Chapter 3—Lady Adell’s Request
Two Hours Later
Skylar nocked the arrow into his bow and stretched the end of the bow out as hard as he could. He was a Guardian Elf from Durvana. Skylar wore a blue and green outfit, yellow bracelets, and had long, silvery, braided hair with pointy ears.
Holding his breath, he aimed carefully at the target thirty yards down the wildflower field. He steadily held that position for a few seconds, then released the arrow. The arrow zinged through the air, soaring through Skylar’s view of the snowcapped mountains, the snowy forest of Durvana, and the blue skies that formed the ceiling of the world. He braced himself for the target hit, and smiled when the arrow hit the target right in the black center.
He murmured, “Furðor,” imagining the target thirty more yards down. The target vanished out of thin air, and reappeared after a few seconds. The arrow disappeared until Skylar felt it return to his quiver. These were magical arrows created by Dagor, the noted blacksmith of the elves in Durvana.
Skylar carefully watched the target, judging how to shoot the arrow into the center of it. He had never successfully aimed an arrow at a target that far away. Despite all his years in hard battle as a Warrior Elf, his training in archery didn’t include this long of a target range. Once he grew into the elite circle of the Guardian Elf, archery was no longer the focus of elven education. Guardian Elves instead learned how to shield important people in danger. Because of this, few Guardian Elves could shoot so far away. It would be remarkable if Skylar were successful at this range.
He grabbed another arrow out of the quiver on his back, and carefully fitted the arrow into the bow. Skylar aimed again at the target, accounting for wind speed and other natural forces. He pursed his lips, and took several deep breaths. Skylar exhaled his last breath, then released the arrow.
The arrow shot into the air, releasing a faint light blue glow. After a few moments, it landed again in the center of the target.
Skylar felt like cheering, but he contained his emotions. It wouldn’t be proper for a three hundred year old elf to cheer. Still, he allowed himself a small grin. After two hundred years, his training was complete. Skylar now felt as though he could protect any royal or noble that became his charge.
Skylar murmured “Disaperen” and the target disappeared while the arrow returned to his quiver. Something caught his eye in the background. It was smoke curling up from Dagor’s blacksmith workshop. The sight reminded Skylar of his own early experiences while choosing a profession.
He looked down at his body and saw one of the burns he received while training to be a blacksmith. He was tending to a hot pot with molten metal over a fire, and some of the hot liquid fell onto his skin. Skylar had to be treated by a healer, and he chose not to continue that route. He had no interest in working with fires.
Skylar also found that he wasn’t very good at recounting tales of old from history. The stories fascinated him, but his acting skills were minimal. He knew that he could never be a great storyteller like Galendra.
Skylar turned around and started walking up the wildflower field, hearing the crunch of the wildflowers. He looked down and saw a small lavender bloom. Smiling to himself, he picked up the wildflower and brought it up to his nose, hearing it snap. Lavender flowers were calming, and they helped promote sleep. He recalled that from his brief education as a medicine man. He fainted during his first surgery, and withdrew from the program shortly afterwards. Later, he turned to warrior training, and found that he excelled at it.
He magnified the smell of the bloom with the spell:
Skylar inhaled deeply. The fragrance made him relive a memory of a time when it was winter in Durvana two hundred years ago. He was standing in a cottage with a vase of lavender blossoms on a table. There was a crackling fireplace, and plain furniture. He took a few steps over to a window, and saw a glistening snowy landscape with a frozen lake.
The door swung open in the memory, and Mirana walked in wearing a shimmery green skirt, white top, and bracelets. She had a white belt and yellow streaks running through her brown hair. Mirana smiled at Skylar, looking at him tenderly.
“We haven’t much time. The battle will begin soon.”
Skylar sighed. “I just wish that this war wasn’t necessary. We shouldn’t need to hide.”
Mirana walked over to him and stroked his cheek. “Patience. Soon, the war will be over, and we will be together.”
“Skylar! Skylar!” a voice cried.
The scream brought him back to the present. His memory was shattered. A quick look revealed that he was still in the field, holding a lavender flower. With a sigh, he realized the memory of Mirana was just a dream.
