The Search for the Unicorns Chapter Five

This is the fifth chapter in the story, if you have not read the previous chapter please do so before continuing: Chapter 4 – Quickfoot

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Here is the Fifth chapter:

Chapter 5

THE ELVES

Mabbren led them on a seemingly invisible path. They met once with a party of Elves headed the other way, these were not warriors like Mabbren, however, they did carry swords at their sides. They were mounted on horses, large white beasts, whom they rode without benefit of bit or bridle. The horses seemed to know where to go without being told, stepping carefully through the sunlit forest.

The Elves who rode the horses were all dressed in fine brightly coloured silks, and they sang in Elven as they came. Even though she couldn’t understand the words, Carla almost felt she knew what they were singing about.

It was a song of joy and sadness. Of trees growing from tiny saplings. Growing up, suffering through windstorms and hard winters. Falling under the woodsman’s axe. Growing until at last they could grow no more. Then ceasing to come into leaf and falling silently into decay. But at the end the song leaped up into joy again, for at the foot of the dead tree was another small sapling growing.

The singers were a fair people, more beautiful than anything Carla had ever seen. They smiled at Mabbren and hailed him in their own language. As he returned the greeting and explained his errand. Carla saw the eyes turn to the four of them, and felt a feeling of anger and sadness coming from them. Silently they moved around Mabbren’s group and silently rode on down the trail. But just before they passed out of sight, Carla heard another song starting.

They continued on the path which wound its way through the forest. Eventually, they came around a curve in the trail and suddenly before them was a city. A city of spires and towers of gold and silver. Walls studded with precious stones and carven ornamentation. From the towers flags flew. The front gates were huge oak planks bound with brass bands. The brass carved with various scenes of life and adventure. Mabbren came to the gate and pulled a cord which dangled down from one side of the gateway.

A small concealed window in the gate opened, and a face appeared. Mabbren spoke quietly in his own language, then the great gate began to creak open. He turned to the others. “Enter then, Drefcwed of the woods, the city of the King, Urddas.”

They entered the city and it was just as magnificent on the inside of the walls as it had been on the outside. Carla marvelled at the sights, sounds and smells within. Elves wandered about in brightly coloured, whimsical costumes. There was the sound of singing floating down on a breeze while unfamiliar instruments played off at a distance. Carla took in a deep breath and was greeted by the comforting smell of pastries baking. Just inside the gate, they were led to a small stone building which looked like a prison.

“You must wait here until the King summons you.”, stated Mabbren.

“We wait in prison, then?” Wissagebreht’s brows lowered.

“You must wait somewhere until the King is informed of your presence.”, Repeated Mabbren.

“In prison?”, bristled Wissagebreht.

Mabbren frowned and put a hand to his sword. After a moment he relaxed. “So, then. If it pleases you to wait around in the King’s porch until he calls for you, do so.”

Wissagebreht relaxed also. They followed Mabbren along the winding street, while Carla tried hard to see and hear everything that was to be seen and heard. All she retained though, was a confused impression of bright colours, music, and strange smells.

They arrived at last at the palace of the King. It was a stately building. The door of which consisted of a stone step mounted between two tall trees, and a large wooden doorway fixed in to the trunks. The doorway was open and two Elves stood guard, leaning on long spears, watching the road. Mabbren hailed them in his own language, and they spoke back and forth for a bit. The guards eventually giving the four a darkly suspicious look.

“Go inside,” said Mabbren. “There is a bench in there on which you can sit until the King agrees to see you. The animals will have to stay outside.”

Wissagebreht nodded shortly, and they tied the pony to a low branch on one of the gate trees. Quickfoot said, “We will wait here too. This is the way the Elves are, dark and secret, too careful of strangers, but at last open and generous. Don’t worry.”

“I hope you’re right,” Carla said, “but right now things don’t look very hopeful. They’re treating us as though we were criminals.”

