Elisa rose from her seat to face Azul.
The feelings and motives of elves were often inscrutable. The more composed and serious he was, the less she could understand.
Her eyes sought out his, seeking answers. She was startled to find a gentle look upon his face. So much so, she stumbled over her next works. “Your duty?” Elisa paused and regained some small piece of her former composure. “Of course. Even now you prove to still act much like the guard you once were.”
Whatever he saw and heard in her voice prompted him to take one step towards her. “Your guard? Well, if that is the case then are you not pleased by such assistance?”
Elisa’s hands drifted in the air, lost as to where they should go. Eventually, she clasped them against her chest. “No, I do wish to thank you.” Indeed, she was grateful for his help. “I have not had the time as of late to do such things.”
As he towered over her, he offered her a crooked smile. “Well, that will change. You have the mystics here to help you with the lake. All you need to do is ask. And I shall make sure you have time to weave while we look for this troublesome halfling of yours. Not as your guard but as someone who has a vested interest in your affairs.”
Whether there was mischief intended in those words, she did not know yet. Elisa dared to ask. “And how do I know you will not be doing anything to interfere with my search?”
He raised his eyebrow and threw up his hands in mock offense. “My word?”
Elisa’s hands went to her hips. “Your Highness, must I remind you of how you arrived here under slightly less than honest pretenses?”
“Ah, well,” the elf smirked. “I suppose there is that. It cannot be undone. Nor would I wish it so. We have had many good conversations over the years. Would you have let me sit with you every afternoon had I told you I was a minor prince with nothing more than a title?”
“Most definitely not. You would have to join the other elves or there could be considerable trouble.”
“Of course,” he nodded. “Then forgive me for stating this outright. I do not regret the slight misrepresentation all that much. Elisa,” his expression turned grave. “I admit I have every intention of interfering in matters that concern you. I do not want to see you die. Because I know you do not want to die.”
He interrupted her before she could argue. “I do not mean to make it impossible to find him. You know when it comes to the wind gods or the lake I do not possess any sort of influence or magic to countermand their work. Rather, I have decided that I shall make you fall in love with me before he can be found. You will not ever be interested in marrying this grouchy wolf prince the lake seeks out.”
Elisa slowly shook her head at the bold and possibly foolish statement. “You of all creatures know very well that marriage is far from my mind.”
“Well, marriage is a rather serious commitment. So you meant to take on a lover then. I would be glad to–”
“Oh shush!” She raised her fingers to his lips. “You must not say such things in front of Conn or the fairies.Your teasing will cause a great deal of trouble.”
He gently removed her hand but did not let go of it. “I suppose it is easy to think I make light of the situation. But my dear Queen– as much as I do like to shock and amuse–I meant it in earnest. You have already told me you cannot have me as your king. But you cannot deny that there is something between us. The other night–”
Her face flamed hot as she recalled that moonlight evening and her own lapse in behavior.The night air had addled her sensibilities. “I recall pushing you away.”
“Of course, as the always modest princess, you did. But,” his fingers grazed her chin and tilted it slightly. “Then you turned up your face up just like so. It was as if you wanted me to kiss and comfort you. ” His eyes twinkled slightly as he leaned in. “Yes, just like that.”
“Truly,” she started to protest. “You are too much!. You may be trying to make me laugh but now you are vexing me.”
He smiled. “Human emotions are wonderful to observe. You are very fetching when outraged. It is enough to make a man think you desire him. I suspect that the prince you once married thought so. How otherwise could he have justified kidnapping you and holding you as a guest in his castle?”
Elisa glared at the elf. “I could not tell him anything. So I supposed he took that as consent.”
Azul took her hand and tucked it in the crook of his arm. “No, of course. I know that now. But to the rest of us who heard the human tale, it was such a puzzling bit of foolishness. How a lovely, innocent princess could somehow mysteriously salvage a relationship with a weak prince was not our idea of a particularly happy ending. But in the tale we had heard quite often, she went on her happy way. So when I was sent here, I studied you often. In mind I wondered perhaps if the storytellers might have lied. Perhaps you were beautiful but black-hearted. But I was wrong.”
“Is that so?” Elisa almost smiled.
“Left with no explanation after studying you. I could only fault him. What could change his mind about his fairy-like bride so easily? His mother? A clergyman? I concluded that it must be he was weak-minded. And dim-witted. How else would a prince believe you would take him back after he thought to prove your innocence by placing you on top of a bonfire? ”
He was always disagreeable when it came to assessing the general intelligence and worthiness of most two-legged creatures.However, his venomous contempt surprised her.
Elisa lowered her gaze. “I did not think him so fickle when he professed his love for me.” At least that she had believed was sincere, if short-lived. “If he is dumb than I was a fool. I should have run away as soon as I could.”
She did flee but all too late and at great cost.
Elisa’s eyes bled tears as she held out her hands, holding the memory of her child.
And Azul tried to reclaim them– tried to fill them with his own. “No. They allowed it. All of them. The mistress of the winds. Maeve. No, ” he muttered to himself. “They conspired and gambled upon it. Why? Why such efforts at cruel manipulation? What game did they mean to win?”
She heard the fluttering of wings and then a glimpse of white feathers upon the air. It was not the sound of fairies but the one she heard on the lake. Not of swans but some other ghost of a memory.
How long she stood like that she did not know. But she opened her eyes when she heard name being called.
“Elisa?” Azul looked pained as he clasped her hands.
She slowly shook off an odd feeling and raised her head. “I cannot answer for any others than myself. I know I was a fool. And such a fool can never truly be a good queen. The fate I carry is complicated and convoluted and it still clings to me after all these years, threatening my life and any possible short-lived happiness I have. These fairies deserve someone much better than I. So I must gamble as well. I must find this halfling.”
He looked poised to argue but Elisa began to tremble.
Her body shook with the weight of all she had endured for a thousand years– bending, and about to break.
A swarm of fairies appeared around them, their faces alarmed as their guardian began to unravel before them.
Shouts began to arise from the garden as her guards came rushing towards them.
If her suffering had never been evident before, now it was laid out clearly.
Elisa wept bitterly. She could not accept Azul’s love in any shape or form. It would only make the end all that much more difficult. “If you do care for me even a little bit, do not interfere with my search. It is the one thing I can still salvage.”
I apologize for a lot of things– particularly if this feels too “fast.” This was very difficult to write for me as I hate seeing her suffer.
I am finally starting to understand Elisa.
Do not apologize – this had to transpire sooner or later. And she has indeed put it on hold far too long…