Tree Witch: Chapter Sixteen

Chapter 16: Samonios

There was a time when things seemed to be going so smoothly. He could close his eyes and see three steps ahead, and be planned and readied for at least the sixth step. But now? It seemed to all be falling away from him. When he closed his eyes he could only growl at wisps of red hair, raven’s feathers, and the unknown. It troubled him.

He perched with one leg curled under him, and the other dangling from the edge of his castle tower window. He barely ever came up here, other then to think deep and solitary thoughts. Normally he preferred the deep cavernous underground of his throne room, or the dark tangled woods of his hunting grounds.

The Goblin King surveyed the tangles of brambles and rocky ledges below him as the wind whipped up and howled around the tower. It was colder now, and the very edges of frost started to creep onto the low ground. He swore he saw a brief hint of frozen rain start to fall from the dark indigo sky. It pattered in the distance with tiny slushy thuds.

Winter was coming. This late fall was a cold one, and it seemed like even nature itself was warning him that time counted down sharply. It did nothing to deter the festivities downstairs, he was certain. It was after-all the start of the Samonios festival. The celebration of death and rebirth – the ancestors and the hidden folk.

He just didn’t feel much like celebrating. Before the mess of the Tree Witch and the Raven’s mocking jeers he would have thought that time could not move quick enough. Now he was terrified he wouldn’t have enough time to accomplish everything. Certainly not flawlessly anyway.

And there were only a few months from the Dumannios Full Moon. How could he bother to take time revelling when things were unravelling on him? His years of plotting, his careful mastering of events – all still hanging in the bitter wind.

Outside in the darkening sky there was a brief flash of lighting. It struck in the distance with a delightful rumble of energy which creaked through his chest and shivered his skin. Breaking through the clouds was a beautiful view of the harvest moon in her brilliant glory.

You mock me.” He jested as he watched the orb pull free from the storm cloud veil. “I allow it, because I must. But it is mocking still the same.”

Do I, my King?” The voice whispered softly. “I merely wish to remind you.. there is still time to give up your quest. There is still time to change.”

He couldn’t help the grin which curled involuntary on his lips. “Still the same song you sing, how pathetic. I would have thought that all this time you would have given up.”

I do not give up easily. As you well know. You know the risks you take… you know the paths it may lead you..”

Indeed. That is the reason I continue.” He rested his head against the cool stone and chuckled. “Imagine everything I can accomplish when the very Throne of the Old Magick is mine? Not just the Courts, that is nothing. Not the minor Thrones or the pitiful political nonsense of the Houses.. but the very Throne of the very fabric of Magick. To be in control of that power, to be immortal and absolute.” He shivered at the very thought, his skin flickering with more goosebumps of anticipation. “To be a very God.”

And you know it is very likely you will die as well, or worse. You know your death waits out there, you have seen that too, my King. You know it is a strong possibility… the fates are too unclear to know which ends you will meet. Perhaps one, yes. Perhaps the wrong one. Perhaps both..”

No matter.” He shifted his legs and stretched both now on the wide window ledge. He stared up with a steady fire burning in his intense eyes. He glared at the only thing which connected him to the disembodied voice which whispered to him. A bright sapphire ring emblazoned on his left hand.

Let them plan and let them gather their strength. Let them even have a false sense of hope if you will. It means nothing! I have seen myself on that Throne.” His sharp teeth glinted in the dark. The candles light of the wall sconce shivered in a quick breeze. Shadows danced along the walls of the sparse room.

I will find them soon enough. You see why I am not afraid of this.. possible fate? I act to prevent it. I act to forge the destiny I wish for myself! That is what true Kings do! I will not be deterred into losing this opportunity… When the time is right I will break apart the night sky and take my proper place. All those who oppose me will be dead or dying before they have the chance to raise one hand against me.”

Who are you trying to convince, my King? There are prices that come to all those who seek power that is above them. Painful prices. Deep prices.”

Prices I have paid!” he snarled, he raised his hand up towards the firelight in order to properly glare at the sapphire ring. It was cloudy but seemed to dully glow in the light. It was inset in ancient silver, long worn with the years. “I have endured my fair share of injustice! It is about time I righted the scales in my favour!”

There was silence as he stood deviant in the empty tower room. He waited a long moment before the grin grew wider but colder as the pale dull light seemed to fade from the ring. There was no rebuttal. There was no sounds of coaxing. He knew when an argument was his.

You see then. I am glad one of us has given up. I think I shall go and join the festivities after all. I feel like celebrating.”

He waved his hand and the light in the room fell away as he took the stairs to the depths below. Each light from the sconce flickering out as he passed like a royal bow. As he descended the long solitary twisting stairs the sounds of music and frolic started to become louder.

Down into the caverns that swallowed up the Goblin castle. Down into the underground courtyards and hidden passages illuminated by strange mushrooms and earthy magick. He would lose his troubled thoughts to a thousand other distractions, and a thousand dreams of what was to come.

While the Goblin King lost himself in distractions, drinking, and mirth somewhere in the night there was a quiet gathering beneath the roof of a small wooden cabin whose roof was warded and strung with a net of charms, amulets knots and rope.

Before the group was a large ornate black lantern that was burning with a thick beeswax candle. The lantern was elegant and strange, formed with curving engravings and sculptures of feathers and ravens. Some of them looked so realistic that the flame of the candle almost made them look as if they were about to burst from the lantern into flight.

I light this every Samonios. Seems to mean more to me right now. Is a.. relic from another life.” He shrugged and stroked the top of the sturdy lantern. “Is enchanted you know. It just keeps burning for as long as you need it to. Had that candle there going for..” he paused and generally seemed to be perplexed. “Well.. not sure how long actually. More then a century I’m sure.”

They were a strange group.

Arzhel and Maeve sat at one end of the table, while Leaven slept in the small bed made for him at the other end of the table. His tiny body had started to heal, but the iron water would take a while to slowly work out of his waterlogged system. It was a spot of luck that Arzhel was even able to save him, and a few times he had nearly slipped away. Greenback, had not left his friends side but was finally sleeping next to him, half propped up on a stool made from a small cloth and a piece of wood.

I watched through my raven’s eyes.” Arzhel said absently while staring at the lanterns flickering light. “Was a good friend to me, that bird. The one I sent to your meeting with the Courts.”

I am sorry he was killed.”

So was I. But he did us some good. Died well too. Made sure the bastards could not defile his body. Anyway..” he cleared his throat and looked away from the lantern. “Point being, I brought it up ’cause he did some good. We know a bit more then we did before. We aint got much, Maeve. But we got some. And there is some time yet. A few months at least from what I learned so far from our friends here and the bird.”

She nodded quietly. “A few months.. then what?”

He shrugged. “Dunno. What I do know is that it is Samonios tonight. A night of rebirth and new beginnings. A night when the light can choose to go out, or burn brighter. Always been my favourite time of year, lass. Always. Can na’ just be coincidence all this happens now. I would say the universe is givin’ us a shot. I would like to think that means something.”

He grinned, stroked his beard absently and rested back against his chair a little more. “I ‘suppose I have a weakness for it you know.”

She looked up into the tangles of ropes and charms as she tried to gather her own thoughts. Here she was sitting with her father, in a cabin of strange magick with two creatures who tried to kill her. Where had things gone so awry?

A weakness for what, exactly?” she mused.

Mad chances and long odds.. sort of my thing. So when do we start your trainin’?”

Tree Witch: Chapter Fifteen

Chapter 15: Hard truths

The sky was starting to lighten, shades of rose and gold were peering out from the deepness of the night sky. The air was still chilled, and Maeve could see small clouds of her breath as the morning edged every close to bursting over the horizon.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been outside but the gathering cold didn’t do much to ease her temper. It merely made her bones ache as well, which did little to improve her mood. She wondered if her wrist would always hurt in the cold – but the stranger thing was that it didn’t seem to hurt enough.

She’d broken bones before – but this damage felt nearly healed. In fact, the few weeks she had spent recovering under Arzhel’s netting had seemed to speed her healing quicker then any healer ever had. His magick was strong, powerful, and perhaps cruel.

You brood loudly..” considering his limp, he still managed to walk quietly. Only now did she hear the slow gait as he approached. His tone was soft as he tested the waters. He was using his old worn cane to steady him. “Look, I’m sorry I snapped at you… back there. Not sure yer aware at all, but I’m not the best with people.”

Yeah, that I noticed.” She turned to glare at him, her cheekbones high and her jaw set as if she were still gritting them tight. Even though he was much taller then her – that gaze made him feel familiar and small in her presence. It ached at his chest.

Aye.. never realized just how much you looked like her..” he looked down quickly, away from her and cleared his throat. “Even in the dark, you look just like her.”

Like who?”

Heather.” He wandered over to a large rock and sat down near her. He propped his right knee up and rubbed it while staring out to the colourful sky and resting the cane against his leg. “Your Mother. She was that came to get me, you know? I was avoiding telling you. I wouldna’ have known you were a bloody wreck bleedin’ out in the woods without her.”

Maeve bit her lip. She wanted to shout at him, tell him he was a liar, but how could she argue with him? Yes, her mother was dead… no her mother had never visited her as a spirit. But she knew that the ghost of a person could still visit those still alive.

Afterall, she had visited with Kallen, more then once. But she had her connections with her Kallen – why would her mother seek out this bear of a man? She shook her head as if brushing off the thought and quickly snapped back, “You made that creature your slave? For helping save it’s friend’s life?”

Oh powers help me. Ye are your Mothers girl! You just can’t let an argument go.” He grinned wide stroking the silver charm in his beard. It was all he could do to keep from laughing. His eyes flickered with mirth, but returned to their dullness quickly.

My dear Witch, understand that I have not made Greenback a slave. I have no desire for a slave. But my servant? Ye damned right. Have you not asked yourself why I would do that?”

It is cruel. You may say it was to protect me, but I assure you I can protect myself.” She shifted slightly and hoped the sun would rise quicker. She felt frozen and her temper was losing it’s effect of keeping her warm. The darkness was retreating slowly and the shadows of the trees around them became more and more defined.

The tips of them seemed stiff and she wondered if the dew had gone to frost.

Aye, you certainly can I suppose. For a while at least.” He breathed out a low breath and looked out to the errant moon still showing in the lightning sky. Soon it would be all but hidden with the bright rays of morning. He still marvelled at the colours that slashed themselves across the sky. “If they serve me, they can’t go runnin’ to our enemies. They can’t do you no more harm. Why else would those two be there at that waterfall, drowning themselves in tainted water? Think about it, girl – why else would they be at Cairn falls if it weren’t to look for you?”

She pondered that for a moment. Her breath left her in a long sigh and she finally grunted and moved over to him, sitting on a smaller rock beside the large man to speak with less temper hedging her words.

You think they had something to do with…” The train of thought still hurt her. The incident still left her with a dark shadow that she could not shake. Her mind still watched Gaen running blind when she closed them. An old friend taken from her. And the dreams.. the tangled mix of nightmares that nearly took her mind down with him.

Know it. Already made him tell before he fell off to sleep. He needs time to heal as well. Iron water… to be honest they are both lucky they lived. If Red had not been there, they would have been damned. They were the ones to spell him, Maeve. They were there to make sure you were dead. They are not as innocent as ye think they are.”

He watched her closely, expecting to see those green eyes of her seethe and bubble over with rage. Yet she seemed to ease off. It was almost as if she felt less angry then she was. Is surprised him, but he was grateful this conversation might not digress into a screaming match.

Well, I am not dead yet. I will miss Gaen much, he was a good friend to me over the years. But I’ve dealt with their kind before. They can be cruel and they can be kind – but none of them are simply all good, or all bad.” she ran her fingers gently over her necklace. “Kallen taught me that although the courts pretend to be one or another – they are a lil’ of both. People are people, no matter where they are or what world they are from.”

That is true enough.”

You said my mother had found you. Showed you where I was?”

Aye. An there ain’t a way of ignoring that woman.” He grinned again, but it was more pained then it was playful.

She has not come to see me. In all the years she’s gone over – not once. I thought perhaps she had nothing left to hold her here. So why you? Why did she come to you? Yes I could assume it was just because you were a healer. I could also simply be grateful. But I am just not that stupid.

I’ve seen you use magick like it’s second nature. I’ve watched how the animals react to you. The way the plants seem to speak to you. The way you mend bones and wounds? There is being a Witch, then there.. is something more.”

Oh?”

I suspected it for a while I guess, but after that stunt with a formal Life Debt? That magick is beyond normal. It is beyond this world. So that leaves a few options – either I have simply never run across anyone of your skill before. Or you are not nearly who you appear to be.”

He rubbed his large fingers over a few of his rings. They were chunky heavy things that he tended to play with often while lost in thought. He nodded carefully and cleared his throat.

Aye, you are of course right. You are far from stupid, Maeve. Perhaps too bright for your own good though.” He cracked a small grin. “That is part of what gets you into so much trouble. I never thought you would be so sharp and so wise. I think you are brilliant.”

Flattery does not give me answers…”

Alright, alright… truth is I ain’t exactly normal. I stayed around this area too long I guess; should’a moved on elsewhere to get away from the past but I am an ol’ sentimental fool. This area felt like home, kept me hidden, and I could still do good work. Who else would take care of the wee forest ones? I have been here for a long time, hidden in this lil’ glen. Keeping to myself.

It was a good life. Better then I deserved, save for a few heartaches I have carried. The honesty of it is there is no magick that is truly without price. Startin’ over meant losin’ the life I had before. It meant losin’ everyone and everything I was connected to.