They went inside and found the bench where they sat and waited. At first that was not too difficult, but after some minutes with no word, Carla and Bruderic both began to fidget. Lungand was seated quietly staring at the wall opposite him, anger plain in his face. While Wissagebreht sat with his eyes shut and a placid countenance.

For a little while it was possible to sit on the bench and wait. Then they began shuffling their feet around and staring at the careful workmanship in the tapestries on the walls. But eventually, Carla and Bruderic both found that they had to do more than that. The first few times that they got up from their seats, Lungand called them back with a quiet but definitely warning voice. At the fourth time he opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again and tried to ignore them.

Finally they were sent for. A very young Elf came to inform them that the King would see them now, and that he would show them the way. They walked down fair hallways, delicate frieze work had been elegantly crafted into the crown of the molding and each hallway was more handsomely decorated than the last. Until at last they came to the throne room.

The throne room was a wide open area. It was well-lit, with a great space between the door and the two thrones set up at the back. On the right-hand throne sat an Elf, erect and kingly, with a crown of gold on his head. He was dressed in white, he had a long but neatly-trimmed beard. Across his knees lay a sceptre, a white rod as long as his arm. It seemed at first that the rod was made of stone. But as they came closer, Carla could see that it was actually some kind of finely-polished wood.

He himself looked very stern and forbidding from a distance. But again as they drew closer, Carla saw in his face something which she could only describe as being like Wissagebreht. A stern old man, but one who could still laugh and joke when the circumstances were right. But at present he was going to demand justice. There was a shudder in Carla’s mind at what such a stern person would demand as justice.

On the left-hand throne was a lady, and she was also dressed all in white. Like the King, she was fair to look on, though she bore no sceptre. She, too, looked stern and forbidding, but there seemed very much more of natural kindness in her face. As she looked on the four, worn and weary from their travels, the look on her face became one of concern.

The young Elf led them to what was considered a proper distance from the thrones.

Then he drew himself up and announced, “Milord King Urddas, Milady Queen Serenglas, I present to you these four from the Kingdom of Vorholm come to beg a favour.”

The King’s eyes fell on them. “What favour would you have from me?”

There was a short pause. Wissagebreht shot a look at Bruderic, who was waiting for Lungand to speak for him, as he had been used to do. Indeed, the Chamberlain was about to speak when Bruderic realized that, as King, it was his right to speak for the Kingdom. “Milord King, I am Bruderic, King of Vorholm. I understand that you have put our land under a curse, holding the unicorns from their usual return in order to signify this to us. I have come to ask you to lift this curse.”

The King of the Elves looked at the King of Vorholm. His expression was stern, but there was no condemnation in it. “On that score, there are several problems. I am sure that you are aware that my niece, Guendatha, was wed to the King of Vorholm. Can you tell me what was her fate?”

Bruderic lifted his chin. “As near as I can tell, she died. There was a time of trouble in the Kingdom, a time in which my father played a part. As a babe at the time, I have no first-hand knowledge, nor have I heard more than rumour and innuendo. My father was keeping the Queen and her small retinue, ruling, he said, in her name. The story was told that she died in the night when she gave birth to her own child. But there appear to have been no witnesses to say whether there was or was not foul play. There are other tales, depending on whether the teller loved or hated my father, but that is all I can say.”

While Bruderic spoke, the King of the Elves watched his face. When he had done, Urddas nodded, slowly. “So it seems. We have tried to find the truth of all this, but truth seems hard to come by. We had hoped that someone would come from your court to explain the manner of our niece’s death, and no one came. At last, seeking to draw some response, we withdrew our blessing from your land. By asking the unicorns to cease going there as a sign of that. And hoping that someone there, such as Wissagebreht, would know what it meant.”

He looked at the Wizard briefly, then continued.

“So now you have come at last, but you can add little or nothing to what we already know. And the matter remains unresolved. Was our niece murdered, or did she merely die in childbirth? And in the latter case, how much was her death a result of considered neglect? We cannot know. Only our little knowledge of the personalities involved makes us suspicious. What do you say, King of Vorholm?”

