In the silence that followed, she could see a faint look of disbelief etch itself on his otherwise handsome features. However, Elisa could read little else of the elf’s emotions. If they did exist, they would be carefully hidden away by a consummate diplomat such as he.
She retreated to the safety of the recessed window in her room, choosing to press her knees to the edge of the window seat as she swung open the window.
Elisa took a breath and raised her hand to her heart as moonlight poured over her. She inhaled the scent of summer while the fireflies and fairies danced in the meadow. The world and its cruelty had no meaning for them as their lights moved about in a joyous, lively pattern.
Beyond them and past the distant trees, the lake twinkled. Elisa watched and found a sense of calm. “The East and West winds seek out this king. And if what you have come to tell me is true, we must find him soon. I don’t have much time.”
Elisa felt the space next to her warm as the elf came to linger near by. She did not look his way, still embarrassed by what she had said and what she had allowed to happen. Instead, she focused her thoughts on the world outside.
He did not try to hide his skepticism. “What king? And why did you not mention it before?”
He doubted her claim and rightly so.
Elisa touched her fingertips to her lips. She could not tell him how much his reappearance in the garden had turned her head around. “I did not understand the lake,” she admitted.
That much was true. They all should have realized the significance of the repeating image of the wolf on the waters of the lake.
A note of impatience colored the elf’s voice. “You believe the lake announces him as king simply because it shows him a few extra times.”
“All the time,” she corrected him, raising her chin as she reminded him who he addressed and the power of the lake that he spoke about. Time had shown her the lake did not dwell on trivialities. “There’s an inevitability about him that I cannot deny. Just as you believe a story from a dusty vault foretells of my death, so I believe the lake speaks of the king it needs.”
The elf bit his tongue, aware from her haughty tone how much he had miscalculated. By challenging the lake, the romantic mood he had sought to create had broken.
With a sigh, Azul pulled her down to the cushioned seat. He made a pretense of studying the palm of her hand. “I do not think your life has to end, Elisa,” he said while tracing the broken line on her hand. Once she had been told that mark had signaled change. “Nor do I think you are happy with the state of the one you have now.”
His fingers traveled past her wrist and she shivered, once again betraying her inner conflict to those wise eyes.
He was too perceptive. Dangerously, so.
Elisa averted her gaze back to the meadow while his melodic voice soothed her. “I believe you can live if a strong purpose replaces the guiding magic that rules your life before it comes to an end. Similarly, I do not believe the lake so inflexible that there can only be one choice for a king. I am arrogant enough to think I can overcome whatever objections you or the lake have. After all, the lake has yet to reject me or my obnoxious declarations.”
He wove a different sort of spell — one so convincing she could not argue otherwise. “It is true, she let you stay–.”
His fingers tightened on her arms as he waited for her to finish her thought. The clock pinged. Elisa swallowed. “You are bold, prince. If the others had half your patience and belief—“
“The others?” He paused. “The others see you as a means to an end. But this place is enough. This place and its treasures have always been enough. ”
He spoke fine words – ones that were designed to win her hand. But the clock chimed again, reminding her that not all rules could be broken. Time was one such thing magic could not alter.
She wanted to scold him for such frivolities. Instead, she sounded grieved as she tried to chastise him. “You have been warned that it will lead to nothing.”
He leaned forward, placing his rich voice in her ear. “My grandfather once spoke of how beautiful you were. I did not understand it until now,” he said. “When your heart opens — when you let someone close enough to truly look, it is spellbinding.”
Elisa trembled as his fingers lightly skimmed her jaw and tilted her chin upwards. She thought he might try again for a kiss and her eyes closed.
Instead, his hands fell away.
Elisa blinked and heard the window shut.
He sighed. “The children are watching. Isn’t it about time you kicked me out, dear queen? Otherwise, they might misunderstand this conversation of ours. “
Indeed, they were watching. The fairies’ eyes were round with curiosity and delight as they pressed their dainty hands upon the glass panes.
Elisa felt a stab of embarrassment as she collected herself . She put her fingers to her face and tried to remember who she was. “Yes, please go. Tomorrow I shall need your assistance.”
* * *
The fall of evening had brought a small crowd to the courtyard of lions. The stone creatures stood in an unusual formation around an owl resting on a bale of old hay.
They were quiet, save the owl who flirted heavily with the young woman next to him. Her fiancée held a cloak in his hands, trying his best to ignore such provocation.
Beyond the circle of lions, a small group observed the preparations. Among them was the lord of the estate. He grimaced likely due the lateness of the hour and the presence of his companion, heavy with child.
“They don’t have to be here,” the owl named Sova pertly informed Elanore, the pretty girl who he had asked to help him with the transformation back to his human form. “You and I can handle it alone.”
Elanore blushed at the suggestive wink the owl offered her. “I am not that strong.” And before the halfling could protest further, she whispered loudly. “Besides I don’t think the lions would permit it.”
The lions that surrounded them opened their mouths, baring their teeth as they and glared at the owl. They were far wiser regarding magic’s effects on those who cooperated in its use. As such, there would be no way the creatures would allow the owl to partner only with the girl and meddle in the relationship she had with the boy.
Neither would the wolf, waiting for the entire ritual to begin. He was displeased by the owl’s refusal of his assistance and might have interfered had the Countess not intervened.
The owl was grateful to that magnificent female. Once she had seen through his guise and recognized who he served, she had made a convincing argument that the young ones needed practice with magic.
The two knew exactly who the other was and where their loyalties lay. He wondered, though, if her allegiances had fully transferred to this half-wolf. But her rounded belly shouted to him — there in her womb was the proof of her loyalty. He found it an utter shame. She, who could have chosen a far more interesting fate, had settled upon a beast king. Why, he still failed to understand.
The lions’ tails began to twitch impatiently. But their eyes remained fixed on the fair young man. Only when this Edmund put the cloak at the owl’s feet did they poise to act.
“I think we should begin.” Edmund took Elanore’s hand. Predictably, she responded with a smile – one that excluded the others around them.
Sova found their safeness boring. He interrupted.“Put your other hands on my head.”
The young couple exchanged somewhat self-conscious looks. They were clearly inexperienced with the processes involved in the use of magic. But Sova would not change his mind. He was better helped by these two with their quiet harmony than the odd pair outside the circle.
A powerful magic leaked from the lord and his mate. That spark of wild attraction between them rendered them capable of great things but harbored the potential for jealousy and misunderstanding.
The power of one of them alone would have been enough to assist him in this healing transformation. However, Sova was not sure he wanted to chance his utter destruction should something go wrong.
“Mister owl,” Elanore interrupted him as the light began to circle around them. The light was blue and clean as it began to draw and join their thoughts. She smiled as the ground began to warm. “It is time.”