It was obvious that the lady was near death. She lay in bed, shivering, yet beads of sweat dotted her brow. She coughed as she tried to speak. Another woman gently wiped the dying lady’s forehead with a damp cloth. “Hush, hush” she said. “Don’t try to speak. You’ll hurt yourself.”
“I must speak.” gasped the first lady. “Mandy, I’m dying.”
“Now, now, don’t say that!” cried Mandy.
“Don’t try and hide it from me, Mandy. I know.” The lady coughed, then went on. “I have told you what I wish you to do. But there remains one thing.” Her gaze wandered to an open door, through which could be seen a small bed. Upon the bed lay a little girl, sleeping peacefully, blissfully unaware of the tragedy outside.
Mandy followed the other’s gaze. “What would you have me do, Lady Ellen?” she softly asked.
“When I die,” coughed Lady Ellen. “Take my daughter and keep her safe. Do not let the king know whose daughter she is.”
“But why not?” asked Mandy, wiping Lady Ellen’s forehead once more. “Is he not her father?”
Lady Ellen shook her head. “He abandoned me,” she whispered. “He threw me aside like an old toy. She may have been his daughter at one time, but she is no longer. You must keep her safe from him.”
“I will, Lady Ellen.” Mandy assured her. “I promise.”
“Thank you, Mandy, dear Mandy.” Lady Ellen gasped. “Farewell, my dear friend.” Lady Ellen took one last breath, and her eyes closed in eternal sleep. Mandy sighed and a single tear dropped from her eye. She had been Lady Ellen’s faithful servant for many years, and she was the only one who knew that Lady Ellen should be Queen Ellen, and that she was an elf. She also knew that her new task would be harder than any she’d faced thus far, but she would do her best. She would do her best for the lady she had loved and served for so many years.
Many years later. . .
Rosa skipped outside, the old wooden water bucket swinging by her side, the handle held securely in her small hand. She hooked the bucket’s handle to the frayed rope hanging in the well beside the kitchen door. She let go and a few seconds later, she heard it splash into the well. She looked in. The bucket was sinking far into the water below. Rosa smiled, then grabbed the ancient crank and began to turn. After several minutes of hard pulling, the bucket reappeared filled with water. Rosa carefully unhooked it, and then walked back to the kitchen. “I got the water, Mama Mandy.” she said. “What next?”
“Thank you, Rosa dearie.” Mandy told her, standing over a bowl of half-made pancake batter. “Can you cut an apple up without hurting yourself again?”
Rosa winced. She remembered the painful cut she had gotten the week before when she carelessly cut her thumb instead of the apple. Despite this, she nodded and said “I think so, Mama Mandy.” She got a knife from the case, and then walked over to the table by the apple barrel. Selecting an apple, she began peeling it with practiced motions. As she did so, she watched Mandy bustle around making breakfast for the castle. Mandy’s always been a mystery to me, Rosa thought, though she was careful to pay attention to her apple. Mandy was a lady in waiting of some great lady, but she was demoted to cook. I’m not sure why, but she was. Then again, I’m not sure of a lot of things.
“Is that apple almost ready, dearie?” Mandy’s voice broke Rosa out of her thoughts.
“Almost.” Rosa made one more cut, and then carefully carried the pieces over to Mandy. “How’s this, Mama Mandy?”
“Perfect, dearie.” Mandy said, pushing them into the pancake batter.
After helping Mandy prepare the rest of breakfast, Rosa skipped back outside, heading for the garden. She didn’t go to the royal garden, of course. She’d never been there, and she knew that a common servant such as herself would never be allowed to enter them. No, she went to Mandy’s kitchen garden, which had more than herbs and vegetables. One corner of the garden was filled with flowers of all sorts. This is where Rosa went. She sat down on a weathered wooden bench and looked up at the castle. She looked first at the little window that opened into the tiny room that she and Mandy shared. Rosa smiled. Our window’s the only one with a flower box, and it’s the prettiest and most cheerful window in the castle, she thought. Our little wooden box that overflows with pansies, snapdragons, and more roses than here in the garden may not be fancy, but I don’t care. I think it’s beautiful! Next, Rosa looked to the top window in the royal tower, where most of the royal family lived. That was the queen’s window. The new queen’s window, that is. The first queen had died when Rosa was very young, around the time Mandy had taken her in. I don’t know much about my family, thought Rosa, except that Mama Mandy was a good friend of my mother’s and my mother and the old queen died on the same day. Rosa frowned. I wish the old queen hadn’t died. I don’t like Queen Leila. She seems evil, and she’s definitely scary. Rosa shuddered when she remembered the one time she had seen Queen Leila. With her long, black hair and pale skin, she looks like a vampire! Those black eyes don’t help! I don’t know why almost everyone in the castle thinks she’s beautiful! She’s really scary! Rosa shuddered once more, and then turned to another window. This was the window of Prince Owen, the king’s nephew, who Rosa had seen several times. He’s incredibly handsome, nothing like Queen Leila! Rosa closed her eyes so she could picture Prince Owen better. She pictured his longish honey-brown hair, his light brown eyes, and his athletic build, everything about him. She pictured his kindness, his charm, his ability to laugh at anything. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open. What am I doing? Prince Owen is high above my station in life! I shouldn’t be thinking about him like this! She took one last longing glance towards his window, then turned away and went to water the plants. They surely need it, with this hot weather! Besides, I need something to get my mind off him!
Mandy stared out the kitchen window, watching Rosa. She sighed. Oh how I’d love to tell Rosa who her mother is! Then she wouldn’t have to hopelessly long for Prince Owen and live as a servant! Mandy sighed and turned away to look at the lunch menu. I must keep the secret a little longer.
High above, someone else was also watching Rosa. Queen Leila turned from her high window and stalked over to a long, dark curtain. After looking around to make sure no one was nearby, she pulled the curtain over and slipped behind it. She walked over to a tall marble pedestal and picked up the single item on top of it: a small, intricately carved hand mirror. Its polished surface gleamed in the low light as she tilted it so she could see her face. Then, she spoke. “Cullen, Cullen,” she softly called. “I need you!” Suddenly, her face disappeared from the mirror and a dark face replaced it. It was a man’s face, with matted black hair and suspicious black eyes.
“Yes, my queen?” he hissed. “What may I do for you?”
“I’m sure you saw the girl sitting in the kitchen garden.” the queen said. “Was she more beautiful than I?”
“Nay, not now, my queen,” Cullen hissed once more. “You are still the most beautiful in the land.”
“Good.” Queen Leila sharply replied. “You may go.” She set the mirror down, and the face disappeared. She walked away, slipping through the curtain once more. No one was more beautiful than she. No one at all.
Things went on fairly peacefully in this way for three years. Then, disaster struck. It happened at the annual tournament, a competition between the castles to see which had the better warriors, and the greatest display of fighting skills in the land. It was held at a different castle each year, and this year it was at Aren Castle, where Rosa lived. And, as tradition demanded, the king of this castle would enter at least one event.