Bruderic was quiet for a moment, then he spoke. “My people suffer. From the greatest lords In their castles to the peasants in their huts, they suffer. Many of them know little or nothing of the fate of Queen Guendatha; why should they be punished?”

“And why should the death of our niece go unpunished?”, King Urddas questioned slowly as though to contain his anger.

Bruderic drew a deep breath. “So be it. If punishment there must be, let it fall on me alone, not on my people. For indeed, I alone can be shown to have profited from the death of your niece.”

Lungand drew a deep breath and seemed about to speak, but Bruderic gave him a warning look, and he subsided. There was wrath on his brow, however.

The Elf-King sat silent for a time. He was thinking deeply about all that had been said. It was clear from what little expression was on his face that what had been said found little favour with him.

At last he spoke, and there was deep feeling in his voice. “She is dead, then, and none knows where her body was laid?”

“Lord,” answered Bruderic, “She was ill with the plague when she died, and the custom at the time was to burn the bodies of those who died of plague.”

“Dead and burned to ashes,” said the Elf-king in a terrible voice, “with nothing to say that she ever lived, save the memories of those who loved her!”

He stood and stepped down from his throne, and went back through a curtain behind it, his head downcast.

The four stood, wondering what to do next, but before they could do anything, the Queen spoke. “You have brought distressing news, travellers. I regret that my husband must leave so hastily, but you must understand.” She turned to address the young Elf who had shown them into the presence of the King. “Go quickly, bring seats for these four, and have something brought for them to drink.”

As the Elf went quickly out on these errands, the Queen spoke again. “You came here accompanied by three unicorns. How did you come by them?”

Wissagebreht bowed. “Mostly my doing, Milady Queen. I knew that if I informed them that they must come here to the Elven Kingdom. They would not come in any proper frame of mind, might even attempt to bring arms and soldiers here. I misled them a little by telling them that we must first find the unicorns. and that to do so would require a very small party. So we went to find the unicorns first.”

“And how did you do that? The nature of the unicorns is well-known, that they are shy and retiring, not coming readily to Men.”

Wissagebreht smiled. “My ward,” he indicated Carla, “was lame, and had to stay by our campsite while we three went searching. The unicorn found her, and thus the first part of our quest was fulfilled.”

“Really?” The Queen turned her gaze fully on Carla now, and her eyes widened slightly. “Come here, child.”

Carla hesitated, and the Queen smiled. “Come, child, I will not harm you.”

Carla approached the Queen. As she drew near, she became more and more conscious of the state of her clothing. Moreover, the fact that she had been travelling for a long while without having had the chance to wash. The Queen extended a hand, and Carla extended hers. Letting Serenglas take her tanned and roughened hand in her own white one. “Who are your parents, child?”

“I-I d-don’t know,” stuttered Carla, then, gaining confidence, “I was left with Wissagebreht as a babe, and that is all I know, Milady Queen.”

The Queen looked beyond her to the Wizard, ”Wissagebreht, do you know who your ward is?”

“Yes, Milady Queen, I know.”, He answered.

She laughed, “Come, then! Must I draw the secret from you, word by word? Who is she? She is of partly Elven blood, that much I can tell, but who is she?”

“Milady Queen, the tale of the love of Dagobreht and Guendatha is a popular tale. But none know of the other love between Elf and Man that came about at the same time. When Guendatha came to live with Dagobreht, she brought with her a maid. Another Elf-woman, named Calongwir. One of the men-at-arms set by Dagobreht to be bodyguard for the Queen was Driwhelm. The two were cast much into each other’s company, and came to love each other deeply.

“Yet ere they could make their love known openly, or seek permission to wed, the King died. All was thrown into turmoil. Among the various lords who sought the crown, the only one to say that he fought on behalf of the Queen. Who was the very same one who was keeping them imprisoned. though the imprisonment might be very comfortable.

“Thus they came together for whatever comfort they might find in each other’s arms. Calongwir came to be with child, a fact which was never revealed to anyone. As is the way of such things, her child came some time before the queen’s child. This brought to the two a new concern. For where they had once to be concerned only for their own safety, they now had a child as well.

