The manner in which the wiseman delivered these words betrayed a hint of envy.
The tales of Taliesen the bard often portrayed him as a confident, spry creature with mystical powers. But this man spoke like an old philosopher, worn down by his many years of living.
The promise of answers had been held out to the humans by so many of the elves but this man could only offer advice. Still, Elisa knew there was something more to his observations… something like regret. “Tell me why you speak this way, bard. Do you really mean for us to be so rude to the elves as to ignore their work? Should we leave this book behind without even having touched it?”
A startled sound came out from Taliesen’s nose — it dissolved into laughter that sounded more like snoring. The bard gasped a few times before he was able to speak. “Sarcasm does not befit you princess. You should not use that here with the elves. To some that is akin to courting.”
The princes glared at the bard for such a remark.
“Forgive me,” the bard pressed his fingers together in a gesture of apology. “I forget you are all still relatively young. Your life is defined by action and doing, not pontificating endlessly about the meaning of life.” He laid out his palms on the table, a signal that he wished to be open to them. “You ask what I would do. Let me tell you what I did when faced with the same choice many years ago.”
His audience leaned in, pressing elbows and hands to the table while the wiseman shifted in his chair and loosened his outer cover. From his robes, he took out a small, leatherbound booklet and held it out for them all to see. “This is my tale. I told you that I came here because of the resources that were here. But my arrival created a great deal of confusion among the elves. They knew of Taliesen — there were a few minor legends surrounding my name. One of these legends portrays Talisen as a near god. He sprang forth from the womb of a powerful deity-like entity, possessing knowledge that went beyond all others in the world. He boldly claimed to be knowledgeable of the beginning and the end.”
Several of her brothers nodded, affirming to the old man that they were familiar with this legend.
The bard sighed. “So when I came, they were quite excited. My appearance was thought to be an omen. Perhaps I would lead their king to unite the lands or perhaps I would depose of him.” He tapped his book with his fingers. “The Talisen of legend is a cheeky lad, I admit. But I was not a young man when I came here and I did not go around stirring trouble to the degree that these tales said. I had to deny much of what they had in this book. Generation after generation the mystics evolved their ideas and explanations to explain this conundrum… or rather, to explain me! They continue to this day — attempting to sort out what my existence means.”
It was evident to them that the bard did not exactly agree with the sisters’ words or philosophy. At least for now. The queen’s third eldest brother, Varin, chuckled — apparently amused by something the old man said. “In a way your presence here could be said to be a form of rebellion. I suppose our appearance here is quite an event as well.” Varin, the consummate joker, turned to his younger sister. “Perhaps we should ask the elven king for the same treatment.”
The eldest, Rhys, did not find that idea amusing. He shot his brother a rather severe look. “We are not the kind who would be satisfied with such a life, endlessly studying or arguing with philosophers.”
Elisa knew this to be true. Save one or two, most of her brothers were not all that interested in books or intellectual matters. “Bard Taliesen, is there harm in reading what the mystics have found and written down?”
“Harm?” The old man sighed. “That depends on your own state of mind. If you believe that these words are your lives being written out on these pages,perhaps there might be freedom or terror in finding what is inside the book. If you do not care, then it makes for a good bedtime story.”
Elisa looked around the table. “But to choose to ignore those words means we are no different from before we came here. We would like to take it with us.”
He did not appear to be surprised by those words. The old man turned his head aside and loudly called for Moirae.
The elf was quick to appear, clearly pleased to have received a summons.
Taliesen did not allow the female elf to dawdle and stare at their guests. He pushed the large book on the table in Moirae’s direction. “Take this volume and commission a copy suitable for transport.”
The elf’s eyes sparkled at the request. She was pleased that the Swans appeared to be interested in her work. “Just one copy?”
The old man stiffened at the question. He turned in his chair slowly and wearily addressed Elisa.”Do you wish for more?”
His grave look suggested how Elisa should answer. But her brothers spoke first. “One for each of us,” several voices around the table stated.
“Yes,” her eldest brother confirmed for them. “We must all have our own.”
Talisen did not hand the book on the table over to Moirae. “It will take some time,” the old man stated to Elisa. He made it apparent that he would not act based on the brothers’ words but that of hers and hers alone. “As the Queen, is this your wish?”
Elisa wondered if her brothers also sensed the man’s displeasure with their choice. But in her mind, she could not see any reason to disagree with their request. “If it is time that is needed, we are here at least another week. King Arin requested we meet his children and tell them of the garden and its condition. His Minister of Affairs advised us that this may take some time to arrange. If at least one can be created in that time, we would gladly make arrangements for the rest when they are finished.”
“One can be done,” Moirae interjected.
Taliesen’s shoulders drooped. “Very well then. Moirae–” he turned his attention back to the elf mystic waiting patiently for orders and held out the book to her. “Please get to it and ask for help from others.”
The elf was relieved to have her book back in her possession but did not quit the room. “Teacher, while one can be done — if we could have more staff we could do that more efficiently and create more copies.”
“Yours have not returned?” The bard seemed irritated. “The prince said–”
“No, sir,” Moirae apologized quickly. “And the summer palace is far.”
Taliesen glanced the way of the young queen. “You would not object to a portrait sitting would you? It is rare to find a human king or queen in these parts. Our master painter would be quite beside himself to have the opportunity to paint an entire family. This would also provide excuse for all of you to delay here longer for more copies as well as to see the city itself.”
