Alton and Revanth have a chat with Old Jon about Eleion.
“Then, perhaps, our goal is to take her feet from the mud,” Alton said quietly. He sat in silence, thinking.
Old Jon and Revanth watched him for a few minutes, then carried on their own silent conversation. The old man could see Alton’s mind working. He knew the direction of his thinking, and prodded him in the right direction, guiding him to his own decision and plan. He was far more capable than he let on, knowing it was important for the men to do this themselves, without relying on him. Only with that confidence, could they defeat the being that held their women. Eleion was a challenge, but with the right persuasion, she would aid them.
He nodded, smiling as he watched the last pieces of Alton’s plan click into place. “Yes,” he said softly. “That just might work.”
Revanth and Alton settled for the night. Each had a fragrant palette to sleep on. The peat fire was banked and glowed in the darkness. Old Jon sat in front of it, long legs crossed in front of him, staring into the fire, smoking. From time to time, his fingers flickered. Nodding, eyebrows dancing up and down, he watched something that only he could see.
Night passed into morning. When Revanth and Alton woke, Old Jon wasn’t around, but there was a pot of porridge bubbling over the fire. It smelled delicious. Not sure whether they should serve themselves or not, they waited. When it became apparent that Old Jon wasn’t around—a quick check by Alton confirmed this, they ate. Feeling fortified by their meal, they prepared to leave. Alton took a container from his food bag and put some of the porridge in it to save for another meal. Having nothing else to leave as thanks, he enchanted a packet of tobacco, so it would always be full, and left it on the table.
Standing in the center of the clearing, Alton cast out, searching for Eleion. He sensed darkness near the heart of the swamp. It wasn’t evil—exactly—more of a chaotic flow of natural energy. He communicated his plan to Revanth, and the two of them set off for Eleion’s home.
Astrid woke, stretching. Each muscle sang out in protest from lying on the stone bench. Across from her, Velda lay, huddled against the hard surface, her head cradled on her arms. Her eyes flickered with dreams. A frown crossed her face. With a gasp, she woke. Her gaze met Astrid’s and she relaxed slightly.
“Only a dream after all,” she whispered. “I can’t even touch his mind from here.” Her voice was full of sorrow.
“Nor can I sense Revanth. I worry that he’ll lose strength without me. I can feel an emptiness inside me, and I’m growing weaker—albeit, not as rapidly as before. I think being with you and Alton has strengthened us.”
Velda smiled. “True friends can do that. With Alton by his side, Revanth will be fine. They will find us, and bring us home.”
“I wish I shared your confidence. I know they will find us, but do any of us truly have a home to return to?”
Velda sat beside her friend, her arms around her. They sat together, in silent misery until a rattling at the door caught their attention. Their captor had thought of everything, it seemed. They were not given liquid to drink, but juicy fruits and succulent meats sat on a tray. Though she would have liked to shun the food, Velda knew better than to do so. Their captor hadn’t mistreated them, and it didn’t seem as if he intended to do so. She had the impression that they were being used as bait, but for what purpose, she didn’t know.
A glazed jar appeared in the corner. Both women used it and it disappeared as soon as they were through. Velda frowned. She could have used their waste water to work some magic. Their captor was no fool. Given nothing else to do, the women talked quietly about themselves and their lives.
“How did you meet Alton?” Astrid queried.
Velda smiled, remembering. “He dove into the pool where my mother, sisters and I lived. We had never seen a male wood sprite before. Of us all, only our mother had seen a man, or been with one. I was the eldest, and near the Time of Leaving.”
“As I told you, naiads are all female. We must mate with humans, or other compatible species, in order to have children. Any male children we have, are of their father’s race, with a strong affinity for the sea. Many of the great sailors, though they don’t know it, had naiad mothers. Our daughters, when they mature, leave home and find mates, returning to the water when they tire of life on land. Usually, we bring our daughters with us, and live secluded lives. Our pond was deep in a forest, far from Alton’s home. He was exploring, finding us by chance.”
She sighed, remembering. “I loved him the moment I saw him. Completely naked, his body that lush, dark brown—such a fine specimen. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. My mother discouraged me, telling me that a man like Alton couldn’t give me the children I would want one day . Children of the Earth and those of Water cannot create life together.”
“I’m so sorry,” Astrid said. “It must be horrible for you.”
“I love him more than my own life,” Velda said. “He is my heart, my soul. Even if we will never have a child, I will never leave him. That night, I left my mother’s underwater grotto, and presented myself to him. We made love under the stars. It was beautiful. Each time with him feels magical, like that first time.”
“You are so very lucky,” Astrid said. “Revanth and I never had our first time. He became a horse in my bed!” Burying her face in Velda’s shoulder, she wept.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes