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Alton & Velda Part 20 by Dellani Oakes

alton and velda cover smallerRevanth and Alton have found Eleion. Alton speaks to her, asking for aid. When she refuses, he uses a spell to raise her from the ground, cutting her connection with the swamp. While she’s incapacitated, he binds her with an oath.

He continued to bind her will and intentions, giving her the Deal Maker’s Oath. It was equally binding to both parties. If she wanted to be protected, she had to accept.

“Do I have your promise that you will not harm me if I help you?” Eleion said, somewhat subdued.

“You have my promise that I will not harm you, if you aid us as we need.”

The rest of the deal was struck. Alton, having dealt with witches a time, or two dozen, before, knew how to give her very little leeway. As protected as he could hope to be, he spit on his palm, lowering her enough to clasp her spit covered palm.

“Let me down,” Eleion demanded. “I can’t work up here.”

“As you wish,” Alton said, lowering her with a thump.

Eleion advanced, poking her long, sharp nailed finger into his chest. “I know you, Sprite. You and I have crossed paths before. We shall again. The next time, I won’t wait for a deal, I’ll kill you where you stand.”

“You’ll try,” Alton said with a smile. “Now, for our deal. You have agreed to change my friend back to his former self. And no tricks, or your head is mine.”

Digging her toes into the mud, Eleion spoke in a guttural language that made Alton’s skin crawl. His hair stood out, making him feel quite peculiar. It was nothing to the effect it had on Revanth. He collapsed to his knees, gulping and retching. His body shivered and shook, his bones snapping and cracking. The horse writhed on the ground, pawing the air with his hooves as he tried to breathe. With a scream that sounded as much human as horse, he lay still.

“You’ve killed him!” Alton drew his sword. “If you have lied to me, Witch!”

A moan at his feet greeted his sensitive ears. The horse body fell to black dust, coating the naked man within. Squinting against the light, Revanth rolled to his hands and knees. Rocking back on his heels, he raised his hands in front of his face, marveling at them.

“I’m myself again! I am a man! Thank you, Eleion!” He grasped her arms as if he intended to kiss her, but stopped himself. “You did this to me, you foul hag!” He took a step toward her, but stopped as his feet took root in the mud. Wild-eyed, he gazed beseechingly at his friend.

“Peace, brother. You have thanked her for your release, but take no action against her.” His dark green eyes flickered and he shook his head.

“I lost myself for a moment. Brother, do you have spare clothing? I can hardly walk around the land without my pants.”

Alton chuckled, digging in his pack. He handed Revanth his clothing. The binding on him receded, and he was able to dress.

“The other part of our deal, Witch,” Alton said. “I don’t wish to sully my blade with that swamp water you call blood.”

“You could make an effort to be more polite, Alton of Lyndon Meade,” Eleion spat. “You don’t remember, do you? Who I am? How we met?” She grasped him firmly between the legs, rubbing hungrily. “Do you remember now—lover?”

Taking a step back, he pushed at her. “I remember you did your best to suck the life from me, and leave me to die—lover. Ill met one night when I’d had more mead than sense. A less than satisfactory tumble, I must say.”

“Wait!” Revanth said, struggling with his pants. “You know her?”

“In every sense of the word,” Alton replied, his tone cold. “She lured me to her, pretending to be Velda. It was the first time I was unfaithful, shortly after we met. Then, the witch tried to kill me for her amusement. Velda banished her here, to live the best she could amongst the slime and putrid gasses. You deserved worse. Your sister was kind.”

“They are sisters?” Revanth paled. “Is that why you told us to seek her out? Why you ruined my life? Revenge, because she had the man you couldn’t have, except by trickery?”

Revanth snatched Alton’s sword from his scabbard. Swinging it in a tight arc, he severed Eleion’s head from her shoulders. The ground rumbled as her head fell. The water rose, lapping and grabbing at their feet.

“Run!” Alton said.

“This way!” Old Jon called from a tangle of trees not far away.

“The deal,” Revanth said, halting. “I broke the deal! What will happen?”

“Run!” Alton urged. “The swamp will eat us alive, if we give it a chance.”

They followed Old Jon to his holding. The world around them shuddered and shook violently. Trees, bushes and grasses tried to trip them. Animals crossed their path, but they cast them aside. Once back at Old Jon’s land, they stopped running. Though the trees and mud writhed and reached for them, they could do no harm to the three men. Gulping air, Revanth leaned over, supporting himself with his hands on his knees.

“I broke the deal. I killed the witch! What have I done?”

“Saved us all a lot of trouble,” Old Jon said, grinning. “And you didn’t break the deal.”

