraid to even carry you, you were hurt so bad. I'm sorry about your robe, I had to tear it to make the bandages."
What was left of my clothes was cut high above my knees, and sleeveless. It reminded me a little of the fashion of the fairies I'd seen—except for the blood.
"Are you okay?" I looked at him in the morning light, and he seemed unhurt.
"Even in my human form, I have dragon healing. I was hoping you would heal like the fi'nyx; you had me so worried!"
"The fi'nyx doesn't heal; it dies and rises from the ashes." He didn't say anything, but held me tight, pressing a kiss to my head.
"Do you think you can walk now? I think we should find the others before all the armies start fighting again." To answer his question, I slowly stood up. I'd managed to close my wounds and start the healing process, but I could still feel the punctures where the beast had grabbed me. My head still hurt, and I thought I might have hit it when I was dropped.
He pulled me to him and held me, then he kissed me, slow and soft. I melted into his arms, feeling safe and secure for just a moment, as my mind emptied of how much danger we were still in. He pulled back and pressed his forehead to mine.
"You are far too tempting dressed like this." He smiled at me and cinched the tatters of my robe tighter around me, then pushed my hair behind my ear. "I love you so much... I don't know what I'd do if I lost you."
"I love you too." I wanted to cling to him and kiss him like tomorrow would never come, but from a distance I could hear some kind of battle noise. We put our arms around each other, and went to look for the rest of our group.
The forest was rife with scouts and hunting parties, and we circled around a grassy plain where a small skirmish was going on between two goblin patrols. We had to be careful, because any pathway we chose was likely created by troop movements, and creeping through unbroken undergrowth made enough noise to be detected.
I was in the midst of casting invisibility on us when we were grabbed. I should have been more wary, especially after the glimmering attack, but it happened so fast. One moment I was casting the spell, and the next we were both grabbed in impossibly large hands.
We were captured by giants.
Ehd Wyrd looked as if he would change, but I shook my head to discourage him. As we were, we were no threat to the giants, but a dragon would likely fall under an immediate attack, and I could see there were six of them. Meaty fingers closed around me, leaving only my head poking out. Ehd Wyrd was in the left hand, and the giants didn't stop for a chat, but were stomping through the forest without a care in the world.
I had magic I knew would set me free, but I worried what would happen to Ehd Wyrd if I were freed. If the giant decided to crush him, throw him, or tear his limbs off, could his dragon healing save him? I could befuddle the giant's mind, but I was also afraid the others would notice any escape attempt I made. I decided to wait for a better opportunity.
Our situation went from bad to worse, when the giants met up with a large group of monsters, including about a dozen trolls and a few more giants. I was planning how we would fight our way free, as some goblins and ogres pointed at us.
"Let's cooks and eats 'em!"
"No cooking! I likes 'em raw."
"I likes 'em live!"
"I wants to rut with the elf before we eats it!" All the monsters seemed in agreement with that one, counting off who would go first and so on. A scuffle broke out between the two who were ninth and tenth. One of the giants roared and swept an arm through the group, scattering monsters.
In the midst of the monster army, the giant stopped and one of the others lifted a gigantic boulder. First Ehd Wyrd was pushed into the hole under the rock, then I too was lowered down and released. Before I could fly out, the rock was placed back over the hole, leaving us in blackness. I summoned a glow ball to see what we'd gotten ourselves into.
We weren't alone, and as Ehd Wyrd wrapped me in his arms, someone laughed from the shadows. "It seems the giants are better hunters than dragons." I guided the light sphere to the deeper recesses, and we saw M sitting on the dirt floor, cradling Rose in his lap. Ehd Wyrd rushed to his sister's side, and her eyelids didn't even flutter.
"She's sleeping. She fell asleep as soon as we realized the glimmering was dead, and she hasn't stirred since then. When the giants found us, I could have fought, but I wouldn't abandon her to them. I could have changed and carried her away, but I was worried there might be more glimmerings out there. At least in here I can protect her."
I knelt at her side as Ehd Wyrd smoothed the hair from her face. She looked pale, and I thought she was losing weight. I reached out and touched her, casting a simple healing spell, which should have lent her strength.
No—it was rejected. It was as if something pushed the magic away from her. I gasped at the recoil of power, and Ehd Wyrd noticed.
"I can't heal her."
"No one can heal the lass—not until the wee one allows it." We all turned to face the voice, and a little man crept from the other side of the pit. He was as small as the fairies, but he had no wings. "One thing Lant'n knows, is babes. This one is very powerful, and twice as stubborn. The little one refuses the magic. Like a stick in water, it not only floats, but refuses even to get wet.
"Are you trying to tell us her baby is making her sick?" Ehd Wyrd crept forward in a crouch to speak with the little man. "How would you know this?"
"Leprin magic. The babe does not make her sick, the babe rejects Fey. It wants to be what it wants to be—not of Fey."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ehd Wyrd continued to question the little man, though Lant'n—if that was his name—seemed to quickly get irritated with his questioning.
"All babes born in Feyare of Fey. That babe..." He pointed to Rose's slightly protruding stomach. "...will not yield to Fey. That one would rather die—would rather its mother die—than be of Fey."
"It's making her sick, because it doesn't want to be born here?" Ehd Wyrd's question made the little man throw up his hands in exasperation.
"Tall ones are so stupid!" Lant'n looked as if he were explaining something to a child. "Magic moves through us all in Fey. Magic would heal the lass. The magic cannot reach her—cannot heal her. The babe is blocking the magic, and keeping her pure. The lass truly is not sick, she is caught between the magic and the babe. The magic wants to flow through her, but the babe will not allow it." He laughed then, which irritated Ehd Wyrd.
"A Leprin babe would never do this. Our young absorb magic in the mother's womb. We drink our fill, until we are steeped in magic and more cannot get inside. It's why the all-mother has made us so small. If we were bigger we would reign supreme, none could oppose us. Few can oppose us now."
"Why does the baby resist the magic?" I asked the question, and Lant'n looked my way with a grin.
"The babe wants to be what the babe wants to be." It was the same thing he'd said before.
"What does that mean?"
"You are another tall stupid..." He muttered something under his breath and came closer. M wouldn't let him get near Rose.
"All babes born in Fey are of Fey. Humans are born in the human realm. Elves are born in the Elven realm—or at least they once were. Fey are born in the Fey realm. See? It matters not what the babe was before. If it is born here, it will be born Fey!" He glanced at M and continued with a knowing grin. "Perhaps the babe would be a giant or a troll, with a father so large—perhaps a pixie or a nymph with a mother so fair."
"Impossible!" M's roar made the little man fall back into a defensive stance, and I could tell the way his fingers moved, that he was ready to cast a spell. "Rose is mine. This baby is mine. No giant or troll grows within her!"
"Yet." Lant'n's chin rose defiantly. "It is strong and stubborn, like its father—like its mother. But the magic of Fey has a will of its own. It weakens the mother, and tests the babe."
"She still has a long time until the baby is due to be born. If we get her home, everything will be normal, right?" He laughed at my question, and again insulted my height.
"She will stay weak if she stays in Fey unless the babe accepts the magic. If the babe accepts the magic, and is not born here, it may be normal—or not. Magic is not always kind to outsiders. If it continues to resist and is born here... I would like to see this, as there is no history of such." He looked me in the eyes and what he said shocked us all.
"This babe will be born much sooner than you think."
"How do you know all this?" I couldn't believe he'd barely looked at Rose, and yet he seemed to be foretelling her future.
He walked up to me where I knelt, and slapped me in the back of the head. Ehd Wyrd would have attacked him, but in an instant he was frozen mid-spring.
"Must you be so insulting! I have tried to be patient with you, since you are all so tall, but such disrespect makes me wonder if you even deserve my help. One more insolent comment, and I will leave you to the most idiotic of tall ones outside."
"Those are pretty tough words for someone stuck in a hole with the rest of us." M's deep voice made Lant'n sputter. With a flick of his fingers Ehd Wyrd was unfrozen, and continued his spring, crashing to the floor as the little man disappeared.
"Where did he go?" Ehd Wyrd searched the area for him, but he wasn't there.
