“My darling Natalia, how long I have waited to hear your call. Often I have felt your spirit touch mine, and always I waited to see you, and now you have come. Come, my child, and curl in my arms the way you did as a babe, before you were stolen from us.” Leaning with her back to the tree Ionia pulled Natty into her lap, cuddling the child tight against her. Instead of being rough and hard, Ionia’s skin was soft and supple, like a spring shoot. Being back in the arms of the one who had swaddled her as a babe every night in a cradle made from Ionia’s own limbs, Natalia felt something start to break free in herself. Like a butterfly beginning to split its chrysalis open and fly free for the first time. Anticipation, fear, and curiosity bubbled up inside the Princess’s heart.
“My Ionia, please, tell me where my parents are? They are looking for me, are they not? They know someone bewitched the Fae so that I couldn’t be seen, and right before their eyes the whole time? Please, where is my mom and dad? I miss them so much.” Natalia’s voice faded as she murmured the last sentence. Britta wanted to comfort her little friend, but knew that a barrier had been crossed, and Natalia had pulled her through too. She didn’t know that she was exactly welcome, even if to this point no indication had been given that she wasn’t. Welsey hadn’t been unkind to her, but neither had he embraced her as someone who had been protecting his Princess these past three years. So, she remained where she was sitting, on the slab of limestone carved with a tree.
“Natalia, I am afraid it isn’t as simple as a spell. Spells can be broken, given the right countermeasures, a spell could be lifted and life continue as nothing had ever been wrong. Your parents have always known where you were. It was they who put the glamour upon you. We had hoped it would last longer, but we should have known your magic couldn’t be contained so easily, darling. Please excuse me, but who is the lovely young lady you have brought into Aedon? Surely, your short years in hiding haven’t lost you all your upbringing as Princess of the Realm. Young lady, please, join us here at my tree. My name is Ionia, and as you’ve probably surmised, I am a dryad. I’ve been watching you inspect your surroundings, slightly shocked at the subtle differences you see. You know you’ve crossed the veil, don’t you child?”
Britta nodded, and made herself comfortable at the roots of the tree with Ionia and Natalia. The three sat quietly a moment, before Ionia prompted Natalia to perform the proper introductions. Natalia stood proudly and curtsied before Britta and Ionia.
“Mistress Ionia, my second mother, I would be honored to have you come to know my great friend Britta. In the years of my absence, Britta has been very kind to me, and always loved the stories I’ve told them of home. She is brave, kind, and sincere, and I hold her in the highest esteem,” another curtsy, and Natalia stood poised before Ionia with her tiny hands clasped behind her back. Britta was astonished with how quickly her little princess had transformed into a real little Princess. Her entire aura was different, not dreamy and far away as it had often been at Mercy Home, but proud and regal.
Ionia smiled fondly at Natalia. Not too much damage had been done to the Light of Aedon, her bloodline ran true still. This was no changeling child. Ionia had seen eons of seasons pass in Aedon, but the past few seasons had shown her much intrigue and plotting among the Fae. Natalia had been sent to live with the Duchess, not because she wasn’t wanted, but because the dissenters couldn’t touch her there. The veil had been torn, and now Natalia was back in the world of Fae. Surely everyone knew by now. Brownies are notorious gossips, and even the trees tell a tale or two sometimes here. Ionia had to get these two to the King and Queen immediately. Being a dryad she couldn’t leave her tree for very long, so she had to choose as escort. That was something to ponder. Whom could she trust to safely deliver the Princess to her parents?
“Britta, I am very pleased to meet you and am thankful that you have loved our Natalia in our absence. I am afraid your crossing over wasn’t planned by your parents, my dove, but by Paedeon. I fear the omens that brought you here were a trap. Paedeon didn’t plan on you remembering though. He believed as most of us did, that you had been hidden far away, a glamour having been cast on you to make you invisible to the eyes of almost all of the Fae. A few of us remained aware of all you have done these past three years. We have kept watch over you, never reaching through and touching you as we ached to do. Nyomin and Itania have often come here to watch over you. I can’t take you to your parents, so I am choosing someone to take you home. Britta, I wish you happiness while you are in our lands, and offer my condolences for what you are about to see. Natalia, there is a war fomenting. Your parents asked the Duchess to care for you, as her ancestors and yours have a long history of working well together. My little Natalia, I fear you have eons worth of politics to learn in a short amount of time. You must never let Paedeon make you doubt your own abilities. Now, sit and rest a while more before your escort arrives.”
Natalia pulled out her little flute and began to play softly. The melody was timid at first, as if unsure, but slowly grew stronger in depth and tone. Natalia called to her protector, the one who she now remembered had always stood guard outside her nursery door. Glen was a noble warrior, he had never let Natalia out of his site, even if it meant occasionally sitting in on tea parties with dolls. She teased and cajoled with her little flute inviting her old friend to come play with her once again, but on his turf, in his element. Glen was the best guide in all of Aedon. He could track anything. How could anything stand between her and her parents with Glen by their side?
Britta started as out from behind Ionia’s oak, a tall fairy man stood before her. He was the single most breathtaking vision of beauty Britta had ever seen in her life. His slanted eyes were dark green and perfectly matched the color of his woods garb. His clothes were made of a strange material that Britta was sure Kristen would die to get her hands on. It was lightweight and shifted with the background, camouflaging Glen as if he were but a shadow. A crossbow was slung across the pack on his back, and a short sword hung from his belt. His boots came up high on his calf, and Britta could see daggers peeking out of the tops. She wondered if he had any more knives hidden on him. Suddenly Britta felt like the plainest girl who had ever lived. Surely a creature such as this could never see beauty in a bumpkin. Glen watched her taking him in, and smirked. Cocking an eyebrow, he extended his wings, that had been hidden by the pack he wore. Light shimmered off of gossamer strands of the finest silk, his wings intricately etched with symbols and shapes. When he held them still, it was like a painting made of pure magic, and when he rustled them their entire length shimmered.
“Princess Natalia, I am so glad you have called me. I believe we are long overdue for tea with the ladies.” Laughing, he swooped Natalia into his arms and planted a kiss right on her cheek. A giant bear hug later, Natalia was giggling and panting from laughing so hard. Setting her down, Glen kneeled before Natty, bowing his head. Britta once again watched her little friend shift into one who was used to being bowed to.
“Glen, I ask you to honor me by taking me home. Ionia says there are many things happening that are not good for our land, please protect us and let me see my parents . You are not only the greatest guide there is, you are also my Godfather, and I trust that you will do everything you can to protect my friend and myself. Now, what do we need to get started? “ Natalia’s face was matter of fact. She intended to get to her parents and find out how she could help save her land. She needed time to think, to ask Glen questions, and the journey to the palace would provide that time. Turning to Britta, she grinned.
“Bet they are wondering where we are by now Britta! Aunty Belle will be worrying, as well as Hattie and Sonya! If only we could send them a message that we are well, and will be back shortly!” Natalia’s face crumpled in frustration. She almost knew the answer, these memories that she didn’t know she had were encroaching on her mind. How to send a message to a loved one. That was the key, she felt.
“Ionia, if I were to ask a brownie to deliver a message to one of the smaller children, do you think that would be ok? “
“Darling Natalia, when I said many people know you are here, The Duchess is one of them. She is also aware Britta is with you, and wishes you both a safe adventure. Belle Snippet is one of your parents’ closest friends. You have always been watched by those who cared for you most, you just couldn’t know. We had hope that the spell would keep you hidden just a few years more. Your powers however seem to be more advanced than we thought they would be without training. Just as a babe must learn to walk, we Fae must learn to use our gifts. I am sure by the time you reach your parents, Aunty Belle will have sent a message of her own. Now, child, off with you!” The captivating dryad melded back into her tree, leaving only traces of facial features in the knots and swirls of her bark.
Glen had been briskly gathering supplies from a hidden cache in the area. The ease in which he moved entranced Britta, and she blushed furiously each time he caught her spying on him. She simply couldn’t help it though. His hair was like spun silver, with faint traces of purple streaks here and there. He had folded his wings back in when she became a little too enamored by them and reached a quivering hand to touch them. Fairies tended to be quite proprietary of their wings, each having been etched by the passage the wearer’s life. Due to the military and survival guide he’d been his whole life, there were many jagged slashes of crimson, and other places on his wings were designed with ivy in vibrant shades of green. Fairies earned their wings after a rite of passage, usually around their fiftieth year. The marks that would later become part of their plumage were badges of sorts. Accomplishments, Inspirations and dreams colored the painting that was each individual set of wings.
His clothing shifted with his movements, blending into the trees and bushes around him, a cowl hung from the top of his tunic that when pulled up made the glorious silver and purple hair blend with the forest as well. The pack on his back was made of the same material, and seemed to disappear behind the crossbow. He handed similar packs to each of the girls. To each of them he also handed clothing He nodded to a bush, and turned his back to it. Britta blushed furiously, but Natalia grabbed her hand and headed to the bush. They quickly changed into tunics, breaches, boots and had belts strapped around their waists. Drawing from one of the many pockets in the dress Natalia had just shed, she found 2 lengths of cord, and they braided their hair and tied it tightly to their heads as Glen had done. The girls found that when they drew the cowls over their own heads, they also seemed to disappear. They folded their clothing tightly and placed them in the knapsacks Glen had provided.
Bestowing a kiss upon the tree her dryad friend had become once again, Natty turned to Glen. Placing her hands firmly upon her hips, she quirked up one eyebrow. She was not accustomed to not having pockets hidden everywhere. This would be a problem, as the things she picked up usually came in handy, and also left her no place to put her flute.
“Glen, this won’t do at all! I need my pockets! Kristen always hid pockets all over my dresses so I could carry whatever I found and wanted to keep. Where am I supposed to put anything?” whined Natty, the six year old in her reverting to pouting to express her exasperation.
“Mistress, I believe if you think hard enough, you’ll remember the all in nothing glamour. First, attach this small pouch to your belt. Close your eyes, and imagine that it can hold anything. No matter how large or small. Imagine each item you place into it being stored and always ready to jump to hand should you need it. Can you see shelves and book cases, and the storage chests inside your miniature pouch? Now, open the pouch and place your flute inside. A word of caution, be careful what you place in there. Some things can stay there for years, others have their own time limits. No animals or insects, unless the insect is dead. You would kill them anyway, suffocating them when you draw tight the string.” Glen smiled fondly at his God daughter. She would one day rule all of Aedon, and he would make her a force to be reckoned with. Her parents were incredible individuals, but none of the Fae folk had ever been equal to Natalia’s power in recorded history. This made her a perfect pawn.
“Your Highness, you will stay behind me and before Britta at all times. Britta have you ever handled a weapon? Are you savvy enough in the forest to not disturb the creatures that dwell within by your passing? In short, will you be an asset to this trek or a hindrance. Answer honestly, the future of not only Natalia depends on it, but the future of all of this great world both our peoples share. War is imminent, Paedeon made a mistake by not being there when Natalia broke the glamour. We have but one chance to get Natalia to safety, or we will be prisoners of the Rebellion.” There was no unkindness in Glen’s voice as he spoke, but his words were edged in steel. He meant to protect this child to his own death even, and was asking if she was willing to do the same, and if she even thought she could.
“Master Glen , I am adept with a short bow, and have many experiences with knives, one does not peel as many vegetables as I have to not learn how to handle a blade. In answer to your second question, until I was about a teenager, I played in these woods every day of my life, I was more at home amongst the animals of the forest than being cooped up in a library studying. I’ve climbed trees, waded creeks, and sought out many wonderful treasures to be found among the trees and earth.” With that she adjusted her pack and fell in line behind Natalia.
Glen dropped his pack and opened it up, withdrawing a small scroll worked box. It measured about 6 inches long. Inside, lying on a bed of green satin, was an astonishingly beautiful dagger. The hilt was slim, and etched with runes Britta couldn’t decipher. The pommel of the stiletto was etched with the same tree as the coin and the stone. The blade itself was vicious looking. A slender clean tip and point flowed into a slightly wavy shaft, halfway down the keen edge turned from sleek to barbed clear up to the guard. Handing the box to Britta, he took a sheath out of his pack and instructed her to attach it to the belt on her right hip. While she did as told, Glen lifted the dagger off its cushion, and motioned to a concealed lever just under the pommel. The blade split into three slivers of the knife it had been. Another click, and they returned to one, any traces of the division of blades invisible.
After a quick, but thorough check to make sure everything was in place, he nodded, and motioned for the girls to follow him into the dense foliage that surrounded the circle of oaks. The journey had begun.