“But how? We promised no harm would come to her.”

“No,” Alton said, smirking. “I promised I would do her no harm. I never said you wouldn’t. When she said you will not harm me, she chose to mean both of us. But, you couldn’t speak then, only I. You couldn’t give your word, therefore, the oath wasn’t binding to you. For the purpose of the deal, you meant only me. One small word has saved us from destruction.”

“How could she be held accountable to help me, then?”

“Because, my friend, I said us.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Alton & Velda Part 19 by Dellani Oakes

alton and velda cover smallerAlton and Revanth have gone in search of Eleion. Velda tells Astrid how she met Alton. Astrid tells Velda that Revanth changed from man to horse in her bed.

The moisture from her tears seeped into Velda’s thirsty skin, and she felt revitalized. Naiads didn’t cry like humans. They shed no tears, but perhaps, if she were clever enough, she could store up a little bit of moisture. It would take only a few drops to cast a spell. Holding her friend, she wiped Astrid’s tears. Feeling the prickling of magic in her fingertips, Velda smiled.

The men knew when they had found Eleion. Though they saw nothing particularly different about their surroundings, mud is mud, after all, the feel of the air was different. The soggy peat tugged at their feet, trying to throw them off balance. Revanth slipped three times before Alton called a halt. They stood on a tuft of grass, as it was the only firm ground that could hold Revanth. Alton didn’t sink as rapidly as the horse, but the hungry slime sucked at his boots, striving to draw him in.

“Eleion!” Alton called. “It is I, Alton of Lyndon Meade. I wish to speak to you.”

A resounding silence replied.

“Eleion, the Naiad Witch, I wish to speak to you. Please.”

Revanth nudged him with his nose, snorting softly.

“Please,” Alton’s tone changed to more pleading than commanding. “My friend and I need your help, Eleion. Our women are taken by a puka—a being too powerful for us. But perhaps, not too powerful for you. Will you help us, Eleion?”

“I might,” a voice purred behind them.

How she could sound sultry, and menacing, at the same time, Alton didn’t know. It sent a shiver up and down his spine, lodging in the parts of him that only Velda touched. However, her voice, which reminded him of the soft rumble of a giant cat, lodged there, caressing him. Odd stirrings filled him. Revanth snorted loudly, knocking Alton off his feet. Ass first in the mud, the lure of the voice ceased to be a problem. He wanted to be angry with Revanth, but he thanked him instead.

“I know you,” Eleion said, walking toward them. Swaying ample hips, she took hold of Revanth’s mane.

She was the sullen, murky green of old swamp water. Her hair hung in lank tangles, much like dry, snarled tree moss. Her lips were black, though sharp teeth flashed white in her dark face. Her clothing couldn’t be called a dress, so much as it was dabs of moss and slime slathered together to conceal her form. Her ample breasts were nearly bare.

Shivering, Revanth recoiled from her touch. The last time he’d seen her, she’d woven a spell to make him a horse. The urge to fight her was strong.

Alton touched his friend’s neck, grasping a handful of Revanth’s mane. “It’s all right, brother.”

“How quaint,” Eleion said, scratching Revanth’s neck. “A wood sprite and a—whatever you are, together. Lovers? Perhaps? Though the last time you were here, you had some hot little human with you.”

Revanth snapped at her, but Eleion merely laughed.

“So, not lovers, then. What do you want, wood sprite?” She spit the words at him, her tone holding malice.

“We came with the intent to kill you, Eleion. But we find ourselves asking for your aid. We need a witch of your power, to help us defeat the creature holding our women.”

Eleion lifted her chin. Eyes the shade of vipers, riveted them with a stare. “You wish my help, and yet you want me dead? What’s to keep you from killing me once I give my aid?”

“Not a damn thing,” Alton replied defiantly. “Except our word. If you help us, I give my word, I will not harm you.”

“What are the terms of your deal? And what do I get in return?”

“You get the satisfaction of living another day,” Alton said.

“You seem quite certain you can defeat me, wood sprite. Here in the heart of my swamp, I am queen. You might harm me, but my swamp will swallow you alive before you can enjoy it.”

“Will you help us?”

She eyed them critically. “I don’t know.”

“I give you one last chance to say yes,” Alton said. “Will you, Eleion the Witch, help us?”

“Not today.”

Suddenly, she was off her feet, hanging in mid air. Screeching, she flailed around, trying to work her magic. An unseen force kept her airborne. Alton smiled up at her.

“You’re sure, are you? That’s your final answer? I can keep you up there indefinitely, Witch. A wood sprite has a few skills, you know.”