The king’s chosen event was the joust, which surprised many. The king was notorious for being a bad horseman. The people still spoke hopefully of him winning but Mandy had a different opinion when the news reached her. She revealed it to nobody, but she thought to herself No good can come of this. They don’t consider what can go wrong. And if the king is hurt because he is less skilled than he thinks, what will happen?
When the day of the joust came, everyone in the castle showed up. Mandy and Rosa even left their kitchen to see the spectacle, and were able to find standing positions near the jousting arena. After several jousts, the king made his appearance. At first, everything seemed to go perfectly. The king’s tall, brown battlehorse pranced, the king’s armor, sword, shield, and lance were spotless, and the king himself looked regal and imposing. It seemed like nothing could go wrong. As the king galloped down the length of the ring, people cheered. Then, when the king and his opponent made contact, catastrophe struck. The king’s lance struck his opponent’s shield, breaking the shield into fragments. However, the knight’s lance was off-target and it hit the king himself, bursting through his armor and severely wounding him. Doctors were called, and they took the king away, shaking their heads and muttering. The festivities were cancelled, and everyone went back to their usual jobs. None felt like having any sort of celebration anyway, not after what happened.
The king died the next day, and the whole castle fell into mourning for their lost ruler, from Mandy and Rosa in the kitchen to Queen Leila in her high tower. Everyone was sorry at losing the king, even those who had not particularly liked him. Mandy alone thought I knew no good could come of the king’s entry, but never this. However, everyone shared the thought What will happen now?
The king was buried the next day. All work except that most necessary had been stopped. And, even those whose work could not be stopped had to attend the funeral. That was why Rosa found herself sitting in the very back of the funeral hall, squeezed between Mandy and a rather large laundress. As the High Chancellor droned on and on about how “this great king would be sorely missed,” which was not entirely true, Rosa squirmed. She was feeling very uncomfortable in her tight position, and she thought about the king to take her mind off it. I never liked the king much, she remembered, but I think he was a bit nicer than Queen Leila. Rosa dreaded the next day, when Queen Leila would become the official ruler of the castle. Desperate to keep her mind off that subject, Rosa turned her attention to studying the king’s face as he lay in the open coffin. His hard, sharp features gave the impression that he had been carved out of stone. His gray hair, which was still streaked with black in places, was combed neatly, but it was too neat, as if he wasn’t a person and never had been. His still-black goatee made it look like his chin was a perfect triangle, further adding to Rosa’s impression that he looked more like a carving that a person. Suddenly, the High Chancellor’s voice words “All rise for the lowering of the lid” jolted her from her thoughts. She quickly stood and watched as Queen Leila ceremoniously lowered the lid. As Queen Leila turned to face the crowd, Rosa thought that she saw a satisfied smirk flash across the queen’s face. Rosa shuddered. Was that really a smirk? If it was, what will happen? What kind of queen smirks at the funeral of her own husband? It could not have been a smirk. It couldn’t have. Could it?
The next day was just as bad, despite the fact that the High Chancellor managed not to drone on quite as much. After his very lengthy speech, the actual crowning ceremony took place.
“Do you, Queen Leila,” intoned the High Chancellor, “Promise to rule Aren Castle and the people in it fairly and justly?”
“Yes,” replied the queen, “I do promise.”
It’s almost like a wedding! Rosa thought.
“And do you, the people of Aren Castle,” asked the High Chancellor in the same pompous tone, “Promise to serve Queen Leila faithfully and to the best of your abilities?”
“Aye,” replied everyone in the crowd. “We do promise.”
“Then,” declared the High Chancellor, drawing a deep breath and producing the heavy crown worn by the castle ruler, “I give you Queen Leila, new ruler of Aren Castle!” He set the crown on her head and everyone cheered. Then they headed off to enjoy the festivities that came with the crowning of a new ruler. Rosa frowned, and stayed behind. I don’t feel like celebrating, she thought. In fact, I almost feel sick. What kind of ruler will Queen Leila be? It was one thing before, when she didn’t have much power over the people. Now … I don’t like thinking about it. Rosa shuddered and glanced around. She saw Mandy beckoning from the direction of the kitchen garden. A smile brightened Rosa’s face, and she dashed away, glad to be somewhere else besides the festivities. Besides, she thought, who’d expect a mere kitchen girl to join in the festival?
Several years later. . .
By the time of Rosa’s sixteenth birthday, things had gotten very bad in the castle. Queen Leila would punish people for the slightest thing, and Mandy, Rosa, and the other servants feared for their lives. Mandy was especially afraid, for she knew that if her secret got out, Rosa’s life would be worth nothing.
Rosa, however, had no idea of how much danger she was in. She had blossomed into a beautiful young lady with long, golden-brown hair and laughing blue-green eyes. She was still lighthearted, but in a more cautious way. She had grown kinder and sweeter than ever, and many of the servant boys looked at her longingly. What neither she nor Mandy knew was that Rosa’s beauty put her in almost as much danger as if Mandy’s secret had gotten out.
Queen Leila hurried to her chamber, which no longer had the curtain. There was no fear of intruders now. Her secret was safe. She slipped into her room and forced herself to walk over to the table where the mirror now lay. Picking it up, she softly called “Cullen! Cullen! I need you!”
The man’s face appeared and he hissed “What may I do for you, my queen?”
“Cullen, tell me,” ordered the queen, “are any more beautiful than I?”
Cullen frowned. “There is only one, my queen.” A picture of Rosa flashed across the surface of the mirror. “This girl is a threat to your otherwise unassailable beauty.”
Queen Leila scowled. “Who is she?” she cried. “Where does she live?”
Cullen’s face reappeared. “That is Rosa, a kitchen maid in your castle, your ladyship.” He told her, still hissing.
A wicked smile slowly replaced the scowl on Queen Leila’s face. “I know exactly what to do.” She set the mirror down and hurried away, intent of getting rid of Rosa forever.
Later that day. . .
Rosa skipped merrily into the little room she and Mandy shared. “Mama Mandy!” she called. “I’m in from the garden!” She stopped suddenly when she saw the tall stranger talking to Mandy. Rosa recognized him as one of the castle huntsmen. “Hello, sir,” she said, politely. “What brings you here?”
Mandy turned and rushed over to Rosa. “Quickly, Rosa, pack some things. You must leave the castle.”
Rosa looked astonished, but slowly moved to do as she was told. “Why? What do you mean? Aren’t you coming too?” she asked, frightened.
“Rosa, dear, your life is in danger. You need to leave the castle or you’ll be killed. And, I can’t come with you. It would just make things worse.” Mandy told Rosa as she helped her pack a small bag.
“The queen commanded my brother to kill you and make it look like an accident” added the huntsman. “He told me, and I came to warn you and help you get away. I’m going to guide you to somewhere safe, where Queen Leila won’t find you. I have a few ideas of where to go. I will warn you, we’ll have to go through the forest to get to any of them.”
