Their eagerness did not go unnoticed.
A smile froze about her lips as she sorted her way through the merits and risks of such an offer.
The wise man Taliesen had told her that the lake was far better than some enchanted looking glass. Its intrinsic link to all the waters in the world made it far more reaching. But he also affirmed that it was still an item of magic. Therefore, its power was shaped by the one who would use it.
Maeve had tapped its potential to speak to the past and the dreams of mortals. Elisa, with the fairies at her side, would make the lake seek out the present.
But neither woman’s reach was infinite.
While the winds waited for her answer, small breezes stirred up the air in the meadow. Several fairies clung to her shoulders and hair while they lazily floated in the wind.
Elisa knew the winds could bring in more power. They each had millions of their own minions scattered around the world, each who possessed a small facet of magic waiting to serve their masters.
But she had observed that they did not treat their own kind with love and care. They did not worry over how their actions might impact the smaller, lesser breezes.
Taliesen had warned her about the balance of magic and that what the fairies offered her was not to be taken lightly. As the one who had been entrusted with the lake and its denizens, she would have to think differently than her brothers.
He urged her to be less impulsive than they and to avoid picking fights and participating in intrigues.
In hindsight, she could see that intrigue. Many hands had tried to shape her actions. It would seem that the gods and elves of this world who had offered help over her life had never done so out of pure selflessness.
The prince of elves had once taught her how to grasp visions upon the lake. For a time, she had been grateful to Vincens for doing so — for he had given her one small means of comfort in her brothers’ increasing absences. But after further reflection on her part she admitted that he may have been grooming her for the eventual role he had wanted her to inhabit.
Elisa wondered, however, what would have happened had he returned to her. How different would the limits of her powers over the lake be now?
Her ears caught the cheerful humming of the fairies as they noisily weaved a crown of flowers for her head. Elisa’s gaze softened as she watched them clumsily drag it through the air and beam as they offered it to her outstretched palm.
They never complained at her. They loved and trusted her so fully that everything she asked brought them joy.
Elisa dearly loved these small childlike fairies. Her heart told her to beware and to not gamble with the safety of her charges. But as the queen gazed at these fleeting, ephemeral beings she did not deny the wind gods’ sincere motives. Still there was something she mistrusted.
Elisa knew she was tempted by the offer of power — a power of such magnitude that it could help her not only find the winds’ brother but her own. But a voice warned her that even the smallest decisions could lead to huge life-altering changes.
With a practiced smile, Elisa turned back around. She curtsied once and answered, her voice strained by the effort required to lie and pretend disinterest. “I am honored by your offer. Perhaps I will consider it when our original agreement has been fulfilled.”
They threw her a puzzled look as if she had somehow misunderstood them.
She knew how it would appear — she, a young upstart, would deny the gods access to the lake.
And as the leaves in West’s beard shook, she knew she had angered him. However, the eastern wind choked off his brother’s words before they could be heard. East sighed. “Yes, there is that matter we promised we would handle.”
“The lake must be served first,” she said firmly. “The halfling must be found. His story must be uncovered.”
“Then we will be gone,” answered the East wind. “We will return only when we have found him.”
And just like that, the two winds departed, leaving only the gentlest of breezes behind and her fairies happily swarming about her.
It took her more than a moment to recover. In the darkness, she called to Raven.
He drew closer, still clutching the bag.
She whispered, “Are they truly gone?”
“Yes, my lady,” he eyed the bag hanging limp in his hand.
“Then let us prepare for the lake,” she answered tiredly. “We must find our fellow guards. And our prince Azul.”
As they spirited themselves south towards the elven capital, Azul struggled with how exactly to smuggle the child inside the city walls. Eventually, he resigned himself to simply taking the child in via more normal means. After all, the boy was much too big to stuff into a lantern.
However adept Azul might be in blending in with the entering crowds at the capital, he fretted as to how best to disguise the boy.
A child such as Conn he knew would draw notice from the few remaining groups of fairies that still resided in the city. A small spell of illusion would not fool those fairies. Instead it would draw them to the boy like flies to honey.
The wizard was left wasting an afternoon in order to hunt down a plant that could be mashed into water and create a rather murky dye that would change Conn’s locks from gold to black. The poor boy did not want either dye or the bath that followed but Azul conjured up some sugary treat to keep the child placated long enough to make him presentable for the capital. And he taught him a few words that he thought might eventually prove useful.
While he did harbor some concerns about returning home, Azul was not completely displeased by the sight of the capital. Here, unlike at the lake, he knew his footing very well. He had no mysterious queen to both fluster and frustrate him. He had only his books, his wine, and his usual game of pretending he was nothing more than a worthless street magician.
On approach, he was in a charitable enough mood to even point out to the boy the almost majestic spires of the inner castle towers. Predictably, the boy ignored them and asked for another piece of candy.
Azul thought it best not to argue as they approached the shaded northern gate. He placed a large chewy confection in the child’s mouth while they waited their turn for inspection by the guards.
He fixed a smile on his face while he tightly clutched the boy. To his relief, no bands of fairies were to be found as they joined the line at the open gate.
Still, Azul kept the illusion spell wound tightly around himself while they stood behind a small group of nomadic elves — somewhat dusty and dirty from their travels. The words he wove together shrouded him with the appearance of an old farmer on his way to see some kind of healer for his young, phlegmatic grandchild.
The mage’s ears listened to their conversation with the guards who closely inspected their carts full of wares for trade. They asked many questions, these guards. More so than normal.
Eventually, they let the traders pass. And then Azul found the guard’s keen eyes turned upon him.
A familiar voice emerged from underneath the leather helmet.
Azul was unpleasantly surprised for he knew there would be no fooling this guard. He straightened up, immediately giving up the appearance of an old man.
The guard shook his head at Azul.
In turn, the wizard took care to show the right amount of apprehension and familiarity. He smiled that ever bright smile he used whenever he needed to be charming. “And a good day to you, Master Guard.”
“Ah, the prodigal librarian. I did not think you would return so soon. Or with company.”
Sharp eyes fixed themselves upon the boy Conn, whose mouth was still busy with the sticky treat the elf mage had made for him. As expected, the boy ignored the guard.
Azul cast a very fond look upon the child. “Neither did, I. But this child’s mother thought it was time for the child to come see the mystics.”
“Oh?” The guard leaned in and looked at the child happily dribbling on one fist covered in what might be leftover taffy. “How surprisingly kind of you. The child looks very much like you, Mage.”
“Indeed? I thought so as well,” Azul said casually. “That’s why I agreed with his lovely mother’s request.”
As if on cue, the small child relinquished his fist and began to chant, “Pa pa pa pa.”
The guard glanced at the boy generously drooling on Azul. He had little choice but to draw the conclusion that this child was Azul’s illegitimate spawn. With a look of contempt, the guard waved both the elf and his “son” onwards.
Azul sighed, knowing it would be hard to undo this rumor later. However, with the guard staring after him, he continued to let the child cry until they had safely melted back into the crowds of the capital. Only when they had turned down a safe corner, did he reward Conn with more of the conveniently sugary treat he had named “pa pa.”
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