Daylight began to fade and soon the crowd outside in the courtyard and gardens began to thin. The lions continued to mill about, some playing while others guarded the people of the castle. A tall, pale woman strolled in the gardens among the enchanted creatures.
She spied an owl circling about in a nearby tree. Unfortunately, the creature swooped in only to be chased about by the lions that thought it dangerous.
Selva took pity upon it, for it was alone and terribly frightened. She caught it on her gloved hand and asked it from where it came. “I had thought we were done, you and I.”
The owl cowered, holding one wing over its face while it held up one leg. Upon that leg was a small scrap of paper, tied carefully with a piece of thread.
She understood from where the message came. Her voice took on a hard edge. “I do not do her bidding anymore.”
But the creature insisted on waving its leg about pathetically. The lady could only sigh and take the paper in hand.
“I have erred in my judgment regarding the Unthings and my stance towards them. I wish to speak to you before I depart.”
“If this is so,” the lady spoke to the bird. “Tell her I shall only if she comes here and promises upon her kingdom itself that she means no harm.”
Selva released the bird to the wind and off it flew.
A few minutes later, a gust of snow blew in from the north. The lions drew close to Selva, their senses sensing the true nature of the woman who would come before them. The magical beasts stared at the thin, haughty woman. Her face had a timeless, frozen look that would make any mortal being feel uncomfortable.
When she spoke, her voice was harsh and cold. “They guard you well. But they should know they cannot win against one who can freeze them. It is foolish for them to show me their teeth.”
And yet they continued to do so, proving their courage and unwavering loyalty to the Wolframs. “It is not foolish for us to show you her value. You will not take her. He is watching.”
The Queen knew they did not bluff. But she was not impressed. “So it is true that you have chosen this poor king with nothing left except the people in this castle and enchanted rocks to guard it.”
“I chose him because I love him,” Selva answered simply. “That you have always understood.”
“And his curse? Your curse?”
“I believe it is gone. These noble creatures say so.”
The woman did not deny it. “Even so, it will not be an easy life. It would be better for you to return.”
Selva’s eyes flickered briefly. “And if I said no? Would you force me to go and do your bidding?”
The Queen blinked. “Drawing the wrath of a new king would do me no good. In these times,I would rather have an ally than an enemy.”
And then Selva knew why the woman had come to her. “You foresee trouble.”
Her slight hesitation was enough to answer the question for Selva. “I think my student would best be advised to bring spring early for those she loves. I fear a great hunger will be in evidence this year. Why it has come to this and who has caused this, I must find out.”
Selva suddenly felt afraid, not for herself but for the Queen. “Where do you go?”
The woman began to disappear in the strong wind that blew from the north. As she faded away, she whispered. “West, to seek the mirror’s truth.”
* * *
That mirror’s guardian stood at the edge of a deep bottomless lake while the sun began its descent. The birds of the world sang while they came to rest in her grove of trees along this magical shore.
But it was for six particular birds she waited for to arrive. She watched as they came to drink the lake’s waters and shook off their feathers, becoming human once again.
And then she listened as they spoke of the new world they had discovered.
End Volume 1, Red Riding Hood
The Tales of the Big Bad Wolf continues with Volume 2, “The Queen of Swans.”
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