The squabbling would begin anew it seemed. The old woman picked up what might have once been a shoe and threw it at her son.
South ignored the projectile as it softly bounced against his side. He yawned once before choosing to roll over it and address his temperamental mother. “Now THAT won’t bring him back. If you must know, he is not being idle. He is occupied with carrying out winter on the other side of the sea.”
“That lazy elf queen!” his mother scoffed. “Having him do her work!” The old woman turned her head towards her fair guest and shook the end of her cane in her direction. “You see what I mean, yes?”
“It is unusual to hear of such an arrangement,” Elisa responded more politely than was merited. “But winter is an important cause. It brings water back into the world. If—“
“She never needed help before!” Mother interrupted, still shaking that cane in several directions. She scowled as she realized the implications of her own statement. “South,” she squinted at her indolent son still passed out near the fire, her voice deeply curious. “She is very powerful still, isn’t she?”
He had rolled to his back and looked at the young queen with one twinkling eye. Elisa realized that he was not only aware of his mother’s interest but none too inclined to be helpful towards her.
The son closed his eye. “What does it matter? You tell us we’re not to meddle in their affairs. But if you must know, I didn’t see her, so what I speculate is just as good as what you might guess.”
The old woman narrowed her eyes. “She is no longer what she once was, that must be it!”
His brother West spoke. Elisa glanced his way and knew that the wind that loved the forests and trees was a far more truthful and helpful sort. She inched his way slightly, listening as he took a deep breath. “Mother, you are right.” His gaze drifted away to look at the opening of the cave. “Her magic fades,” he said a bit sadly. “And she is not truly immortal.”
“Mark my words,” the old woman sniffed, placated that at least one of her sons would confide in her. “Fate is finally taking its revenge on her for fiddling with so many lives.”
But the guardian of the garden was not quite convinced. Elisa considered the full weight of the various revelations made to her. She thought back to her first meeting with the fairy in the garden long ago. She clasped her hands together in maidenly fashion and defended the absent queen. “I do not believe she is evil. Even if she has manipulated or used us all. I think there is still some reason we don’t understand.” She turned a soft look upon the Mother. “Do you not believe your son a good soul? And you?” She appealed to the three winds. “Your brother must believe in some cause she represents– otherwise why work so hard?”
“Of course,” came the answer of East — who had said nothing for some time. “We do. West–” he appealed to his brother. “Why do you say her magic fades?”
Elisa and the others found themselves peering into the earthy face of the most friendly of winds.
He shifted in his seat and sighed. “The worst of the dark winter has passed and there is a timid recovery in my favorite woods. Save the Queen’s gardens, there is little evidence of spring. It is an ill sign.”
East floated over to his brother. “And the seas — how strange that the winds blow new ships towards the Northlands. The smaller winds whisper of how the sea must be helping them.”
“That other troublemaker,” Mother clucked her tongue. “Ah, young Queen, have you any info on that Witch?”
Elisa frowned as she understood the hint the winds offered her. “I have not,” she raised an eyebrow as a concern lodged itself in her mind regarding a long-forgotten Sea Witch. The lake itself saw many things but it was not infallible. Those who used magic were often trickier for the lake to fathom or see. Again, her eyes sought out Raven’s and he nodded, understanding. As soon as he could slip away, his brethren would be asked to circle the shores to see what they might discover. “But I will pay attention. Thank you.”
“She has been quiet too long,” the Mother spoke carefully, her eyes dimming as she looked at the fire. Without warning, however, she brightened. “But that’s that! What do the matters of kings and queens mean to an old one like me? I see we tire you. What do you wish to show us?”
Elisa was not quite fooled by this feigned indifference regarding the affairs of the world on part of the Mother of the Winds. She knew that save North, the winds were very careful as to how they acted upon the stage that was this world. However, she also know they cared for it. The old lady had likely revealed too much – but had done so, hoping and knowing that Elisa might follow through on some of these problems that had presented themselves.
But for now, this young queen stood and touched the flask hanging at her side. “Yes. Allow me to show you why we have come.”
Elisa withdrew a silvery bowl from the bag that Raven set before her feet. She studied its delicately engraved surface before she settled it firmly on the rocky ground at a place not too far from the fire.
She squatted beside it, ignoring the stares of the others and then opened the glass flask. It hissed softly as cool air escaped into the cavern.
They watched her, knowing that the contents she began to pour out came from the blessed lake itself. It was no ordinary water or bottle –for even when she had filled the bowl, the flask was still full.
Elisa secured the vial and half-smiled at her audience. “I did not ask you to the lake. I dare not. But we bring it to you, this time.” Her fingers grazed the lip of the bowl before they skimmed softly across the surface of the cool water. And her mind drifted, returning to that place she knew so well.
The winds went alert, studying the woman as the water began to ripple. As it did so, a cool breeze began to arise around them.
“It is the garden wind,” they murmured in appreciation.