“They arranged that Driwhelm should take the child out to safety. There was no question of the Queen escaping in her condition. The exertions to which Driwhelm himself was put would have been impossible.

“When he had gotten free of the castle, Driwhelm knew that he could not leave the babe with anyone in the immediate area. He felt that the safest place would be with me. for I had never made a secret of my distress over the situation of the Queen and her imprisonment.

“He brought her to me, told me the story, and went back to try to free Calongwir. I do not know what happened after that; I only know that he never returned, nor was he spoken of again. I then raised the child, and never spoke of her origin, for fear that someone might consider her an inconvenient reminder of the past.”

“You could have brought her here.”, Said the Queen.

Wissagebreht shrugged. “And then what? There were already Elves who felt that Guendatha was ill-treated. And this story would only have made more trouble for the Kingdom. And as well, how would she have been accepted among you? A child of mixed blood, mixed with the same blood that had treated your own so cruelly?

“Nor had I intended to hold her heritage from her forever. In a year or two from now, at the most, I had intended to bring her here to show to you, to see what would be your sentiment. By that time, of course, she would be better able to understand, and if you rejected her, she could better endure it.”

The Queen nodded her understanding of all this. Carla stood there, stunned. not knowing what to make of all this. So she did have parents, and one of those parents had been an Elf-woman, the maid to the Queen Guendatha! Did she have other family living, then, among the Elves? Or, as Wissagebreht had hinted, might they not want to know about her? Or perhaps indeed they might invite her to visit them to stay with them.

“Still, you might have tried. What’s done is done, though. Ah, here are the chairs and the refreshment! Sit down, Carla. We may have to talk more about this.”

Carla was so surprised by the news that she barely tasted the drink. It was some sort of beverage of mixed fruit and berry juices, and quite refreshing. There were also some sort of little cakes, baked with honey and a number of spices. Which were very welcome after all the travelling and excitement.

The curtain behind the thrones opened, and the King came out as suddenly as he had gone. His face was like a face carved in stone, with no anger in it, merely determination. He saw the four seated, drinking, and glanced quickly at the Queen. He then looked back at the four.

Before he could speak, Serenglas said, “Milord King, the girl, Carla, is the daughter of Calongwir.”

The King looked at Carla, and she felt a twinge of fear. “Calongwir? She was not wed!”

“No, Milord, but Wissagebreht has told me the story of how the child came to be born. And there is no denying that she has Elvish blood in her.”, The Queen said calmly.

The King looked at her again. “No, there is not. And had I not been so concerned with other things, I would have seen it myself. But we must deal with that later; there is the question of Vorholm to be dealt with.”

Everyone sat up straight.

The King sighed. “King Bruderic, you have suggested that any punishment should be yours to bear. I do not agree.”

Bruderic was about to start to his feet when the King held up a hand. “Let me finish. No punishment could bring back Guendatha; she is dead and gone. But there must be an atonement.”

“Atonement? I am willing to make whatever atonement is in my power if it will spare my land from the trouble it is presently undergoing.”

Urddas gave him an approving look.

“Spoken like a true King, Bruderic of Vorholm. Hear then my judgement. You shall go to the Dwarves and ask of them a memorial for Guendatha, which will be set up on a public monument in your kingdom as a remembrance.”

“What sort of memorial did you wish?”

“That will be for the Dwarves to decide. They are skilled in all crafts, and will certainly be able to devise something fitting. Only be certain that it is you yourself who go to them. The Dwarves are also careful bargainers, and it is for you to fulfil their conditions.”

Bruderic nodded. “So. If you will permit us to stay this night, we will leave in the morning.”

The Elf-King nodded. “You may stay the night as our guests. But you will not see me again until the time that you have fulfilled the conditions I have set for you.”

He turned to the young Elf and said, “Get them rooms, see that they have everything they need. It will not be said that the guests of the Elves are ill-treated.”