Mandy gestured for the huntsman to leave. “We’ll be there in a moment.” she told him. Turning to Rosa, she said “I think I know why Queen Leila wants you killed, Rosa. She’s found out the secret.”
“What secret?” Rosa asked, puzzled.
Mandy looked at her and sighed. “Rosa, I haven’t told you everything I know about your mother. First, your mother wasn’t human. She was an elf-maiden, as pretty as you could wish. Second, her name was Ellen.”
“Like the first queen?” asked Rosa.
Mandy looked sadly at Rosa. “Rosa, your mother was the first queen. She fell in love with the king and they married, but he fell out of love with her a little before you were born, and sent her away. If he hadn’t, she’d still be alive today.” Mandy wiped her eyes, and then continued. “By right, you’re a princess. And, you’re half elf too, I daresay. That’s why the queen wants you dead. Someone must’ve found out and told her.”
Rosa felt tears gathering and struggled not to cry. “How do you know?” she choked out.
Mandy sighed and said “I was your mother’s lady in waiting. She was the only one I ever loved as much as you. Oh child,” she burst out, “I wish that fool of a king hadn’t turned your mother away. None of this would’ve happened if he hadn’t. Ah well,” she sighed, “What’s done is done. Now you need to be on your way, Rosa dear. We don’t have forever.” Mandy and Rosa walked out of their room to the kitchen where the waiting huntsman anxiously paced. “Ready?” he asked as soon as he saw them.
Rosa looked at Mandy, and then said “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Then let’s be on our way.” the huntsman replied. We need to be out of the forest before dark.”
Rosa and Mandy hugged each other one last time, and then Rosa turned and followed the huntsman out the door and into the garden. As she looked back one last time, she saw Mandy sitting by the window with her head in her hands. At first, Rosa couldn’t tell what Mandy was doing, but then Rosa realized that Mandy was crying. Shaken, she turned away and hurried after the huntsman, trying not to think about how her life had been turned upside down.
Rosa and the huntsman walked for hours, first through the small village surrounding the castle, then through pastures and fields, and finally through dark woods. Neither said a word, except for the occasional directions from the huntsman. Then, just when Rosa thought she could walk no further, they stopped.
“We’ll take a break here,” said the huntsman, “We don’t want to tire ourselves out.” He sat down, and Rosa followed suit. They sat there, barely moving for ten minutes. I could just sit here forever. Rosa thought. It’s so peaceful. Suddenly, Rosa heard a strange sound coming from the trees. It was eerie and frightening, and vaguely reminded Rosa of the castle hound howling, with a bit of the cat’s yowl when someone steps on her tail, and maybe a touch of the scream of pain Rosa had emitted once when she cut a gash in her leg. Rosa’s mind raced as she realized There’s something else too. It sounds unnatural! What could be making this horrible sound? Glancing at the huntsman, she asked “What was that?” Her voice was shrill with fright, and she could barely get the words out.
The huntsman had leaped up when he heard the sound, and he was now standing with a long hunting knife in his hand. “Vulges!” he exclaimed. “And close too, by the sound of it.”
As the huntsman spoke, Rosa heard the nervousness in his voice. What’s going to happen? She wondered. Will we die? Out loud, she asked “What are vulges?”
The huntsman looked at Rosa, and she saw that his face was pale. “Vulges,” he said “Are like wolves, only much, much worse. They have two rows of teeth, retractable claws six inches long, and are about the size of a large horse.” As he finished speaking, a growl came from the bushes. Rosa backed away, frightened. She thought That growl sounds as eerie as the howl, and twice as menacing! What is going to happen to us? As Rosa stared at the bushes, she saw two glowing red eyes appear. Suddenly, a huge, dark creature leaped out towards Rosa and the huntsman. The huntsman jumped backwards, and the vulge landed in front of him. “Run, Rosa! Don’t worry about me! Just run!” the huntsman cried.
Rosa hesitated. I can’t just leave him to be eaten! The huntsman saw her hesitation and called out. “Go, Rosa, please! It’s the best way for you to help me!”
Rosa started to say something, but stopped. Slowly, she turned, and then she took off running as if there was a whole pack of vulges behind her. Unfortunately, in her fright she ran into the deepest, darkest, scariest part of the woods. Rosa ran into the heart of the forest.
As Rosa ran, she heard more howls, howls like those of the vulges, wolf howls, and howls that sounded scarier that the other howls rolled into on and multiplied by a hundred. Out of the corners of her eyes, Rosa saw flickering shapes. Glowing red and orange eyes, huge shadowy beasts, flickering forms that seemed to shift shape in the eeriest way possible, and many more far more horrible things floated just within her vision. Rosa tried to shut her eyes, but they would not, could not close. If anything, they opened wider. “No! No! Get away from me!” screamed Rosa, but to no avail. Now too scared to make a sound, she ran faster, but the phantoms seemed to pursue her. Suddenly, it seemed as if she had run through and into a wall of water, and sunlight hit Rosa’s face. She checked her pace and finally came to a stop. Then, she looked around, surveying her surroundings.
Rosa found herself standing in a large, perfectly circular clearing. In the exact center, there stood an enormous oak tree. When Rosa looked down towards her feet, she saw that the ground was covered in a carpet of wildflowers. Turning around, she found that the clearing was lined with a ring of beech trees. In between the beech trees, she saw the huge, dark pines of the forest she had come from. Between the pines and beech trees, she thought she caught a glimmer of something shimmering, but it was gone before she could focus on it. Turning her gaze back to the oak, she studied it, though she kept her distance. To her surprise, she saw a rope ladder hanging down through the branches. Her eyes followed it up through the leaves and came to rest on the immense branch on which it was secured. Rosa noticed that it was surrounded by what looked like a wooden platform. She looked towards the trunk of the tree and gasped. Built around the trunk of the tree and extending outward through the braches was a large, multilayered tree house. It had three large, wooden platforms, the largest of which seemed to extend almost to the end of the branches. Built onto the platforms were large houses, which looked more like huts. They seemed to be made from branches with what looked like amber in between, and the first two ended at the platform above. The top one seemed to be roofed with leaves. Rosa wondered Who is this beautiful tree house for? Does someone live here? How’d they grow a tree big enough to hold it? The smallest hut, if it can be called that, is almost as big as Mandy’s kitchen, and that was one of the largest rooms in the castle! As Rosa gazed at it, she wondered if it would be alright for her to go look around the inside of the tree house. Why not? Then, she shook her head. It wouldn’t be right. There’s no reason, except so I can satisfy my curiosity, and that’s not a very good reason. Suddenly, Rosa heard a howl from behind her, and she spun around. When she saw what was making the howl, however, she almost wished that she hadn’t. In the forest, getting ready to spring, was a pack of wolves, and they were very large wolves. Rosa screamed, then spun back around and ran for the tree and the rope ladder. She had only one thought: I have to escape! She quickly climbed the rope ladder, and emerged on the first platform. Only then did she stop and try to catch her breath.