Skylar turned to see Galendra, the storyteller, running up as fast as she could, wearing a brown dress. Skylar saw her wrinkle marks, showing the signs of aging. Her eyes were huge with panic.
He instantly knew that something was wrong. Galendra always had this mischievous look when she was telling a story, never one of terror. Without knowing what he was getting into, he asked, “What is it, Galendra?”
Galendra stopped before him and breathed heavily, catching her breath. She leaned on him for support. “Something…terrible has happened. Lady Adell sent Chabah, the phoenix, to give me a message earlier. She needs to talk to you right away. Gruffond, the griffin, is waiting for you.”
The message concerned Skylar because of some rumors that were circulating in Evindoore. Apparently, there was a Witch destroying the land. Some of the stories claimed that Nakendra had gone bad, and people were now starting to call her the Blue Witch because of her dramatic change in eye color from hazel to blue eyes.
Did these rumors about the Blue Witch affect Lady Adell at all?
Skylar knew he had to meet her. She could be in serious trouble. “I will go right now,” he answered earnestly before running up the field. At the top of the small hill, he saw his small cottage, and the griffin pawing at the ground. Skylar couldn’t help but smile as he saw that Gruffond was swishing his tail back and forth impatiently. He knew that Gruffond risked being criticized or banished by the few remaining griffins, due to his helping of the elves and witches, but his service was invaluable. Even though other griffins saw the role of transportation as demeaning, Gruffond enjoyed the companionship. He sought to be neutral with others, and offered to help when needed.
Gruffond huffed, “Finally! It’s about time you showed up. I’ve been waiting forever for this trip. Do you know how much time you’ve wasted? Somebody could be dead by now. I mean, really, how long does it take to run up a field of flowers?”
Skylar halted before the griffin. “Gruffond, stop. You know how you are when you get excited. I only just received the message a few moments ago.”
Gruffond shook his head back and forth. “I know. I guess I just get a little impatient.”
Skylar climbed on top of Gruffond’s back, feeling the softness of Gruffond’s golden feathers. They shined in the sun.
“All right, are you ready? Hold tight. We’re taking off!”
Gruffond bent his back legs and jumped into the air like a spring. He beat his wings up and down, allowing them to catch the air. Skylar felt himself rising through the air over Durvana.
Before long, Skylar saw the vast expanse of land that comprised Evindoore. Below him was Durvana, his homeland, along with huge fields of green and Crested Lake.
Skylar breathed in the cold air deeply, but then became extremely cold and bent down to curl his arms and face into Gruffond’s fur.
Gruffond laughed. “A little cold for you? I do that to everybody. I guess it’s a gift. I remember when I had to fly another elf just like you over to Crested Lake…”
Skylar tuned Gruffond out and watched the ground as scenes rushed passed them. He could see a dwarf diving into the ground, and a centaur galloping up the side of a rocky hill. A griffin took off into the air, and some fairies flew next to each other. He could see Mermaid Lake, although the mermaids were too small for him to spot.
Meanwhile, the Witches Village at Crested Lake grew closer. Skylar wondered if that was where Gruffond was taking him. That would fit in with the rumors of this evil Blue Witch because the witches lived there. Was Nakendra going bad, and did this affect Lady Adell at all?
Skylar prodded at Gruffond, pleading him to go quicker. Gruffond replied, “Sorry about that, but I’m going as fast as I can. Galendra insisted I fly you to Lady Adell quickly, so that’s what I’m doing. Anyway, we’re almost there now. We’re actually going down as we speak.”
Sure enough, Skylar could see the town getting clearer. He breathed a sigh of relief, realizing that he would know what was happening soon.
As Gruffond flew lower and lower, he began to slow down. Still, he warned Skylar to hold on tight. “My landings don’t tend to be the best thing about my flying.” Sure enough, it was a rough touchdown. When Gruffond landed, he bounced up again, and had to dig his feet in the ground to land. Skylar felt his hands clench into a fist in Gruffond’s fur.
“Told you. My landings aren’t great.”
Skylar unclenched his hands with some effort. “It’s okay, Gruffond. I’m glad you were here to help. I may need you later, so stay here.”
