Gareth clenched his teeth and narrowed his eyes at the intruder. The idiot had spoken too soon, before anyone had had the chance to tell Jasmine who she really was. He sighed and his breath whistled through his teeth. He brought Jasmine to his side. “Haniford, this is Jasmine.” He could feel her tension, and he turned to her, “He’s one of us. He’s fighting on the rebel side, so don’t worry. He’s just a jackass. He means us no harm,” he said, raising his eyebrow at Haniford.
He grinned and lowered the sword, jauntily placing it back in the scabbard hanging from his waist. He took a more relaxed pose, crossing his arms at his chest and smirking a half smirk. Jasmine didn’t know what to think. Princess? Love? Her head was spinning. “What does he mean by princess?” She asked Gareth, squinting up at him with her hands on her hips, legs slightly spread.
Gareth grit his teeth a little and sighed. He didn’t want to get into this now. They needed to get safely behind the walls of the camp. “Let’s not talk about this here. We don’t know if they’ve followed us, or if they’re right behind us. We need to get to safety. Come,” he said, holding out his hand.
Jasmine narrowed her eyes at him, but took his hand anyway. He was the only one she could trust. His half and non-truths would have to come to an end, and she fully intended on speaking to him about that. The trees here were full and green, life was all around her. She felt it and sighed with a smile as they walked at a fast pace. She knew they still glowed from the magic swirling about. A white wolf saw them and stopped in his tracks, fur laying down as he quietly watched them. He knew they meant no harm and she wished she could reach out her hand to him, but knew they didn’t have the time. She saw many animals on their walk, and after a time, they stopped. She looked questioningly at Gareth, but he said nothing.
Haniford made a series of complicated hand symbols so fast she couldn’t keep up. They stood in front of a wall of trees, each so close the branches intermingled and tangled together. She wondered how the roots grew. They must be intertwined as well. After Haniford was done, a space the size of a doorway shimmered and the trees disappeared. Jasmine was shocked. She hadn’t felt this force field at all. Amazed, she followed the men through the doorway, and looked behind her as she stepped through the threshold. The doorway closed, and it looked like trees once more. What kind of powerful magic was this? She didn’t know if she could ever do something like that.
“The Elders would like to see you, Gareth,” Haniford said. “We knew you were coming. They felt a disturbance in the air, and knew it was you.”
“Of course,” Gareth said, tugging Jasmine’s hand to follow him. She looked around her as they walked. People walked around, doing various tasks. She could see that the force field was huge, and the ring of fake trees ran around the circle. There were streets and homes and businesses. The buildings were made of beautiful oak and carved with intricate designs that swirled around, and she recognized symbols for magic. Protection spells. Main street was lined with businesses. She saw a small inn, a pub, and an open farmer’s market. She wanted to stop and see all of the lovely necklaces and bracelets, run her fingers through the shades of soft silks, and smell the bittersweet ripeness of strawberries. She made a note to come back and browse. The people she passed seemed in good spirits for the most part, and wondered how long these people had been here; as she had been living alone in the woods for so many years.
They came to the center, and stood before a building made that was the most beautiful she had ever seen. It was made of granite with symbols etched into columns that stood high about her head. They walked up the stairs and Gareth opened one of the heavy oak doors for her. She walked through and felt underdressed. The women had long and kempt hair, their gowns clean and stirred with the light breeze of movement, the silk embracing curves where it was tight in the bodice and long and flowing at the skirts. Jasmine knew she was travel ragged with clumped up hair and her dress was dirty and torn in a few places. Her cheeks slightly reddened, but she held her head high.
“Who are the Elders?” Jasmine questioned.
“They are the oldest fae in the camp. They still remember the King and Queen of Old, before halflings were ever created. They are the ones that created and maintain the perimeter of the camp. They are also the ones that head up the Resistance. They are the planners. They run this camp, and are the central authority.”
After living so freely for many years, Jasmine didn’t like the sound of any central authority, but didn’t say anything. What kinds of rules would she have to abide by? She didn’t ask, and figured if she broke any of them, she could claim ignorance. Which was true, she was ignorant. But she also wouldn’t seek out knowledge of the rules. They walked across the lobby, to one of the staircases. The shoes that the fae wore did not make any sound on the marble floor, since they wore slippers made of silk. She could feel strong magic in this building, and thought it must be the Elders. She slightly shivered at it as they walked up the stairs. The people in this building were more serious than those walking around outside and at the farmers market. Here, there were no smiles and hushed whispers, a stark contrast to the smiles and laughter outside.
Gareth took her to a room with double doors. A desk sat outside the doors in a lobby area with chairs for guests. He murmured to the female fae that sat there, and Jasmine noticed the contrast of her pale skin to Gareth’s tan. She knew he was a halfling, but so different from those that she had heard about. He had been very silent for a while, not talking to Haniford or herself. She saw he was tense, but didn’t understand why. The lady nodded slightly to the chairs, and Gareth motioned for her to go first. She sat down and he sat next to her.
“Is there something wrong?”
He hesitated. “You’ll find out soon enough,” he softly told her, taking her hand to his lips and softly kissing her. His lips felt dry and cracked as they looked, but Jasmine didn’t care. She wanted to lean into him, but resisted. She still didn’t know how to feel about his words of love, or what Haniford had said about a princess. Was she a princess? How could that possibly be? Nothing made any sense.
Gareth looked at Jasmine from the corner of his eye. He wondered how she would take all of this. He didn’t know how she felt. She hadn’t had a chance to say anything about love. He had had more time than her to figure out his feelings, and he wouldn’t blame her for needing time. The waiting part was what was tearing him apart. After what seemed like a long time to a thinking mind, the lady at the desk told them they could go in. He stood and opened the door for her. He saw that all twelve Elders were there, all dressed in black as usual. Jasmine looked a little intimidated, so he put his hand on the small of her back and guided her to a chair at the side of the table facing the Elders. He took the other chair and folded his hands together.
They didn’t speak for a time. Finally Eldrich, the oldest of them with long white hair and grey eyes, cleared his throat. “So. What happened in the meadow? We felt a great disturbance in the universe. Quite significant.” Eldrich was also the most serious of the Elders. A joke was lost on him, and he was always focused on the plan at hand.
Gareth spoke quickly and quietly. He began with the witch, and when he got to the part where he had made love with Jasmine, he stopped speaking. He didn’t know what to say. The disturbance began when they had shared power and then let it go in passion.
“Speak, my dear,” Rishtah said softly. “Your words are safe here.” Rishtah had a graceful beauty about her and an ageless face. She didn’t have wrinkles and her green eyes were clear and sharp. Her hair was black and streaked with grey, the only sign that she was an older fae. She was the sweetest of them, the most consoling when Gareth’s mentor had passed, baking sticky sweet caramel brownies and serving them warm with vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle. His mouth watered now just thinking of them, but quickly shoved it out of his mind. More pressing matters were at hand.
“Jasmine and I…we joined.” He felt her start then stiffen next to him, and he knew she was appalled that he had shared this sensitive information. But, he knew that the Elders had to know about this. “As man and woman. During this time, we took energy from the universe, and we shared it. We spindled it, and let it grow. This was the first disturbance that you felt, when we let it go back into the universe. It stayed upon the earth, and gifted the meadow with a small mountain, and a waterfall with a pond. It grew flowers from the earth and brought animals to the clearing. I should have known to leave, that the halflings would feel it.
“Jasmine and I stayed in the field, and explored, and made love once more. We created more from the earth, and were surrounded by halflings. We made a shield, and then used the energy to destroy them. We ran until we were almost here.”
The Elders were silent for a while. Rishtah stated, “So the Queen knows that you are not one on her side,” lifting her eyebrows.
Gareth was silent for a moment, and then slightly nodded in the affirmative. The table was silent for several minutes as this information sunk in, with Gareth looking at his clasped hands. He knew that he had ruined everything. The plan had been a plan for many years, carefully planned out. It was his fault, and he would take full responsibility. He had no idea what that meant, but it was his burden. He didn’t blame Jasmine. It was his own mistake.
“We shall have to discuss a new plan, then,” Vivierah was the first one to speak. “Since the first plan is now kaput, we shall see what happens next. Maybe the Queen strikes first, or waits for us. Either way, you obviously can’t go back to her. In the meantime, you shall train Zaria in how to use her magic properly.”
Gareth clenched his teeth. He knew what was coming next, and he hadn’t had a chance to tell her anything. He could only hope that she would forgive him for keeping this from her. He closed his eyes and held his breath.
“Princess, welcome home,” Vivierah continued, looking towards Jasmine. “I hope you understand why we kept you alone all these years. We thought it would be safest for you.” Gareth could sense her confusion.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Jasmine said slowly. The name Zaria tugged on her senses. She suddenly remembered the man who had come to her village, talking about the invasion of the halfling queen. Nothing was making any sense.
“Gareth didn’t tell you?” Surprise had Vivierah raising her eyebrows.
Jasmine turned her head towards him, but he couldn’t look at her. She looked back at the Elders. “No, he hasn’t told me anything.”
“You are a princess, my dear. Your mother was the queen before the halfling queen, Awen, stole the throne. There’s more to the story, but I’m sure you can ask her yourself,” with that, Vivierah made a motion with her hand and the double doors behind Gareth and Jasmine opened.
Jasmine turned around and gasped. She was seeing a ghost, she had to be. No, not just one ghost. Two ghosts. “Mother!”