"He's gone. Good." M kissed Rose on the cheek as he pulled her closer.
I stared up at the heavy stone above us. "I can get us out of here any time. But maybe we're safer in here, at least for now."
"You're still stupid!" Lant'n was back, and he held a pitcher of water. "We'll rest here for a bit, but then we'll have to leave."
"You don't get to tell us what to do." M glared at the Leprin as he petted Rose's hair.
Lant'n handed me the pitcher and a cup. "You don't have to listen to me. You can die here. When the sun is midway in the sky, the giants will be hungry, and I won't be here for lunch."
"We're not defenseless." Ehd Wyrd didn't make the mistake of trying to attack him again.
"Of course not. But they know what you are, and they will be ready for dragons. They're looking forward to it even—dragon tongue is a rare delicacy." His eyes met mine. "You already heard what they'll do to you, elf. Don't underestimate them. They'll spend their lust on you, and eat you before morning—the sleeping lass as well."
"Why are you telling us this?" Ehd Wyrd was clearly skeptical, but he was willing to listen.
"Leprins made a foolish deal a few generations ago. We agreed we would take the side of the reigning fairy queen, and not help the usurpers. We were wrong, but we cannot break the oath. We must help her since other side has become too powerful, and we cannot help the other side. You are currently neutral, so I decided help you. But I'm beginning to think that was a mistake as well."
"We appreciate your help, Lant'n." I spoke before Ehd Wyrd or M could further insult the man. "We're new to all this, and we just want to find our way out of it."
"The only way out is through the prophesy."
"The prophesy doesn't make sense to us."
"It's not supposed to make sense!" He seemed to be irritated with me again. "Prophesy is a guide. You're asking all the wrong questions!"
"What questions should we be asking?" He eyed me from under bushy brows, then nodded.
"Ask why monsters from other realms come here to fight. Ask why giants, ogres, trolls, and goblins fight each other in a war between fairies. Ask why there are no fairy armies. Ask why they don't use their magic to fight the war."
"You know all these answers." I didn't say it as a question, but a fact.
"Of course. Tall ones so stupid; wisdom is with the small."
"Can you tell us the answers?" I was getting tired of trying to lead him.
"Answer you one, I will. Fairies use magic, and magic uses fairies. Fairies who want control of their own lives and destinies use magic less. Great magic comes with a cost."
"So they don't fight their own wars, so they don't have to use magic, and they can stay in control." M's voice rumbled in the small space.
"Ah! You can learn.
"What would happen if the magic took control? What are they trying to prevent?"
"Fey is a peaceful place. Magic seeks peace and tranquility. Fairies want war." He giggled. "If fairies used their own magic for war, peace would break out."
"So why do the other creatures fight for them?"
"I answered one for you already. You want this answer—ask them." He pointed to the roof of our prison.
"Fine, I will." I remembered the name of one of the monsters who'd fought over the chance to... well, I didn't want to think about it. I knew the name and likeness of one ugly ogre, and with magic from the seventh law of identity, I was able to imitate him. I did so well, even Ehd Wyrd backed away, and he knew who I was.
He didn't want me to go alone. He tried at first to get me to agree he should go instead, then he tried to convince me to take him along. His protectiveness was sweet, but it was starting to irritate me.
"I can handle this without you, and I'll be able to deal with the monsters better, if I'm not distracted. Besides, you need to stay here in case they come to get you out for lunch. M can't take care of Rose and fight monsters at the same time." He held me close and kissed me, even while I looked like an ogre. M made a retching noise, and he let me go.
I could have flown up to the rock, but an ogre would never fly. I dug sharp claws into the tough earth, and climbed up to the top of the hole.
"Lets me out! Murder yer souls if ya don't lets me out now!" I could have moved the rock with my magic, but I didn't think an ogre could—not while hanging on to the wall of the hole. I squinted into the daylight as the stone was lifted away.
"How you get down there?" The giant holding the rock didn't look like he wanted to let me out.
"I wants to take me turn with the elf first."
"Get out!" He scooped me up by the back of my robe, and tossed me aside. "Elf's not for you! Elf's for queen. All of 'em goes to the queen." He put the rock back and crossed his immense arms over his chest.