“Sure. I can do that.”
Skylar jumped off Gruffond and started walking between the rows of grey longhouses and toolsheds that made up the Witches Village. He looked around the landscape of the Village and saw brown, muddy water lapping against the shores of Crested Lake. Just the sight of the lake made Skylar shiver because of the number of diseases he thought someone could catch swimming in it. There was virtually no activity in the Village. He gazed over at the pine trees surrounding the lake and village, and compared the trees here to the ones in Durvana. These trees seemed to be the only life at the Witches Village, especially right now.
Skylar wondered how long he was going to have to wait for Lady Adell. The overall atmosphere here was somewhat depressing, not like the open, calm, and peaceful atmosphere of Skylar’s homeland. He didn’t want to be here very long. Still, all he heard was Gruffond pawing at the ground, swishing his tail, and huffing.
Suddenly, a sound in the village grabbed his attention. Someone was running quickly through the rows of longhouses. Skylar looked around, trying to find the source of the noise. Lady Adell appeared, sprinting through the Village wearing a long blue sapphire dress and carrying a basket in her arms.
She didn’t seem to realize that Skylar was waiting for her. He had to grab her shoulders to stop her. Lady Adell stopped and shook her head, coming back to reality. She quickly looked around as if searching for something. When she found nothing, she motioned at Skylar to come closer.
She whispered, “Skylar, I have a very important task for you. Do you see this basket I am holding?” She gripped the picnic basket’s white handle as if letting go meant that the world would end.
“Yes, I see, Lady Adell. But why are you holding this? Why did you demand to see me?”
Lady Adell held the basket out to Skylar and pleaded with him. “Take the basket, Skylar. Fly on Gruffond out to the Keeper’s House and give it to the Keeper. Go as fast as you can, and do not stop for anything. I cannot overestimate how important this is, Skylar.”
Skylar took the basket with a questioning look but demanded answers. “What is going on? Does this have anything to do with the Blue Witch? If it does, let me help you.” Skylar noticed that Lady Adell flinched when he mentioned the Blue Witch.
Lady Adell shook her head, and then looked him straight in the eye. “I’m sorry, Skylar, but you will have to trust me. Just do what I ask you to do. It’s safer for you if you don’t know what’s going on.”
Skylar watched Lady Adell for a few more seconds, and then took the basket. “All right. I will do this for you. But if anything happens, know that I will come back and help you, no matter if you want me to or not.”
Lady Adell pushed him towards Gruffond. “Just go Skylar. Please. I know you care, but you can’t be here. I can take care of myself.”
Skylar frowned, but nodded in acceptance. He turned away to start walking towards Gruffond. Before he reached the griffin, however, he took one final look over at Lady Adell and saw her running back through the line of houses. He hoped that he would see her again.
Skylar jogged with the basket in his hand and approached Gruffond with great misgivings. His instincts told him that something was terribly wrong. However, a promise was a promise. Skylar had to take the basket to the Keeper. Part of him wanted to peer into the basket to see what it was, but he also knew that Lady Adell didn’t want him to look inside it, so he accepted her judgment.
He climbed back onto the griffin. “All right, Gruffond. Are you up for one more journey?”
Gruffond laughed. “I’m always up for flying. Where to now?”
“We’re going to the Keeper’s House. Go as fast as you can.”
Before Gruffond took off, Skylar looked once more at the Witches Village, and heard a low growl. Considering the interaction he just had with Lady Adell, this made his stomach twist in knots with fear.
Skylar wondered if he was making the right choice to leave her, but he decided not to turn back. Lady Adell knew what she was doing. If this situation were too big for her to handle, she would have asked for his help instead of telling him to take a basket to the Keeper. He was sure of it.
Skylar and Gruffond rose into the sky. It was harder for Skylar to grip Gruffond’s body this time because he was trying to hold onto Lady Adell’s basket. He had difficulty maintaining a comfortable position on the griffin’s back.
Skylar heard in the sky a large “Ca-Caw! Ca-Caw!” He looked behind him and saw a large crow coming towards them. He yelled, “Look out, Gruffond!”