After catching her breath, Rosa looked around. The platform was bare, except for leaves here and there that had fallen from the branches above. She then turned and went into the house. It was brighter inside than she expected, for the amber between the branches in the walls let in light. However, the inside was also messier than outside. Odd, thought Rosa, it’s usually the other way around. The floor was littered with dust, dirt, and leaves, and there was a thick coating of dust over everything. The only thing not dusty was a basket of plums sitting on the large, wooden, table built around the trunk of the tree, which rose through the floor. Rosa’s mouth watered at the sight of them, for plums were her favorite food. Before she could stop herself, she reached out and grabbed one, and bit into it. Mmm, she thought, sweet and firm, just the way I like them. She quickly finished the plum, and then realized what she had done. I just stole a plum from whoever lives here! Oh no! What am I going to do? Oh! I know! I’ll clean this house up! That should pay for it! She spied a broom in a corner and began energetically sweeping the floor. Soon, it was cleared of dust, dirt, and leaves. Then, she opened the cupboards that lined one part of the circular wall. She found a duster in one, and quickly removed the dust from the rest of the room too. Then, she went back outside and swept the platform, clearing the debris from it completely. After finishing this task, Rosa climbed another rope ladder to the second level, armed with broom and duster.
The second floor was far cleaner than he first. Rosa only had to sweep the outer platform and dust inside. After she finished these small tasks, she searched for a way up to the third and uppermost level. She searched the entire level, and then discovered something odd. There’s no way to get up, not even by climbing the tree itself! The next platform is tight to the tree, and there’s no rope ladder! She looked around once more, and suddenly saw how late it was getting. She hurried inside and tried to figure out what to do. In that room, there were four beds. As Rosa looked at them, she felt incredibly tired. She flopped down on the nearest one and instantly fell asleep.
Back at the castle. . .
Queen Leila hurried into her room. Picking up the mirror, she whispered “Cullen! Cullen! Come to me!”
Cullen’s pale face appeared, and he hissed “Yes, my queen?”
“I have gotten rid of the servant girl.” Queen Leila said. “Are any more beautiful than me now?”
“Nay, my queen.” Cullen hissed once more. “Your beauty is unapproachable.”
“Good.” Queen Leila snapped. She set the mirror down and left the room troubled no more by Rosa’s loveliness.
In a different part of the castle, another member of the nobility was also thinking about Rosa. Prince Owen sat in his room, wondering. His dinner had been late, and when he asked why, the servant had told him that Rosa, the kitchen maid, had disappeared. He had controlled his emotions then, but now he could not seem to keep it up. He remembered how he had watched her from his window and marveled at her beauty and kindness. He thought about the many times he had wished that she was a princess or at least nobility so he could try to get to know her. So her name is Rosa. It fits her. Prince Owen shook his head. I shouldn’t be thinking about her this way. He tried to banish her from his thoughts, but try as he might; she still kept skipping through his thoughts and dancing through his dreams.
Down in the kitchen, Mandy wondered what Rosa was doing. I hope she’s safe. The huntsman said she’d gotten away unharmed, but what if something happened to her after she left? Mandy shook her head. Rosa was beyond her help now. Mandy could only hope that she was safe now, safe forever.
The next morning. . .
The first rays of sunlight filtered through the leaves and amber striped walls. It danced around the room and fell gently on Rosa’s face. She stirred. What time is it? It can’t be time to get up already, can it? She snuggled deeper into the soft bed, pulling the leaf-green covers up to her chin. A voice filtered up through the floorboards, and woke Rosa up a bit. She listened and realized that it was not one voice, but several voices. She listened intently, determined to figure out who the speakers were.
“Well,” said one voice, “This is strange.” Rosa thought the voice sounded honey-sweet and full of kindness, like the voice of her favorite castle singer, only far nicer.
“It is strange indeed.” agreed a second voice. “Has someone else come here?” This voice was deeper, but still kind, like it belonged to a woodland king.
“This means danger!” exclaimed another voice, this one suspicious and dangerous sounding. “None but ourselves can enter the clearing without dark magic.”
Then one more voice spoke. “Are you sure? Has it been tried? Perhaps others of our folk may enter by themselves and without hindrance.” This voice was small, but clear and sweet-sounding, and Rosa thought she liked it best.
The woodland king voice spoke again. “Your idea is a good one, but there are no other elves in the area, and they would not enter without one of us.”
The singer voice answered him. “When was the last time you investigated that? You have not looked since our sister left. Maybe there are others who we do not know of!”
The suspicious voice said “Still, how do we know? And where is the intruder? Did he or she come and go?”
“Nay,” replied the singer voice, “There was no sign of exit in our web, only entry. Whoever it is has not left the clearing.”
“Then he or she must be upstairs.” the small voice commented. “But it was certainly kind of whoever it was to clean our home, was it not?”
“Aye, it was kind.” replied the woodland king voice. “Now, let us go upstairs and see who this kind personage is.”
Rosa sat straight up, wondering what to do. There was no place to hide, and going outside would offer no escape, for she heard them mounting the rope ladder. She finally decided that her best and only choice was to stay where she was. A few minutes later, the owners of the four voices entered.
The first to enter was a tall man with dark brown hair. His face held a kingly look, and his dark blue eyes seemed to be wells of unending wisdom, as old as the forest, or maybe even older. He did not seem to be surprised to see Rosa sitting in a bed in his house. The only emotion he showed was a flash of wonder in his eyes, but that was there one second and gone the next.
The next one to come in was a shorter man. He had blue-black hair that shimmered and shone, and sharp violet eyes. When he entered, a look of immense surprise came over his face, but he quickly returned to his original, guarded expression.
The third person to enter was a tall lady with long, flowing, golden-brown hair. Her eyes were dark green, and her face held the look of a great queen. She showed no surprise at Rosa, but smiled kindly at her. Her long gown was far more interesting than the men’s tunics, pants, and capes. It was blue and green, and looked as if it had silver threads running through the bodice. Her long, silver cape flowed about her like a waterfall, and Rosa was awed by her.
The last to enter was much smaller than the others. Tiny and delicate, she looked like she might fly away in a moment. Her bright blue eyes and golden hair reminded Rosa of the summer sky, and the long, sleeveless, blue dress she wore looked to be a fragment of the sky. Her creamy cape added to her appearance of a bit of sky, for it floated about her like a cloud. She too smiled at Rosa, and looked like she had expected to see her there.
There they were, Rosa sitting in a bed, feeling embarrassed and shocked, and the four who lived in the house standing in front of the huge tree trunk rising from the center of the room, and looking at her with various expressions. Finally, one of them spoke. “Who are you, girl?” the shorter man asked. “What are you doing in our home?”
Rosa recognized his voice as the suspicious voice. “I’m sorry, sir.” she said. “I didn’t realize this was your home. I was just trying to escape the wolves.”
