In a room, illuminated only by a small oil lamp, Jem sat beside his tiny daughter’s cradle, singing softly as he rocked her to sleep. The baby wriggled restlessly until she had turned onto her side to face her father then closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. Loathe to leave her, Jem sat on, watching her gentle breathing with his hand resting on the carved edge of the crib.
High up in her tree top prison Amber was pacing the floorboards with her fractious son. Nothing seemed to settle him at this point in the evening. Night after night he cried himself to a standstill. She had tried everything but to no avail. He wasn’t hungry. He didn’t need changed. He didn’t have wind. He just wailed, a heart wrenching tortured cry. Whispering softly to him, the fairy/elf delicately reached out with her elven magic and probed into his mind. Up until now Amber had resisted the temptation to use magic on the baby but she was rapidly reaching the end of her tether. She was startled to see a clear vision of her sleeping daughter. The baby girl looked to be wrapped snuggly in a soft wool blanket. A hand rested on the edge of the wooden cradle. An adult hand. Jem’s hand. The sight of his signet ring and his long fine fingers brought tears to her eye. Instantly she understood her son’s distress.
The baby boy was missing his twin sister. While she slept, their telepathic connection was severed. It was the unbearable loneliness and the separation that was causing him to wail inconsolably.
“Hush, little one,” she whispered in his mind. “You’ll be together again soon. I promise.”
In his study Urquhart was pouring over the leather bound book. He had read it from cover to cover four times already, desperately seeking more clues about the witch and her sisters. So far he had determined that each witch was tasked with acquiring a gemstone- one from the elves, one from the fairies and one from the mortal men. The last fable in the tome suggested that a fourth stone was needed to connect the three gems. Despite reading and re-reading the six tales, the wizard still had no clue as to what this mystery gem was and not the slightest hint as to where it may be.
Muttering to himself, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and brought out an ancient elven manuscript. His master had gifted it to him when he completed his apprenticeship, saying he would have need of it in troubled hour. Perhaps this was that troubled hour? The aged elven manuscript was badly faded in places but with a subtle rejuvenating spell, the wizard soon had it restored to its former brightness. Beside him the candle began to splutter as it reached the brass candlestick. Quickly he used the dying flame to light a fresh candle then returned his attention to the manuscript.
As the first light of dawn streaked across the sky, Urquhart found what he had been searching for. After trawling through centuries of elven history he had found a description of a theft that had rocked the gentle race to its very heart. The parchment told a strikingly familiar tale. A beautiful raven haired elf had wooed the newly-crowned and unwed king. He had been completely besotted with her and married her in a lavish ceremony in front of the High Council. Two days after the celebratory feasting ended, the king was found dead in his bedchamber. Poisoned. His new queen was nowhere to be found. Nothing in the room had been disturbed and the door had been locked from the inside. The only item missing was the king’s ceremonial chain of office. It was a heavy ornate gold chain that he used to hold his official royal robes in place. The clasp had been forged by the original elves and at its centre they had set a large emerald in a bed of gold carved oak leaves. Nothing else was annotated in the manuscript as being out of the ordinary apart from the unexplained presence of black crow feathers on the chamber’s window sill.
“Damn and blast,” hissed Urquhart, placing the elven history back in the drawer.
As he stared out of his study window, the wizard recalled a song he had heard the fairies perform at the annual fayre. It was a love song that told of the death of one of the first fairy kings. He had died from a strange malaise after the mysterious disappearance of his queen, following the birth of their twins. The babies, a boy and a girl, were left orphans and deprived of both their parents’ love. One verse of the ballad made mention of a missing sapphire ring that had been the king’s gift to his queen following the birth of their children. The last verse contained a reference to a giant mythical bird carrying the queen away to its eyrie. More feather references.
Suddenly it became obvious to Urquhart that the witch, masquerading as the Lady Karina, had had her black heart set on the ruby that was the centre piece of the king’s crown.
With a flash of inspiration, Urquhart realised that the fourth stone had to be a diamond. Not just any diamond. A mythical stone that had perhaps been connected with all three races in the past; a stone that had long since been lost.
A week had passed since Karina’s return to the family home and she was still trapped in the form of a crow. Her sisters had discarded the cage but her movements were restricted to her own suite of rooms, deep within the mountain. She hadn’t seen daylight for days. Captivity was doing nothing for her humour and she had already bitten three of the household servants as they brought her meagre meals of grain. The last serving girl had apparently lost her finger as a result of a particularly vicious bite.
“Sister, dearest.” Greta’s sharp greeting startled her. “We may have found a solution.”
“You have? About bloody time!”
“Yes,” snapped the elder witch, extending her hand. “Step on and come with me. I’ll trust you not to fly off.”
As she hopped onto her sister’s outstretched hand, Karina felt a gentle tingle of magic round her feet as enchanted shackles held her firmly in place.
“So much for trust, dear Greta!”
“Well, perhaps if you had exercised the same caution, you wouldn’t be in this predicament!”
Silently Karina was carried through the keep’s torch lit corridors until they arrived at a small ornately carved door. It was the door to their brother’s private study. No one had dared to venture inside since his untimely disappearance over a century before. Greta snapped her fingers and the door opened. Once inside the small chamber she released the binding spell and allowed Karina to hop off onto the back of the only chair in the sparsely furnished room. On the desk sat a small dish of seeds and beside it a smoking vial of bright green liquid.
“We consulted the family physick and Isabella found an entry with a potion recipe that should solve you bodily problem,” Greta explained as she poured the smouldering contents of the vial over the bird seed. “Eat, Karina.”
Without a murmur of complaint, the cursed witch flew over to the desk and, perching on the edge of the silver dish, began to eat the sodden seeds. She had expected them to taste foul but was surprised to discover they were sweet, deliciously sweet. Soon the dish was empty.
“Now, we wait,” stated Greta coldly.
Gradually Karina felt a tingling sensation begin to spread through her feathers. She felt as though she was starting to swell. Just as she was on the brink of calling out in fear, there was a flash of blinding green light, followed by a cloud of vile smelling smoke.
When the smoke cleared, Karina stood, naked as the day she was born, in front of her elder sister.
“Welcome back, Karina,” purred Greta as she handed her a dark green velvet robe.
When Amber awoke, her senses told her immediately that someone had been in the room while she had slept. A small package lay on the table, wrapped in a leather cloth. Beside it lay a large bunch of wild flowers and a plate of fresh fruit.
“Blain,” she whispered to herself. No one else would have brought her flowers.
Her son was still sleeping soundly in his plain wooden crib. With a quick check to see that he was alright, the fairy/elf slipped out of bed, crossing the cold damp floorboards in her bare feet and unwrapped the package. In the middle of the leather cloth lay a silver thimble, a long thick needle and a small leather pouch full of soot. Her heart sank. The rowan twig was missing. Without it she couldn’t make use of the other items. Suddenly something in the centre of the bunch of flowers caught her eye. In typical Blain fashion, he had disguised the twig amongst the colourful blooms.
Now she had everything she needed.
Carefully she hid the items under the mattress of her son’s small bed. As she folded the piece of leather, Amber noticed there was a message written in tiny lettering in one corner.
“The portal opens in two days. It will be open for eight days and nights. I will bring you a visitor in three night’s time. Be ready to do what you plan. Time will be short. B.”