Gruffond turned his head to see the crow. “What the-.” He tried to swerve to avoid the crow, but the bird hit the left side of Gruffond’s head with talons flashing.
Gruffond lost his sense of control. He almost flipped before he could steady himself. Skylar barely managed to maintain his hold on Gruffond, but to his horror, realized that he dropped the basket in the attack.
“Gruffond! The basket!”
At Skylar’s mention, Gruffond peeked to see the basket falling to the ground, and made a quick nosedive. Skylar felt his stomach heave as they rushed down through the air. The world was turned upside down. They twirled in the sky as Gruffond swerved to avoid the giant crow. The basket landed in Skylar’s lap, and he held onto it tightly as if letting go would mean his own demise.
The crow changed his flight course to fly directly into the middle of the griffin’s face.
Gruffond cried out to Skylar, “I can’t hold on much longer! You have to do something!”
Gruffond was able to level out by stretching his wings out, but the crow was diving. His talons were outstretched towards Gruffond’s eyes. If the crow struck, Gruffond would lose his sight, and the two would go tumbling to the ground. Skylar had to do something, but he was holding the basket.
Skylar quickly examined Gruffond’s body looking for anything that would help attack the crow. The sight of Gruffond’s large neck and upper back gave Skylar an idea. Perhaps if he somehow tied the basket to Gruffond’s neck temporarily, he could do something about that crow.
Skylar placed the basket onto Gruffond’s neck, causing the griffon to question, “What are you doing to my back?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Skylar answered. “Just focus on flying.”
Skylar thought of a small rope around Gruffond’s neck. He said, “Tiegan,” and a rope appeared around the neck. Skylar intertwined the ends of the rope around the basket, and tied them together to ensure that the basket was secure. The basket would not hold for long on Gruffond’s neck, but it would give Skylar just enough time to deal with the crow.
Skylar pulled the bow off his back with one arm and grabbed an arrow with the other. With great speed, he placed the arrow into the bow, took aim, and murmured, “Dagor, let your arrows fly true.” He fired the arrow at the crow, which struck the crow in the breast, causing it flash a brilliant blue. The crow cried out, and tumbled to the ground.
Gruffond congratulated Skylar. “You did it!”
“Yes, well, at least the dangers over,” Skylar replied. He pulled his right arm through the bow so it was resting against his back again, and the arrow returned to the quiver. Skylar put his hands around the basket and said “Remarvre” to detach the ropes from Gruffond’s neck. The ropes disappeared, and Skylar gripped the handles again.
“How mean! He has serious issues…,” Gruffond remarked. “He could have killed us!”
Skylar tried to find the crow, but it was no longer in sight. It appeared that the arrow stopped it. “I’m afraid that the crow meant to do exactly that.”
“Kill us!” moaned Gruffond. “Why? What did we do?”
“I think it’s something to do with the basket I’m carrying. Somebody wants it, and they’re willing to do anything to get it.”
Gruffond replied, “I never knew a little basket could cause such trouble.”
Gruffond and Skylar continued on their journey to the Keeper’s House without any further interruptions, and Skylar was able to get more comfortable on Gruffond’s back. If he wasn’t so worried about Lady Adell, he might have enjoyed the journey. It was quite pleasant to look out over Evindoore and view the landscape of this vast land.
This feeling, however, was short lived, as Gruffond and Skylar saw the gloomy, grey Keeper’s House in the distance. The House was really a big mansion with two levels, an attic with a domed roof, and many irregularly shaped windows. A dark pine tree forest thrived before the house. As they flew closer, they saw that the house grounds contained a garden and tool shed.
Skylar clenched the basket closer and felt his stomach twist again in anxiety. He recalled the look of urgency in Lady Adell’s face, and the increasing rumors. It was obvious that something was happening. He wondered if his life would ever be the same again.
As Gruffond flew down to the house, Skylar realized that he had to do something about the griffin’s landing so that he didn’t lose the basket. He tried to smooth it out by saying a brief spell.
Gruffond slowed down as he approached the ground. However, he still bounced up, causing Skylar to almost lose the basket again.
“Sorry about that…” Gruffond said quietly.