The tall lady smiled at Rosa. “It’s alright, child.” she said. “But you still have not told us who you are.”
She has the singer voice. I guess the other man must be the one who sounds like a king, and the sky-maid is the one with the small voice. They look like their voices! Oh no! She asked me a question! “I’m Rosa, a kitchen maid in Aren Castle.”
The four looked at each other, and then the tall man spoke. “I am Lord Alanal, eldest in the clan of Allë. How did you, Rosa, a kitchen maid in the castle of Aren, pass our web?”
Rosa looked at him, perplexed. “What web?”
The tall lady laughed, and said “Did you not feel as if you were passing through a wall of water when you entered the clearing? That was our web, which I, Lady Clarellë, made. It is a magical wall that surrounds our clearing, which is mostly invisible except for a slight shimmer in the air. Until you came, we thought that none but ourselves could pass the web without help from us. So, why can you enter our clearing?”
Rosa looked down, ashamed. “I don’t know.” she said, sadly. “I don’t know why.” She looked up at them again. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t know.”
The shorter man snorted, and Lord Alanal looked at him sharply. “Peace, brother.” he whispered. “It is not your time to speak.”
As this happened, a thought struck Rosa. “Are you . . . elves?” she asked hesitantly.
The sky-maid laughed. “Of course! What else would we be? Miss Rosa, even I, Skyellë, youngest in the Allë clan, know better than to ask silly questions!”
Rosa looked down, abashed at her ignorance. Lady Clarellë saw Rosa’s movement and smiled at her.
“Do not be ashamed, Rosa.” she said, soothingly. “Skyellë sometimes neglects to think before she speaks. You could hardly have known who we were.”
Rosa looked up again, encouraged. “I just wanted to know, because my mother was an elf, and I thought that maybe if you were elves, you could tell me about her. And, you don’t exactly seem like humans.”
The shorter man leaped forward, away from Lord Alanal’s restraining hand. “What was your mother’s name?” he asked, breathlessly.
“Her name was Lady Ellen.” Rosa said, a bit frightened.
Lord Alanal frowned. “Ellenellë left us long ago. We have had no news of her having a child. Also, if you are her daughter, why did she not come with you?”
A single tear dropped from Rosa’s eye. “My mother died when I was very little. I did not know who she was, or who I was, until yesterday.” She poured out the whole story, her voice trembling.
When Rosa finished her tail, an awkward silence filled the room. For several minutes, no one spoke. Then, the shorter man spoke. “Well, Rosa,” he said, “It seems that I, Panthal, owe you an apology, and an explanation. Your mother was our sister, my twin sister to be exact. When she left and married the king, I was almost heartbroken, for it was as if she had died to me.” Panthal paused, overcome with emotion.
Rosa saw his sadness, and softly spoke. “I’m sorry. You must miss her so much more than I do.”
Panthal smiled weakly at her, and Rosa saw that it was the smile of one who had not smiled in many years. “Tis alright. It’s not your fault.” He straightened up from his slump and continued. “I didn’t think that she had fallen for the right person, and it seems I was right. Her heart must’ve broken.” He paused again, and then quickly began again. “I know your tale must be true, for you would not otherwise be able to pass the web, and-“he swallowed, and then said in a whisper “You look so much like her. I am sorry for what I thought about you. I should have found out the truth first.”
Rosa smiled at him. “It’s alright. I probably would’ve thought the same if I had been in your place.” Her brow furrowed as a thought struck her. “I thought my mother’s name was Ellen.”
“It was.” replied Lord Alanal.
“Then why did you call her Ellenellë?” asked Rosa.
“Ellenellë is Ellen in the Allë can’s version of the Elfin-tongue!” Skyellë laughed. “The main difference from other tongues, name wise anyway, is that you add “al” onto the end of male names and “ellë” onto the end of female names.”
Rosa’s brow furrowed as she thought this through. “So,” she slowly said, “My name in the Elfin-tongue would be Rosaellë?”
Skyellë laughed again. “Exactly. Only, it’s the Allë clan’s version of the Elfin-tongue.”
“What’s the difference?” Rosa asked.
“Only the name endings are different.” Lady Clarellë told her. “All the other words are the same.”
Lord Alanal cleared his throat. “Pardon my interruption,” he said, “But we have yet to discuss what we are going to do about Rosa, and what she is going to do herself.”
Panthal leaped forward. “If Rosa wishes, she should be allowed to stay with us!” he exclaimed. “She is, after all, Ellenellë’s daughter.”
Lord Alanal frowned. “Is this what all of you think?” he asked, looking at Lady Clarellë and Skyellë.
Lady Clarellë nodded, and Skyellë exclaimed “Of course!”
“What of Leila?” asked Lord Alanal. “If Rosa is traced here, she may put us all in danger.” His brow furrowed, worrying Rosa.
Will I be sent away? She nervously wondered.
Lady Clarellë spoke. “If Rosa does not travel beyond the web, it is very unlikely that Leila will ever find her. She will be safe here, as we have been for years.”
Lord Alanal looked at Rosa. “Would you be willing to stay within the web?” he asked her.
“Yes!” cried Rosa, barely able to contain herself.
“Then it is settled.” Lady Clarellë said, firmly. “Rosa shall stay with us.”
Many years later . . .
Rosa climbed quickly down the rope ladder. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she looked around. Then, spotting the patch of blueberry bushes she had been looking for, Rosa rushed over, her basket swinging on her arm. She had been living with the elves for almost five years now, and she wanted to do something special for them. When she had overheard talk of blueberry bushes near the tree house, she had decided that a blueberry pie would be just the thing.
As Rosa skipped towards the blueberry bushes, she didn’t feel the passage through Lady Clarellë’s web, and she barely noticed the looming closeness of the pines that showed she was out of the clearing. She blissfully picked berries, every now and then dropping one in her mouth, totally unaware of the pitch-black crow watching her. As she finished her picking and walked quickly away, the crow flew away towards the castle Rosa had once called home.
Far away, at the castle . . .
Prince Owen looked once more out the window towards the kitchen gardens. He, for the tenth time that day, thought Oh, how I wish that Rosa had been nobility, and that she hadn’t disappeared! Where could she have gone? Wait! The cook might know! He leaped up and dashed out the door, desperate to know about Rosa.
In her dark tower room, Queen Leila was consulting Cullen once again. “Cullen, are any fairer than I?” she asked.
Cullen frowned. “There is one, my queen. Do you remember the servant girl, Rosa?”
The queen nodded slowly.
“Well,” Cullen hissed, “She is apparently not as dead as you thought. She is alive, and living with the Allë clan of elves.”
“What?” shrieked Queen Leila. “How could she have evaded me for so long?”
“The elves have magic of some sort.” Cullen hissed. “But we can combat it. Here is what we will do. . .”
That night . . .
Mandy snuggled deeper into her bed, enjoying its softness. She felt better than she had since Rosa left. Maybe telling the prince was the right thing to do. She drifted off into a deep and dreamless sleep, the first she had had since Rosa left.
