Tunic’s face planted into the dirt as Felan removed his dagger. “You’re no brother of mine,” Felan spat.
“No elf would side with a human,” Felina agreed.
Tunic mumbled something indecipherable so Felan grabbed his head and pulled it out of the dirt. Felan forced my friend to repeat his words.
Felan and Felina wretched in horror as Tunic declared his mixed blood. Felan released Tunic’s head and wiped his hand on his trousers as though Tunic’s heritage was contagious.
“A curse on your mother or father, whoever let that abomination happen,” Felina spat.
So they were disgusted with human blood, eh? Felina was distracted and I took advantage of it. In a rapid motion, I seized the knife at my throat and closed my hand around it. The blade dug into my hand, but I forced it from my throat. I ducked from Felina’s half embrace and seized her arm with my free hand. Holding her weapon arm still, I released the blade and slapped my hand onto her face. Her free hand, which came up to attack me, stopped. It redirected to in an effort to wipe the blood oozing from my hand onto her face. I swiped my hand downward, letting the fluid stain her mouth, chin, neck, and collar.
As I had predicted, Felina cared more about purging the fluid from her person than detaining me. I sprinted to Tunic’s downed form and rolled him over.
Tunic’s wound was gashing blood rapidly. I wrenched my arms out of my pack and let it drop to the ground. From within it nearly empty storage I withdrew my old nightgown. I tied the sleeves tightly around Tunic’s torso in my closest estimate of a bandage.
It was not enough though. He had already lost too much blood. It trickled to the earth, staining the ground. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I can’t save you this time.”
“Go wash yourself,” Felan commanded his sister as she whimpered and fumed about my treatment. They would not be as kind killing me as they had been to Tunic.
Felan thrust something at me. “Pick it up,” he roared in a battle fury. It was my father’s hunting knife.
I obeyed, retrieving the blade. Our eyes met, sharing expressions of malice. He advanced holding his dagger out in a perfect offensive form.
I slid my father’s knife into its sheath. “I won’t fight you,” I told him. “I don’t know why you hate humans. Or why elves and humans bear each other animosity. But too many people have fought and died because of it. I won’t be further fuel for this quarrel. You may kill me, but I will not battle you.”
My recalcitrant stance did not intimidate Felan in the least. His eyes flashed and I saw a kinship to the dire wolf in their hateful orbs. I refused to think of him that way though. He was not an unthinking beast.
He lunged at me and I leapt back. Just because I wouldn’t fight, didn’t mean I wouldn’t attempt to flee death. As long as I lived, there was still hope someone could stop Ezebel.
His next strike aimed for my belly. I arched my abdomen nearly out of reach, but his dagger drew a thin line across my tunic. I jogged backward, seeking as much distance between us as possible. His arm pumped forward again, this time at my face. I collapsed backward and did a roll on the ground unintentionally. From my lower position, I propped my weight on my arms and swung a leg powerfully at his shins. My kick sent him downward, giving me time to spring to my feet. As he steadied himself with his opposite hand, I kicked at his weapon arm. The dagger went flying from his grasp.
“Ha,” he chuckled maliciously. I did not wait for his next move, but continued my backward flight. His hand reached at his hip and finally drew his short sword. I gulped. I may have been able to dodge his dagger, but not the sword. The bastard didn’t even bother to chase after me. Sure, he followed me, but he did so at a menacingly slow pace. It was almost as though he knew something would halt my progress. I moved my head to the side to peer at what was behind me, but with my pause, Felan came charging after me. He swung his blade in an overhead cut that would have sliced my skull in twain.
There was something behind me. I felt my calves press against a knee-high wall. Alas, I had been moving too fast and inertia did not relent. My legs stopped at the wall but my body did not. Down I went, over the wall and into a… well?
As my legs slid free of the wall, I felt a rush of wind from Felan’s missed strike. His blade clanged against the stonewall, sparks flying.
The blade hadn’t killed me. But I was tumbling backward into a well. I screamed as I plunged into the darkness of the abyss. I tucked my body in as tightly as I could. I did not know how close I was to the walls and I had no desire to learn at my current velocity. I waited to hit the bottom. Moments passed and still I did not strike water or stone. I opened my eyes, which I had sealed shut.
I had stopped. Mid-air.
My body, of its own volition, began levitating. I moved closer to the shaft of light at the top of the well. My arms reached out, attempting to grab a stone or something in case the spell should wear off and send me screaming back down. I could not reach one though, even when I fluttered my arms like a swimmer’s stroke I did not progress horizontally. I rose out of the well and over the wall to be dropped unceremoniously on the ground.
I’d forgotten the danger that was Felina and Felan in my mystification. But, glancing at Felan’s sword alongside me, I remembered my peril. I’d no idea why he abandoned the blade. If he wished me to take it and battle, I was firm in denying him the privilege. But when I attempted to scramble to my feet, I was held to the ground by magic.
“Someone has been spilling blood in Kelda’s domain,” a powerful voice interrupted my efforts. I turned my head to see Felan springing away.
I was no longer alone with the elven twins. A woman with hair cropped closely to her head, garbed in a garment that served as both trousers and shirt had joined our party. She stood erect with her right leg crossed in front of the left and her toes pointed like a dancer. Her arms extended to her sides, fingers splayed in an elegant pose.
Felina, who had returned from washing my blood off her face, retreated to her brother’s side. “Who are you?” she called to the newcomer.
“How did you take my sword?” Felan asked.
The woman did not move, though her eyes flicked to Felina. “Who spilled the blood?” she asked in return, gesturing to Tunic.
Felan reached around his sister’s hip and drew her blade. Felina stepped behind her brother, allowing him room for an attack. It was a foolish move on his part, but I suppose he could not feel the strength of the woman’s magic.
“It was you, then?” the woman asked Felan. “It was you who desecrated Kelda’s domain by battling here?”
“And what if I did?” Felan questioned.
“What will you do?” Felina, bolstered by her brother’s insolence, jutted out her chin defiantly.
The woman allowed her head to turn towards the pair. She evaluated them with a thorough glance and found them lacking. Her peering eyes rested on me next. “What has happened here?” she asked me.
I was intimidated by the woman, but not so much so as to be paralyzed. “My friend and I were sent by the great faerie Imena to seek Kelda. We are attempting to destroy Ezebel, but we were attacked and my friend stabbed,” I explained rapidly.
“Don’t meddle in our affairs,” Felina warned.
“We are blessed by Ezebel,” Felan added.
At the mention of the monster, the woman rolled her eyes. “Come with me,” she told the elven twins. They exchanged looks of incredulity but did not move. Again, the woman rolled her eyes.
The woman advanced three paces toward Felan. She walked in a graceful toe-heel step, almost as though she were floating. Felan moved his sword from an offensive posture to one of defense while Felina skirted away.
Slowly the woman reached to her hip and unfastened a large brown sachet. She reached her hands into it and grasped something. Her hand withdrew from the sachet and she flung its contents at Felina. Glimmering dust attached itself to the elf maiden.
The victim of this prank, Felina, looked at the sparkling dust distastefully and attempted to brush it off. “What have you done, you wretch?” Felina chided. The woman watched her with rapt attention. Felina, who was vigorously rubbing the dust, abruptly halted. She glanced at her hand as though it were a foreign object. I could not discern what caused her to freeze. Then Felina screamed.
“What is it?” Felan demanded of his sister. “What did you do to her?” he demanded of the woman. Without waiting for a reply, he threw himself forward, sword flashing.
The woman seemed not to care about his weapon. She permitted him to advance. His first strike came down vertically; she danced to the side. His next came at a diagonal, she dropped on an angle so it slid over her frame. He lunged and she used a backhand spring to distance herself. He slashed low; she leapt over it.
Felina screamed again, drawing all our attention. Her hand was covered in a fuchsia globular substance. Similar globules were also evident on her body. She flailed her limbs trying to brush it off, but wherever she moved, the unctuous substance spread to accommodate further captivity.
“What did you do?” Felan raged again. His voice was hoarse with fear. His strikes came faster and more erratic now. Not that his opponent cared. She pranced around him as though he were moving at half his speed. I had trouble discerning where to look for I was awestruck by both sights. Felina’s torso was now covered, leaving her legs and neck as the only moveable limbs. Apparently, the substance had a petrifying consequence for the body beneath the fuchsia haze was unmoving. On the other hand, the battle between Felan and his opponent was mystifying. I had never seen a real battle before and I was mesmerized by the speed and fury. It was clear who was to be victorious though. It did not seem to matter that the woman lacked a weapon; she was outpacing Felan tenfold.
I glanced back to Felina. Her body was completely buried in the substance now. It hardened into a crystal shape and as it did so, it became limpid. Felina remained frozen, her face a rictus of horror inside the crystal.
Then it was Felan’s turn. The woman began to advance. Felan struck at her, but she slipped past his strike and entered his defences. He sprinted backward, the way he had made me retreat earlier, but she moved with him. Her hand reached into her sachet and he panicked. He growled a feral sound and tried again to skewer her. She moved to the side and he struck to her knees. She leapt over his sword and then stomped her feet down, taking his blade with her step. Felan stumbled forward as he attempted to retain a handle on his blade, but it slipped from his grip. She dusted his head with the glittering substance that would turn him also into a crystal.
Knowing of his impending doom, she stooped down and retrieved his sword. Then she moved towards me. I was still detained by her magic, unable to move.
She paused beside me and I cringed thinking I was next, but she swept down to retrieve Felan’s sword that lay beside me. “Such useless items,” she commented and thrust them into the well.
I braced myself for a dusting, but she did not even seem to notice me. She pranced over to the twins and pressed a hand on each of their crystals. At her touch, they levitated and moved to follow behind her. Without a word to me, she left with the crystals following.
As she disappeared, I felt the magic release. My hand clutched to my collar in relief. I’d no idea what had happened, but I was breathing and my opponents gone.
Tunic was conscious when I reached him. “You’re alive…” he whispered.
The fragility of his voice caused tears to come to my eyes. “I don’t know how,” I told him. “There was this woman and she took Felan and Felina. I was falling down a well but she stopped me. Now they’re all gone.”
“Kelda…” Tunic reminded me.
I brushed the tears from my face. “Right. I need to find her. Maybe she can come here and save you.”
“No…” Tunic tried to reach for me. I stopped moving. He didn’t want me to go. How could I abandon him? I’d no idea how far it was to Kelda’s pool. Would I let him die alone?
“I just saved you,” I whispered. “Why did this have to happen?”
I’d so much more to say to him. It was better that he was conscious this time, but that was little consolation. I’d thought he was safe; how could this happen twice. I’d thought we’d win. Something. Anything but this.
“Would you please stop bleeding everywhere,” a tired voice interrupted my grief. It was the woman and she’d returned alone. She approached with her graceful toe-heel steeps and knelt beside Tunic. She flicked her wrist and my nightgown, tied around Tunic’s abdomen, fell from its place. The woman wriggled her hand in a motion like a needle stitching and as she did, Tunic’s open wound began to knit together.
“That’s better,” the woman sighed as her work finished.
I wanted to ask her who she was and what she had done with Felan and Felina, but she terrified me. I dared not even embrace Tunic. I suspect I was more intimidated by her than I was the colossal Ezebel. There was something ruthless about this woman. “Don’t worry,” she said as though my thoughts were transparent. “They won’t cause you any more harm. They were not yours to dispense justice to so they have been taken to Imena for the time being.”
She’d made it to Imena’s and back already? Or perhaps she had sent them with someone else. My thoughts were interrupted as Tunic groaned in pain. She’d just healed him; why was he in pain? I looked down and saw his wound had reopened. The woman also noted this. She frowned and flitted her finger in the sewing motion again. The wound resealed.
Tunic gritted his teeth; though the wound was closed, he was still obviously in agony. “Kelda…” he repeated in his strained tone.
“I have to find her,” I said to myself, drawing on my map.
“This should not be,” the woman commented concerning Tunic’s dehiscence. Thrice the wound had refused to suture. “The blade must have been imbued with Ezebel’s power.”
There was only one option left. “Please help me carry him to Kelda’s fountain,” I asked the woman. “He is needed to destroy Ezebel.”
“The fountain will do you no good,” she replied, standing.