It was for the best, I know that. I was not safe for anyone to be around, ‘specially those I came to care for. But did I know your mother would come callin’ for me? Never. Broke my heart when she first showed up. When she told me why? Well. I had no choice. Maeve, they know who you are now. You are in real danger, not jus’ dealing with rogue troubles.”

I spent years helping to protect those I care for. I spent years teaching myself how to. Why does everyone lately seem to think I am a child that needs to be lied to or coddled?” Her voice was sharp, but low. She was hurt and frustrated, and it showed. “Why would she come to you and never show one flicker to me? Not even a goodbye?”

It was not easy for her you know! It ain’t so easy as you think it is. It woulda’ broke her heart to see you and have to say goodbye all over again. Knowing all the things she wanted to tell ya, but could not.

You are a strong Witch, Maeve. That is true all in itself. When I saw you lyin’ broken and bloodied I knew. You just.. glowed. I knew then that it was foolish to think you could just hide in this world. You are strong yes, that can not be hidden anymore, but because of that you are gonna need to be much stronger. I down right think you will need to be the strongest you have ever been.

You may have learned some things – your Ma and Kallen. Yes, they taught ye some and you were strong and wise enough to teach yourself some. But you have not learned everything. They died before teaching you everythin’ they knew. Damned well thought they were protectin’ you by keeping you from everythin’. I am the final option none of them wanted to use, myself included! It is not safe to be in this deep.”

So that is why she found you? She knew you were around, and figured you could just teach me? How did she even know you were here?”

Bah, you are not listening. She has always known where I was. We have a long history, Heather and I. She saved me from myself, helped me escape a few nasty situations. She was a good woman, Maeve. Still love her with all my bloody heart.”

Wait.. are you telling me that you and my mother.. she had.. you loved her?” and then the true realization hit her. “She said my father had died soon after I was born. She didn’t speak of him often…”

No lass. He did not. He was just in hidin’. Trying to save you both from the world you fell into anyway.” His grey eyes were clouded again, but this time with tears. “She knew at the time it was the best thing to do. It was too dangerous, even then. More so now. That is why yer mother came to the likes of me. It was not because I was more in her favour. It was not just ’cause I was in the right place at the right time. It was not just because I can teach ya. It was because I may be the only family ye had left to go to. It was her last way of being able to say goodbye.”

The bright sky was cascaded with sheets of colour and light. The birds in the distance was chirping and the air was warming. It was still cool, edging towards the cold time of the year – but the flush on her cheeks and the fever in her bones kept her warm.

You are telling me.. that you are my father?”

Aye lass.” Arzhel spoke quietly. “Indeed I am.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Fourteen

Chapter 14: The power of a name

He was tending his gardens as the moon edged high above. It kept him busy and distracted from the woman who was now awake and company inside his little house. One thing Arzhel was not used to was the company of living conscious people. It made him feel somewhat awkward, especially knowing what he knew now of the Witch.

He brushed his fingers gingerly along moss and the edges of toadstools in the cool ground. “Aye, gettin’ cold for ye. Will have to harvest soon. My poor back will not be thankin’ ye.”

From the distance he heard shuffling in the brush and his hand instinctively fell to the sheath where a long curved boline blade hung. His eyelids tightened to slits as he surveyed the darkness.

Announce yourself!” his voice boomed.

Out from the brush pounced an odd assortment. Two ferrets and on the largest of the ferrets was a clump of shadow that at first looked to be hunts of moss until they gathered closer to the ambient light from his lantern. It became clear that they were some sort of imps, one riding terrified on the ferret, while the other hanged loosly on it’s stomach. It’s gossamer wings limp and soaked.

What have we here?” he tilted his head and carefully moved his hand from his weapon. “Is that you Red?”

The ruddy ferret squeaked and chirped as it bobbed to him. He needed no spell to understand what it was getting on about. The old man lowered to a knee and looked over the group. The smaller ferret danced and weaved back a little ways, terrified.

Knew no one else!” Red chirped. “Found them by the water fall.”

You must help us mortal!” Greenback demanded, trying to sound threatening. Red stiffened and tried to buck him off for the insult. There was a snort of insult and the ferret looked at Arzhel as if to apologize for the rudeness of his rider.

I need not be doing anythin’ should I choose not to!” Arzhel crossed his arms to make a point. “I owe you nuthin’ I could just turn ye away should I wish.”

No!” Greenback held tighter to Red, gripping his boney pointed fingers into his fur as he stood up on his back and tried desperately taller then he was. “No, please! My friend.. please save him! I’m sorry!”

He tried to bow low, as if he would for the Goblin King, but it was awkward and he only managed to loose his grip when Red adjusted his footing – and he landed with a roll and a tumble on the ground in front of the man. He took a long heavy moment to try and get up.

You are weak.” It was said without insult, but of concern. Arzhel stooped lower to examine him. His grey eyes looking sharper now in the dark night. “Your wings are soaked, you look half worn and frozen. You came to me cause I was the only option. You don’ have the magick in you to get yer friend and that home let alone to do any sort of healin’..”

I never could heal anything.” Greenback muttered weakly. He stubbornly rubbed the back of his green hand to his eyes. It was clear he was losing the battle against sobbing. “He can’t die! He’s mine!”

Red whined sympathetically and Arzhel stopped a second to scratch him behind the neck before carefully removing Leaven from his back.

The cold wet lump looked nearly dead. It was leaking out a dark green and red blood from it’s side. He carefully moved it in his palms and gently flipped him over. He rested his finger on it’s little chest and felt the very smallest of heartbeats slowly twitching inside.

Aye, he’s close to death.” he whispered, frowning slightly. His eyes glared at Greenback, then back to Leaven. “You are fools, you know this? The falls water has Iron in it. The rocks at the bottom have it. May have been alright for a while, certainly weakens ye, but you would have been fine. But he’s had it in his body. Breathed it in, got it in his wound. He’s dying.”

Greenback moaned in such a way that Red and the younger ferret bolted in fear back into the safety of the woods. There was a stirring in the house and Arzhel was sure that Maeve had heard them.

Hush!” Barked Arzhel as he carefully reached down and scooped the pathetic sobbing lump from the ground and headed towards the house. “Too many predators out here for the likes of that! Keep your tongue in your mouth and listen! He’s dying yes.. but he ain’t’ dead yet.”

Maeve held the door as they came inside and the bear like Arzhel danced around to use his foot to pull a small stool in front of the fireplace. His pained right knee caused him to nearly buckle as he grunted and danced around so as to not jolt his guests too roughly.

With a couple of grunts he directed Maeve to grab the comfy nest of a bed used for Cass and place a small cloth inside it. It caused quite a chittering fuss from the rafters, but they ignored it for now. Maeve was quite efficient and quick about it, even with the splint still burdening her one arm.

