The men winced as the child shrieked in joy. They were not used to loud sounds or jumping figures in the garden sanctuary. There had been no child inside it since a unicorn had found its way to the young queen — long before their time.
None marveled at the boat that floated quietly towards the dock they stood upon. To them the boat was simply doing what it usually did. It came when the lady desired passage, even if no fairy or guard was there to guide it.
But to the child it was novel and interesting. The boy leaned forward precariously towards the arriving boat. If it weren’t for the roosterhead holding him fast he might have fallen into the lake out of sheer excitement.
To a queen weary of the world, the child’s joy offered her something new. It was evident to all that she ought to take her new guest with her on this craft.
But who else would ride in the boat as her guard was a matter of concern.
To their surprise, she called to Raven. If he was pleased about the honor bestowed upon him, his face revealed nothing. He efficiently seated the child in the bow of the craft before offering his hand to the queen.
The other guards scrambled to the other boats secured to the dock as the swan boat moved away from the shore. The Knight departed first, leaving behind Hahn and the elf to pick out gondolas of their own.
For a while the fairies rode with them, clinging to the mastheads of their boats while they traveled. However as they began to drift southwards towards the older parts of the lake, the creatures began to detach themselves from the party and wander away.
In time their boats formed a long, loose line in the water. The guards fell into a puzzled silence as the boat moved far past the usual places their queen liked to linger. Azul took advantage of the quiet and studied the landscape about them.
A boat drifted his way, interrupting him. The elf sighed and shifted his oar to the other side of his boat as Hahn’s craft drew closer.
The youth seemed to be grinning. “That switch still puzzles the Knight.”
The elf stared ahead at the back of his rival and peer. The protocol was that the most senior guard present would ride with the queen. But it was their protocol, not hers. “Perhaps she wishes to feel young for once,” he muttered under his breath. “You tell that to the fool if he’s miffed.”
Hahn smirked at Azul. “And you, are you also upset at what she did?”
The wizard ignored his junior guard’s attempts to goad him. Hahn was young and, at times, too interested in establishing a pecking order. “You know she has no favorites,” the elf said blandly. “But the child might, so I suggest you take very good care of him.”
Thankfully, the roosterhead grew excited at that prospect and stopped trying to antagonize him in order to pursue the queen’s boat.
As the sun hung overhead, their line of boats approached a bank of willow trees. They slowed to explore the area that the trees guarded.
They were in quiet waters now, full of lily pads and singing creatures. The younger guards tensed at the sound of dragonflies and bees flying everywhere. Their mouths instinctively hung open as if they wished to eat the insects.
Their queen did not scold them for their inattentiveness. As they drifted into this protected area her eyes were upon the waters where flashes of movement underneath the grasses and lilies spoke of fish.
The child would have toppled the boat then if it weren’t for the steady hand of the knight whose boat lingered next to his queen’s. He steadied the ship and allowed the queen to catch hold of the boy.
The woman whispered to the boy wriggling in her lap and handed him a small bag.
From that bag came a handful of crumbs to be scattered over the water’s surface. The fish came up, their brilliantly colored scales catching the sun as their mouths opened and closed automatically.
The lady and this child laughed out loud. Their giggles pierced the still of the marsh and unsettled the onlookers. The knight and raven averted their eyes from their queen. In doing so, neither saw the reflection upon the water — the shimmering vision of their queen and another person beside her — not the child but a man.
The elf blinked once wondering if the heat was addling his head. However the image still lingered after he reopened his eyes — teasing him a bit more before it disappeared.
To his left, the roosterhead cleared his throat. “This part of the lake is old, isn’t it?” Hahn murmured.
Azul gave the young man a sharp look. Hahn had elven blood although it was diluted by many generations. Perhaps he, too, had seen the strange image. Carefully the mage explained where they now stopped. “This was where the old queen often camped.”
The elves said this part of the lake had been a favorite place for their long departed Queen Mab. The lilies had seen overgrown this part of the lake and so they did not come here often. It was just as well for the little fairies did not like this place. Perhaps they knew it was a place that was too much like the former queen, tricky and full of mad illusions and dreams.
Hahn scratched his belly as he watched the fish being fed. His concerns about the reflected image had already been forgotten. “I wonder if someone might catch Conn a fish. It’s time to eat.” His stomach growled in agreement. He looked hopefully at the wizard.
The elf smirked and threw a pole across the water at the younger man. “I think that someone might be you.”
Hahn scowled but took the pole and began to talk to himself. The elf, however, was not interested in Hahn’s rambling about how the fish would be best cooked. He interrupted the forgetful youth with a question. “The boy’s name is Conn?”
“So he says,” Hahn yawned as he waited for the fish to bite. “It’s a grand name isn’t it? It doesn’t seem like he’s from anywhere here I’d say with such a moniker.”
Such a name did not fit in this place or time. The elf puzzled over this old name placed upon such a wee lad. He said nothing of his concerns to the others as they continued to fish.
The noisy Hahn was not very successful at his task. And the knight proved efficient. However, it was the raven who was best. Tired of his two legs, he had shifted back to being a bird. In this form he turned out to be quite clever at scooping the fish from the water with his claws and dropping them in the knight’s boat to be carried back.
When they had enough, the lady bid them to leave. They returned to calmer, deeper waters shortly thereafter. The party returned to the dock and the guards quickly moved to fix their midday meal. They dined together, enjoying the caught fish and the fruits that the fairies brought them. As the day droned on, Azul excused himself and disappeared back to his tent to prepare a message to be sent. He spent the rest of the day trying to convince a particular group of fairies to deliver it for him.
By the time he returned to the lake, the sun had already dropped behind the mountains. The light of the fireflies softly illuminated the shoreline where the boy was still playing. The elf wondered why the boy had been kept by the lake the entire day. Perhaps this was the knight’s doing or the queen’s idea. It would not be unlike the knight to wait to see if the garden and its inhabitants had truly accepted a visitor.
It was obvious the fairies had not lost their interest in Conn. Even now, they swarmed about the boy relentlessly.
But that was no surprise to the elf. Rather it was the sight of the stoic knight holding the boy’s hand at the water’s edge that startled him.
The elf mage did not go to them, choosing not to interrupt a warm scene. But he could not turn back either. His queen floated towards him along the path and kept him from slipping into the trees.
She hurried his way but did not hold out her hand in greeting.
He looked down at her, realizing from her white garb that she intended to call upon the lake. This was a ritual that she usually conducted alone. He moved aside to let her pass.
“Azul,” she turned her sparkling eyes towards him. “Will you not come watch? I do not have your keen eye or your command of the fairies. I’m afraid that I need them to be very still this evening if we are to ask the lake where the child came from.”
The elf swallowed, powerless against such a request. He found himself trailing behind her like a fool and not the proud wizard he ought to have acted like. He was so out of sorts that he barely noticed that the child greeted them both. Conn might have even run to the queen if it were not for the knight who kept him still.
The boy did not know what was to happen next or understand that no creature was to touch her before she called upon the mirror. But the knight acted to keep her work undisturbed and the elf told the fairies what the queen desired from them.
Often times she would gaze upon the lake from the boat, but this evening she took one step after another into the water. The edges of her white gown floated behind her as she moved further away from the shore. She did not stop walking until she was nearly waist deep.
The queen stood in the water until the fireflies were driven off by the fairies and they had returned to the edge of the lake to watch.
The air and water grew still before the woman finally spoke. “Mirror – show me this child’s home.”
The wind whispered in the trees about them, echoing her words, until something old and deep within the lake stirred.
Slowly the light of the stars reflected upon the lake’s surface began to fade as the water began to respond.