“The faerie can heal him,” I insisted. We had been healed many times through faerie magic.
“It is beyond my skill.”
I blinked. What did she say? I evaluated the woman again. She was my height with short brown hair, like that of a boy. Her garment, quite peculiar, formed like trousers but joined with the shirt. But what she had just said sounded like… “You are Kelda?” I inquired.
The woman flashed me an annoying look. “Of course. Who else would defend my domain?”
Kelda could have been a normal human, except for her exceptional magic. I said as much, “Forgive me, but you do not look like a faerie.”
“And you do not seem to bear the wit necessary to best Ezebel,” she countered. “But you know as well as I that appearances are deceptive.”
I didn’t mean to say it, but I suppose my tongue had still not yet been tamed. “Do you have no wings then?” All the other faeries I had met had wings and emanated magical light. Aside from Ezebel, none of them had ever perched on the ground as Kelda did.
“Do you lack a brain? I cannot see yours,” she countered again.
“I am sorry,” I bowed. “I did not mean to offend. I suppose I am unlearned in magic.”
“Indeed you are,” Kelda remarked. “But, alas, so am I. Your friend’s wound is beyond my skill. He will have to be taken to Kenna.”
“But how?” I asked. I could not imagine dragging him all the way to the next faerie fountain. Not again.
Kelda put a finger to her lip in a gesture of thought. “I would take him myself to Kenna, but she will not have that.” Kelda faced me sternly, “You see, Kenna will not appear before anyone. She requires you to trust her without her being seen. And she will not receive Bramwell from me because I have no vested interest in him. Yes, I know who he is. You will take him to Kenna and swim to the center of her pool. There you will release him and return to shore, departing from that area. If Kenna deems you faithful, she will restore him.”
“And if she does not?”
Kelda did not answer. “But first we need see that he does not perish.” She reached into her sachet again and dropped a pinch of the substance onto Tunic’s wound.
“What are you doing?” I squealed not knowing the stuff was harmless.
“It will stop the blood from exiting,” Kelda calmly replied. “Now come to my fountain, for I must give you the remedy to apply before you send him to Kenna.” Kelda gestured for me to follow her.
I was hesitant to leave Tunic, fearing his whole body would be engulfed in the fuchsia crystal. “You still do not trust me,” Kelda sighed. “Have you the time to expend waiting for that to harden? I think not. Now come along child.”
She made a convincing argument. And the globular substance did not seem to be expanding too drastically. I rocked back and forth on my heels, eventually deciding it best to pace after Kelda. She led me to the well and paused. “This is your fountain?” I asked.
“Is there an issue with that?” she asked.
I shook my head, afraid I might get dusted too.
She twiddled her fingers over the well and suddenly it exploded with all manner of paraphernalia. There were rings, books, jars, and magic wands. I espied Felan and Felina’s swords as well as some bombs, a set of medallions, and three pendants. There were pouches, packets, and empty bottles. Heart shaped rocks and arrows abounded. All these floated above us in a constellation of Kelda’s collection. She wandered amidst it all. Dodging a bug net and pushing aside a fishing rod until she grasped a spring loaded hook device. She considered it a moment and then shook her head and pushed it back into its orbit. At last, she found what she was searching for. “You understand why I could not allow you to fall into my fountain now, right?” she told me as she instructed her possessions to descend down the darkened shaft. I did not respond but she continued anyways. “Now,” she handed me a balm, “Use this on the jelly and it will disintegrate.”
“I will,” I promised her.
“As for your transportation, I suppose Bramwell’s horse will do.”
“The beast is likely no closer than Dinsmore,” I explained apologetically.
“Well, I can remedy that,” Kelda smiled. “I may not know how to deal with healing cursed wounds, but I know a thing or two about animals.” She put her fingers into her mouth and blew a loud whistle. From the well burst dozens of sprites. They circled their mistress and then scattered to the north. Kelda’s gaze followed her minions, but came to rest on a speck in the sky.
“You see it, do you not?” she inquired to me.
I followed her gaze. “Ezebel?” I guessed.
Kelda’s countenance became grave. “We must hasten you.”
