Elisa smoothed down the front of her coat while her men quickly scrambled to their feet.
Unlike them, she was not particularly startled by this admission of falseness. If she were a younger woman, she might have put herself on guard. However time had taught her that there was no such thing as pure honesty in this world.
The winds were hard to read — for they had no true corporeal form that her senses could grasp.
However, they were calm as her clear blue eyes studied the temporary faces the winds had adopted. Instinct told her the reason for this somewhat expected admission. “I suppose this is something you did not want your mother or brother to hear.”
The branches did not rustle at her faint accusation.
Instead, East whispered. “We dare not speak the truth and risk her descending off her mountain.”
“What happens if she comes off the mountain?” came the question from Hahn before he was forced to abandon his stance to move away from a love-struck dove.
The amorous bird’s attentions broke the tension. Had the West wind not taken pity upon the young half-elf and wrapped the bird up in his beard of branches, their conversation would have abruptly derailed.
The wind spirit chuckled as the bird angrily trilled at him from within the beard cage. “Birds like this one would be scattered everywhere. Showers of rain would pour while the sun shines. Small cyclones would sprout wherever she steps. Rainbows would hang in places that don’t make sense. Our mother is the mischief of nature personified. Worse, that mischief would grow more powerful every hour she wanders the earth until everything was in chaos.”
“That sounds terrible,” Hahn said bluntly to the laughter of the West wind.
The Knight interjected. “And what of the South wind?” asked the Knight. “You had an opportunity to speak before he left.”
She did not need to ask if he could be trusted.There was something furtive to the Southern wind. She had no doubt now of his bias towards the humans for whom the harvests had been plentiful these past few years. Instead, Elisa raised her hand, quieting her followers. “My guards are very curious. Do you wish them to leave?”
West shrugged. “They are your keepers.”
“There are others,” warned East.
“Ah that’s right! Your elf is not here.” West said in an overtly cheerful manner that rang slightly false. “I was looking forward to seeing him.”
She felt an absence of breeze as the smaller winds disappeared from the garden, likely searching for Elisa’s other guards.
“For the moment, he is not,” the Knight said in warning tones. Likely he had noticed the shift in winds as well. “Do not mistake us. We share what we know with our fellow guards.”
The apple tree swayed uneasily under tailwinds mixing with one another as the two wind gods silently communed.
Only when the tree ceased to move did they speak again.
“We do not mind, queen, if your men listen.” East sighed. “However, the less who know this truth, the better. There could be repercussions for carelessly breaking your silence.”
She would not promise absolute secrecy for she knew very well how that could end. She did not utter a vow. Instead, she nodded. “I understand.”
West leaned forward, bringing the mass of greenery that stood in for his face towards her. “And you must know that we would not be telling you if we believed this not to be trouble.”
She did not always have time for these long-winded ways of the eternal ones. Elisa stood still, ignoring the intimidating presence of the wind god. She pressed for the information that concerned her the most. “Then tell me. Where is your brother? The one who allies with the Snow Queen. Has he gone overseas?”
The more polite East wind sighed before he, too, descended off his perch on the tree. “It is true, young queen. However, he traveled alone.”
Elisa frowned. She could feel a warm breeze curling around her riding coat, as if it might be searching or hunting out some hint of her feelings. She dusted off her sleeve, unwilling to let the winds control her so. She raised her chin. “Was there not a time when you winds roamed freely without any order? Is he not shaping the seasons as he used to?”
“That is many years ago, young queen. And our brother is not so mercurial.”
And yet the old witch on the mountain had predicted such a parting. Elisa said nothing, taking a moment to inspect the mud on her boots while waiting to see what the winds might say if left unprompted.
A draught of cool air nipped at her hair as West began to lose his patience. “Good queen, do you care so little about your fellow mortal?! When he last spoke to her, she was on her way to see you!”
Elisa’s stomach fluttered in warning as she caught Raven’s movement out of the corner of her eye. She saw his hand drifting to a pocket where she suspected he had stored some implement to subdue the troublesome wind spirit. She blinked twice, warning her guard not to act. “And how long ago was this?”
“Months, Queen of Fairy! Surely you noticed when the winter did not remove itself all that quickly.”
“No,” Elisa’s voice sharpened at West’s probing manner. “As I said previously, she and I have not seen one another in years. Nor are we in any sort of regular contact. Variations in weather had become a regular habit of your brother’s mistress.”
The East wind whistled before his less polite brother insulted Elisa further. “While North is an arrogant spirit, he is not one to leave aside duties. He spoke the truth to us. If you do not know what befell her–”
“I do not,” Elisa remained firm.
“Yes, yes,” East wrapped around his brother’s form, silencing him. “Perhaps we could resolve our situation if we could learn where she is. You and this lake of yours might help us find her. You could summon an image perhaps…”
She heard Hahn squawking a plethora of complaints.“She isn’t some kind of performing monkey. She just got here and has not had any rest or food! And to take a request from the likes of one so rude–”
The Knight himself began to protest. “To look for one so powerful requires a great deal of magic. We do not have our fellow guards.”
And Raven continued to creep towards the tree, determined to use the bag pilfered from the caverns upon these demanding guests.
Elisa raised her hand, stilling their arguments. “To find such a being who herself may not wish to be found requires a great deal of magic. The lake itself may show nothing.”
“With our help, your highness, we think the lake can be convinced to try. You had no trouble showing us a halfling of power earlier. This should be only a little more difficult and would assure us that the effort we are to expend finding him has been worthwhile.”
She did not like the ingratiating manner that the East wind used. Now he would remind her of the help they had promised earlier in order to find a way to exact more payment from her.
Elisa’s fingertips came to rest on the space between two very furrowed brows while she thought of her next move.