But there had been a small change — a slight shift to that pattern that perplexed Elisa.
It would seem that the elven king had lost his resolve to marry her. However, he had not relinquished the idea of bringing the title of King of Fairy to his own line. At the same time, Azul spoke of keeping the true nature of his magic powers secret to preserve his choices. He had hinted that those perceived to be strong with magic would be sequestered in the tower.
This did not make sense in light of Vincens’ supposed ambitions. Although she would decline such an offer if it were made, her thought was that a worthy replacement ought to be the strongest of the elves.
Elisa’s questions only continued to multiply in Azul’s absence. He had barely been gone more than a day when she decided to call upon the lake. Her men greeted her there one evening, telling her they would soon be ready to take her out on the waters.
While she waited for them to complete their preparations, the earth shook without warning. It was a mild tremor — only strong enough to stir the waters and shift the sands. However, her guards left their stations, intent to assist her.
She waved them off, assuring them she was not in peril.
The Knight was first to finish his tasks and took up his post by his queen. “These are becoming more frequent,” he said pointedly.
“Frequent?” Hahn’s head snapped up. He almost dropped the knotted rope in his hands while scowling at the elder guard. “Why didn’t you call us back before?“
The Knight blinked, too polite to remind the redhead that he did not possess that sort of power. “Only the hawk and I were here in these instances — and our queen did not request such a thing.”
Elisa cleared her throat. “You went far beyond the reach of the fairies, Hahn. Even then, would you expect us to call you back for every small scare or incident here? “
“Where I came from,” Hahn’s temper flared at both his queen and the knight. “These are not small scares. When the fire mountains wake we talk of leaving.”
She walked over to him, gently placing her hand on his head. She tousled his unruly hair, trying to ease his anxieties. “It is not the same as where you came from. We do not have living, breathing mountains in this place. And this kind of thing is not completely unexpected. The two moons moving in alignment over this area can cause strain upon this place. But in the past the quakes calmed down with time.”
He screwed up his nose, still unconvinced. His eyes flickered towards the fairies that were lazily milling about, unconcerned. He realized he was the only one upset by what had just happened. “I suppose those little flying things told you that?”
She blinked. It was not the fairies who first explained to her what the source of the tremors might be. She had been frightened herself that first time the ground began to undulate. Her second brother, Avery, was the one who comforted her, telling her that the mages had written of such a phenomena happening before and that Maeve herself provided the reasons for it occurring. In that same manner, Elisa continued to comfort her younger guardian. “We learned this from the elves, not the fairies. We have no reason to dispute their explanations. But it is true that our friends are not worried.”
His eyes darted about, confirming that to be so. Hahn sighed and meekly finished loosening the knot that tethered their craft to the dock.
Elisa abruptly changed the direction of the conversation. “Shall we resume with our turn on the lake? The water should settle shortly.”
She was anxious to see what the lake might say. Before the eclipse, the sheer number of images had exploded. The lake would manifest as many visions as it could within the few hours she could sustain her concentration. She had known that the changes before the darkness would be numerous — for the people who had known of or sensed the oncoming eclipse had acted out according to the best and worst of their natures. But in the time since it passed the lake was sometimes inconsistent. Deep down, she felt that the darkness had something to the world outside, something she felt she needed to know.
“My queen,” the knight spoke. “Who would you have steer?”
She looked at him, her most trusted guardian. “Raven needs to keep an eye out on the water. I would ask you to do so.”
Hahn quirked his head, already prepared to argue. “Do you mean for me to stay behind?
“No,” she smiled. “I need you to sit by me and hold these.”
Azul had told her that Hahn had a faint tinge of elven blood and the ability to use the spells he had left behind. And that meant, more or less, that the young man had some kind of magical affinity — although likely quite weak and passably untrained. She wanted him close by to observe and to be on hand in case something went wrong.
Elisa handed Hahn a small pouch which held a few scrolls. She told him he would have to study them quickly. Hahn looked pleased by the distinction she paid him. Had the elf been around still, Hahn might have even openly gloated. But neither Raven or the knight were the type to be jealous of their queen’s favors. Still, Hahn grinned as he assisted his queen onto the craft and took his seat next to her.
With one push from the dock, their elegant swan boat moved straight and cleanly across the water. Raven had quietly slid into the form of a bird and taken his position on the ship’s front while the knight steered the ship to the gentle part of Mirror Lake. The fairies followed behind them, waiting for either the lake or the lady to speak first.
Tonight the lake waited. Elisa saw she would have to first do the asking. She summoned her voice from deep within her and asked how her guards fared.
It did not take long before she saw the answer. Hawk appeared first, pressing against a strong flurry of snow on his two feet, past bears standing listlessly in the cold. Sova perched on a tree as an owl, watching something in the distance. Azul lay in the grass, playing a pipe while resting by a familiar stream to the west.
Her remaining three guards stared intently at the images.
“That weasel,” snarled Hahn. “He plays the day away while running back to his king!”
Elisa’s heart wavered in that moment. It would seem that he was indeed going west, towards his home, as any loyal spy might do.
Raven circled over the water carefully, trying not to upset the fairies that studied and held the reflections of their compatriots. “No,” he croaked. “Not that.”
“He is trying to charm something,” deduced the Knight. He was at the same disadvantage as Hahn and Elisa, unable to see well or hear what their compatriot was doing.
They sat there for a while unable to move closer, lest they muddle the image with the boat’s movement.
“He has the boy,” Raven called from the air. “That halfling. See, in the grass? The child is eating.”
A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. Elisa felt a weight lift — her faith in Azul was not misplaced. He had gone from this place but continued to do a good turn for others. She silently mouthed a blessing for the elf and the child, wishing them safe passage through the mountains west from here.
The fairies settled upon her shoulders while she did so, anxious for further commands. She opened her eyes and offered them an affectionate tap on their heads before she continued in her work. “Mirror of the lake, show me my brothers.”
Only silence greeted her this time as it had before. Elisa tried not to overthink this. Then even more softly, she commanded the waters to show her Maeve.
Elisa sighed at the blank surface and then squared her shoulders. She would add one more request. “This time, old friend, please comply. Show me the elven king!”
Against the clear lake’s surface a blurred figure began to appear. Elisa dared not breathe, lest her movement cause a small wave to form that would cause the visual to slip away.
The fairies themselves could see the trouble the lake had with the image. They hovered over it, struggling to clarify the visual by adding their own power to hers and the lakes. Her guards stared over the side of the boat, keen to see the face of this distant and legendary figure.
But even with all that effort the picture would not focus. Elisa took a moment to catch her breath and then tried a different tactic. “Show us the capital as it is now.”
The lake responded, showing them the lit windows of those who resided within its walls, the guards standing at the gates of the palace, and the lonely tower in the courtyard of mystics. Elisa was surprised by how easy the request was to fulfill. She sank slowly to her seat. “What mischief is this?”
Her companions stared at her with concern, perhaps concluding her and her power to be erratic.
The city did not hide itself but the elven king proved to be unseeable and unknowable. She considered the possibility that the lake could not see him. The king was clever — clever enough to make sure the power he had shown her also couldn’t be used against him.
She pondered this idea while her guards watched the other visions that began to randomly appear on the water. The lake had decided to tell them more.
For a half hour they watched and observed the lake at its mercurial best. Usually after this ritual completed, they would return to shore. However, Elisa was still frowning when it came time for her to order them. “Please take the boat out further.”
The Knight’s oar hovered over the water expectantly.“What do you mean to do?”
Elisa dragged her hand through the water, as if to reassure herself it was still there and still the same lake she had always known. “Go where the water is deeper, further into the middle. I will try the same thing again.”
Raven returned to the gondola, perching upon the long neck of the boat’s prow. Several fairies joined him in perching upon the free corners of the boat . Hahn glared at the mischievous freeloaders, for while they were small, they still added weight to the craft.
Elisa knew that several of the fairies were tired but unwilling to return to shore in order to be relieved from their duties by their other siblings. She knew some were as stubborn as she and were likely bothered by the whimsical games the lake played this evening. “Just a little more,” she apologized to them. Tomorrow she would feed them well and let them play.
Her knight steered them to a place where no person would dare walk or swim. Here the waters were so cold and deep that even the fairies did not routinely come this way.
Elisa began her summoning of the visions in the same manner she had previously. She stood straight and tall and commanded the lake to obey her. She ran through the names of those she had requested before with no change in results. And then she came to the king of elves. “Show me Vincens. You know I wish to see him.”
A light stirred from deep below as if it would respond this time. The fairies thought so as well for they were circling the water, waiting for the vision to appear. But the light flickered a few times before it began to dim and dissipate.
Hahn groaned next to her. Elisa shot him a warning look, silently telling him not to curse as he was sometimes inclined to do.
But she, too was frustrated with the lack of response from the lake. Elisa briefly entertained the idea that she was not strong enough to master the lake on her own, to make it show her everything she wanted — present, past, and the future. Even so, she tried again, her voice rising in tone as she raised her arms. “I ask you again, mirror. The king of fairy. Show him to me!”
Again, the light began to stir up from deep within the water. It seemed to flicker slightly as if it might fade away. But slowly the light approached and a minute later a cloud of bubbles burst at the surface, settling a magic light across the water.
As the ripples spread, so did an image.
The fairies trilled in delight at the mosaic of faces that began to paint itself. They pointed at each individual as the picture came into focus.
While the Raven circled overhead and Hahn leaned dangerously over the craft’s side, Elisa watched the pattern laying itself out.
“Those are not elves,” came the uneasy response from her knight as he studied the crowd in the picture.
Elisa scanned the faces, recognizing humans and halflings milling about in some unknown courtyard. She squinted, confused by the changes in light, likely due to torches.
“I thought they did not get along,” Hahn spoke aloud. “What are the humans doing with Wolves?”
Elisa clutched her skirts, her eyes widening as she caught a glimpse of a familiar, ever-youthful face. Her surprise melted into irritation, namely at herself. “Of course,” she choked out. “Oh, I’ve been a fool!”
Her men did not know how to react to the pained sound that came from her. They would rush to her if she did not wave them away. “I am fine,” she said but covered her eyes with her fingers. “Do you not recognize him? That halfling with the light colored eyes?”
As did her knight. The man cleared his throat. “He is not the elven king.”
She clutched her side, uncertain whether to laugh or tremble at what the lake had revealed. She had sensed he was important but had not understood the pattern. And now she had uncovered some aspect of a much bigger one but only by luck. Foolish luck. “He most certainly is not,” she murmured to herself. “Now what shall we do?”