"She can't eats 'em all herself!" The giant chortled at my joke.
"Fairy queen won't eats 'em."
"Maybe she wants ta rut wid 'em?" I tried to give an exaggerated knowing look. The giant roared with laughter.
"Fairies can't ruts with dragons. Dragons too big, like giants. Fairies bust." He continued laughing. "I'd give a sack a gold ta see that happen to the fairy queen." He went on to detail what it would look like. "... and the dragon could use the wings for a trophy!" He laughed even louder at his own joke. I was beginning to agree with Lant'n; the tall creatures really were stupid.
"Why you fight for the queen, if ya hate her?" I was afraid of being too subtle, so I asked directly.
"I don't fights fer the royal fairy slitch! I fights fer Mungo, the mountain giant chief! We always fights the valley tribes when there's war."
"But this is a fairy war, why do giants and goblins fight?"
"To beats our enemies, of course. Mountain giants fights valley giants, cave goblins fights swamp goblins, and trolls and ogres fights anybody!" He again laughed, and I laughed along with him. "You no likes ta fight?" He eyed me warily, like I might have some kind of disease.
"I likes ta fight! I jes wonder why we're doing the fairy queen's bidding, that's all." He stared at me like I'd sprouted wings myself.
"Bidding? What this bidding?" Oops, I'd exceeded his comprehension.
"Why we do the fairy queen's dirty work? Why we fight and die, while fairies play? Why we leaves home, while fairies hide? Fairies war, fairies should fight, me say!" The giant's face twisted in confusion, then he laughed loud and long.
"Flebitz, you funny! Fairies can't fight, they's too puny."
"They can fights with magic. I seen em with my own eyes, I did! Why they not here? Why only giants and ogres fight?"
"Not just giants and ogres. Trolls and goblins..."
"...and hobgoblins and leprin's too, I knows that. But not fairies—they not here. Why are we fighting their war?"
"We... " His puzzled look grew, and he sat down, shaking the ground. "We fights for Mungo, and Mungo fights the valley giants."
"But why? What do giants win?"
"We... we has fun bashing valley giants. Who wins takes women. Who loses, loses women. Mungo is great chief—wins many womens!"
"Where are the valley giants and the women? Where Mungo?" The giant scratched his head and looked around.
"Valley giants say we are weak! Mungo say we fight for fairy queen, and show valley giants we strong!"
"Who said you were weak? And why do the rest of us fight for the fairy queen?"
"The usurper say we is all weak! Valley giants laugh at us, and we must fight for the fairy queen to show we are not weak."
"What if the fairy queen said you're weak, and blamed it on the valley giants? What if she wanted you to fight her war?"
"Mungo would tell us! Mungo leads us; Mungo smart." I didn't dare disagree, and nodded along with him. I left him there guarding the hole and went in search of someone with higher rank than the giant. It didn't take me long to find him.
Girtch wasn't a giant, but the hobgoblin was clearly in charge in some capacity. He was doing a lot of yelling, and as a result a lot of other monsters were scrambling. I knew his name, because he made sure everyone knew it.
"Girtch is not happy! Bring food to Girtch, and bring ale! Next one to make Girtch angry will lose an eye!" I waited while everyone hurried to set him up with food and ale. I watched the sun climb higher in the sky as he tore into what looked like the roasted leg of a small horse. He drank from a tankard big enough to wash my hair in, and I hoped he would get drunk, or at least calm down.
I picked up a long stick from the ground, and casually walked to where Girtch was eating. I laid the stick on the table with a thunk, just after I cast a spell on it. To me it was still just a stick, but to Girtch it was a fine, heavy sword, with a giant blue gem glinting in the afternoon sun.
"Girtch, I found this on a hobgoblin I killed last night. It's too heavy for me, but I know you is strong enough to carry it."
"The usurper's hobgoblins is weak! Girtch be glad to take that sword."
"Why do you fight the usurper's army?"
"We fights because they are the enemy."
"But why are they the enemy? They're fairies."
We don't fights fairies! We fights hobgoblins, and trolls, and giants, and goblins, and... enemies! They say we is weak, but they is weak!"
"Who started the fight, Girtch?" He eyed the stick/ sword on the table. "You can have the sword if you can tell me who decided hobgoblins needed to fight in the fairy war."
"Hobgoblin's is always fighting. Fairies give us swords and bows, and weapons instead of clubs and rocks. Fairy queen tells us the usupers think we is too weak to smash them. Usupers think all fairy queen's army is too weak to win."
"Do fairies ever fight with you?"
"Fairies can't fight! Fairies too weak." I did my best to convince Girtch that the stick was a sword, and left him there caressing the hilt. Back at the hole, the monsters were gathering nearby. They had a fire built, and I wondered which of their captives they planned to cook and which they planned to eat raw. I didn't plan to stick around to find out.
It was one of the first spells my grandmother had taught me, and I lifted the rock with the magic of my mind. At the same time I had to make it look like it was still there. I closed my eyes and envisioned the illusion I wanted the camp to see. A great black dragon shot from the hole, blasting the rock away. Behind it flew a smaller bronze dragon, followed by a fiery orange bird. The giants were indeed ready for the escape, and my dragons had to fly an intricate pattern through the camp in order to keep from being hit. Because they weren't real, they were faster than real dragons.
To make sure they didn't have a chance to figure out the deception, I cast spells as if they came from the dragons, and M's image was able to breathe fire, while Ehd Wyrd's image spewed lava. With fires erupting around the camp, monsters scattered, and some gave chase when the dragons headed east. During the distraction our group managed to escape the hole. I didn't want them to change into their dragon forms while there were so many giants in the area, so I made M look like a troll, and Rosalie became a sheep carcass in his arms. Ehd Wyrd was the right height to pull off an ogre disguise like me, and as we ran, no one took notice of us.
"Why are you going west? That's the wrong way!" Lant'n was running along with us, though I noticed his feet never touched the ground.
"My brother J'Spurr hasn't been found yet. We were all heading for the gateway when we were separated." Ehd Wyrd didn't break stride to answer the leprin's questions, even though we'd left the monsters far behind.
"Stop!" With his shouted command, we all stopped and stared at the little man. With a flick of his fingers he cast a globe around us, shutting us away from anyone outside's hearing and sight. It was much larger than the one Alyss could cast. "You cannot go west—not yet."
"Why should we listen to you?"
"Tall ones," he muttered under his breath as he shook his head. "Go west and die. You'll walk right into the fairy queen's trap. She has your brother at her mercy, and already the blue dragon is in chains."
"Tell me more about my brother." Ehd Wyrd was starting to believe the leprin.
He shrugged, unconcerned. "After the fair prince attacks the usurper fairy princess, he will marry the reigning fairy queen."
"What? What does that mean? Is Alyss the usurper fairy princess? J'Spurr would never kill her, he's in love with her." I felt a sense of panic at the prediction of what could be in store for my friends.
"It is written, the usurper princess will marry the fairy prince. As she ascends the throne, the fair prince will cut her wings from her, and take them back to the reigning fairy queen. Then the fairy prince will marry the fairy he loves, fulfilling prophesy."
"That's impossible, J'Spurr's not a fairy for one thing. He would never hurt Alyss, he loves her. And she would never marry someone else, she loves him." I felt my protest was a waste of breath.
"All is not as it once was." Lant'n smiled like he knew something we didn't know.
"You still haven't told us why we can't go west." Ehd Wyrd was the voice of reason in my confusion.
"You must go back to witness the wedding. But first you need to stop the war."
"Sure, we'll just snap our fingers and make it happen." M didn't seem impressed with Lant'n's ideas. Even as we stood there, he never put Rose down. Once I dropped the illusion, she looked like a broken doll in his arms.
"Both queens are cheating. Do you have any idea what will happen if this war continues?" Lant'n looked more upset and involved than I'd ever seen him.
"The monsters will wipe each other out." It was what I'd learned from talking with them.
"Yes!" He was so excited he jumped at my answer.
"You care about the monsters?" Lant'n rolled his eyes at Ehd Wyrd's confusion.
"Dragons are monsters, do not forget. Being a monster does not mean one is unworthy of living. Fairies have forgotten that. The fairy queens think only the beautiful deserve to live. Tell them what you've learned, elf." He turned expectant eyes on me.
I think... I think the fairies have somehow tricked the monsters into fighting their war for them. They're used to fighting, but the fairies are providing them with weapons they wouldn't normally have. Is that right?" I met Lant'n's gaze.
"Well done." He sighed deeply. "It may seem that monsters are foul creatures and there's no great loss if they all die in a war. But they're part of Fey, and a loss so great would be felt by all of us. Monsters are not the evil beings some would have you believe. They're quite happy bashing heads and fighting among themselves, but it never used to be deadly. They test their strength against one another to decide who will lead, and they fight over females. It's made them strong over time. But what the fairies are doing could wipe them all out. They're loyal, and they'll fight for their chiefs until he tells them to stop."
"And he won't, because...?" I tried to lead him to answer me.
"Why do you think that is, elf?" Talking to him reminded me a bit of talking to my grandmother, when everything was a lesson.
"Because...because the chiefs are somehow being controlled...?"
"Remember, fairies don't want to use their magic..." He looked at me expectantly.
"It would take a lot of magic to control so many chiefs for so long... oh my... it's you!" The realization hit me suddenly, and Lant'n danced with glee as I guessed the secret. "The leprins are controlling the chiefs! You're the ones spreading the insults and keeping them fighting! Why would you..." I stopped and stared at him as everything started making sense. "...you have to help the queen. She put you up to it, and now you're worried the monsters will all die in this war. That's why you need us to stop the war."
"You're smart enough to be short. It makes sense, elves have their own magic, like leprins."
"Why didn't you just tell us this from the beginning?" Ehd Wyrd looked thoroughly disgusted with Lant'n.
"He couldn't tell us; he's probably been forbidden." The more I thought about the situation, the more it became clear.
"The lass knows of what she speaks. You guessed the answers yourselves, once you knew the questions to ask. I could only guide you."
"That's still doesn't tell us why we should head away from the gateway?" M didn't even look at him, his only concern was for Rose. Getting her through the gateway was his biggest worry.
"Where do you think the invisible dragon came from?" Lant'n asked M, though he clearly knew the answer. "What do you think will happen to the lass if she goes through the gateway now?"
"Why should we get involved in the war, when we could be taking care of the monsters on the other side of the gate?" M nodded agreement at Ehd Wyrd's question.
Lant'n looked at me. "Would you care to guess, Lass, why there are so many monsters lurking about the gateway on both sides?"
I felt sick to my stomach as I thought about what we'd wandered into. I knew a trip to the fairy realm wouldn't be all butterflies, unicorns, and rainbows, but I certainly didn't expect war, genocide, and corruption to be part of the trip.
"Did the queen call the monsters from the other realm to fight her war for her?"
"You didn't hear it from me. Truth is, Prince Mar'n has been doing a fine job of leading the usurper side against the queen. He's quite the brilliant tactician, when the acting queen, Jyss'ca stays out of it. He's the reason Queen Lore'yn's side is losing so badly."
"Why not just assassinate Mar'n?" M thought of the most timely way to deal with the problem.
"We cannot assassinate him; he's tied into the prophesy."
"I'm about sick to death of this prophesy!" Ehd Wyrd ran his fingers through his hair, and looked like he wanted to pace, or fly. "I feel like we're nothing but puppets, dancing around while someone we cannot see pulls our strings."
"So, we can't go to the gateway, because it's overrun by monsters. We can't rescue J'Spurr because the fairy queen has him. We can't get Rose out of this realm. We can't save Alyss from marrying the other prince because of the prophesy. If we choose to believe you, it seems we can't do much of anything right now." I'd been trying to detect some kind of untruth in him, but he hadn't told us a single lie, except by omission.
"You can stop the war."
"Of course, that should be easy." I threw up my hands and Ehd Wyrd gathered me into his arms.
A/N: As you can tell, my update schedule has fallen under the weight of writing four stories simultaneously. I have every intention of sticking with this one, but updates will take longer. Thank you for reading.