“Wait,” I entreated Kelda. “Why don’t you come with us to face Ezebel? Surely, you are more powerful than we are. And Imena said that a human couldn’t defeat Ezebel. But you are a faerie. You know how to fight and you wield magic. We will find victory if you aid us.”
Kelda’s face grew soft, the way a mother’s does when she must release her children to their own decisions. “You understand,” Kelda spoke. “Do you not?” Her hand touched my face. “It cannot be a faerie to stop Ezebel. She has become a monster controlled by her own hatred. Those who share her hate may wield her power as your foes have.”
“But she is a faerie too,” I protested. “Ought you to leave her destruction in the hands of others? Is it not the faeries’ responsibility to take care of their own?”
“Sweet child,” Kelda sighed, “Ezebel may be a faerie, but her power is not a faerie’s power.”
“Are you saying it is a human or elf power?” I asked.
“Come,” Kelda gestured for me to follow her towards Tunic. “You are not a warrior. Correct?”
I nodded enthusiastically. If she had seen me earlier, she would not have asked the question. I was, and would never be, a warrior. “I am the daughter of a shopkeeper.”
“Then why has Imena commissioned you to defeat Ezebel?” Kelda asked rhetorically.
“She did not commission me. I decided to fight the monster myself. Imena gave me information and aided me, but she did not seek me out.”
“Your desire to end the evil is part of it,” Kelda admitted. “But there is more to it than that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You will discover it yourself,” Kelda smiled. “You may look and speak as though you lack wit, but I know it is there. And now, your ride should be arriving.” As she spoke, the damn horse trotted to us.
I frowned at Kelda’s dissatisfying answer, but pushed my frustration from my mind. There was nothing to be done about it. I had to find Kenna’s pool and then face Ezebel. “He must have been following us,” I remarked concerning the horse. “But we have travelled day and night, mostly by river. The beast must be exhausted.”
Kelda petted Tunic’s horse affectionately. “He has done no such thing. But my sprites have granted him the ability to run as though he were in flight.” Kelda led the horse to its master’s side and the beast knelt so she could lift Tunic atop his mount.
“I almost forgot!” she gasped. “You are weary, allow me to restore you.” As with Imena, her words caused sprites to arise from her fountain. They fluttered over to us and encircled us with their restorative mana.
“Bless you,” I exhaled as the weight of exhaustion I had not realised was oppressing me abruptly vanished. Tunic also revitalized.
“Kelda, thank you,” he breathed with a weak smirk.
“You will be fine,” Kelda assured him.
I pulled my map out to determine where Kenna’s pool was. There seemed to be none nearby. Alas, I could not read the script. “One of you will have to show me where the pool is.” I moved the map towards Kelda and Tunic. The horse, not appreciating my proximity, skittered away. Kelda frowned at the beast, but turned her attention to the map. She pointed to an unmarked pool of water. “That is Kenna’s pool,” she informed me. “It is likely a fifteen minute ride from your village.”
“Really?” The location she had pointed to was none other than the pool I spent so many summers swimming in with Ladd. “I know the place well.”
“Then make haste, for I see Ezebel is nearing,” Kelda gestured for me to mount the horse.
My brow wrinkled. Did I tell her of the horse’s fickle nature? Perhaps Kelda had power over even the horse’s mind. I approached again. The stubborn beast fled my approach.
“What has gotten into that animal,” Kelda exclaimed. I moved toward the horse again and it whinnied in warning. I backed away with my hands held aloft in surrender.
“It is not fond of me,” I replied.
“This will not do,” Kelda groaned. She scolded the horse to its face. She held it while I attempted to approach. The beast would not have it though. “Of all the impudence,” Kelda scowled. “I’ve never seen such odd behaviour. What did you do to the beast?” she asked, growing suspicious.
She had said she was crafty with animals and I figured she rather fancied them so I had no desire to appear as abusive. “I do not know. She has never liked me. I always assumed she was jealous.”
“This will not do at all. Why, Bramwell may fall from her back without support.”
“I will manage,” Tunic assured her in his weakened tone.
“Are you certain?”
“There is little choice now.”
