The old woman threw up her hands, more than pleased to have won such a concession from Elisa. She thrust her cane aside and danced a little jig in place, one that drew looks of bafflement from the Queen’s guards.
Elisa watched the woman hold out her hands and reach for the small gusts and breezes that flew around them.
Not true love’s kiss
But one given freely
From a lady
Shall tempt him surely.
Even Maeve cannot compete
With promises of the millenial queen.
Favored daughter of man,
Slips like the wind,
through fate’s grip.
Find my sons
A gathering of winds is needed
To help this one.
But should the old vows not suffice
Tell them she offers thrice:
A story for the weary,
A song for the poet,
and a kiss for luck.
Tell them to come and witness
the use of magic like that of old.
The wind and mirror circling ’round
shall become the world’s eye.
The woman pranced in circles around the fire while the winds ran by her. They would take forth the song and words from the old mother of the winds in all directions until they found her sons.
Out of the corner of her eye, Elisa saw Raven finally make his move. While the woman cackled, her guard slipped into the shadows, securing the bags and sacks that otherwise were used to capture the winds. The Queen of Swans was no fool– she knew the mother of the winds had been driving a bargain for reasons of her own. And she had threatened the sons in the past often. Elisa did not wish her presence to be used in such a manner. She would have no part in trapping the winds.
In her glee, the witch did not notice the bags disappearing. As soon as she had taught the small breezes the song, she sent them away and noisily settled down to eat her stew.
As for the Queen and her guards, they had little choice but to watch and wait. Their transport to this remote spot had not yet returned and they had no way off the mountain without him.
Outside, the light began to fade. The old woman had finished her eating and was busy rearranging the stones by the fire. Elisa cleared away the bowls that the Mother had left aside and waited for the woman to address her.
The old woman was murmuring absently to herself of the old days when she noticed Elisa standing there. She smiled brightly. “Oh, still here? Come for a chat then? Or a story? What have you not heard before? Shall I tell you of the elven prince and the human girl he loved?”
Mother motioned at her eagerly and patted the stone next to where she had rested her aged frame. She was excited for company, Elisa could tell.
The younger woman crouched beside the old witch and smiled, hiding that sinking feeling that the mistress of winds was slowly going daft. “How long will it be before your sons return, Mother?”
“Long?” The witch cackled. “Time means nothing to me. It is your kind’s construct. I have lived before I knew it existed and will live far beyond it. But you are restless, so I tell you — one of them comes now!”
They heard the rush of noise outside and then a blast of noise as one such son forced his way through the holes in the caves.
The mortals watched in fascination as the winds converged around the cave, circling until they had come together into something resembling a shape. The mass swirled around Elisa in a friendly fashion but never took on a complete solid appearance. Unlike the mother of the winds who looked human, he seemed more like a djinn. He was more solid towards the top where his voice would come forth. Where his legs ought to be there was nothing. And so his face appeared in front of Elisa and hovered in eerie fashion.
The queen did not blanch for she had seen this face before. “Hello, again,” she offered.
“How did you find the fish, East?” the wind’s mother asked.
“Sparse,” came the answer. “There were others waiting to snatch them away from my grasp. But,” he threw a closed net at the feet of the women. “I have enough.”
Elisa saw the fish flapping and bent forward. However, the Knight stirred from his spot, unwilling that his mistress deal with such ordinary things like cleaning fish. He was swift to remove the prized items and took up a place near the fire.
He waved away the other two guards who likely would have swallowed the fish raw if allowed. He took out his knife and began to prepare the fish.
The old woman turned her gaze back towards Elisa, ignoring the sound of scraping nearby. “Save North, my sons loathe the winter. East keeps close to me but the others will take longer as they have drifted away. But even East has had his adventures, I think. When he came back after the darkness lifted, he came smelling of powder and fire.”
The wind interrupted his mother. “I shall tell the queen my own story. I know she appreciates a tale or two. Across the sea, the young king’s roundtable has convened. They send ships this way.”
The noise in the cave ceased while the Swan Knight listened. Elisa glanced his way and he realized his error and promptly returned to his task. Elisa glanced at East. “And do you aid him in his quest?”
The wind shrugged. “I have nothing to gain but something to lose. My brother West is keenly against them advancing here. He favors the elves and the land as it was.”
“Aye, that I do,” boomed out a new voice, joining the circle.
The smell of earth and trees signaled that West had arrived. He blew in by the front opening of the cave. Unlike his ephemeral brother, the wind was a collection of twigs and leaves with assorted charms stringing pieces of him together.
Elisa smiled at the green man. “Good day, fair wind. Will there ever be a day you welcome the easterners to these shores?”
“Never,” the wind laughed. “I enjoy keeping their silly ships fixed out at sea. So dependent on sails they are — so unwilling to use magic because it offends their gods and too proud to use the knowledge of the old ones because it offends their pride. It keeps me from getting bored. Now,” he roared. “Where’s that elf of yours? I have a bird that requires a mending and his magic is very good.”
“He’s not here,” Hahn interjected. “But I’ll take a look.”
“Ah?” West towered over the young man. “You are a bit of elf too, I see. This is Mellyn. She is a dove I found out in a tricky little fairy glen. Seems the wee ones found her with an injured wing and wanted to make sure she wasn’t eaten by a hungry fox. I did what I could to fix her wing but she won’t fly away. She just sits on my shoulder.”
Hahn reached out with his hands to receive the white bird that had suddenly appeared from the top of the green man’s head. The bird, upon spotting the roosterhead, darted to the young man and began to coo.
“HA!” West chuckled. “She likes you. I guess any elf will do for you, girl? But this one is just like that last one — running around with a brood. You can never trust an elf, Mellyn, and so no giving him your heart!”
Hahn sputtered, embarrassed by this outrageous litany of stereotypes. He was mindful that his queen was watching with a bemused look upon her face. But he could not help himself and crowed, “Just because I can change into a rooster does not mean I behave like one!”
“But you do, elfling. You’re all noise and temper and make my ears hurt,” said a new voice that floated down from above. “You’re rather common,” the voice descended upon a wave of warm air that slinked past ankles and feet to collect itself at the warmest place by the fire. “But so am I,” the sleepy-eyed bear like creature materialized long enough to offer his greetings from the floor.
South yawned as he lay on his side, shaking the small pebbles in the cave. He opened one eye and peered at Elisa. “Queen of the Garden, this place is not to my liking. It’s too cold and the companions too few. I have no need for songs, poems, or a kiss. I have those a plenty, along with wine and good harvests. Why have you not come visit, dear Queen? “
She tried not to laugh. “I cannot leave my post just yet. The elves will be arriving soon.”
“Bah,” South scratched his stomach with his fingers. “The elves these days are too boring. The humans will treat you far better. Well, shall we get on with it?”
“We wait for North,” his mother interrupted, sounding somewhat irritated.
South snorted. “You have three of the Brothers of the Wind and this is all you shall receive.”
“Hush, child,” his mother said. “Do not sound so uncharitable regarding your brother!”
“But it is true,” West boomed out. “Brother North cannot come.”
Oh, dear me!
Grave news, I fear.