Chapter Twenty-two: Prince Brenden MacAilf

     “Quickly, traitor,” Ferbish ordered as he flew over Brenden. “I don’t want to spend another moment in the lands of the Droors.” As if on cue, the frosty wind picked up, sending ripples over the shrubs jutting out from the snow.

     “Dear, Athena,” Brenden said, wrenching his head toward me, “I will tell you everything once we’re in a safe place. The ruins are near us where no dark elves will venture. It’s just a short walk from here.” Brenden’s voice cracked, “I promise.”

I nodded at Ferbish.

     Grumbling, the gargoyle cut Brenden’s bindings. Ferbish thrust his face inches from Brenden’s. “Ye better make good on ye promise to the little Miss. If no elf will venture to that place, we can leave yer body for the mealy worms to eat. Don’t fink I won’t.”

     Brenden swallowed, blinking and not saying anything. He rubbed his arms from the rope pinching his skin.

     Urgently, the gargoyles flew us toward the enormous, uneven mountains. Settling on a specific area, Brenden pointed the gargoyles toward the mouth of a small cave. Underneath was a steep cliff. One false step and we would plummet to our death. “There it is.”

     “How did ye come across this place, elf?” Grigor wondered as he gawked at the glowing crystal orb mounted next to an open book.

     Brenden didn’t answer Grigor’s question but said, “We’d better start a fire and eat something before we rest.”

    Ferbish grumbled, “I’ll make the fire. You start talking, elf, before I lose me temper.” He marched over to the nearest tree and started yanking off the branches.

    Grigor followed dropping log after log onto a pile.

After the fire was lit, Pigeon landed on a small pillar next to us. She made a loud squawk.

    Brenden tracked Ferbish with his eyes as the gargoyle came up next to him. “I’d rather speak to Athena alone. This doesn’t concern any of you except for her. She will be the Wishcaster, after all, and if she agrees to allow me to continue, that should be good enough for all of you.”

     Ferbish glowered. “Are ye joking, elf? Ye finks me so dumb I’d let you run off wif the Miss and allow you to spin ye magic tricks on her? No. Ye confess now. To all of us.”

     Swallowing, Brenden responded, “Dear intelligent challenged creature, I’m not so stupid as to think that, but this is none of anyone else’s business. I can assure you I don’t have my powers. As you can see, I’m a fairy in shadow and believe me if I could cast a good spell I would have done it by now and jettisoned us out of this bloody hell hole I used to call home.” Brenden’s eyes locked onto mine. “Please, Athena? I’m not lying. I will tell you everything.”

     “Let me go with you,” Francisco spoke. “I’m with Ferbish. I don’t trust him.”

     Lifting the side of my mouth, I said, “No, it’s fine. I’ll be okay, Francisco.” Turning to Brenden, I asked, “Where do you want to go, Brenden?”

     “Follow me,” he said, moving toward a small bench away from everyone. I sat next to him.

   Rubbing his neck nervously, Brenden began his tale.

“I am the youngest child born to the king of the Droor Elves, Sir Giric Dub MacAilf. I have three older brothers whose mother died a year before I was born. Grieving, my father married my mother, Siobhan, within a few months, and I popped on the scene much to my brothers’ distress. It wouldn’t have been so bad if my father hadn’t doted on me.

“It also didn’t help that my mother would inflict the fact of his preference every time she could.

“I will have to admit, as I grew, I was much more adept in the ways of the Droor Arts, excelling in fencing, riding, and magic.

“By the time I had reached my zenith birthday, to you that would be similar to your fifteenth year, my brothers’ devised a plan to get rid of me. My father had grown old, blind, and sick, and in his dementia, mentioned to my eldest brother, Duff, that I was the intended heir.

“Duff would not be bested by his little brother.

“He brought me out in a fight to the death.”

   I cringed. “That must have been awful for you. What did you do?”

    Flinching, Brenden went on, “Droor law is very clear on the matter.

“I was to take up the challenge or be cast out as a coward. It was kill my brother or be killed by him. It was his right as he would have been the lawful heir if my father hadn’t deemed me his better. I knew I was done for.

“At that time, my brother was a fully-grown elf, and although I had marked potential, the fight would have been over in a few minutes. So, I took a chance that all my fool brother wanted was the throne. But I was wrong. He wanted my death.

“When I told Duff he could have the crown, he flew into a rage, whipping my other brothers against me.

“By the time it was all over, a trial by the Droor Council was set up to banish me.

“My father was powerless against it as all the elves in the Realm were repulsed by my perceived cowardice. A Droor Elf is always brave, always fearless, always cunning. I should have jumped at the chance to defeat my brother.

      “The trial took a mere hour to decide my fate.

“The words were etched with magic on my body and I was cast out.

“My shroud was taken from me, so even in the daytime, all could look upon the curse and sneer at me as if I had a horrible disease. If an unseemly character happened upon me, it was their right to do what they would with me whether that be slavery, torture, or worse. Luckily, I did have my magic skills to get by, but any crafty creature could ambush me in a minute and so, all the magic in the world wouldn’t have helped.”

     I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and my heart sank, thinking about what Brenden went through. The words on his body said to show him no mercy. “But you survived,” I breathed.

     Brenden gave me a dark look. “Yes, thank the Great Guardian. The Under Realm has many exceptional creatures, one of which is the raven. Ravens are special, although fearsome as you’ve witnessed with Pigeon, but if you make a friend of one, you will have a formidable ally. I made a raven friend. His name was Rory.

“He found me in the pit of despair in this very ruin. I was about to take my life through the use of dark magic. It is said that any Droor elf who even steps on these grounds will fall under a curse for the rest of their lives as it was used by our ancestors for torture and other dark arts.

“But it was a perfect place for me. I was going to use the crytallice to wield foul magic to kill myself.

“Thankfully, as I was about to utter the last incantation to obliterate my being, Rory saved me.”

  “He then encouraged me to seek sanctuary in the Middle Realm.”

  “So ravens can talk,” I said, thinking I hadn’t heard Pigeon utter one word other than a few garbled warblings.

    “I wouldn’t call it talking so much as perception. I basically understood what he wanted me to do. Sort of a sixth sense. Ravens are like your Over Realm angels, in a way. They can peer into the soul of a person. He knew I was innocent and took pity on me. That is why Pigeon is here with us now. She knows I hold no ill will against any of you. I’m not a traitor. If I were, she would have destroyed me long ago.”

    Thinking back, Pigeon did all she could to save us, but I didn’t have any sense from her like Brenden talked about. Maybe I couldn’t understand Ravens. But it seemed logical.

   Brenden continued his tale, “I then followed Rory’s guidance to Gilly’s Trap. And believe me, Athena, when I tell you there were no ogres. We ambled down the trail to the Cave of Woe.”

“What happened to Rory then? Where is he?” I asked.

Brenden swallowed, putting his face in his hands. He didn’t speak for a long time.

1apammie

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Chapter Eighteen: A Path for Misfits

Our journey was supposed to be easy, according to Brenden. First we’d trek off road toward the Moor of Dread, sludge through muck for a mile or so, then find a tiny gate called Gilly’s Trap. Our new friend, Ratskin, an old grouchy dwarf, possessed the key to open it.

This would lead us to the Cave of Woe. Nurse Mellecant’s eyes shifted nervously when she explained the cave’s history may have been a little…dark…but we weren’t to worry. She pasted a smile on her face but I could tell she was just trying to make us feel better. If we stayed on the path and didn’t get distracted, nothing horrible would happen to us.

Yeah, right. But did we have any choice?

By reaching the end of the cave, Brenden would be able to open a hidden door with fairy magic to his realm. Under-realmers were not permitted to see it. It was a secret pathway that only Wishcasters used.

     “How do you know about it?” I asked Brenden after Nurse Mellecant told me his plan.

     His face grew dark as if he was remembering something awful. “I have a bit of inside knowledge.”

He stuck his hands in his pockets, excusing himself, suddenly having to go to the bathroom.

     Our troop walked toward the woods– me, Ferbish, Grigor, Brenden, Holly, Francisco, Ratskin and another friend of Nurse Mellecant’s, Pigeon. She was as small as the dwarf with short spiky dark hair and huge, magenta eyes. I had no idea why she was coming along, but Miss Mellecant assured us Pigeon would be a fearsome ally. I didn’t understand who would fear her. She might have looked a bit goth but couldn’t frighten a rabbit.

   As we walked, the hood Miss Mellecant gave me itched, so I took it off. There didn’t seem to be anyone around to worry over my un-shrouded self.

  “So let me get this straight,” Francisco put his hand out toward the fairy. “We’re just supposed to blindly follow Brenden to a swamp, a trap, and a cave that sounds like my last nightmare.”

     Brenden looked disgusted. “What choice do you have, old chap? If you don’t like my plan, I suggest you figure out another way.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh yes, I think trotting off Hangman’s Cliff would be the perfect choice. It’s to your right. Just follow the gravel road.”

     “Nice,” Francisco sneered, glaring.

     “Hey, you two,” I said, “could we call a truce? The journey’s going to be hard enough without you bickering all the time.”

     Brenden floated toward us and said, “Then tell your boyfriend to keep his trap shut and you won’t be bothered by a thing.”

    “You’re impossible.” I raised my hands then hobbled away from the two morons.

     Stumbling over my big feet, Ferbish rushed over to me. “Easy,” he said, winking one of his dark blue eyes.

“Wish ye got yer wings out do ye?” he asked.

     “Wings?” I asked, confused.

     “Aye,” Grigor interjected. In his shroud, he was a bit shorter than Ferbish and plump but solid like he could have been a football player in my world. “You gots the wingspan of a giant eagle, ye do.”

     Ferbish gave Grigor a look. “Nawr, you dolt. A dragon! She gots the wingspan of a dragon or did ye forget that ye wet yer pants when ye almost turned to ash by her the other night.”

     “Awr, do ye have to remind me, Ferbish?” The teen boy rubbed the back of his neck and sulked.

      “Enough of yer yammering.” Ratskin the dwarf waved his hand. “Or I’ll poke yer voice boxes right out of their skins. Nurse Mellecant didn’t pay me good gold to suffer this nonsense. I’ve got a wife and children waiting for me, and I’d rather cozy up to a warm fire with them, taking the gold besides and not open yer fool gate.”

     “Why do we need you anyway, dwarf?” Brenden asked, curtly. “Just give us your key and we’ll let you on your way.”

     “Heh.” He shook his head. “Key’s worth more than any of your lives to me. I won it off one of the queen’s spies in a game of Stone Crow. She don’t even know I gots it. Ye think I’m going to award it to you pups?”

     He laughed, shaking his large belly as he waddled along.

     Holly sidled up to Pigeon. “So, where do you live?” Holly was great with strangers. In half a minute, she’d learn about their deepest secrets and favorite songs.

    Pigeon’s magenta eyes widened as if she’d seen a ghost.

She ran up ahead of our pack, not saying a word.

    “Weird,” Holly said, giving me a sidelong glance. “Okay, Athena, your friends and relatives are officially in the hopelessly freaky category. Sorry to say that.”  

     “Oh, don’t I know it,” I answered. “And I’m the queen freak.”  

    Holly squeezed me in aside hug. “Aw, don’t say that. I was just joking. So you have a witch for a grandmother, an elf-witch for a mother and you happen to be able to breathe fire sometimes. Is that so horrible?”

     I shook my head and sighed.

     “Look on the bright side,” she went on, “you can make s’mores whenever you want with that breath of yours. Pretty handy.” She plastered on a huge smile. That made me laugh.    

     After a few hours of walking, the tops of my feet felt as if someone had hammered them with bricks.

My body was definitely not used to walking. The hobbling only worsened until I was faltering.

Brenden loitered in the back and kept encouraging me to keep up, but that didn’t help me go any faster. I knew he was worried we wouldn’t make it to the gate by sundown.

It also didn’t help that the cobblestone streets had turned into a sporadic stone path, leading into a dark, ominous forest. The branches clicked together in the chilly wind, sending ripples down my back. When I thought I’d have to stop and rest, Ferbish pushed his ass in front of me and said, “Here, Miss.”

    I pulled my head back and asked, “You want me to spank you?”

    Grigor howled and doubled over, he was laughing so hard. “Oh…hee…if you only knew!”

     I put my hand on my hip. “Um…no.”

     Ferbish stood up and poked Grigor’s head.

     Grigor stumbled away, muttering curses.

     “That’s fer gettin’ smart,” Ferbish hollered. He turned and smiled at me. “Yer tired, aren’t ye?Climb on me back. Go ahead. Don’t be shy. I don’t work in the mines all day fer nothing. Gots me a strong back if I do say so meself.”

     I had two choices. Either ride on Ferbish’s large back feeling embarrassed or I could keep walking as tiny knives drilled into the tops of my feet. I knew my answer.

     “Okay,” I said, climbing awkwardly onto Ferbish, “but this is only until we get to the marsh.”

     “Hold on tight!” Ferbish cried, charging toward the front of our pack.

     I whooped, catching Brenden’s shocked face.

He chased after us. “Gargoyle, put her down this instance!”

    Ferbish laughed and galloped ahead until we couldn’t hear Brenden’s protests any longer. I felt like a little kid again, riding on my dad.

This gave me a pang, longing for home. I sighed.

     “What’s the matter, Miss?” Ferbish asked, slowing to a walk. The jarring movement reminded me of when I once rode a camel at a Christmas festival.

     “Are you sure I’m not too heavy? I’m like huge now.” I didn’t want to talk about my family. Too much had happened and it would make me sadder and miss them more.

      “Nawr. You’re as light as a harpswing.”

     “A harpswing. I’ve heard one of the fairies say something about that. What is it?”

     Ferbish didn’t say anything for a moment then he said, “They grow in the full moon’s light and last for only a day. They’re the closest thing we have to fairies, Miss. Tiny. No bigger than me thumb. And thin. Their wings are in the shape of a harp. That’s where they gets their name.” Ferbish turned his head and smiled up at me. “And they bring great good luck, they do. I’ll catch one for you, Miss. If’n ye wants me to.”

     “Sure. I’d love to see one.”

     “When the full moon rises, I’ll make a present of it.” He winked.

     My face grew warm. I had no idea why I was blushing. I only wanted to see a tiny Under Realm fairy. They sounded sweet and I hadn’t seen anything sweet in the Under Realm yet. Myself included. But if I thought about it, Ferbish was sweet.

     The wind rose up, whipping at my hair. The tree limbs clattered like a chime of bones.

     Ferbish’s back grew taut and he stood still. “Do ye smell somefing?”

        He sniffed the air like a dog on a scent.

      I breathed in deeply, sensing moisture as if a thunderstorm was about to erupt. “Rain?”

      “No,” Ferbish muttered, thick with worry. “Myrrh Mist.”

Next update will be Wednesday, December 26th. 

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