In his tower room, Prince Owen lay awake, wondering at what Mandy, the cook, had told him. Mentally, he cursed the king for turning from Queen Ellen and causing Rosa to grow up without her mother. His thoughts turned to Queen Leila. How could she have known about Rosa? He sighed and rolled over in his bed. He tried to sleep, but sleep evaded him, and Rosa continued skipping through his thoughts.
Up in her dark room, Queen Leila was also awake because of Rosa, but with entirely different motives. Ever since the sun had set, she had been busily mixing potions, herbs, and dubious looking liquids into a dangerous elixir. Watching her every move was Cullen, his mirror set in a holder on the wall. “Yes, yesss.” he hissed, his voice unusually low and evil-sounding. “You are doing it perfectly, my queen.” He laughed. It was an unnatural sort of sound, and Queen Leila shuddered a little when she heard it.
Shaking off her fright, Queen Leila took two plums from a basket of fruit. Then, she carefully submerged them both in the elixir, and let them absorb the poisonous substance.
“Two, my queen?” Cullen hissed in surprise. “Are two really necessary?”
“Yes.” Queen Leila said her voice tight. “If we are to lose one, we will still have the other.” Queen Leila picked up a pair of what looked like tongs and used them to lift the plums and place them back in the fruit basket. “No one will be more beautiful than I.” she whispered. “No one.”
The next morning . . .
The sun shone brightly through the amber striped wall of the elves’ tree house. It danced across the lower room and fell on Rosa, who was busily sweeping the floor in a ceaseless battle against the leaves that were continually blowing in. Suddenly, she stopped as a voice wafted its way up to her. “Excuse me?” the voice said. “Is anyone home?” It was the voice of a young woman, sweet and low. “Hello?’ it called once more. “Hello?”
Rosa quickly left the room and climbed down the rope ladder. Then, with her feet firmly on the ground, she surveyed the owner of the voice.
The person was a young woman, probably in her mid to late twenties. She had short, curly, black hair, and her eyes were a blue-black color, which Rosa had often admired. The woman’s skin was pale, but not as pale as some skin. “Do you live here?” she asked, pulling back her hair to reveal a pointed ear.
Rosa frowned. Something about her doesn’t seem right. She shook her head. It’s probably just my imagination. Besides, no one dangerous can get in here. Out loud, she said “Yes. Why do you ask?”
The woman smiled. “I brought this as a gift to you and the others who live here.” she said, holding up a basket of fruit.
Rosa’s mouth watered as she caught sight of the two plums nestled in with the apples, pears, and peaches. “Thank you.” she said, taking the basket.
“Don’t mention it.” The woman turned to leave.
Rosa turned as well, than suddenly turned back around. “What did you say your name was?” Rosa called.
“Nightblossom.” the woman answered. Rosa turned, satisfied. She didn’t see the black flash that rippled outward through the web when the woman passed through.
Holding the basket of fruit in one hand, Rosa climbed up the rope ladder and back into the tree house. She set the basket on the table, glancing longingly at the plums. Just one won’t hurt, and they look so delicious . . . Rosa reached out, grabbed a plum, and bit into it, filling her mouth with the sweet fruit. She swallowed, and was about to take another bite when a burning sensation suddenly began in her throat. Setting the plum down, she dashed across the room. She poured herself a glass of water from a small pitcher. She quickly drank it, but it did no good. Her throat began feeling tight, and she started to feel dizzy. She fought the feelings, but to no avail. Rosa fell to the floor, unconscious and barely breathing.
Hours passed, and Rosa did not stir. Below, all went on as usual. After a while, Lord Alanal, Lady Clarellë, Panthal, and Skyellë returned. Sensing that something was wrong, they gathered under the oak to decide what to do.
“Something is wrong.” Skyellë said. “Rosa has not called her usual greeting.”
“Aye,” agreed Lady Clarellë, “And the web showed signs of a dark entry and exit.”
“Could Leila have found Rosa?” asked Lord Alanal.
“It doesn’t matter!” declared Panthal. “We need to make sure Rosa is alright and discover if the intruder has entered our house.”
“I agree!” exclaimed Skyellë.
“As do I.” added Lady Clarellë. “Whoever it was is not here anymore, so it is safe for us.”
“Very well.” Lord Alanal replied. “Panthal, you are the quickest on your feet and the best warrior and healer. You lead. I will come next, then Lady Clarellë, then Skyellë. Agreed?”
The others nodded, and they began the climb, wondering what had happened and if Rosa was unharmed.
As the four entered the room on the first level, they all gasped at the sight of Rosa lying motionless on the floor. “Is she . . . dead?” asked Skyellë, hesitantly.
Panthal strode over to where Rosa lay. He took a small dagger from his belt and held it before her nose and mouth. “She is not quite dead.” he said, looking at the light mist on the bright metal blade. “She is holding onto life, but only by a thread.” He rose and looked at the others. “Alanal, will you help me carry Rosa to the top room?”
“Do you mean the gem room?” Skyellë gasped.
“Aye.” replied Panthal, thinking of the bright gems embedded in the ceiling and walls of the uppermost room. The gems had healing qualities, and the sunlight that filtered through them could heal almost anything. Rosa will need all those healing powers, and then some to stay alive. Then, he snapped out of his thoughts and turned to Lady Clarellë and Skyellë. “Clarellë, will you go to the castle Rosa came from and tell Mandy of Rosa’s peril?”
“With a good will.” replied Lady Clarellë, turning to leave.
“Skyellë, I need you to stay here and prepare whatever medicines we may need, and I may need your help in other ways as well.” Panthal told her, as he bent to help Lord Alanal carry Rosa.
Skyellë sighed, and then replied “Very well.” As she watched her family disappear in various directions, questions filled her mind. She tried to push them down, but two kept resurfacing. They were Will Rosa be alright? And What will happen to us if Leila has found our home?
Mandy busily mixed and kneaded the bread dough; intent on making what she hoped would be one of her best loaves. Carefully, she finished kneading it and laid a cloth over the top of the bowl. Glancing up, Mandy saw a tall, golden haired lady wearing a silver cape walking towards the castle. Hmm. thought Mandy, That’s odd. I don’t believe I’ve seen her before. I wonder why she isn’t riding a horse like most royalty. Suddenly, the lady turned and began walking towards the kitchen, instead of going to the big back gate. Mandy soon heard the sharp, urgent sound of knocking on the kitchen door. Wiping her hands on her apron, Mandy quickly walked over and opened the door. It creaked as it opened, and Mandy made a mental note to oil the hinges. However, all thoughts of oil vanished from Mandy’s mind when she saw the person at the door. Why, it’s the lady I saw walking up here! Dropping a curtsy, Mandy said “What may I do for you, milady?” What does she want with me? Did she somehow miss the main gate?