Soon Leaven was placed lifeless in the small nest, Greenback was gathering his senses by the warm fire, and Maeve was watching the whole mess curiously as she pulled a chair over for the large bear like man to finally sit down. He did so, with a grumbled complaint about being far too old for this.

It was obvious however as he watched the two creatures, that Greenback had finally gone silent but not because he had hushed him earlier. Rather it seemed to be he was now fascinated with Maeve. His little beady eyes were transfixed, and his pale green complexion looked all the more pale. His little lip dropped open and he stopped himself from blindly pointing at her. He mumbled soundlessly “Tree-Witch!”

Maeve looked confused, but not entirely surprised. After all had run into many kinds of otherwordly beings through her life as a local Witch. It wasn’t the first time she had been recognized, and likely wouldn’t be the last.

Arzhel however seemed far more concerned. He reached forward and placed his large hand between Greenback and the red haired Witch and he narrowed his eyes on the goblin like creature and lowered his thundering voice.

You know the girl? An’ do not lie to me. Your friend is not healin’ by himself.”

Arzhel it’s fine. I run in-”

Do not interrupt!” The tone in his voice made her grunt sharply, but she owed this man her life so she gave him a little clearance. She sharply stepped back and fell silent while glaring at him and listening.

Greenback tried to look over his hand, then looked instead to Leaven. His heart sank even more. “Yes.” he whispered terrified she would hear. “We know her.”

The large man was silent for a few long moments. Greenback was shivering as the warmth of the fire reminded him how cold he had been before. It was as if his body was finally thawing out. He attempted the most pathetic of smiles as he squeaked out “Please.. heal him yes? Fix him?”

Can I fix him? Yes.” He leaned back and watched the spark of hope in Greenback’s eyes as his little ragged ears perked up behind his head. “But it will cost you something.”

But what do you want?” He looked to Leaven, then Arzhel. He tried to count his belongings in his head, but it was quite a short list. “We could steal for you? We could bring you back something? What is it you want?”

None of that. I want ye bound to fiach saol. My servant until the debt is paid, until ye are released.”

Maeve grunted in protest, but was hushed when he thudded his fist on the table and the nest wobbled. In anger she stood, hissed about needing some air, and left the small house causing the wooden door to slam closed behind her.

She was angry, but she would get over it. His eyes remained deadly focused on Greenback who still sniffled and shook as he gaped his mouth open and closed repeatedly.

Fiach saol was a contract that once bound to, could not be broken. At least, not without severe consequences. He wasn’t even aware any mortals knew of the old binding that even some of his people were no longer aware of.

But the alternative would be to let Leaven die. Iron in the blood was a death sentence, and iron in the lungs was just as dangerous. And it had all been his fault why he was in this position to begin with. If he hadn’t cut him while trying to free him, maybe he wouldn’t be as badly off. Maybe if he was better at healing magick, he could simply have saved his friend himself.

But he had cut him. And he was horrible at healing magick. And there was no way to get him anywhere else without him dying along the way.

Trading one master for another, Greenback swallowed his fear and nodded his head. “I agree. I am Greenback of the Cloch Pixies. Blood son of the Wild Goblin Farouk. I give you my name and my service…” He bowed low and formal. His voice wavered, but he spoke clear and earnestly.

Arzhel glanced quickly to make sure the door was closed before standing, straightening his back and balancing his weight on a tender right knee. He lowered to a small bow nostalgic with memory, his eyes never leaving them. There was a sensation of energy winding from both of them. A sacred weaving of magick older then most things in this world.

I am Arzhel, Former King of the Daoine Sidhe. Born of both royal Faerie and Cailleach Blood. I accept your vow and bind ye to it. Now that yer bound to serve only me, I will save your friend.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Thirteen

Chapter 13: Hidden Underneath

The Queen entered the hall cautiously. It was large and yet the shadows and dim lighting made it seem not large enough. At the end of the hall was a throne unlike any other in the Otherfolk kingdoms. It was made of large twisted roots and huge burl knots which were elegantly carved into a large oaken chair. It was both imposing and beautiful with sharpened edges which looked like oversized thrones carved razor sharp. The back of it stretched up and snarled into what looked like a malformed sharpened crown.

It was deceptively complex and filled with organic flowing carvings which she swore looked like faces twisted and knotted into the wood. Possibly horrified effigies of various Otherfolk who may have somehow wronged the vicious king and been cursed to stare down all any of his guests for all of eternity. A fate worse then death she was certain.

It sent a shiver along her wings which caused a slight buzz in the air.

What was even more imposing was the figure who resided on that throne. He was sprawled out, with one leg kicked out over the armrest and the other boot planted firmly on the ground. In his right hand he swirled a large glass slowly as he glared at her. There was a definite hunger in his eyes and the smirk at the edges of his lip was cold and calculating. A large bear skin stretched haphazardly under him, half hanging from the seat.

He wore various shades of midnight blue tonight. It made him look as if he were clothed in inky cold shadows. A bit of glimmer echoed starlight on his collar.

Your Highness.” He chuckled darkly. “How good of you to visit. I do hope no one saw you come here…”

I slipped away without anyone knowing. It was difficult but manageable, I had the guards-”

I don’t care how you did it. That does not interest me.” He slipped his leg off the armrest and sat more properly on the large wooden throne, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees as he swirled the glass again. “Do not forget who you are speaking with. Queen.”

The crimson red wine sloshed carefully before he tilted his head back and drank it down. She dared not speak, move, or breathe until he had finished the glass and cleared his throat.

You know what happened I take it, my King?” Her delicate voice wavered nervously.

Oh yes. I am well aware of it. Do you think I just sit back and let others attend to my business for me? I have eyes everywhere – as you should be wise enough to remember.”

He threw his cup suddenly and forcefully to the far right of the room, towards the shadowed corner. No clang or crash came however- instead a form slipped out into the room dressed in formal uniform. His hands clasping the discarded goblet.

Eyes that even see clearly in the dark. You breathe too heavily, dear Kallen of the Royal Guard. Do you both forget what I’ve given you? Do you not understand how much you still owe to me!”

The Goblin King glared at them both. His low growl echoed around the room, for a moment making it seem as if a pack of wolves had invaded the hall. His crystal eyes flared in the torchlight. “Do you both forget who you really are?”

No, my King. Never!” Aibell lowered to a full kneel now. Her fear was palpable. It lingered in the tense stillness of the hall.

I have given you both all the luxury of Royalty. I have given you power and status… and I think sometimes you take me for a fool! You think you would have the ability to carry out this charade without my skills? Without my magick?” His eyes glowed and Aibell shuddered again.

Her wings shivered and she wanted to shift away from him – but it seemed as if she had no time for that. Instead with a flicker of deep green mist and his outstretched hand he had allowed the glamour to fall and he stripped her of her disguise.

The beautiful and ethereal Aibell seemed to melt into a far more deformed and skeletal old Sidhe. The woman cried out in pain and disgust as she covered her bald and malformed head with her long thin fingers. All along her protruding spine the dress gave way to bare diseased skin. Her ears, which had been delicate and flowed to neat points were now ragged folds of ripped flesh. They looked more like ripped bat wings then royal faerie ears.

Look at what you are without me…” he snarled in disgust, lowering down to a crouch beside the old frail thing as she curled into herself as if trying to escape. “Outcast.. ancient.. dying. This is what you are, Satal! Should I simply allow you to stay this way? I barely recognize what species you are anymore… it’s pathetic really.

She whimpered and clung desperate at his knee as she sobbed in choked painful gasps. “Please! It hurts! This.. body.. hurts! The pain of it.. all! My flesh… it burns!”

He watched her a moment as he allowed her to soak in all the frailty and pain of her true form. He tilted his head with a strange admiration of her suffering and then slowly he took a hand and stroked it over her bald head. The spell flowed from his fingers and where the hag sobbed at his knee, soon the Queen Aibell took form.

He wove the familiar spell over her with careful tenderness, allowing it to take away the pain her aged and dying form caused her. A disguise powerful enough to fool the courts themselves, for it rang not just with the image of the Queen, but with her memory as well.

I am not a cruel King.” He said calmly with a certain smooth silk to his words while scooping his hand under her now youthful face and forcing her eyes up to his. “But I demand obedience. I have no assurance that the Witch is dead, and these rumours that she is alive somewhere and attaining help.. is unsettling. It was not easy getting you both into position… I had to attain many difficult ingredients for this spell. I risk so much, do you think it is so easy to fool an entire court? I ask so little in return.”

So soft and gentle, he stroked her hair with careful fingers. His voice echoed a strange calmness that seemed to be as sudden and as honest as his unpredictable temper. Each mood just as dangerous and powerful as the other.

My Lord, forgive me – but didn’t you send out a party to affirm the Witch is dead?” The male wearing the disguise of Kallen enquired trying to carefully steer the conversation out of more dangerous waters.

As if startled from his thoughts, the King stood suddenly. The action practically shoved the false queen from his knee as he did and caused her to whimper slightly. Satal quietly composed herself while thankful that his attention was now off her..

Indeed, I did. Strangely they have yet to return. It is possibly the bumbling idiots have killed themselves off…” He looked at the royal guard for a moment taking in his form as he perched on one knee. His eyes were always so hard to read. They changed so often and so quickly that no one could be entirely sure what was really going on behind them.

He smiled for just an instant, lost somewhere in a thought or a memory. An honest chuckle, not unkind or spiteful slipped from him and then just as quickly it changed to a colder dismissive snicker.

You wear Kallen well, Raiek. There are times I look at you and almost think you are him. Perhaps you should make the change permanent after all this is done and finished? The option to maintain a position at my side is still there, and no one would ever know the difference…”

That is not the payment we have agreed to, with respect my Lord.”

As you wish.” The shrug rolled carelessly over his shoulders and he turned from them and sauntered towards his great throne once more. “You both will get as you so asked at the end of this. We must not assume she is dead. I am never so lucky. As we all well know, Death is a tricky sort of condition. So we will continue as planned since we still have time before the Dumannios Full Moon is upon us. You will organize the hunts for her and anyone who is helping her – I prefer if you take her alive but I will settle for what I can get. I will have her heart one way or another before that moon rises.”

Why is she so important to you, Faileas? What does one Witch matter? You are King and so powerful already, this will be an easy war for you.” Raiek was bold, that was clear – but very few ever spoke the King’s true name, let alone knew it. There was a certain power in knowing a name.

The King, who was just about to flop onto his throne had instead stiffened his body. Along the back of his shirt it looked as if something ridged up over his shoulders and spine. His eyes aglow as he turned his head and sneered a deadly glare over his shoulder at the false Kallen. His teeth were sharpened and vicious in his mouth.

While I appreciate your confidence I suggest you learn not to ask questions about things above you. And if you use that name again, I will rip your tongue out and feed it to the rats. You take far too much liberty, old friend…” There was such a warning of malice in his tone that the other male lowered his head in submission and merely nodded.

Tree Witch: Chapter Twelve

Chapter 12: Murky Waters

I don’t understand why we came so late…” Leaven frowned and peered down from the large stone he was perched on. A long finger poked the water and the reflections rippled across the churning surface.

The sun bothers me, you know that. I thought it would be easier.” Greenback looked miserable. His lip jutted out in an annoyed pout. “We don’t have much choice. We need to find the Tree-Witch heart. You know what he’d do to us if we don’t!”

They both gave a shudder and Greenback crept closer to peer over the rock with Leaven. Their reflections danced and shimmered in the water. The cascade from the Cairn Falls above them made the water ripple and slap against he rocky mouth of the river pool. Far above them was the cliff that the horse dove from. “it has to be here!” Greenback sneered unhappily.

I hoped it would float…” Leaven muttered. “Aren’t witches supposed to float?”

Bah, don’t be stupid! You know that’s a myth.”

They brought a small bag with them, and Greenback took the time now to finally dig through it. His deft little hands with their long fingers brought out a long spool of thin woven rope, a strange glowing glass bottle, and a back sheath with an agate dagger. He kept the last small bottle of burrberry wine tucked safely at the bottom of the sack. That was for later.

I’ll go.” Leaven said it so softly that Greenback wasn’t even sure he’d heard it at first. He peeked up to see the other imp already taking the spool into his hands.

What?”

I said I’d do it.” Leaven’s eyes reflected the moonlight, but they flashed a familiar pale green which reminded Greenback of Peridot. “Dive down. Get the heart. Come back.” He bobbed his head quickly as if convincing himself. His long ears flicked with concentration as he begun to unspool the line.

You will?” Greenback picked up the glowing jar and shook it for good measure. The light brightened a little. Tiny phosphorus mushrooms jostled and shook inside. He fingered the glass and bit his lip. “I mean, it doesn’t seem fair.”

Leaven reached over and carefully grasped Greenback’s hand and pried the glowing jar from him. He wore an aloof cock-eyed grin under his long thin nose. “It’s okay.”

They were both pixies, of a sort. Leaven was pure pixie through and through and his bloodline used to sit high in the unseelie courts. Greenback however was supposedly fathered by a wild goblin and although he thankfully took his looks from his pixie mother – he unfortunately inherited certain goblin traits.

One of those traits was a dislike for cold clean water.

Leaven had tied the rope around his waist, carefully trying to knot it. Greenback took the end and helped him knot it tightly around the belt buckle holding his makeshift shorts in place. After it was tied tightly Greenback helped him place the knife’s sheath between his gossamer wings.

Be careful.” he muttered to Leaven as he carefully tied a shorter piece of rope around the glowing jar.

Bah!” Leaven grinned, “You just want all the glory yourself!”

Yeah that’s it!” Greenback attached the rope to his belt and grinned wide. His cheeks flushed a brighter green. “I could take all the glory myself, but I suppose you are good for something! Now don’t lose the light!” he pushed the bottle into his hands and tugged to make sure the rope was attached tightly. “Find the bottle, chop chop the heart out and get back up here! Pull on the rope when you are ready!” the slightly larger Greenback tugged twice hard on the rope attaching Leaven to the spool. It nearly knocked him off the rock.

Yes yes, twice for ready. Three times for Oops?”

They glanced at each other. Nervously Greenback broke the silence, “No Oops! If there is an Oops I’m just going to leave you down there! If we do not get her heart, he takes our wings! We’ll be demoted! We’ll be treated like Brownies of all things!” His teeth snapped in the air, pointed and bitey.

I won’t mess up.” Leaven whimpered and without another word he quickly made a leap and dove into the dark water with a splash. The glow from the bottle and the glimmer of his gossamer wings faded all too quickly.

Greenback had instantly regretted losing his temper, but all he could do was grab the spool before it went in as well, swallow down the lump which had gathered in his throat, and hold on for all he was worth.

Down deep Leaven must have gone because the spool wound out further and further. He plunked himself down on the rock and held tightly as he scanned the waters surface. The evening had faded into the full of night and the black surface of the churning water made it impossible to see where the other faerie had gone.

How long could he hold his breath? What happened if there were biting things down there? He imagined hundreds of nasty biting fish, with jaws full of sharp little teeth gobbling him up in one gulp. He imagined eels with nasty snake heads ripping him apart in pieces and the black water actually dark green with guts.

He shifted uncomfortably and wished had had managed to pull out the burrberry wine. Perhaps he could have managed to wiggle his foot to hold the spool while he opened the bottle with a free hand? But he was far too terrified he’d let the spool go and it would fly away from him down into the disastrous waters. Instead he merely frowned and waited with wings and nerves twitching.

Eventually the spool stopped and it didn’t roll out anymore line in his hands. The crickets chirped. The leaves bristled in the wind. The air was bitter cold. Yet no movement came from the line.

Leaven!” he half-whispered, half-shouted at the water below. “Leaven why did you stop!”

It had gone rather quiet. He bristled and his wings shook from what must have been the cold. In fact he hadn’t realized just how cold it had been. In their rush to get here and retrieve the heart they barely noticed that the fall was upon them and the seasons were changing. It was not a time of summer warmth, the water must have been frigid.

You better not have disappeared on me!” he shouted in panicked anger. “You did! You must have! You used a spell and just.. you just left! I bet you are home all warm and toasty and leaving me to freeze!”

Silence answered him.

He tugged hard on the line. After a moment he tugged again, harder this time. He had to pull sharply at first, with a grunt and a tug but then it seemed like the rope eased up. Then he just pulled and rolled the spool as the line came back, cold wet and slack.

Ah so you are coming back!” he squealed. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me!”

He pulled and twisted until the spool was heavy, wet, and cold. Any moment he expected to see the dull light from the bottle and the triumphant and sputtering face of Leaven bursting from the surface of the water for air.

Any second they would be able to warm themselves on Burrberry wine and celebrate their victory. Any moment they would be laughing about this under a boar feast in the Goblin King’s hall.

But all that came up was the empty rope. It’s end torn and frayed.

No!” Greenback went a shade of pale that he had never turned before.

With a sharp swallow he balled his fists together, threw down the rope and dove into the water. It was cold and horrible. He felt terrified and wanted to simply run away and forget this had all happened, but his heart ached.

With desperate clawing he managed to figure out how to move in the cold water and he kicked and clawed at the water almost like he was negotiating a storms up-drafts. He felt confused and uncoordinated until he saw a dull bobbing lightness in the murky depths.

Greenback swam for it. He pushed with his wings until his back hurt. He clawed at the water until his arms were sore. Eventually the light became a little brighter and brighter until he could see the details of the jar as it floated on the rope. He followed it down to see a the body of the horse and one of it’s hoof pinning down the edge of the rope which was frayed and ripped. It must have got caught between the river bed and the waterlogged corpse and was tangled with a bunch of green kelpy reeds.

On the other side of the horses leg was the green still body of a lifeless Leaven, it looked as if he had tried to free himself from the snag, but had failed. His sheathed dagger floating in the harness on his back just out of reach and his own small body starting to tangle in the deadly greens.

Greenback didn’t have time to think. He grabbed the knife from the sheath, pulled himself close to Leaven with the rope and sliced wildly at the rope around his waist. The water got inky and dark but he didn’t care. His lungs were starting to hurt and he wanted to scream.

Finally one of the slices seemed to work and Leaven came free from the snagged rope. He dropped the knife and hung on tight to one of his cold and limp hands and pulled and kicked upwards. Greenback had never struggled so hard in all his life. His lungs hurt, his skin felt like it was on fire, and his little heart was racing.

Up and up he tugged, kicked and clawed. It was hard to know if he was even going in the right direction. His mind started to feel tired and murky like the water around him. Everything hurt, and it all ached.

Just as he thought he might give up, they broke the surface. He coughed and sputtered and pulled Leaven close to him as he kicked his sore and tired legs until he was close to the rocks. He crawled his way out and dragged and heaved Leaven out behind him.

He wanted to collapse and cry and shake but there was no time for that. He pulled Leaven closer and the limp body did not resist. His wings twisted and flopped while Greenback rolled him over. He put his head onto Leaven’s chest and listened with his long ears and only silence answered him.

No!” he screamed, but it came out choked and breathless. He balled his little fists and he hit him in the chest and beat on him in the stomach. He pushed with all his weight and tried to push the water out. “Mine! You are mine you have to come back!”

It was then he noticed how dark his hands seem. He pulled them back and noticed the deep reddish green blood smeared on his skin. He hadn’t just sliced the rope, but he had also sliced open Leaven’s side. The blood was slow to leak from him, but it did still flow.

With his head pressed against his cold bare chest again he tried to still his pounding heart and aching quick breathing enough to really listen.

Very distantly he thought he heard the weakest glimmer of a heartbeat.

Need to find you help!” he cried and looked frantically around. All around him were the various gazes of curious woodland creatures.

Greenback was weak, tired, and frantic. No magick could simply heal Leaven and set everything right, he wasn’t that skilled or that lucky. Still, he was of the Faerie kin and he still knew of magick and spells.

He reached out and waved his hand along the air in the direction of blinking woodland eyes and as he reached out he quickly uttered the simplest and easiest spell he could manage in the terrified hurt state he was in. “Speak with me! Show me help!”

A large ferret with bright eyes and ruddy fur stepped out from the underbrush. His head tilted slightly and he was followed by two young kits. “I know a man. He is a healer and he is kind. He isn’t far from here – but we must hurry… your friend seems almost dead.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Eleven

Chapter 11: Fevered Dreams

It wasn’t just the death of her Gaen that caused her mind to shift uneasily – it was also the fevered dreams of riding a spelled steed. It wasn’t just her horse that the faerie magick effected, but her own spirit.

Part of her seemed to have rode down with Gaen into the black abyss of the waterfall. She thought she had found herself for a moment, when she first awoke in the strange home of the large man who called himself Arzhel but she was pulled back again into a deep falling sensation. It felt like she was lost in the tangle of dark magick and she wasn’t sure how to climb her way out.

She wished Kallen was there. She called to him many times, but not even a glancing memory of him came to her rescue.

Maeve remembered when she was a tiny lass. Her hair tangled with leaves and knotted with the wind. She remembered a time of the deep winter storm where she got separated from her mothers watchful gaze. She spent two frigid nights out in the hollow of a great old oak trying to keep herself alive.

On the second night when the dark was full and the moon was but a tiny sliver in the sky she faced the realization that she would likely die. She shuddered so hard that her small body convulsed and each of her limbs throbbed with a pain she couldn’t ignore.

Even then when the world seemed too big and too much for her – she made the choice to stay alive. She made a choice not to close her eyes and give up. She was scared and hurting and alone but she was determined.

In the end her mothers old wolfhound Shaemus found her half buried but alive.

This sensation reminded her strongly of that time in her youth. She felt as if the world had buried her in darkness and in snow and left her to freeze or rot beneath it. She felt like if she merely closed her eyes and gave into it the fight would leave her and it would finally just be over.

Maybe she could just be with Kallen then and to hell with the coming war or the responsibilities of a witch. Maeve wouldn’t have to worry about looking over her shoulders all the time. She wouldn’t have to watch anyone else die.

“But then, you know they would still die.” It wasn’t clear if the voice was her own or someone else. It’s tone was sharp, but soothing. “You have a gift love, your choice has always been how to use it or what to do with it.. you can’t just not use it. You’ve always done that you know. You always try to save those you can. Those you can’t..”

“Why is it my responsibility?” there was a weakness in her voice. It broke even in it’s memory of itself. All around the blackness of her mind she was haunted by the faces of everyone she couldn’t save.

Some of them were children. Some of them were old. Some of them were strangers she merely passed… and some of them were painfully familiar.

“I have failed so many… what good is magick if you can’t save them all? What good is it if I can’t undo the evil things?”

The darkness grew tangled vines around her. She felt it now and sensed it beyond the sensations of sight or sound. She felt it in her very heart. For a moment the red-haired Tree-witch saw herself still on the back of strong Gaen. The horse was steaming in a dark clear night and foam and blood smeared down his gaunt head and over her legs which were bound by thorn brambles attaching her to his back.

It was all so real now. The rest of the world fell away and the fear of this moment swelled into a tidal wave that washed over her. This had happened. No… this was happening. This was her world and she was losing it.

She struggled trying to free herself from his back as he thundered on in the empty darkness. Her hands bled and her heart throbbed in time with his. He let out a hellish wail and she cried out in pain.

The more she struggled the more the vines seemed to bury in deeper to her flesh and her blood mingled with that of her beloved horse.

“Maeve… Maeve…”

She searched for a knife or something sharp. She found nothing. Her chest echoed with pain and her breath caught so quickly in her lungs that she thought they would both collapse. She had no bag with her, no weapons or tools. There was no cloak to staunch the blood even. She felt frozen and burning up all at the same time.

“Please stop!” she pleaded with Gaen as she tugged at his ears and tried to force his head to her. “Please stop now! STOP!”

His head wouldn’t turn. His bulging eyes wouldn’t glance back to her.

“MAEVE! Listen to me now girl!” The voice was different now. No longer the soothing tone she could have mistaken for her own voice of reason. This was male and gruff and boomed through her core. It shook her attention from her panic. “You will listen to me right now!”

“What?” She screamed it back balling her bloodied palms to fists and yelling at oblivion. “What do you want of me!?”

“This be a dream.” the voice was calmer now, but still firm and booming. “A dark dream brought on by a nasty spell, but a dream be sure. I can only do so much. You must do the rest.”

“Do what?” she shrieked “What can I do? I’ve lost them all! I lost everything!”

A dream. The realization slowly started to work it’s way into her. The pounding of her heart seemed lessened now. Gaen didn’t seem to be running as hard. The brambles didn’t seem to move or grow anymore.

It was as if the world was slowing down and her mind was speeding up.

“Hush girl… breathe and think! You have not lost everything. You still have your heart, and your magick.”

“What good is a heart if it’s broken.” her words tumbled from her every core. It spoke through her and hung in the air around her. “I think it has been broken a long time.”

“Truth is a powerful magick… older then most know. You can curse another blind and sick – but give someone a truth… they can see beyond all that. Give someone the truth and it dispels the curse. Most think that the lies and the bad magick is more powerful, but really it’s not. It’s just so much easier for people to believe in the fear and lies. The more people believe in a thing – the more real it becomes.”

The black steed was no longer running but standing still. His large head was being stroked carefully by a large familiar man with a long silver beard gently tied at it’s middle with a silver charm.

“Truth is…” he continued gently. “Magick isn’t really about tricks and lies. Sure – there is power in those things. Spells can be woven in those things. Spells real enough to break bones and crush spirits. But real magick, the real core of it. It’s about truth and sacrifice and heart. The energy of that is far more powerful. It always wins out.”

He turned his grey eyes to hers as he gentle stroked the panic out of Gaen.

“Who are you?” Maeve whispered.

“The truth of that will have to wait. The bigger question. The important question… who are you Tree-witch? I told ye the truth, this be a dream. You have the say here girl. What do you want to do? You choose to wake and you are back in the bitter world with bitter truths and a lot of work to do. Or you can choose to sleep and give it all up. Lay it on another shoulders instead.”

Once more she was reminded of the frigid night in the burrow of the old oak tree. Once more she felt faced with the same decision. She felt like she was shaking just the same. But she was no more the red-headed child she had been. She had spent a life of fire and iron. She was a woman who had grown, loved, lost and carried on.

It was who she was.

“I am Maeve. An’ I am not done yet.” Her voice was cracked and broken, but was no longer merely a memory of a fevered dream. Instead it was the words that woke her from sleep as she opened her eyes under the charmed tapestry of knot-work above her.

“Aye,” grinned Arzhel in approval. “That is who ye are.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten: Black feathers and red blood..

The tree dangled it’s large branches above their heads, nearly barren with the last remnants of fall leaves. It’s huge trunk was expressive and led to a large cascade of roots, heaved up and slithered into the earth like giant snakes. They were strong roots, deeply anchored to the shale rock and earth below.

That is where they had gathered, sitting and hanging from root and branch. All waiting for the Tree-witch to show. Even the young ones hid close by watching the gathering with wide eyes and fevered giggles.

But as time passed and the evening hung with a huge full moon; no witch came.

As they waited and the wind howled – patience started to grow thin. None more so then the Queen herself. She was obvious among the grouping of scattered fae folk. Among the pixies, brownies, will-o-whisps and various intermixed faeries – she was the shining light among them all. Great Queen of the Seelie courts.

She stood leaning against a large thick root of tree with her sparkling fae lace dress cascading over her nearly naked form. She was regal and proud, and standing behind her were only the bravest of her council and a circle of royal guard which scared the others back.

“Queen Aibell, there is no sign of approach. She isn’t coming.” The tall, almost human looking male brushed his red hair from his eyes and glared at the nearby path to the road. His voice was even and cold. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Hush Kallen.” the woman hissed and straightened her spine further, as if mustering her pride. Her dress matched the ethereal elegance of a translucent set of long and delicate wings. The moonlight made them sparkly with dew glow like the crystals on her dress. Looks were everything, and she resolved herself to keep perfect posture for the moment their guest arrived. One of her wings twitched in agitation. “Do you think she has much choice? She seals her own fate if she refuses. You know that.”

He shrugged and leaned back against he roots as the moonlight glowed. His outfit was proud and elegant but pulled at him uncomfortably. He loosened the lacing on his black and silver tunic and grunted. “How long do we wait?”

“Knock knock!” shouted a harsh crass voice from a nearby aspen which edged the clearing of the great tree. Knives were drawn by royal guards as a large black raven swept from the forest path and landed in the furthest of the tree’s large branches. It’s silver talons clicked against the hard wood of the tree as it’s beaded eyes glimmered while it peered down at the gathering. It’s head bobbed low as it’s wings spread wide and tilted down at the Queen in a somewhat formal bow. “Salutations!”

“Who goes there?” snapped Kallen as royal guard arrows slid into place on either side of them. Dozing faeries and jittery pixies stood to sudden attention. The whole glen woke up and various lights and luminescence seemed to come alive along the tree from various forms of wee folk and unseen creatures.

“Caww! I am but a messenger, I am! Important words I must speak.”

With a steady hand Aibell motioned for the arrows to lower. With practised restraint and embellished manners she lowered her head to a formal nod. It was stiff and annoyed, but a formality none-the-less. Her guards stood down and the many eyes of the gathering watched with renewed interest.

“Then… please speak feathered one. What are your ‘important words’? You interrupt important matters.. so for your own sake I do hope you have a good reason to be here.”

The bird hopped closer towards the royal party, dropping down one branch with fluttering wings and shoeing a few small and skittish will-o-whisps from the tree. They glowed like fireflies.

“The Tree-witch is unable to attend. I come to say that she must not be harmed or hunted. Leave her alone! Caww!” He fluttered his wings and adjusted himself proudly. His icy eyes stared at her even when the guards shifted and others laughed. A choir of remarks, taunts and laughter edged the circle.

“You would demand such? You would take such liberty?” The very air around the Queen grew cold, her expression shifted from annoyance to anger. “Your words mean nothing here! You are nothing to us.”

The guards rose their aim again, but the large bird did not falter. Instead it made a strange sound and bobbed it’s head in an unnerving display of laughter, for as much as a raven could laugh. It came out in short bursts of caws and chuckled clicks.

“Not I, sweet Queen!” His eyes glinted in the moonlight, and began to glow on their own accord. Two small lanterns of midnight blue among the night. More and more of the crowd scurried to either a better vantage point – or a safer hiding spot from the unfolding drama.

“Then who?” snarled Kallen. “You bloody gnat, who’s orders do you come by? Do you speak for the witch herself?”

For a moment the blue glow of the birds eyes seemed to intensify and the bird neither moved nor spoke. It stared at them for an uncomfortable moment in time before the man broke it’s glaze by shouting once more.

“Answer me!”

“You betray yourselves, I see now! I see what others miss, I see your hollow nests and empty spaces.. cawww..” it’s voice creaked out like cemetery gates. The accusation in his words now growled out of his sharp beak even if the words seemed like nonsense. It flustered his feathers and puffed them up in defiance. “I see! I see behind your eyes!”

He dodged the first arrow as it flew and hit the branch under it’s left talons, it embedded deep into the wood and cut the very air between them. Quickly the raven flurried his wings up to gust a few stray leaves as he lifted off and dove in a wide circle around them.

Kallen grabbed the bow from the guard closest to him.

“Dangerous games!” the bird screamed with chuckles of laughter as it swooped around the girth of the mighty tree, dodging low towards branches and scattering onlookers here and there with it’s cries. “You can not have her! Here me! I speak for another, you may not have that one! The Tree-witch is his!”

As he swung down for another closer dive near the tree an arrow plunged deep into his right wing and through to the branch closest. It pinned him with a sickening thud as he hung bloodied by the joints of crunching wing bones. A second later and his left one was struck, again plunging deep and through his wing into the solid branch behind him.

His feet and talons kicked and flailed wildly as he desperately tried to free himself. Black feathers ripped from their sheaths fell like the blackest of snow. They twirled damaged in the air with the rush of faeries running from the assault. They mingled with the last falling leaves from the large tree. Blood seeped down and dripped freely below.

“Got him.” Kallen sneered and sent the guards to clear the area from prying eyes as he and Aibell approached the sputtering animal. The bird was hissing and gasping, it’s large midnight blue eyes glow was now pulsing with it’s heartbeat. A quick and steady pace as it’s blood seeped down it’s twitching body. It was as if they were flashing.

“Who sent you?” snarled Aibell, the aire of formality leaving her quickly as more and more eyes were no longer watching.

“…Mad…” it wheezed and twitched hard, it’s body convulsing. It seemed as if it struggled to maintain it’s elegant use of speech. It’s animal instincts were taking over it’s frantic mind.

“Of course I am mad!” snarled Aibell.

The raven, once more managed it’s crass and deep chuckling with what little breath had remained in it’s lungs. It’s eyes came back to itself and the midnight blue burned like torchlight.

“Mad King… of the.. Daoine Sidhe” The strange bird convulsed one final time then stilled. It’s whole body seemed to simply cave in on itself and it’s feathers simply dropped all at once around them. Two arrows remained, but flesh and bird had strangely disappeared.

“The bird was bloody mad. Magicked into being a desperate trick, that’s all. She probably enchanted it herself, the fool. The Daoine Sidhe have no King!” snarled Kallen as he brushed black feathers from his clothing. It left the faintest smears of blood.

“They used to..” whispered Aibell. Her expression had paled and her temper extinguished. It was replaced with a foreboding aire of dread. “We need to speak to the Goblin King. Immediately.”