Chapters 25-31

Chapter 25. Roe's Travel



  Roe was shocked to realize how close to her home the humans actually lived. She hadn’t been travelling, for much more than a week, although at high speed, before she could see the first humans’ settlements. She had never seen anything like it. Trees had been cut down so that there was very little forest left where the humans lived. Their houses were big like Elven houses but still very different.



 The smell from the human settlements made her feel slightly sick. When she got closer she could see that it was true that animals were kept as prisoners. She also saw horses carrying humans on their back.


  Roe discovered that humans seemed to live very close together as she approached the town. There were buildings everywhere. Suddenly an attack of laughter overwhelmed her. She had to bite her lip keep quiet. A male with his face full of hair passed under the tree that she was hiding in. It was hilarious and exactly as Thorundur had told her. Humans were really very funny looking.


  Constantly aware of the extreme danger Roe enjoyed herself. This was the best adventure that she’d ever had.



  It didn’t take her long to locate the castle that looked exactly like Ondina and Orm had described. It was a huge stone building almost resembling a small mountain. Inside the castle she would be likely to find the last ingredient but she would have to wait until darkness before she could go there. This would be the most dangerous part of the travel.



  The castle was surrounded by water. A bridge over the water led to the main gate. Roe realized that the bridge would be a very dangerous route as Ondina and Orm had told her that the castle would be guarded and she could also smell the humans at the gate. She would have to swim over the water, which was not a very appealing thought because the water smelled really bad.


  She tied back her hair with a leather strap and hesitantly she got into the water. The smell made her feel sick and she was very careful to not swallow any water as she swam to the other side.


  She looked up at the walls of the castle and realized that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to climb over the even wall. There had to be another way into the castle.


  Suddenly her head exploded with pain and darkness overwhelmed her as she fell to the ground.


   When Roe woke up again the smell of the humans filled her nose. Her head was aching really badly. It was with great difficulty she managed get on her knees. Her hand felt wet when she touched her head and she realized that she was bleeding. A stone on the ground that smelled of her blood made Roe realize that the humans must have thrown it at her from above. How could she have been so stupid to let this happen? The pain made her clinch her teeth when she lifted her head. With horror Roe realized that three humans where approaching her. She couldn’t see them very clearly because everything was blurry but it was no doubt that they were much too close. She rose on unsteady legs with pain thumping in her head. Her sight was starting to get clearer which at least must be a good sign. But it was too late. One of the humans was already close enough to take a grip on her arm. He made some sounds that didn’t make any sense.


   Panic filled Roe when she couldn’t shake the man off her arm. She turned her head and slit the man’s cheek with one of her horns. A roar was heard before the grip on her arm loosened and she could see that blood was dribbling from a deep wound on the man’s cheek. But then her other arm was caught but another human. Roe turned around and dug her sharp teeth deep into the wrist of the man who hold her arm and the metallic taste of blood filled her mouth. The grip was released for a short moment but the humans just wouldn’t give up.


   The fight was short. Roe was a hunter and not a fighter and three strong humans were too much for her to cope with. In addition her head ached and she felt dizzy. Her hands were tied so hard that her fingers felt numb. The humans pushed her roughly before them and soon Roe found herself to be on the inside of the castle walls.
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Chapter 26. Disaster



  The humans pushed Roe roughly down a stair and with horror she realized that they must be under the ground. A door was locked behind her and she found herself to be trapped in a small space. There were no windows and the dark stone walls seemed to get closer, squeezing Roe so that she couldn’t breathe. She had always been afraid of enclosed spaces where she couldn’t see the sky. “Don’t be silly Roe,” she said to herself. “You can’t panic know.” She took a deep breath and then another one.
  The terrible headache made it harder to concentrate but somehow she managed to control the panic. The small flint knife was still tucked in a small pocket on the inside of her loincloth. With great difficulty Roe managed to get it out and freed herself from the rope around her wrists. The concentration the task demanded helped to keep the panic under control.