“Very well,” Kelda put her fingers to her lips and whistled once more. More sprites appeared to encircle their mistress. She whispered to them and they obeyed her command. Splitting into two groups, the sprites attached themselves to my boots. “Hurry and run alongside them,” she instructed me. “I pray you will be triumphant! Now go,” She smacked the horse’s rump and it sped off.
Tunic clung to his horse’s mane, but he began to slide to the side. I had not the time to offer a farewell to Kelda, but dashed to catch him and steady him.
Blessed as my boots were, I hardly felt my feet touch the ground. I easily sped alongside Tunic’s horse, supporting my friend when he shifted too far.
Kelda had sent us on a southeastern course. We reached Glass River moments later. I took us south along the bank, knowing it was passable for a horse from this distance. While we were running, I noted a reflection in our aptly named body of water. Above us flew the horrid dragon bound to destroy my home.
“Hyaahh,” I yelled to the horse, smacking its rump to make it to hasten. We’d not make it in time at this rate. But the dragon veered west. It must have sighted another quarry. Was Myrtle parallel to us? Or was it further north by now?
“We’re not far now,” I cried as I recognized our position. I’d spent my third night not far from here. I felt a prickly sensation within my skin. We were going home! We were almost there. We passed the bend in the river where I had sought to hide my trail, but which Tunic had discerned nevertheless. We accelerated beyond the locale where I had hid from Rowan and his father and later the place where I had sheared my hair.
I altered our route, taking us further inland to a trail easier for the horse to ascend. Though, it was not the horse I was concerned for; it could have managed fine. But I did not wish to see Tunic waver uncomfortably at a rocky ascent. We passed the hill, which bordered the northern shore of Kenna’s pool about dinner hour. My mind, however, was not on food, despite our days without partaking. I helped Tunic slide off the horse alongside Kenna’s pool.
There were no markings to identify this as Kenna’s domain either on my map or around. It felt strange. I called out her name, “Kenna, please heal my friend.” I tried not to be concerned that there was no reply; Kelda had said there would be none.
“Ready?” I inquired of Tunic.
He nodded and I briefly saw the glimmer in his eyes that usually accompanied his eye rolling. We removed his pack and laid it alongside the pool.
“Come find me,” I instructed him. “I’ll be waiting for you.” Then I kissed him on the forehead as I’d done when he was a child. He’d been out of control of his destiny then, too.
I withdrew the balm Kelda had given me and applied it to the fuchsia substance sealing Tunic’s wound. The balm made it grow gelatinous and I could scrape it from his abdomen. But as it released its hold on him, Tunic’s wound grew worse. He yelped in pain; something he’d not done yet. “Shhh,” I tried to hush him as I worked. “It will soon end.”
As I scraped the last of the jelly from his wound, the blood began to flow again. Tunic screamed in agony again. Whatever Ezebel had done to Felan’s blade, it was trying to kill him now. “Hold on a bit longer,” I told Tunic.
Kelda had told me to take him to the center of the pool and release him. Ferrying my friend into the water, I choked back my fears. What if I was not found faithful? What if Kenna did not heal Tunic? What if this was the wrong pool?
Tunic grew silent; he’d fainted. I hoped it was a positive sign; something to ease his conscious awareness of the pain. But it was probably the sign of worse.
It was not a long distance to the center of the pool and once I had ferried Tunic there I didn’t know what to do. He was not conscious any longer. Kelda’s words echoed in my mind. Kenna required I have faith in her. Perhaps if I left him there she would keep him buoyant. A geyser would erupt or something. Magic would keep him aloft. I just needed to trust her. I didn’t have time to waste in pondering though. Kenna would not appear if I were around. I needed to leave before Tunic worsened beyond Kenna’s repair.
“Kenna,” I called out. “I commit him to your care.”
I stole one more kiss and then I let Tunic go. We were in the center of a pool. If he sank, he’d drown. Drowning was such a horrible way to die. But I had to release him. Kelda had said I had to.
I tried not to think about it as I swam to shore. When I reached the bank, I stopped and allowed myself a glance back. Tunic would be floating, I told myself. He would be visible. But he wasn’t. Tunic had sank below the surface while unconscious.
“Kenna,” I called to the water, “I trust you.”
Then I left him.