Skylar made no comment as he climbed down from Gruffond’s back. His spell hadn’t helped much. He heard the door creak open and looked up at the house. He heard footsteps, and a white haired man wearing a gray cloak and holding a gray staff walked out. The man’s eyes were wide with astonishment.
The man waited for Skylar to speak. Skylar eventually realized that the man was waiting for him to start and asked, “Are you the Keeper?”
The man replied, “Yes. The more important question is, who are you?”
Skylar walked to the house, holding out the basket. “My name is Skylar. Lady Adell told me to give this to you. She acted as though it was a matter of life and death.”
The Keeper took the basket. “Did she say anything about what I’m supposed to do with this basket?”
Skylar shook his head. “I asked her what was happening, but she wouldn’t say.”
The Keeper examined Skylar intently, and perked his head over to the woods as if hearing something. Skylar followed his gaze, but saw nothing. He could feel his heart beating in his chest, waiting for the moment when something would emerge from the woods. The Keeper looked back at Skylar.
“Very well. I will take the basket. See if Lady Adell needs help.”
The Keeper turned around, taking the basket with him and making Skylar wonder what the old man was going to do. After all, he didn’t even know the Keeper’s name.
“Wait!” he proclaimed. “Where are you taking the basket? I don’t even know who you are!”
The Keeper looked back at Skylar and smiled. “My name is Rasheed. I am going to take the basket somewhere safe. You needn’t worry. Everything is under control.”
The Keeper went back into the house, leaving Skylar alone. Skylar stood motionless for a second, waiting for the Keeper to come back. When he didn’t, Skylar decided to return to Crested Lake so he could help Lady Adell.
As he walked back to Gruffond, he heard a noise like sticks breaking in the forest. He tried to look into the trees, but saw nothing. This was it. He could feel it. He knew that whatever came out of the woods would be unwanted and potentially dangerous. He almost didn’t want it to happen, but he knew he couldn’t prolong the inevitable. Skylar stood his ground…waiting for the moment when his world would crash.
A man strolled out of the forest, making what seemed to Skylar like a dramatic entrance. He looked very rugged, with muscles rippling, long brown hair that hadn’t been brushed in a long time, and a straggly beard.
Skylar breathed a small sigh of relief. He knew that the man was named Tobias, and that he was married to Nakendra. Maybe Tobias knew what was going on.
However, this feeling quickly passed when Skylar noticed the murderous look on Tobias’s face. He was ready to kill Skylar. It seemed ironic that he didn’t have a weapon in his hand. Skylar found his heart pounding in fear for his life.
“What did you do to my wife? I know you and Lady Adell did something to her.”
Skylar was lost for words. He was expecting Tobias to say something about Lady Adell and the basket. Skylar uttered the only words he could think of: “I have no idea what you are talking about. I haven’t seen Nakendra in ages.” This was true. Skylar hadn’t seen Nakendra in a few years since they were working together for a short time at Crested Lake.
Tobias, however, was not amused. If anything, he seemed to grow angrier. He scoffed, saying “Oh, don’t play dumb, Skylar. I know you did something to my wife. You and Lady Adell… My wife is dead because of you two.”
Tobias was inching forward towards him. Skylar had to do something. Maybe he could get into the Keeper’s House before Tobias caught him. He heard himself say as he inched backward towards the mansion, “I promise you, Tobias, I had nothing to do with whatever is going on. Lady Adell told me to bring something to the Keeper, which I did. Lady Adell wouldn’t tell me what was happening, even after I begged her to. Anything else that happened had nothing to do with me.”
Tobias laughed to himself, enjoying a private joke, and eyed Skylar cruelly as if watching his prey. “That’s too bad. If you were honest with me, I might not have to do this.”
Skylar found that he couldn’t move. He couldn’t help watching as Tobias reached into his back pocket and took out his speckled brown wand. Every instinct told him to run away, but he was rooted on the spot. Tobias closed his eyes and murmured softly to himself.
Skylar strained to hear Tobias’ words, and saw a flash of light blue. Suddenly, Skylar felt himself shrink until he was smaller than the tiniest bug. The world slipped away as everything went black.
© 2013 Amy Burney