  Roe could still feel the taste of the guard’s blood in her mouth and it disgusted her deeply. Her parents had told her that the spirit of every creature that she ingested would become a part of her so that every creature in the forest would be joined. Roe really didn’t want to be joined with humans so she spat and did her best to get rid of every trace of the blood in her mouth but she had swallowed some of it. The thought of human blood in her stomach made her feel sick. In addition the foul smell of the water in the moat still clinged on her skin and hair. A wave of nausea overwhelmed Roe and she threw up in a corner. There wasn’t much in her stomach anyway but she hoped that she had got rid of every trace of human blood.


  There was a pot of water in the dungeon and Roe rinsed her mouth before she took a deep gulp. It didn’t taste good. She realized that she was very likely to die in this castle and her parents would never know what had happened.
  She was angry with herself. In her eager to travel fast she had neglected to eat and sleep properly and this had weakened her and made her senses less sharp. She had underestimated the humans and this would cost her life. A horrible thought hit Roe. What if the spirits of the ancestors and the forest wouldn’t be able to find her if she died so far away from her forest! No, surely her spirit would find the way home even after death. But the horrible thought wouldn’t completely leave Roe. This wasn’t a good place to die at.


  The feeling of panic gave way for an overwhelming feeling of guilt. She hadn’t been a good daughter and would die because of her selfishness. When her parents got older they wouldn’t have anyone to take care of them. It was unbearable to think about Thorundur. He would never know how much she loved him. Would he miss her or would he soon forget her as he went on with his life with the other elves? The time that he had spent with her would probably soon just become a very short moment of his eternal life. How good it must be to have tears like the elves. She would really have liked to be able to let her sorrows leave her with fluid from the eyes but Forest people didn’t have tears.


  The Mother had given Roe a necklace that would to give her courage when times were difficult and she had never experienced more difficult times than now. But she couldn’t get any comfort from the necklace, because the humans had taken it from her.
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Chapter 27. The Prisoner



  The knock on the door made Alexander feel quite irritated and even angry. It had been a long day because he was in charge in the castle while his father was on a short travel to another part of the kingdom. There had been an endless line of people that Alexander had to receive and listen to. He had just finished today’s’ work and the thought of his soft bed was very appealing. When he saw the face of the guard, whose name he couldn’t remember, he suppressed the impulse to scold the man for disturbing. There seemed to be something very important on the guards mind.


  The guard was upset and talked fast. “We have caught a very strange animal and locked it up in one of the dungeons. I saw a movement outside the wall and shot a stone with the sling and had a lucky hit that took it down. We caught it alive because we’ve never seen anything like it before and thought that you would like to decide what to do with it. The horns and the skin might be really valuable. Be careful though. It hurt Torfast with its horns and bit Styrbiorn very badly in the hand. Torfast is likely to be scarred for life. It has enormous fangs”
  Alexander strapped his sword belt around the waist as he went out the door with the guard whose name he now remembered was Kvig. When he saw the two other guards that had been together with Kvig, Torfast and Styrbiorn, he could see that Kvig had not been exaggerating. The wounds looked bad indeed and there was no doubt that the young Torfast’s would get a large scar on his cheek.
  “Don’t say anything about this to anyone,” Alexander said.” I want to see this creature myself and decide what to do about this before we stir up more people. Take care of your wounds and stay here until I come back.”


  The sight that met Alexander in the dungeon was not what he had expected. Crouched on the floor was a creature that very much looked like a young woman except that he had never seen a woman with horns on the forehead. She had painted a delicate pattern on her skin. Soft brown hair fell over the face. Could this really be an animal?


  The humanlike appearance disappeared when the creature looked up. The eyes were clearly not human at all and when it lifted the lips, showing its fangs and made a fearful hissing sound it looked even less human. Alexander backed. Although the fangs were not nearly as enormous as Kvig had given the impression of, they were deterrent enough. Maybe he should call the guards? But then the creature lowered its head and again it looked very much like a young and very sad woman. It had clothes, although very little, but he had never heard of any animals that used clothes.
  “Aliendre talked about a people in the forest with horns on their foreheads,” he said silently to himself, trying to remember exactly what Aliendre had said.


  “I’m Roe of the Forest people and the Elven princess Aliendre is my friend.”
  Alexander jumped. The words had been spoken in perfect Elvish language although with a strange accent. The prisoner was standing in the dungeon making a perfect courteous Elven bow.


  “You can speak!?” Alexander was astonished and realized that the creature found the question ridiculous when he could see a small wrinkle on the prisoner’s nose and a small movement in the corner of her mouth.
  “I don’t think the Elven princess Aliendre would be very happy to hear that you have treated her best friend like this. If you free me I can bring a greeting from you to her.”
  Alexander hesitated. Obviously he shouldn’t even consider releasing the prisoner but the creature that called herself Roe said that she knew Aliendre. He didn’t want Aliendre to find out that he had treated one of her friends badly.
  “How do I know that you really know Princess Aliendre?”


  “She told me that you, Prince Alexander, once picked flowers with a poisonous sap just to make her like you.”
  Did the prisoner sound slightly amused or was it just imagination? Anyway the creature had guessed his name and it was obvious that she must know Aliendre. “You hurt my guards, how do I know that you won’t hurt me?”
  “Why would I hurt you if you release me? Besides I can see that you have a sword and I’m unarmed.”
  Alexander didn’t really agree that the prisoner was unarmed. He had seen the damage her teeth and horns had done on his guards. “You hurt my guards really badly.”
  “They hurt me first. I didn’t want them to catch me. I think Aliendre likes you Prince Alexander. Do you want me to send her a greeting from you?”
  “Listen, I will release you, but you have to promise that you won’t hurt me. All I want you to tell Aliendre is that I think about her every day.” As he spoke the words he knew that they were absolutely true. The memory of Aliendre had not faded at all. Alexander could hardly believe that he was really doing this. He opened the door and backed with his hand on the sword hilt when the prisoner went out.



  “They took my necklace. I want it back.”
  “Don’t push it. You are free to go now but you will have to leave without your necklace. Don’t forget that you promised to give Aliendre my greeting.”
  Roe took a step closer and Alexander couldn’t back any further because he was standing against the wall. With Roe so close he could see that the pattern on her skin was not painted at all. The red stones on her horns and forehead glistened in the torch light. She looked him steady in the eyes. He had never seen eyes like hers. They were shifting in all kinds of shades of yellow. He was drawn into her eyes and felt as if he was drowning in the depth of them. A humming sound from the creature made him realize that he had been starring into her eyes for too long and he looked aside.
  “I won’t leave without my necklace. The Mother gave it to me.”
  “This is absurd. I can call the guards and have you locked up again. I’m sure that your mother can give you a new necklace.”


  Roe lifted her upper lip, showing the tips of the sharp fangs. “I need my necklace. It’s mine and they took it.”


  Alexander sighed and nodded. “Alright I will get your necklace but this is really absurd. Wait here for me.” He went up the stairs. Probably he should bring the guards back with him but he decided against his better knowledge. Besides, how would he explain that the prisoner was no longer locked up?



  He jumped and turned around when Roe whispered his name when he came back and was about to open the door that led to the dungeons. She hadn’t been waiting downstairs as he had told her but had gone out and hidden just outside the door. Obviously she was too clever to wait where she could have easily been caught again and he had been distracted enough to forget to lock the door.  
  Alexander gave the necklace to Roe. He had been surprised when the reluctant Styrbiorn had handed over the necklace. It was heavy, made of solid gold. Nine large sapphires were attached to it. Although the handcraft looked somewhat primitive this was not what he had expected a creature like Roe to wear. He was also annoyed because the guards had really no right at all to keep a treasure like this to themselves and it had been obvious that they had not intended to let Alexander know about the necklace.


  Roe looked much more relaxed and even happy when she fastened the necklace around her neck.”Please let me thank you like Forest people do.”



  She spread her arms and embraced Alexander who held his breath. He felt relieved when she loosened her grip and he hadn’t been harmed. Her skin had felt much warmer than human skin.
  Alexander realized that he had a big problem. He didn’t know how to get Roe out of the castle without anyone noticing her. Her strange appearance would certainly stir up people and he would never be able to give a satisfactory explanation to why he had released Roe from the dungeon. Finally after much hesitation he decided to show her out through the secret passage that had been built in case the royal family ever would have to escape from the castle. This was of course not a very optimal option. A secret passage is supposed to be secret and he certainly didn’t want the castle to be invaded by hordes of forest creatures. But the main gate was clearly out of the question and there were no other options.



  When Alexander lit the torches in the damp corridor he could see that the walls were covered with spindle web. It must have been a long time since anyone had been in this part of the castle. He found the hatch that he was looking for.
Roe tilted her head and smiled. The smile made the tips of her sharp fangs show, making the effect of the intended friendly expression somewhat dubious.” I will never forget your kindness Prince Alexander and I’m sure that Aliendre also will appreciate your kindness.”
  Alexander was astonished when she bowed like a human to underline her politeness. He was certain that she couldn’t have taken after him because he hadn’t bowed for her. The realization that a wild creature from the forest had behaved more civilized and showed more politeness than him, a human prince, made him feel slightly embarrassed. He showed Roe the passage and the strange creature from the forest disappeared into the dark tunnel.



  Alexander sighed. This had been a very strange experience and he would have to think of something to keep the three guards quiet. His father would no doubt find it very strange if he found out that Alexander had released such a remarkable prisoner. He couldn’t even explain his strange behavior to himself. When he had found out that Roe knew Aliendre he just couldn’t resist the opportunity to send a greeting to the Elven princess. He could have told Aliendre that he was about to get married but somehow he had chosen not to. Then Alexander hit his head and moaned. “Oh you’re so stupid Alexander!” He had forgotten to ask the prisoner the most important question of all! Why had she been outside the castle wall where she was caught?
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Chapter 28. The Black Stallion



  Roe’s pulse was starting to slow down to a more normal rate. The fresh night air was soothing and the sky was a very welcome sight. When the human prince had shown her the tunnel she had almost refused to go down but she had realized that she didn’t really have a choice. She had almost lost all her self control when the hatch was closed behind her. It had felt like an eternity before she reached the hatch that led to her freedom on the other side of the tunnel. But it was still dark outside and she wasn’t very far from the castle so it couldn’t have been that long after all. She was ashamed to admit that she had never felt more afraid than she had done in the dark tunnel. The moat was between her and the castle so the tunnel must actually have been under the water. It was a good thing she hadn’t known this while she was down there in the darkness. Roe promised herself that never again would she be enclosed in a space under the ground.


  The headache was still bad but after a few breaths of the fresh air a feeling of joy was starting to fill Roe. She couldn’t believe her luck. After the hopelessness that she had felt in the dungeon just a short while ago everything had turned. It was lucky indeed that she had heard the prince say Aliendre’s name and it was also very lucky that the prince had come down to the dungeon alone. She smiled triumphantly to herself. It had been so easy to tell that the prince had been afraid of her.  
  Although Roe knew that self control was important she gave way for the feeling of invincibility that filled her. After all she deserved to feel this good after this night’s experience. The last ingredient was in her pocket. Against all odds she had succeeded. The prince hadn’t noticed that she had taken a hair that had fallen on his shoulder when she embraced him. Now, that golden hair was attached to a piece of resin in her pocket. She laughed silently when she thought about the prince’s surprised expression when she had bowed just like Aliendre had shown her that human’s bowed. It was always good to be polite.



  Dawn would come soon and she needed to find a safe place to sleep. The feeling of invincibility mixed with weariness made her bold enough to dare to hide in the soft straw in a barn not far away from the castle. She clinched her teeth. The head hurt so much that it was difficult to think. She hadn’t more than lied down in the hay before she fell into a deep sleep. It was afternoon when she woke up and it worried her that the distant sounds from the farm hadn’t wakened her sooner. She must have been really exhausted to sleep so deep. Her head was still hurting, but not as much as yesterday. Now the hunger was a more acute worry than her head but this was a problem that was very easy to solve.



  Roe found more food in the barn than she could eat and was filled with new energy. Full and content she waited patiently in the barn for the darkness to fall. There was one thing about this expedition that worried Roe. She had accomplished the most difficult and dangerous part of the task but there was one weak point that she hadn’t given enough thought. The elves might come home before her and she was supposed to be travelling together with them. If they came to her home and asked for her she would have a very big problem. Darkness fell and Roe climbed down the ladder and went silently out of the barn.



  A soft neigh caught Roe’s attention. She had already felt the smell of the horses without paying much attention to it but a new plan was beginning to take shape in her aching head. A horse could run faster than she could and they accepted to carry humans on their back. If she asked nicely maybe a horse would carry her. It was an exciting thought. Silently she approached the enclosure where the horses were grassing. A big black stallion came to greet her. He accepted that she put her hand on his cheek and nudged her friendly with his soft muzzle.



  She opened the gate, took a firm grip in his mane and swung herself swiftly on the back of the horse.


  The horse stepped nervously and tossed his head but he didn’t try to get rid of her. Actually he seemed to be filled with anticipation. Roe leaned forward and the horse started to trot. She found that it was not difficult at all to communicate to the horse the direction she wanted him to take. He was sensitive to every movement of her body.


   Soon Roe was flying over the ground on the back of the black stallion. This experience alone was worth everything that she had been through. She would never know the uproar the disappearance of the human knight’s best stallion would cause next morning.
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Chapter 29. Afternoon Tea



  Thanks to the horse the travel home went much faster than what Roe would have accomplished by foot. Sooner than she could have hoped she got to the place where she had hid the bottle that the Dark elves had given her. With her bare hands she started to dig and felt relieved when she touched the smooth and hard surface of the bottle. The horse was grassing next to her. He had always kept close to her on their travel together. Reluctantly she realized that it would not be a very good idea to bring the horse to her home. She could not always take responsibility for the horse and her parents would probably see him as a food reserve. But it was hard to say goodbye. The horse followed her wherever she went. Silently she sneaked away when he was concentrating on finding the juiciest grass and felt like a betrayer when he neighed and waited in vain for her reply. Roe felt confident that the horse would do fine, he seemed to be an intelligent and capable creature but she was his friend and now she had to disappear and leave him alone.



  The smell from the cooking fire spread a homelike feeling long before Roe could see her family’s hut. When she could see Otter and Wolf preparing a meal together a sting in her heart made her realize how much she had missed her parents.


  “Look! Roe is back,” her father shouted overwhelmed with joy and Otter looked up and ran to greet her daughter. When Roe finally could relax in her mother’s arms she realized just how exhausted and hungry she really was. She had been injured and had been very close to death. Suddenly the feeling of invisibility was completely gone and she felt like a small child again. She would have liked to tell her parents all about her difficulties during the last two weeks and to be comforted by her mother as she had been so often when she was a child. But of course that was not possible. She could not share her experience with anyone.
  “How was your trip together with the elves?” Wolf asked.
  Roe swallowed. One lie just built upon the other and all she wanted now was to rest and be close to her parents.
  “It was good, an adventure, but I’m so glad to be back home,” she said. Obviously the elves hadn’t been here already which at least was a relief. She quickly changed subject and started to ask about everything that her parent had been doing while she was gone to not have to make up lies about the travel with the elves.


  “I will miss you so much when you leave us to move to Bear’s family,” Otter said, her voice almost breaking. “It was almost unbearable to be without you during this time but I better get used. I can’t believe how fast you have grown.”
  “What do you mean? I’m going to take care of you even after I’ve been joined with Bear. Surely you will move with me?”


  Wolf shook his head. “No you cannot take care of four old parents, we will manage. And besides, moving to another couples hunting grounds is never done, how could you even think of such a strange thing? Of course we will visit you as often as possible, at least once a year. We will be very happy just to know that you’re doing well.”
  Roe felt as if a trap was slowly closing around her. The feeling was almost similar to what she had experienced in the dark tunnel when she escaped from the castle but this time she wasn’t sure there would be a hatch that led to her freedom on the other side of the tunnel. She hoped with all her heart that the solution to all her troubles was within the little bottle that the Dark elves had given her and that it wasn’t too late. The thought of Thorundur travelling together with Aliendre worried her more than she liked to admit.
  The next few days Roe slept like she had never slept before and when she didn’t sleep she waited. She waited for Thorundur to come back but the days passed and he didn’t come. Maybe he wasn’t her friend anymore? Or maybe he had forgotten her and was only thinking about Aliendre.