The lady looked at Mandy, and Mandy could see that the lady’s deep green eyes were filled with worry. “Are you Mandy?” the lady asked urgency evident in her voice.
“Yes, milady.” Mandy answered.
“I am Lady Clarellë.” the lady told Mandy. “I am afraid that Rosa is near death.”
“What?” Mandy exclaimed. “How? Why? How do you know?”
Lady Clarellë shook her head. “Rosa has been staying with us for several years, but there will be time for explanations later. You must come quickly!”
Now it was Mandy’s turn to shake her head. “There’s someone else who needs to come.” she said, and hurried off to find Prince Owen.
Prince Owen was sitting in his usual spot by the window. Suddenly, he heard a loud banging on his door. Is someone trying to knock the door down? He jumped up and hurried over, wondering who was disturbing him. He flung open the door to find Mandy, the cook who had told him the truth about Rosa, standing before him. “Your highness,” she said, breathlessly, “Rosa is near death. I thought I should-“
Her words were cut off by Prince Owen’s exclamation of “Where is she? How did this happen?”
“Come with me, please, your highness, and I’ll explain everything.” Mandy told him, turning to go.
Prince Owen nodded, grabbed his cape, and followed close behind.
Back at the elves’ clearing . . .
Panthal sighed and looked at Rosa. She lay on a bed in the center of the uppermost room of their tree house. The multicolored shafts of sunlight that came streaming through the jewels danced around Rosa. We’ve tried almost everything, and nothing has worked. What are we going to do? His sensitive ears caught the sound of someone entering the room, and he turned toward the door.
Skyellë entered, looking around. “Is she doing any better?” she asked softly.
Panthal shook his head. “Nay.” he answered. “What do you have there?”
Skyellë looked at the flask she held in her hands. “The last possible remedy we can make.” she told him. “There’s only one left in the book of lore, and we cannot procure that one.” She handed the flask to Panthal.
Panthal opened the flask. “What is this last remedy that we cannot make?”
Skyellë’s eyes filled with tears. “The kiss of an unknown lover.” she whispered, and then she turned and fled the room.
Hours passed. Rosa still made no move, and uttered no sound. Panthal, Skyellë, and Lord Alanal took turns sitting with her, just in case. Panthal was just beginning a third turn when the sound of horses galloping came from below. Skyellë rushed out to the edge of the lowest platform and looked down. When she saw who was below she cried out in near-joy. “Clarellë has returned!” she called out. “And there are others with her!”
Skyellë watched as Lady Clarellë, Mandy, and Prince Owen climbed up the rope ladder. As soon as Lady Clarellë was on the platform, Skyellë rushed over. She opened her mouth to speak, but Lady Clarellë beat her to it. “How is Rosa?” she asked in a whisper.
Skyellë shook her head. “No better. Who are the others you brought?”
“The lady is Mandy, the one who watched over Rosa before that task fell to us.” Lady Clarellë replied. “The young man is Prince Owen, who Mandy seems to trust. She insisted on his coming. I am not sure why.”
Skyellë gasped. “Perhaps the last remedy-“she snapped her mouth shut, wondering if she should say it.
“What about a last remedy?” asked Lady Clarellë.
“The only remedy in left in our book of lore is the kiss of an unknown lover. What if Prince Owen is that unknown lover?”
Lady Clarellë nodded slowly. “It could be.” she whispered. “It would be a miracle if he was and it worked.”
“Should we mention it to him?” Skyellë asked.
“Nay.” Lady Clarellë told her. “We do not want to take any risks of getting their hopes up. If Prince Owen kisses her and it does not work, it would be heartbreaking.” She gestured towards Mandy and Prince Owen, who were standing just inside the house, talking with Lord Alanal.
Skyellë nodded. “You’re probably right.” she reluctantly agreed. “So what should we do now?”
“We invite them up.” Lady Clarellë replied, simply.
A few minutes later, Lord Alanal, Lady Clarellë, Skyellë, Mandy, and Prince Owen were standing around the once hidden rope ladder that led to the highest level in the tree house. “Who is going up?” Skyellë asked.
Mandy and Prince Owen glanced at each other, and then Prince Owen said “Mandy and I will go up one at a time. Mandy, do you want to go up first?”
Mandy hesitated, and then whispered “No. I can’t go up just yet. You are welcome to go ahead.”
Prince Owen looked at her wonderingly, and then began climbing the rope ladder. Lord Alanal followed, saying that Panthal would need some persuasion to leave Rosa.
Panthal did need quite a bit of persuasion to convince him that it was alright to leave Prince Owen alone with Rosa, but Lord Alanal managed it. Soon, Prince Owen was standing by the side of Rosa’s bed with no one else nearby. As he gazed at her, he thought She’s even more beautiful than I remembered. Without thinking about what he was doing, he leaned over and kissed Rosa. Suddenly, her eyelids fluttered and her breathing grew quicker. Prince Owen gasped, and then rushed outside to tell the others the news.
Rosa fully awoke to find herself in a room with jewel-covered walls. She blinked, trying to figure out where she was. Suddenly, she heard Panthal’s voice beside her. She turned towards the sound and saw Panthal himself walking toward her. In his hands was a tray bearing food, drink, and a small flask. “Ah, you’ve awakened!” he said, smiling. “I thought you might.” He set the tray down on a small table by the bedside.
Rosa stared at Panthal. He rarely smiled, and she had never seen him smiling this broadly. “What happened?” she asked. “Where am I?”
Panthal’s smile faded somewhat. “As far as we can tell Leila, or another who seeks to kill you, poisoned you somehow. You almost died.”
Rosa gasped. “The lady . . . I don’t know how long ago, but a dark haired lady with pale skin gave me a basket of fruit. I started eating a plum from it, but I fainted or something after the first bite.”
Panthal frowned for a minute. “The plum must’ve had the poison in it. I wonder . . .” his voice trailed off and he shook his head. “No matter.” he said briskly. “You’re all right now, that’s what matters.” He turned to leave, but was stopped by a last question from Rosa.
“But how was I cured? And where am I?” she asked.
Panthal turned to look at her. “You’re in the top room of our house.” he told her. “And love is what healed you.” With that, he turned and walked out of the room, leaving a confused Rosa lying in bed, staring after him.
Days passed. Rosa slowly, but steadily, continued to recover from the poison. And, as she healed, her love for Prince Owen and his love for Rosa grew and blossomed. The others were careful not to tell Rosa how Prince Owen’s simple kiss had healed her, for as Mandy said one day, “Some things are best left unspoken, and secrets told are secret no more.” However, Rosa soon decided that she did not need to know how, all that mattered was that she had been healed.
Despite this Lord Alanal, Lady Clarellë, and Mandy still worried about Rosa, though for a different reason. Every day they wondered Will Prince Owen and Rosa ever tell each other how they feel? However, they kept this thought private, and told themselves Better to let them come to it on their own.