Elisa already knew as her eyes moved from one brother to the next that they were eager to learn as much as they could about the city itself. She silently gathered their agreement before finally answering for them all. “It would be our honor to do so.”
“Very well.” Taliesen waved his hand at Moirae. “You have your answer. You may solicit the master painter and his staff for help.”
The elf flashed the queen a grateful smile and cheerfully disappeared with her book in hand.
Rhys took advantage of the resulting lull in conversation to raise a question. “Bard Taliesen, earlier you mentioned a curse — a black thread. You are one who knows magic well?”
“Of course,” the wiseman waved his hand. “One who has lived as long as I have can certainly learn it well enough.”
The eldest prince hesitated. “But you cannot undo it.”
“Seeing and using it are two different things. And even if I use it, I know my place. If the fairy did not then it was for good reason. She was far more powerful than me or the king himself, who is the most powerful elf alive.”
This news was not something any of the Swans knew. Rhys’ expression darkened. “And what of the one who cast the curse? She still lives. Could she undo it?”
The wiseman’s eyes widened. “Your stepmother?” The old man shook his head vigorously. “What is easy to cast is not always easy to undo. The kind of curse cast upon you bears the signature of a Black Witch. It usually involves the use of totems and sacrifices and to undo it might require something equal or greater to be exchanged. Do you think it wise to approach such an evil being? Surely she would use an even greater spell. And this time, she would attack your sister first to ensure she could not undo her evil work.”
His words disappointed them. Their expressions grew resigned as they understood that the man saw little hope for a cure.
Their sister, however, did not bend to such news. Elisa sat straight up in her chair. “She cannot harm me.”
The sudden steel in her voice startled them all.
They all stared at her, some with looks of confusion and others, disbelief. Taliesen’s eyes appraised the young woman before him. “That witch is strong. And yet you believe you are invulnerable to her magic?”
Elisa ran her fingers across the table. “I know you all doubt my words. I can see it on your faces. But the fairy heard what my stepmother had tried to do and understood why I could not be changed into a bird or beast like my brothers. She said I could not be cursed — and it is on the basis of her determination she decided how I could undo my brothers’ curse.”
These words did not convince her brothers. After all, she was their youngest sister and her lot in life, like theirs, appeared to share their penchant for misfortune.
But Taliesen did not share their skepticism. The old man stood and bestowed the young queen a smile. “Belief is important. Sometimes it is the most powerful thing in your possession. That is what your fairy would have also told you. Now,” he waved at the brothers. “I think this is all we can offer for now. The book will be turned over to your care as soon as we can manage. I hope the book yields you insight into what you wish to do.”
With nothing more to say, the brothers and their sister could do little else except follow the bard back towards the entrance of the tower. They moved silently — past the winding stairs and the curious looks of several of the mystics that peeped around doors and curtains to see them.
It was not silent at the tower’s entrance. The party spilled out into the courtyard and found several of the mystics circling around them, chasing or waving away fairies with straw brooms.
Taliesen scolded the young clerics for annoying the gentle creatures and urged them to instead search out whatever source of food the winged creatures had tracked here.
The clerics protested at such an order, stating they had done nothing to attract the attention of the creatures. And yet the fairies were singing and chattering, summoning more of their kind to come join them.
And it seemed the fairies had done so quite effectively. As the bard and the humans gazed beyond the harried clerics, they were startled by the sight of fairies floating in large groups over the tops of the stone walls and making their way towards them..
“Bah,” the bard began to mumble. “I have nothing for you here! Turn back and return to streets before I get angry and turn you into ladybugs!”
“No, don’t do that. I will tell them to go.” The young queen beside him raised her hands and moved forward to greet these small, gentle creatures. She did not protest at the way they clung to her fingers and cloak.
Taliesen’s brow crinkled at the sudden outpouring of small voices and giggles from the flying creatures nestling in the smiling woman’s hair.
He called to the brothers, standing around simply watching helplessly. “Does this not annoy you? Tell them to leave.“
The one called Flyn answered him. He shrugged and smiled helplessly. “She enjoys their company and they have always seemingly preferred hers over ours. It has always been this way. We do not interfere for they prefer to listen to her.”
The old man watched Elisa for another moment clearly pondering this woman and her relationship with the creatures that sought her out. “She does this without magic or food.”
It was more a question than a statement.
“That is not our sister,” Flyn protested. “She draws others to her. It isn’t only the fairies. ”
Taliesen’s eyes flickered once in the direction of the young queen. “What else?”
“What not?” Another brother answered him, laughing somewhat nervously. “Unicorns. Bears.”
“Snakes and foxes,” added one who wore glasses. “And two of the noisiest ones said there was a small chance that dragons would eventually show to pay their respects should we come to see the elves.”
Taliesen rocked back and forth on his feet as he considered this information. Slowly, something like understanding dawned upon his face. “Their instincts are always good, those little ones. They improved greatly under Maeve.”
The old man watched the fairies as they circled around the young queen, each greeting her before they floated obediently away towards the wall they had breached. “Your sister is very much like Maeve. She had an unusual ability to make one believe in her and listen. If your sister has that gift and the fairy saw that… then perhaps I am the one who has been wrong about her intent. Perhaps Maeve did not misread your sister’s hand after all.”
Some secret author notes for this week’s vote incentive. :3