  Finally, after six days the elves showed up and Roe felt exhilarated when she saw them. Thankfully her parents had gone for a long hunting trip. Roe had stayed home, partly because she hoped that the elves would show up, and partly because she still needed to rest from her adventures and head injury.
  She studied Thorundur and Aliendre closely as they approached. There didn’t seem to be any difference in the relation between them. Thorundur and Aliendre walked at the same distance from each other as usual and they didn’t look at each other more often than usual. On the other hand Thorundur didn’t smile at her as he usually did. When they had last seen each other she had yelled and ran away from him so she couldn’t really blame him for not being happy to see her. Aliendre on the other hand looked happy to see her.
  ”Roe I’m so happy to see you,” Aliendre said with a bright smile and stretched her arms towards Roe.
  Aliendre’s friendliness made Roe feel guilty.
  “Hi, Roe,” Thorundur said with just a hint of a smile and without meeting her eyes.



  "I’m so happy to see you too, both of you, “Roe said and smiled brightly. “I’ve been on a long hunting trip on my own and returned just a little less than a week ago. Please tell me everything about your travel”. She talked heartily and smiled but it was all a charade. It was not possible to feel happy if she and Thorundur weren’t friends. How she wished that she could tell Thorundur everything about her adventure in the human realm. He was always such a good listener and no one would understand her like he did. But of course she couldn’t share the biggest adventure she had ever experienced with him. He looked a little more relaxed and happier though after they had greeted each other.
  “Please let me give you some food and make you some tea,” she said.




  Roe hoped that the spirits and The Mother where not watching when lifted the bottle to pour the potion in the mug that she would give to Aliendre. Somehow she had a feeling that they might not approve of what she planned to do. She had sent the elves to get some herbs on the other side of the hut so that they wouldn’t see what she was doing but she knew that she could not hide from the spirits. Aliendre had showed her nothing but friendship and acceptance. Secretly pouring magical potions in your mug was not something a friend was expected to do. She lowered her hand again. 
 There was still a choice; she didn’t have to do this. But on the other hand, the potion would only help Aliendre to follow her heart Roe tried to convince herself. Probably she was just doing Aliendre a favor. After all was it not The Mother herself who had told Roe that she should follow her heart and the Dark elves had said that this could help her to get what she wanted. She put some extra herbs in the tea in case the potion would have a strong taste.


  “It smells very good,” Aliendre said and looked appreciatively at Roe.
  “Taste it, it tastes even better than it smells,” Roe said trying to not stare intensely on Aliendre.


  “Oops, I spilled my tea,” Thorundur said. “I’m terribly sorry Roe.”
  “No problem I can get you more,” she replied quickly, trying hard to hide her irritation.
  “You can have some of mine, I have plenty,” Aliendre offered.


  “No,” Roe cried sharply as Aliendre lifted her mug to pour some of her tea in Thorundur’s mug.
 The elves looked up at her surprised by the sharpness of her voice.
 “It means bad luck to pour tea from someone’s mug,” Roe said quickly. “I will get you some new tea Thorundur.


  Aliendre seemed to accept Roe’s explanation and lowered her mug again but Thorundur looked skeptical. They had eaten many meals together and he had never heard this before.



  Roe hold her breath as Aliendre lifted the mug to her lips and sipped. “It tastes very good Roe.” She took another sip and another. Nothing particular seemed to happen but maybe it would take some time for the effect to start working.
  The elves chatted with her, telling her about their trip and Thorundur seemed to become less and less tense and more and more like he used to be towards her. It became time for them to part and they said goodbye. Still there was nothing unusual with Aliendre as far as Roe could tell. What if nothing would happen? Then all the dangers she had gone through would have been for nothing. But even if the potion had the effect it was supposed to have, how could she be sure that she would get what she wanted. The Dark elves had not wanted to give her a potion to give to Thorundur. It was not in their interest to do so and the potion was very complicated and demanding to make they had explained. 
 Although the Dark elves were her friends Roe would never have dared to do anything against their will. Their magical powers scared her. All she could do now was to wait and see if something would happen.
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Chapter 30. Alexander's Vision


  The sunlight that already trickled through the window warming the floor told Alexander that this would become a very hot day. It was only late spring but it felt like high summer. He turned around in his bed and tried to fall asleep to delay the beginning of this day but it was pointless.


  Instead he lingered in bed and started to think about the strange prisoner that he had released almost two weeks ago. Sometimes he didn’t know if it had been real but every time he saw the healing wound on the guard Torfast's cheek he couldn’t deny that it really had happened. How could he have acted so strange and released a creature that didn’t look like anything that he had seen before, and without even questioning her? As often when he thought about this, he came to the conclusion that the Forest creature must have put a spell on him. There couldn’t really be any other reason for his irrational behavior he decided. The guards had been threatened and bribed to not talk with anyone about that night. Besides who would believe them anyway?


  Finally he rose from his bed. There was no point in trying to avoid the inevitable. He would have to play the part that was expected of him today. There were going to be festivities for everyone because of his soon to be wedding. First there would be markets and jesters, and tonight there would be tournaments on the jousting field.



 “There is still time for you to change your mind about participating in the tournaments,” his father said when they sat at the table together for a quick breakfast.
“You wanted to set me up against knights I have defeated easily before. Everyone knows their skills are much below mine, it would be pointless.”
“Is your pride more important than to give the people a show that would strengthen their support to our family?”


  “I have done everything you asked of me, even agreed to marry a princess you chose but please don’t expect me to go up against knights who have been told that they must let me win.”
  “We will not talk more about it then. Don’t you agree that Princess Alde is very beautiful?”
  Alexander shrugged. “I can’t deny the truth in that. It will be a warm day at the market today I believe.” Then he looked worried. “Do you feel well father?” he said.
  The king did indeed look very pale and there was a tension around his cheeks.
  “I’m fine but I think I will need to get some rest before the tournaments. If you show yourself at the market there’s no need for me to go there to. I’ll see you tonight then.”




  Alexander strolled around at the market, chatting with friends and receiving the people’s reverence.
It was a beautiful day perhaps just a little bit too warm to be perfect. He enjoyed himself for the moment. Alde had taken her chambermaid with her to the market stalls.


  “How can a woman smile and frown at the same time?” Alexander thought when Alde approached him.
It just doesn’t seem possible to find nice silk anywhere in this town,” she said displeased.
  “There are some merchants here that have silk I believe,” he said.
  “But not the quality I would like,” she replied. I need to have some new dresses made.”
  Alexander couldn’t understand why this woman needed more dresses. He couldn’t recall having seen her in the same dress twice yet. Not that he paid that much attention to dresses of course, so he could be mistaken there.


  “Talking about clothes, the thralls and serfs in your country must be very well dressed,” Alde said looking around at the market.
  “Most of the people you that see in this part of the country are actually not thralls or serfs but free farmers. My father believes that it’s better to let people own their land and pay reasonable taxes. He believes that they will produce better if they own their farms.” he answered.
  “How odd!” There was a wrinkle of disapproval between her brows. “Maybe that’s something that we can change when you‘re king and I’m your queen.” Her sweet smile gave him shivers.


  Before Alexander could think of a reply dizziness overwhelmed him. Everything became blurry and he felt like he might faint. He leaned against a column for support and hoped that no one would notice his weakness. What could be wrong with him? He closed his eyes and opened them again.


  A face was forming in the blurriness before his eyes. It was Aliendre. She was even more beautiful than he could remember and she smiled at him. She seemed to be in a in a forest and her lips formed his name.


  “Are you well Alexander?” Aliendre’s face disappeared and he was looking into Alde’s sharp green eyes. She looked concerned.
  “I’m fine.” It was a lie though. He was not fine at all. Although he realized what he had seen must have been his imagination caused by the pressure that he felt lately he couldn’t get rid of the feeling that Aliendre was in some kind of trouble.
  It was strange. First the oddest looking creature that he’d ever seen showed up in his castle and claimed that she knew Aliendre. And now he had a strong vision of Aliendre. He had tried so hard to convince himself that his infatuation with Aliendre had just been a youthful and na├»ve love that he would grow out of but he hadn’t succeed very well at all. How could it be possible for him to go through with the wedding with Alde when his heart was filled with another woman? He had to go through with it. There was really no other choice at this point or else King Knut and his sons would become their enemies. Besides, Aliendre was an elf and he was human. Elves and humans couldn’t marry and were not supposed to fall in love with each other. A life together with Aliendre had always been out of the questions so he really needed to stop thinking about her.



  “I look forward to the tournaments tonight. Everyone will see the beautiful princess that will become their queen,” he said, doing his best to play the part that was expected of him. He seemed to have convinced Alde at least. She looked very pleased to hear his words.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter 31. The Letter



  The weak flickering light from the candles fell on Aliendre’s desk. She had returned home yesterday. Almost everyone but she was asleep. It was late night or very early morning and still very quiet. Not even the birds were awake to fill the air outside with their singing. Only the guards would be up now. Aliendre carefully folded the letter that she had been writing and let it lie on her desk.
She went to the other side of the room where a beautifully ornamented box was standing on a small table. She opened the box and pulled out a chain with a pendant. Swiftly she got dressed and picked up a pack that was lying on her bed. After turning out the light she went silently out from her chamber.


  The peacefulness of the early morning was broken by a sharp horrifying scream that echoed in the Light Elves palace. The scream came from Princess Aliendre’s chamber. King Eraldor hurried and found his wife with a horrified expression holding a paper tight in her hand. Trembling and with eyes filled with tears she handed him the paper. “Not again, not another child,” she said.
Although carefully printed, the thrifty formulations made it obvious that the letter had been written in haste.



  “Is it the human prince?” Eraldor asked.
  “She has never expressed any such feelings for him,” Eliene said. “But who knows what she might have hidden from us. What else could it be that would make her change irreversibly?”
  “Isn’t he going to marry a foreign princess?” Eraldor asked.
  “Maybe Aliendre doesn’t know. What else could it be? Do you remember at the celebration of Alexander’s first birthday? I could feel that there was a disaster in his destiny, a disaster that would cause grief in the Elven realm.”



  “If Prince Alexander had anything to do with this he will regret the day he was born.” Eraldor’s eyes were narrow and there was no doubt that he meant what he said. Then his face softened. “But somehow I find it difficult to believe. He has a good heart and although he had a crush on Aliendre when he was here I doubt that it was more to it than that. Aliendre seemed to like his company but I find it hard to believe that an elven princess as mighty as her would fall seriously in love with a human.
  Eliene looked absent minded with her thoughts far away. “What good is it to see the future when there never is anything I can do to change it?”
  “I may not be to late yet. If the Prince is involved I will know soon enough. I will start looking for Aliendre too, but with her powers I doubt that I will be able to find her. If I didn’t know better I might have believed that the Dark elves could be involved. But there is no possibility that they could reach us here, and even Aliendre on her own, outside this palace, would be quite a match also for the most powerful of them.”



  Eraldor went to his study accompanied by his wife. He pulled a cloth from a crystal ball. As he put his palms on the crystal ball it started to flicker and soon there was a forest in it.
  “Most likely she has shielded herself. I cannot focus on her; the crystal ball just shows me random irrelevant scenes and I can feel it bouncing against the resistance of her shield whenever I try to focus. But if the prince is involved maybe I can see something in the human realm.”


  Eraldor concentrated again and a picture of a room filled the crystal ball. There was a bed in the room and on the pillow was Prince Alexander’s blond head. He was still sleeping deeply but started to move around and yawned while they were watching him.
  “Maybe he isn’t involved at all but I will keep having an eye on him,” Eraldor said. “After all, Aliendre has always been very dutiful, I find it difficult to believe that she would let her feelings determine her actions in such a way, even if she would have had such feelings. We must send out riders that will search everywhere for our daughter. But I doubt that they will be able to find her if she doesn’t want to be found. Maybe Toraldor and Liandra know something. Aliendre might have said something when she visited them that can give us a clue. We must send a herald to them to”


  Eliene’s white skin was even paler that usual and her large eyes filled with tears but the usual gentle expression was completely gone. “It is unbearable if we are going to lose another child,” she said.
  “We must do everything that is within our powers to find her. And if the human prince has anything to do with this, not even his gods will be able to protect him.”

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