The small breezes inside the cave whispered as they circled around Elisa and traveled along the surface of the bowl. They had come to the water’s aid, pulling and pushing at the small droplets as they rolled back into the bottle of fairy glass in her hand.
The Mother of Winds ignored this small display of magic. Instead, she put her nose in another bowl of soup and scattered it everywhere, much to Hahn’s disgust.
When Elisa’s work was completed, her sons broke the silence. “Mother.” East floated above the cauldron still bubbling on the fire. “The sun disappears behind the mountain. We should leave now with the Queen of Fairy.”
The old witch stopped her slurping. “There is no need to hurry. The shadows do not roam this area. I should like to speak to your brothers and see what changes time has engraved upon their backs.” She dropped her bowl of food and quickly hobbled towards the wall. “Now if I could only find my spectacles!”
Elisa stood, noting that the atmosphere had changed. She watched with narrowed eyes as the witch stopped at the very rock above which Raven had hidden the bags. For the sake of the winds who had come all this way, she would speak. “It would go faster with your all your sons aiding us.”
The witch turned about sharply, her hands grasping the one set of magic items that could contain her sons. Her fingers fumbled with the bags as she scolded her guest. “Meddle with us, do you? You should not worry about them but yourself and that magic you carry.”
The old witch took a step towards the son closest to her, slumbering on the floor near the cauldron. She stretched her arms towards him. Under the witch’s hands, the mouth of each bag yawned open and shut, waiting to suck the winds inside and back into their mother’s arms.
The fire vanished as smaller winds began to pour in through every open crevice of the cavern. They confused the halflings and humans alike, masking the presence of the three brothers
“Bad, bad children,” the witch cackled. “Now dinner will be cold!”
Elisa felt a warm hand grasp hers — one lined with callouses and scratches. She knew from the silent manner in which he moved that it was Raven who had come to pull her away from danger.
Dissonant notes rang out — created by winds swirling everywhere, in and out of the cave. In the resulting confusion, Elisa and her guards slipped towards the cave’s opening and hid.
What they were watching unfold inside, they did not really know. At times the winds would appear in solid form and at other times, they would fade away like ghosts. They danced about, avoiding their mother, their voices everywhere as they told her to calm herself. Why they did not leave, Elisa did not understand until she saw that the bags were not particularly clever — taking everything including the smaller winds who had come to the wind gods’ aid and other less fortunate objects that could not withstand the force applied by these monstrous objects.
But even the wind gods eventually tired.
“Fly or die!” West cursed as he blasted through the cave’s opening. Elisa was caught up in his wake and stumbled sideways.
Her hand grasped a branch — or so she thought. The item snapped between her fingers and Elisa slipped. Her feet danced along the rocky ledge and off the sheer mountain cliff.
In that moment she felt a rising horror. She could not defy the rules of the world. Elisa had no wings or magic that would help her fly.
She began to fall towards the earth below.
Shouts rang out from above her. One voice shrieked loudest. The witch screamed. “Fools! Save the queen!”
Raven leapt off that cliff, melting into a shadowy form before he became a bird. Hahn threw himself after him, casting away a feather before he changed into that unfortunate form that he hated.
As birds they dived towards her. Elisa could not see their faces but she hear their cries trying to tell her how to fly. They were not unlike the birds who had once desperately plucked her from that pyre of death. But she knew that they were not the same as her brothers. They were too small and too few to counter the laws of nature. Instead, they could only hope to reach her and comfort her before her body ended its journey and broke upon the earth.
She knew that in several of the tales, the only freedom offered to the maiden came in death. Death would end this life that mysteriously refused to leave her. It would save these noble birds from serving a placeholder queen — one who ironically did not fly.
But Elisa was not like her old self — the woman who caved into fear and doom. She screamed in anger at the meaningless of such a death. To those who would hear her, she would shout “I am not done!”
Her words tore across the sky.
Then a deep sound like the ocean rumbled from the valleys below.
The wind was rising — hurling drops of water and dust into the sky. Elisa shielded her eyes as many shape and manner of wind frenzied around her. Through that storm, she could see that the earth had stopped its race towards her.
She floated upon a pillar of earth and water. Beyond its muddy spire, the moon beyond them grinned from the sky, watching that defiant queen as she ordered the winds to bring her safely to the earth.
Her poor guards still tumbled around her, caught up in the muddy whirlwind that divided them from their queen. Raven beat his wings carefully, trying to find some way to her. Hahn crowed angrily as if his cries might subdue the wild breezes.
In that maelstrom, the eyes of South eerily floated by Elisa. “She is a greedy creature,” the disembodied face said to her. “Those bags were knit by a wizard once. Not an evil one but not a good one either. West saw she had repaired their holes. It was leave or never leave at all.”
“You dropped her,” Hahn did not care. He tried to peck at the wind’s eye while he rolled around in the crosswinds. “You would have been locked away for good by an elven court if she had died under your care!”
It was East who came and settled her upon his back while the South wind and the rooster continued to argue. “My brothers forgot you are not like your brothers,” the wind lamely offered while she watched his brothers retrieved each of the guards. “Nor did we realize that the knight was… damaged. He, too, jumped but would not change.”
Elisa had realized that long ago — that something had gone wrong with the Knight. And she suspected it had something to do with her. But if the East wind wished to know this story, now was not the time to hell him why.
“Hahn!” Instead Elisa summoned the angry little bird to her. As soon as his mistress called to him, he stopped jabbing at the southerly wind and launched himself at East’s tail. He fluttered around until she had safely caught him against her chest. Elisa gently scolded him. “Enough arguing. You and I both knew the danger in coming here. I am not hurt and neither are you.”
He ruffled his feathers in response –feathers that she promptly smoothed back down.
In the meantime, they floated slowly down the side of the mountain. Small zephyrs, still hot with air from the desert, greeted them. They danced alongside them and wiped dust and mud away from the feathers and hair of their brothers’ guests.
A small white dove landed upon Elisa’s shoulder. Elisa gently shook Hahn awake and told him to greet their new friend. Predictably, he grumbled.
As they drew close to the ground, he wriggled away and flew to a tree stump. He made a great show of turning back to his half-elven form as if to spite the lovestruck dove.
Her other guards landed first, waiting to catch her as the wind deposited her in their arms.
Freed of their passengers, the East wind circled about to retrieve something that had fallen from above. And his brothers stepped into the clearing, having assumed slightly more tangible forms.
The Queen’s legs trembled once she found solid ground. But as unsteady as she might be, Elisa did not take her Knight’s arm as she bowed to each of the winds. “I’m sorry for not realizing the risk this request posed to you. And I am sorry for underestimating your mother.”
“It is us who must apologize.” West rustled uneasily. “We fight rough. It cannot be helped in this situation. She has become very lonely and willful.”
Elisa knew that to be true. “When it is safe and her anger has cooled, bid her to come to the garden. She may rest while you are away.”
“You do not know what you offer,” West spoke sternly. “She grows stranger by the decade and less predictable. She might anchor herself there permanently.”
“The lake cannot be undone by one windy witch,” Elisa replied. “It will calm her heart as it has done for others.”
South yawned. “She will be too angry to see even East for a few days. We’ll do what we have promised and then we’ll see how our mother’s temper fares.”
Elisa knew they intended to simply leave the old witch fuming on top of the mountain by herself. She protested this decision. “She should know we are all safe.”
Her words weighed heavily upon them. West and South briefly tangled with one another, shaking the limbs of the nearby trees as they discussed the situation as winds at cross purposes sometimes do. After a moment, their discussion ceased and West removed one of the leaves stuck in his beard.
He blew it towards their human companion and it floated until it came to rest upon Elisa’s hand.
Elisa studied the leaf, fluttering in her hand. “And what am I to do with this?”
West chuckled. “A brave little wind holds that leaf in your hand. He said he will carry the mud on your hands to my mother to prove you were not harmed. She will understand that the lake came to your aid.”
“My queen,” said a voice as the bottle of fairy glass floated over to her, carried by the unseen hand of the east wind. Elisa let go of the leaf to receive the vessel which she realized had become separated from her while she fell. “This was close by.”
She looked down at the bottle which had nothing left save a few drops in the bottom. “You mean the mud came from this?”
“Well…” West laughed. “That is what we mean to ask you. If you do not know then do not keep our friend waiting. He will let her know you are safe as will our little friends once her wrath has cooled. Hurry, before he loses his courage. Tell him if you have an additional message for our mother.”
Elisa touched the leaf, hoping she would not harm the little sprite that carried it. “Please let her know that I hope to see her soon. And thank you, brave wind.”
The leaf jerked about in the air in response before West blew a gust of air. The small green thing floated upward, rising without fail towards the mountain that towered above them. Elisa watched it until she could see it no more.
“Well, human,” South yawned. “As messy are you are now, I could take you to your kind. The wolves among them will surely treat you well.”
“No,” Elisa turned her head towards the sound of his voice. “I thank you but I do not think it is yet time to return. There are still those who think me evil.”
“So be it,” South’s voice began to move away towards a line of trees. “I will spy out these wolves and see if the one you seek is among them. If I do come back your way with news, I will expect a reward of your best fairy wine and food.” His voice began to fade away. “Good bye, you two. If you see my twin, do tell him not to work too hard.”
His departure signaled that it was time to move on. East floated about aimlessly, studying the muddied ground upon which they stood. “I think it best that the queen return home. I do not think it is wise to delay. Brother West, do you go see the elves? I hear they speak terrible things about you.”
Whatever meaning lay behind those words, Elisa could not fathom. But the West wind gusted with laughter. “When you ask in that way, I suppose not. That is, of course, if our young Queen does not mind. Now that our lazy brother is gone, we promise not to fight in your garden. We have much we wish to discuss with you.”
Elisa raised an eyebrow, uncertain if she could believe them. But she knew that the winds would not ask for an invitation unless something was on their mind. “So be it,” she said as she restored the fairy bottle to the pouch at her side.