Elisa closed her eyes, feeling the water that came from the place she loved. She thought of the place where it had originated, seeing the lake as it was tonight–lovely and full of lights.
Around her, the others were not unmoved. The Mother of the Winds sighed. She, too, could appreciate the fine cool wind and the presence of an unusual kind of magic. “I am reminded of how nice that place was when when Maeve was happy. The minstrels would gather there in the summer and so would the elves. We would all dance the night away.”
“Were you not always here by yourself in the cave, mother?” South chuckled.
Such a careless question merited a slap to his head. The old woman wagged her finger at her son. “Now how could that be and you all be here? You have a father you know!”
The stones rattled on the cave floor as the three brothers chuckled in amusement.
But the side commentary and jokes eventually stilled as they realized Elisa said nothing.
She was still focused on the task before her. She would not move until the images began to flicker randomly across the bowl’s surface. Only then would she open her eyes.
They all would crane their necks and direct their eyes upon her and the water–that water which spoke to them now, showing a dizzying array of images.
Occasionally one of the brothers would make a noise as something familiar struck their fancy. But they said nothing when the face of the Halfling prince would flit by.
The presence of the winds stirred up the waters more so than usual. Elisa was surprised to see the water react as such. She touched the side of the bowl and commanded the water to listen. “Please show me the wolf again.”
The surface of the water rippled. But as it began to calm, an image began to show. And as the face became clearer, the brothers leaned over her, their large forms crowding her men and the old woman close to one another.
“Oh, a half wolf,” West began to grin. “He looks elvish to me. This is who you have come to ask about?”
“Oh my,” the old woman echoed her son’s grin. “Haven’t seen one of those myself in ages. Never liked Maeve — those kind thought her too silly.”
She knew their curiosity was piqued. Elisa wisely, however, said as little as she could. “Yes.”
“A troublemaker’s face?” they stated, fishing for information.
Elisa sat back on her hind legs to consider how to answer. “You forget that the lake does not speak as to why someone appears. I have seen nothing to suggest anything yet. But his location is unclear—although I do know he is in the company of others like him.”
West and South glanced at one another. But it was South who answered first. “There are wolves who hide in plain sight near the warm seas. They have a profitable trade in fur and meat.”
“And there are others who do not live as richly as their kind,” West mused while he scratched at the ground. “They wander the woods sometimes aimlessly. Those wolves used to follow the elves who have long gone absent. They are wary of humans like you, Queen. They still remember the hunts.”
She looked down at the face reflected at her in the water. “This one is the only one that concerns me. Your assistance in finding him would be appreciated. Your mother said you would do so for a token.”
“Songs and poems do not seem equal to such a task,” South blinked. “He may be a being of magic. The risk to our servants may be great.”
“Then what is it you wish for?” Elisa inwardly sighed.
He did not sound so sleepy as he responded. “A secret for a secret.”
She stared back, her guard raised. “Then ask, Wind of the South.”
“No, queen.” The corners of South’s mouth turned upwards. “You have a few secrets that might prove interesting but I think your guards even more so. Look how they cringe as we speak.”
Elisa openly frowned. The Southern wind gave off an impression of laziness and slowness but was by far the most like the humans he seemed to enjoy cohabiting with. She did not trust him. “I would not command them to do so. Think of something else.”
“What kind of secrets?” Hahn spoke up, annoyed by the almost catlike glee that his queen’s response engendered on part of the wind.
South turned his gaze upon the young, outspoken young man. He did not seem surprised that the guard had not kept silent. “The small winds have told me your name. But they whisper that it is not the one you were born with. Why is that?”
Hahn shrugged. He looked the way of his mistress. “If that is all he wants to know, then I have no trouble giving him the answer.”
His abruptness amused the other winds. “If this satisfies our brother, then yes, do so . We will accept it as well.”
“You promise?” Hahn glared at each of them. “You will help my queen? And you promise not to laugh?”
“Indeed not,” the brothers solemnly swore.
“I will make sure they don’t,” their mother nodded firmly.
Hahn took a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck with his fingers. “It’s true I changed my name. My queen’s brother did so because I asked him too. I hated my name. I suppose my parents were rather romantic sorts, hoping I’d make a fine singer someday. Of course, they might have been having fun at my expense.” He hesitated, flushing in embarrassment.
“It can’t be that bad,” West said sympathetically. “You are elf aren’t you?”
Hahn’s shoulders drooped. “I don’t know. How many Chanticler’s have you met among the elves?”
West rustled in place. “Hm. I do not recall.” He coughed politely.
South’s doe-eyes blinked quickly. Elisa looked his way and saw the tricky wind was trying not to laugh. He cleared his throat. “An appropriate but troublesome name, indeed. You do not, I take it, like foxes much?”
The roosterhead scowled. “No. Of course not.”
“How droll,” the South wind responded with an overly loud yawn. “Well that will do for payment halfling. Give us a few days, dear queen and guards. You shall have your answer soon.”
Interesting secret. Seems small compared to the task that it bought.