Once again he rose from his throne, and without a word of leave-taking, went through the curtain behind it. The Queen also rose, but she did not hurry away immediately.

“You mean well,” she said, “And clearly you are willing to go into unknown danger for your people. Good fortune go with you all.”

And she, too, left them.

A young Elf servant led them to a set of fair rooms. The rooms were brightly lit. On the wall hung tapestries depicting events from the history of the Elvish people. and with soft beds which looked almost too luxurious to sleep on. The party followed Carla into her room.

“If you wish,” the servant elf told them, “water will be brought immediately for you to bathe in.”

Wissagebreht nodded, ”Very good.”

The Elf bowed and went out. When he had gone, Carla and Lungand both turned on the Wizard and began to speak at once. The Chamberlain, having the loudest voice, was able to overwhelm her.

“The child is half-Elf, daughter of the maid of Guendatha?”, Lungand stared intently at Wissagebreht as though to draw the answer from him merely by staring at him.

“So I told the King. I did not lie then, and I do not lie now.”, Wissagebreht met his gaze evenly.

“She is not the daughter of Guendatha herself?”, Lungand asked with a definite sound of uncertainty in his voice.

“No. You need not fear an heir to Dagobreht come to unseat your own nephew.”, Reassured Wissagebreht.

“You are sure of this?”, Lungand pressed.

“Yes.”, Wissagebreht was being quite patient. Carla could see though, that it might not be long until he ceased to tolerate this sort of questioning.

“How are you sure?” persisted Lungand.

“By what Driwhelm told me.”, Answered Wissagebreht.

“And might he himself not have hatched this story, with or without your aid, to keep the child safe until she came of age?”, sneered Lungand.

“And might not your brother’s castle have come tumbling down to bury him before he even thought to seek the crown? I tell you now, Lungand, that only so far will I allow my truthfulness to be questioned. Carla is the daughter of Driwhelm and Calongwir. She was brought to me for safety, as I have already said. And I have raised her as I did in order to keep her safe from those who might consider her a reminder of things best forgotten. And, if it come to that, to prevent anyone noting the same coincidence of her birth and the Queen’s death and then using her as a figurehead for a new war. I will say no more to you on the subject.” And with that, he turned his back on the Chamberlain and faced Carla. “Come, my dear, we have things to speak of.”

He led Carla over to one of the beds and sat down beside her. “I knew that by bringing you here, my dear, I risked the story of your birth coming out before I was able to prepare you. But I had to bring you along, mostly for your own sake. I told Urddas and I told Lungand all the reasons why I had to keep your origin a secret. Do you have any questions?”

Carla opened her mouth to speak. But she realized that the only things she had to ask were questions that had already been answered. She closed her mouth and thought. It was so confusing. Until just this afternoon, she had known nothing about her parents. Now she knew practically everything, and it did not seem to have changed her at all. But it should have changed her, shouldn’t it?

“You knew my mother?”, It was all she could think to ask.

“Yes.”, Wissagebreht replied.

“And my father?”

“Yes.”

“What were they like?”, asked Carla.

He hesitated, and she could see him casting his mind back to bring the memories to the present. “Your mother was tall and fair. She had much the look of Queen Serenglas, without so much of the regal and unapproachable air. Your father was a brave soldier, of course, for none but the bravest would be chosen to guard the Queen. He was not over tall, which perhaps accounted for much of his bravery. For he felt that he was small, and must always make up for that smallness by being the most valiant.

“And they both loved you very much.” Carla began to protest but Wissagebreht raised his hand for her to pause, Yes, I know, they sent you away to be raised by someone else. But remember their circumstances. They were in prison, be it never so comfortable a prison, and the plague was among them. Had you stayed, well, the plague commonly strikes the youngest and the weakest. And besides that, I fear that no matter what protestations were made by Lungand, his brother Hauhmot probably had no intention of giving up the throne. So they all were undoubtedly doomed, whatever happened. So they did their best for you in an impossible situation.”

“Why did my father leave me with you? Why not take me directly to the Elves?”, Carla still not understanding.

“That would be a long ride, and take him far from his loved one and his duty. In the meantime Hauhmot might well decide to be done with them all, and Driwhelm would not be able even to attempt to protect the Queen. He chose me, for the reasons you already know, as being the next best thing.”,

There was still too much. Too many things to think about. Most of the questions she thought about asking either had already been answered, or were so petty she was ashamed to speak them at this time. Wissagebreht still sat, watching her, waiting with loving patience.

She finally spoke again. “Wissagebreht, can I wait for a while and talk to you again about all this? Right now I don’t know what I want to know, what I should ask, what—” she broke off, being unable to talk further.

The Wizard nodded. “Certainly. You have had everything put on you unawares, and I apologize again. But I am ready to talk to you whenever you feel the need.”

He rose and went away. She sat quietly picking at the bedspread, still wondering about what she had learned.

When she looked up, Bruderic was looking at her with some sort of strange expression on his face. Something that seemed akin to fright. When he saw her looking at him, he turned quickly away and began studying one of the tapestries on the walls, then quickly made his way to his own room.

She felt a sudden irrational anger at him. Then wondered why he should make her angry, for he had never tried to do anything to her except be kind. She was still wondering about this when the young Elf servant came to announce that baths were ready for them all.

Clean clothes had also been made ready for them. An Elf had come to take away the clothing they had been wearing to be washed. It took Carla some time to get used to the clothing that had been left for them. The gown was fine, much finer than anything she had ever had before. She was afraid to bump against anything or touch anything, for fear of soiling it.

The top was fitted, and flowed down into a full skirt that reached to her ankles, and moved as she walked. The sleeves were puffed, and gathered at her wrists. It was a silvery-green in colour, and fit so well that she wondered if it had been made magically for her.

The warm bath had not only washed away the dirt, it had relaxed muscles which had been tense all day. As a result, she soon began to feel extremely sleepy. When a young Elf came to announce that dinner was being set up in Wissagebreht’s room, Carla could barely force herself to rise.

The short walk to the Wizard’s Chamber was not enough to wake her sufficiently for anything but eating. None of the men tried to draw her into conversation. A fact which pleased her. What with her relaxation, coupled the new knowledge of her birth spinning in her head, she was unfit to respond to much beyond pleasantries regarding the quality of the meal. When she thought about it later by herself, She suspected that Wissagebreht had guessed how she felt and had warned the other two.

She noticed that Bruderic stared at her strangely when first she came in. Often during the meal she would catch his eyes on her with a strange new expression in them. It was as if he had never seen her before. She wondered about that, but she was much too tired to really give it serious thought. Very shortly after leaving the table and returning to her room, she carefully took off the gown and set it aside. Then she got into the bed, and was asleep within minutes.

She woke in the morning a little unsure of where she was. She had dreamed. Some of the dreams had been frightening. Others pleasant, but when she woke she could remember none of them.

She had debated whether to put on the green gown or her old clothes, which had been returned. She knew they would be leaving today, but she was not sure exactly when. She decided on the gown; she could change out of it quickly enough when the time came. She wondered, idly, if she could take it with her, then called herself a fool. “What would you do with such a thing, living in a wizard’s hut?”

The Elves had taken the trouble to leave a large bowl of fruit in each room. As such, when breakfast was announced Carla was nibbling on a tasty peach.

The men were in their trail clothes. After a moment she decided not to let herself be concerned about that, but rather to enjoy the feel of the gown.

They had just finished their breakfast when the young Elf came in once more. “Her Majesty Queen Serenglas is coming. She would have a few words with you before you leave.”

Wissagebreht nodded. “I thought perhaps she might.”

A moment later the door opened and the Queen stepped in. The four came to their feet. She smiled at them. “Sit, sit! You will have enough and to spare of being on your feet before too long. I came to speak to Carla, first of all. Carla, as a daughter of our people you need not leave; you will be welcomed here.”

Carla had never expected this. She looked to Wissagebreht, but he only smiled. “No, Carla, I will not make this decision for you. You must decide for yourself.”

She looked at Bruderic, but he was too startled to say anything. He had a look on his face, something akin to fear, and that made Carla angry. Why should he be afraid? It was she that was having to deal with so many new things!

The Queen was still waiting patiently for Carla to answer. Carla pulled her thoughts together. She could stay here in this lovely place. Perhaps find a family, people who would love her, and she need not live in a drafty shack any longer. But she looked at Wissagebreht, who for years had been all the father she had known. Surely her unknown family could never learn to love her as much as he did. He and the others were about to go off on another trip, a dangerous journey. No, she could not desert them now.

“Your majesty, I would very much like to accept your invitation. But I have started on a quest with these others, and I must finish it.”

She wanted to say more, to try to ask if it would be acceptable for her to come another time, but the words refused to come.

“I thought as much. Your faith to your companions does you credit. And it does them credit as well; I hope that they all appreciate it. But you will not be on this quest forever. When it is done, come back to us. There will always be a welcome here for you.”

Carla could barely stammer her thanks. The Queen put her at ease with a smile and said, “My husband cannot bring himself to wish you a safe journey. Though I know that he wishes you no ill. For myself, I wish you a safe journey on your quest, and success in the end. Go with starlight on your feet.”

She turned and was gone.

Carla looked at her companions. She saw that Bruderic’s expression had changed to one of relief, and she wondered what he was thinking of. Perhaps he had been frightened by the presence of Queen Serenglas, and was relieved that she had left them.

Wissagebreht looked around at the little group. “Well, best we should be on our way as soon as possible. Shall we make ready?”

He looked at Carla, and she nodded. “I will be dressed in a moment.”

She hurried back to her room and changed out of the green gown into her old worn brown dress. She looked at the gown, considered folding it carefully and putting it in her pack. Eventually, she decided regretfully that it really wasn’t hers. It had only been borrowed, and she could not take it. But she could come back some day! She left the gown carefully laid out full length on the bed, and went to join the men.

Bruderic was still giving her strange looks. But he seemed more comfortable with her now that she was in her old clothes. She wondered what that meant.

Quickfoot and the other unicorns were still waiting for them outside. “What now?” asked Quickfoot. “More travelling?”

“Yes,” Carla answered, “more travelling. We have to go visit the Dwarves.”

Lungand spoke up then. “Bruderic, I think it would be for the best to go back to, or at least through, the kingdom. Let your people know that you are still alive.”

“The quest to the Dwarves—“

“Will still be there if you take an extra three days to pass through Vorholm. Notice, I am not suggesting that you give up the quest. I am only suggesting that you limit the chance of trouble in the kingdom by showing yourself.”

Bruderic shot a glance at Wissagebreht, who was carefully showing nothing in his face. Finally he nodded.

“Yes, there is sense in that. Unless Wissagebreht objects too severely, we will do that.”

Wissagebreht merely nodded.

Quickfoot said, “We unicorns cannot go into Vorholm yet; the Elves have not yet lifted the ban. We will go as far as the border, then meet you again on your way out.”

“Why?” asked Carla. “You have brought us to the Elves, you need go no further.”

The unicorn chuckled. “Mere curiosity, my dear. None of the three of us have seen the Dwarves, and I have an urge to do so.”

“Well I, for one, will be glad of your company.”

There were a pair of Elves there as well, armed and armoured, who were to escort the travellers to the edge of the forest. They did so quietly, speaking only when spoken to, and then only directly to the question. There was no friendly joshing as between fellow-travellers. Though they shared meals with the party, the Elves did so without particular friendliness.

As with the trip in, it took a full day and part of another before they were on the edge of the wood. Once the travellers had gone out into the clearing, their two escorts, turned and disappeared into the woods. Again, without a word of leavetaking. By this time, though, none of the four had expected any more.


That was Chapter Five. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]

Or if you want to wait, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta in a month or so once the chapters have been released.

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