Alton finds Revanth and sees to it that the thieves are punished. After a night in the stable, Revanth feels better, and the two make their way back to the women. They meet three naiads at the river. They bring messages from the women. Alton realizes that one of them is blind.
Why hadn’t he noticed before? There were legends of blind naiads—they were said to know the future.
“He is your spirit brother,” she stated. “Revanth and Alton—wood sprite and man-horse, united on their quest.”
“And what is this quest you speak of?” Alton demanded.
“You think it’s to find and kill the witch, Eleion.”
“But you say it isn’t.”
“I know it isn’t—not entirely. You wish for a home, Alton. A place to live in peace and raise your children.”
“Wood sprites and naiads can’t have children together—”
She raised a finger, halting him once more. “Are you certain?”
“In the known history of our two races, no one had ever claimed to be the child of a naiad and a wood sprite.”
“Just because no one has claimed it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. But that isn’t all your quest either.”
“You speak in riddles, Naiad!”
“Your true quest, Alton of Lyndon Meade, is to rescue the women you love from the evil that binds them.”
Revanth snorted, raising his head and stomping his feet.
“As we speak, danger stalks them. Not even Oak Mother can keep them safe.”
“What?” her sisters whirled on her, horrified.
“Why didn’t you warn them?” the eldest cried.
“I only saw the vision moments ago. They are in grave danger.”
The naiads dove into the water, swimming rapidly up stream. Revanth made to follow, but the water was too deep and swift. Only the ford provided safe crossing.
Alton ran to the nearest tree. Taking off his gloves, he touched it as he pressed his lips to the bark. “Hear me, Oak Mother. Warn Velda. Trouble nears.”
“What trouble?” was the faint reply.
“I don’t know. Tell Velda—” He felt himself cut off. No matter how he tried to reestablish contact, nothing further came to him.
Melding himself with the tree, he felt its warmth and heartbeat. Reaching out, he sent a message to all the wood sprites, dryads and tree spirits, calling for help. He briefly touched Oak Mother. Through her, he heard a scream and a cry for help. Silence descended on the forest. Not even a breeze stirred.
“Velda!” he cried.
The trees around him called her name. Revanth heard them rustle and shake. He felt his brother’s anguish stir the ground beneath his feet.
Alton searched for Velda, asking the trees to contact one another—all their kin. Wood sprites called to animals, who also joined the search. The answer came back—nothing. Overcome by grief, Alton sank to the ground, his face and hands pressed against the bark. Surrounded by wood sprites and dryads, he gave in to his grief.
“I’ve lost her,” he moaned. “My Velda! My life!”
Revanth snorted, shaking his head. He stalked over to Alton , biting him on the arm. Alton could find no anger. Blank eyes rose to meet the horse’s fiery glare. Revanth tugged on Alton’s sleeve, stomping and blowing. He whinnied loudly as he rose on his hind legs.
“Of course.” Alton rose, shaking off his melancholy. “You’re right, Revanth. I’m being a fool. Forgive me.” He patted the glossy neck.
“We will listen to the earth and wind,” one of the dryads told him. “Go, my friend. Find your lover. Know that the land and trees are with you.
“And the water,” a lilting voice behind him added. It was the eldest naiad. “I have called my sisters, aunts and cousins. We’ll find them.”
“A message from Oak Mother’s grove,” the dryad, from the tree Alton had used, spoke up. “They were taken in a dark, swirling cloud. They saw the cloud appear in her sacred grove, but were powerless to stop it. Her dryads and sprites have tried, but can’t find them.”
“Who took them?” Alton asked.
The dryad shuddered. “A puka.”
Revanth snorted, screaming his frustration.
“Find, Eleion,” the dryad spoke Oak Mother’s message. “Revanth needs his true form to help you defeat whatever holds the women.”
“Can we do it alone?” Alton asked.
“You won’t be alone,” the dryad said. “See what friends you have?”
Alton nodded, speaking quietly and rapidly to the forest people, getting all the information about Eleion that he could.
Revanth paced off his agitation. To calm him, the dryads brought delicacies from their forest larder. They heaped fruits, roots, mushrooms and berries before him. He refused to eat until a child picked up a berry and held it to him. She was a mere toddling babe. Her skin was pale green like the inner rings of a very young sapling. Her hair was the color of new birch bark. Smiling and laughing, she opened Revanth’s mouth, unmindful of the powerful jaws.
Revanth took the berry delicately between his teeth. His tongue tasted the berry. With a toss of his head, he caught it in his mouth, chewing. His snort could only be interpreted as a laugh.
“Thank you, little one,” Alton translated for his brother.
The child grabbed Revanth’s mane, climbing nimbly up his neck. Perched on his back, she laughed, clapping her hands.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes