“Prince Alvar will accompany you,” Titania told Elyse.
“I really don’t think that’s necessary.”
“Nonsense! You’re a long way from home and he knows the quickest way to that ancient book.”
Elyse shrugged and accepted her fate. Holding to her resolution that Alvar was not to be trusted, she said nothing as he stood beside her.
“Shall we go then?” He asked her.
Elyse just looked at him, stupefied. He wasn’t dressed in royal regalia but more practical gear; trousers, jerkin, and he even had a sword strapped to his waist. It looked humorous since he was a bit on the chunky side. Instead of laughing, she gulped.
He grinned and began walking out of the castle courtyard, into an atrium, and out onto grasslands, Elyse following him. A forest was a few miles in front of them. Taking out her cellphone, she saw there was no service and mentally kicked herself for not checking earlier, before she got to the fairy castle. Not that it mattered right now anyway. What use would a cell phone be in this wilderness?
“So how did you end up here?” Prince Alvar asked.
“I don’t know,” Elyse replied, still walking. “One minute, I was sitting at a lake and the next I was in…this place.”
“It’s quite a long journey to make, but I’m glad you are here.”
“What about you Prince Alvar? What was your life like, before all of this?” Elyse said and waved her hand around.
“Just Alvar please. Better yet, you can call me Al in these parts,” Prince Alvar replied.
They both walked into the forest and onto a dirt trail. Elyse wondered about this but didn’t question it. She was a stranger to this land, wherever they were, and figured that Al would have something in mind.
“How long until we get to this book?” Elyse asked. “I highly doubt it’s waiting in the open.”
“It’s a few days walk from here,” Al said nonchalantly.
“Um, we are going to stop and rest, right? I can’t stay up for three days in a row without serious consequences.”
Al chuckled and motioned his pack. Elyse nodded and understood. Elyse felt like they were walking endlessly with no goal in sight. She looked at Al’s back and realized he never answered her question. Shaking her head, she thought better of asking him again.
After what felt like a long time, Al stopped and unslung his pack. He took stakes out and set up wooden poles with a long cloth. Observing him, she didn’t know what to do next.
‘For someone who is royalty, he must have gone camping a lot.’ She thought.
“Can you help me with this?” He asked and handed her another set of stakes.
She helped him get the stakes in place. Elyse grew amused and wondered why he didn’t just bring something they could use as sleeping bags. As if reading her thoughts, he pulled out two blankets and laid them under the cloth tent they had both just set up.
“We can rest here tonight,” he said. “I’ll keep first watch.”
“Um…” Elyse said and then realized what he meant. “I don’t know how to fight.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Al said. “When it’s your turn to keep watch, just wake me up if you see anything suspicious. Get some sleep. You will need it.”
“Do fairies eat?” Elyse inquired.
Al lifted an eyebrow at her. He proceeded to gather firewood and made a circle with it and made another circle around it with some loose rocks and pebbles. With a snap of his fingers, the wood was ablaze. Elyse stared in awe.
“Why don’t you tell me about yourself, Elyse,” Al said.
“Not much to say,” she answered.
Al looked at her and handed her some biscuits and a satchel of water from his pack. She took them gratefully and bit into one of the biscuits. It was hard as a rock. Putting it aside, she bit into the other one which wasn’t as hard and washed it down with the water.
“Why not start with what you wish to do after this?” Al suggested.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Elyse replied. “What about you? What would you do if you weren’t a fairy prince?”
“I think you’re not being honest with me Elyse. Everyone has thought of at least one thing they want to do.”
“And what about you? You’ve been avoiding my questions.”
Al looked at her and picked up a stick. He poked it into the fire and Elyse knew he was just looking for a distraction. Looking at her, finding she was waiting for him to answer, he caved in and replied.
“I had dreams once, of being a swashbuckler or some type of adventurer. It’s boring growing fat in a castle, expected to take your mother’s place eventually as the fairy king.”
Elyse nodded. He looked at her.
“Your turn by the way.”
“I’ve tried many different career options,” Elyse explained. “From the time I was 14, I’ve tried selling fan art, writing love poems for cash, writing people’s essays for twenty bucks each, working in retail, and even working fast food jobs. None of them ever lasted. My ultimate goal was to be either a fashion designer or a successful actress but that didn’t quite pan out. Stage fright mixed with obesity doesn’t get you Hollywood fame.”
She stopped when she saw Al give her a questioning look. Elyse sighed.
“I wanted to be in drama,” she quickly explained.
Al nodded. He didn’t say anything else. Elyse finished her next biscuit and got up.
“I’m going to sleep,” She said and Al only nodded.
The next morning, before sunrise, Elyse woke up to Al’s hand over her mouth. Before she could do anything, he pointed at a gigantic monster. Elyse looked at it, fear lodged in her throat. It was a winged beast, magnificent in its’ darkness and slimy. An anthropomorphic bat that was human sized. Her eyes widening, she lay still in terror, not able to believe what she was seeing.
The creature began screeching. It took everything she had not to cover her ears at the earsplitting sound. Al got up and withdrew his sword. Elyse couldn’t move and watched as everything happened. Al gained on the creature and got a few strokes of his sword in but it was clear the creature was faster. The creature began charging at him and Elyse quickly pulled out her cellphone and turned on her flashlight app. She shined the light directly at the creature who put its winged arm over its’ face backing away from the light. After releasing another earsplitting screech, as Elyse slowly walked towards it, the creature turned, and flew away into the encroaching dawn.
When she was sure the creature was gone, she turned off her cell phone to conserve the rest of its battery. Walking over to Al, he looked at her stunned.
“What type of magic is that?” He asked suddenly.
Puzzlement crossed her features and then she realized what he was asking. She laughed at the absurdity.
“It’s nothing to do with magic,” she said. “It’s science.”
It was Al’s turn to be puzzled. He sheathed his sword and went back to the tent. He took it down by himself and placed it in his pack. Elyse only shook her head.
“What was that thing?” She asked him.
“They are the memento mori bats,” he explained. “Whenever they appear, legend has it that someone has died. I don’t know if that legend is true or not and I prefer not to find out.”
Elyse suppressed a smirk. Reflecting on some of the books she read, she remembered the various memento moris some famous artists had painted. A few specific pieces came to her mind, but she couldn’t remember the artist’s names or the titles of the works so she she let it go.
“Are you okay?” Al asked.
“Huh? Oh, I’m fine. Let’s keep moving,” Elyse answered.
The next two days passed without incident. On the final day, a few more miles in front of them they came up to a dark medieval castle surrounded by a moat. Placing her hand on one of the trees, Elyse shook her head, incredulous. She waited for storm clouds and lightning to appear but it never did.
“Please tell me this ancient book we’re looking for isn’t in there?” Elyse said and pointed to the castle.
“I’m afraid it is,” Al confirmed.
“That’s not very reassuring,” Elyse countered.
“We will have to find a way in,” Al said and rummaged through his pack.
“At least there doesn’t seem to be anyone present,” Elyse said hopefully.
(To Be Continued Next Week)