One day, when Rosa was feeling very well, everyone simultaneously decided that it was time to confront Queen Leila. For much of the day, no one said anything. However, at lunch, Prince Owen summed up their feelings in two words as he declared “It’s time.” So, the whole group set out for the castle, determined to expose Queen Leila’s dark deeds.
When they arrived at the castle, however, they found this to be easier said than done. No one would let them up to see the queen. After many attempts, they sat down in the kitchen, the one place they could be without being disturbed, to try and figure out what to do.
“This isn’t going as well as we hoped.” Mandy stated, gloomily.
“Nay, it isn’t.” Lady Clarellë agreed. “Perhaps we set our hopes too high.”
Suddenly, Rosa burst out with an idea. “The servants’ hidden staircase!” she cried. “No one will notice us and we’ll be able to get right us to Queen Leila’s chamber!
Suddenly, Rosa burst out with an idea. “The servants’ hidden staircase!” she cried. “No one will notice us and we’ll be able to get right us to Queen Leila’s chamber!
“Dearie, that’s a nice idea, but there’s a reason those stairs are called hidden.” Mandy said, dryly. “We don’t know where they are.”
“But I do!” Rosa exclaimed. “I learned about them the time I helped the queen’s serving maid, and I know exactly where they are.” With that, she dashed off to find the servant’s staircase, the others following close behind.
Rosa quickly found the servants’ stairs, and they all hurried up to just outside Queen Leila’s chambers. However, there they ran into another problem. That problem came in the form of two burly guards stationed in front of Queen Leila’s door, who weren’t too keen on letting in uninvited guests. The group soon learned this when they tried to persuade the guards to let them in, a conversation that went something like this.
“Let us pass!’ ordered Prince Owen.
The guards laughed. “Not happenin’ little half-royal pup. We’re under direct orders from the queen not to let anyone in!” One guard scoffed.
“Yeah,” agreed the other, “Now go away before we decide to make you leave.”
The quality of guards that the queen merits has obviously gotten worse. Mandy thought.
Suddenly, Panthal appeared in front of the guards, holding a pair of daggers like he knew how to use them. “I would suggest that you not say that.” he said, his voice soft but dangerous.
The two guards looked uncomfortable for a moment, and then laughed again. “It’ll take more than one man with a few little knives to scare us!” they scoffed. “Now leave us in peace before we decide to chase you away!”
Panthal sighed, and looked at Lord Alanal and Prince Owen. “Should I?” he asked.
They both nodded.
Panthal turned back to the guards. “Well, too bad for you I’m an elf, not a man.” Then, almost casually, he expertly threw the two daggers so the hilts hit the guards’ heads heavily. The guards looked bewildered for a moment, then their eyes crossed and they dropped to the ground.
Rosa gasped. “Did you kill them?”
Panthal shook his head. “Nay, they’re just knocked out. They’ll wake up in a few hours with humongous headaches, wondering what hit them.” Then, he looked around and asked “Everyone ready?”
They nodded, and Lady Clarellë and Mandy almost simultaneously said “Aye.” They were all eager to confront Queen Leila.
At that same moment, Queen Leila was deep in conversation with Cullen. “Cullen,” she asked, “Are there any who are a danger to me?”
Cullen hissed “Aye, my queen, there are those who would have you brought down from the throne right outside your door.”
Leila gasped. “Do you mean my guards? I thought-”
Cullen hissed once more, cutting Leila off. “Nay, not the guards. There are others.”
Leila started to ask “Then who?” but the question died on her lips as her door and a tall, kingly man strode in. “Leila,” he declared, “Your time for evil is at an end.”
Leila’s already pale face got even paler. “Who are you?” she asked her voice high and shrill.
“I am Lord Alanal, eldest in the elven clan of Allë.” he said.
At this, an angry look came over Leila’s face. “Guards!” she shouted, but no guards came. Instead, a smaller man, dressed in black appeared in front of her, his hand on the hilt of a dagger.
“I’m afraid your guards won’t be coming for some time. They apparently decide that it was time for their afternoon nap. I may have helped the process along, but they’ll wake up in a few hours I’m sure.” He said
“Who are you?” Leila asked.
“Panthal, warrior of the Allë clan.” he replied. Then, he caught sight of the mirror in her hand, with Cullen’s face still in it, and he gasped. “Cullemanden!” he whispered, and turned to the others, who had come crowding through the door. “It is a Cullemanden! We may have been mistaken!” He turned back to Leila. “Where did you get this?” he asked.
“A man gave it to me one day. He said it would help me.” Leila’s tone was defensive. “And it has! I’m now queen!”
Lady Clarellë looked sadly at Leila. “He was harming you more than helping you. The mirror warns you of threats, correct?” Leila nodded, and Lady Clarellë continued. “Many of the threats were not threats at all, but instead people who wouldn’t have harmed you. He was trying to get you and all the royal family killed so he could emerge from the mirror and take over the throne.”
Leila’s face turned purple with rage. “No!” she cried. “Cullen would never do that! He says I’m beautiful! He said that no one would harm me if he could prevent it!” She tried to rush to the door, but found her way blocked. She turned and tried to reach the small window, but then she tripped. The mirror cracked, and a fiery smoke emerged, filling the room. Everyone except Leila rushed for cover. There was a loud boom, and the room shook. Then, the smoke cleared. Leila and the mirror were gone.
Rosa was the first to speak. “What happened?”
Lord Alanal shook his head sadly. “The mirror cracked, and the spirit within could not survive, but it took Leila with it.”
Everyone was silent for a minute, and then Skyellë asked “So what happens now?”
Prince Owen answered her, his voice quiet. “We make things right.”
Well, they did make things right. After some dispute, it was decided that Prince Owen would rule until there was time to sort out who was the rightful ruler. And he, with the help of Mandy, Rosa, and the Allë clan, did his best to right Leila's wrongs. Those who were unjustly imprisoned were set free, and anything else that could be done was done.
After this process finally came to an end, something wonderful happened. Prince Owen and Rosa told each other how they felt. They were married on the anniversary of Rosa’s healing, the healing that was brought about by love. The day later became a national holiday in that land. Their marriage also solved the problem of who was the rightful ruler. Together, they ruled as king and queen, and they were known even beyond their kingdom for their great kindness.
As for Mandy, she was offered a position of high prestige. She, however, refused. Instead, she chose to remain as cook, for she had discovered that she loved that job. She stayed in the kitchen for the rest of her days, and made Aren Castle famous for its plum pies and was always ready with advice and sugar cookies for those who needed them. And, whenever Rosa felt that being queen was too much pressure, she’d go down to the kitchen to see Mandy. Owen would find her several hours later cuddling with Mandy and eating sugar cookies, and all the kitchen servants suspected that he was the only king who had to ask the cook if he could “please have his wife back?”
And what of the elves? Well, they returned to their home in the forest and lived there happily for ages upon ages. However, they remained honored guests at the castle, and Rosa, Owen, and Mandy were always welcome in their clearing. And so, I guess you could say that everyone really did live happily ever after.