“Not this, not an air spell! How can you? You’re of the Earth and Wood.”

“That would be telling. I can leave you, high and dry, until you dry up and fall to dust,” Alton said. “Or, you can give us the aid we require. Which is it?”

“I’ll help you!”

“You will give your unimpeded word,” Alton said. “You are bound by it, just as I am. You will not harm us in any way, nor will you cause, directly or indirectly, for harm to come to us. You will not impede us, nor cause us to be impeded. You will not slow us—”

“Enough! Obviously, you have dealt with my kind before.”

“I have dealt with you enough to know, that I will say the rest of the oath, or I’ll kill you now, and leave you to rot in your filthy swamp.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Alton & Velda Part 18 by Dellani Oakes

alton and velda cover smallerAlton 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.”

“What’s that?”

“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

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Alton & Velda Part 17 by Dellani Oakes

alton and velda cover smallerThe men finally reach the swamp. It takes a long time, but they finally get through the swamp, and find cultivated lands. An old man greets them, welcoming them into his home.

“Have a seat, lad. And you, sir, enjoy the oats and hay. There might even be an apple or two nearby, if you look a bit.”

Revanth bowed his head, front legs bending, showing his thanks. The old man chuckled.

“You’re welcome, young fella.”

Alton sat and the old man ladled the stew into their bowls. A loaf of crusty black bread thunked on the table and the old man sawed off huge chunks for both of them. He slurped a sip off his spoon and dipped the bread in it. Alton joined him in his meal.

“I’ve been waiting for you all day. Must have approached me from the south. Worst way to come in. Of course, they’re none of them good.” He winked a merry eye.

“How did you know we were coming?” Alton asked.

The man put his finger on the side of his nose. “Old Jon knows all,” he said with a chuckle. “But I’ve not introduced myself properly. I can see you boys haven’t a clue who I am.”

“No, sir,” Alton replied. “We thought the swamp was unoccupied, save for—”

“The witch, Eleion.”

“Yes. Is she nearby?”

“Not if she’s smart. She and I don’t see life the same way. She’s damn near killed my swamp. Sucking the life out of the trees so the dryads left or died. Scared off the fairies and the wood nymphs and killed the sprites.”

Alton’s eyes grew wide. The more he heard of Eleion’s crimes, the angrier he became. “Tell me where I can find her, so I can kill her,” he demanded. He stood, throwing his napkin to the table.

“Sit down and eat, young man,” Old Jon said. “You can’t kill someone like Eleion. She’s too powerful, even for me. If I can’t take her, a young sapling like you can’t. Besides, you’ll need her knowledge to fight what’s taken your women.”

“You know that, too?” Alton was shocked.

“Word travels fast around these parts. Nothing else to do. I know all about it. They were taken by a puka.”

“Where are they? Do you know? Have you seen them? Can you help us?”

Old Jon settled back, relighting his pipe. The smoke smelled like burning mud. Revanth wrinkled his nose. Alton angled himself so the smoke went past him.

“They’re far from here. I know more or less where. No and yes.”

Alton blinked, puzzled for a moment. Revanth snorted, shaking his head. Alton laughed as realization struck. The old man had answered his questions, with no real explanation, but in order.

“All that can wait. We need to concentrate on the witch.”

“I thought she was a naiad,” Alton said with a frown.

“Can’t she be both? You’re a wood sprite and a hunter. Your friend is a man and a horse. Just because she’s one thing doesn’t mean she can’t be the other. Some of the most powerful witches are naiads—among the nastiest too. They can take the life force of the land around them, and use it to make themselves stronger. Eleion has been here a long time. This used to be a lush river and forest. You see it now. That’s because she’s sucked most of the life from it. But it still feeds her.”

“How do we overcome a creature that strong?” Alton sighed.

“You don’t. Most you can do is trap her. Or you might persuade her to help.”

“By making another deal like the one that trapped Revanth?”

Old Jon held up a gnarled hand. “To be fair, your friends miss-worded their request. Had they asked properly, not given the old hag any room for interpretation, there wouldn’t have been a war, and your friend wouldn’t be a horse.”

“Can you help us with that?”

“I can.”

Will you?”

Old Jon chuckled. “You’re learning, Sapling.”

Alton tried not to be offended by that nickname, but it rankled. He was hardly a child. Among his own kind, he was still a young man. By human standards, he was probably of an age with Old Jon.

“Don’t like that, do you, youngun’?” The old man winked. “Think you’re old as me?” He shook his grizzled head. “Sapling, I was merely old when the world was young. When you were a lad, I was ancient. Truth is, I don’t know my age anymore. But trust me, even Oak Mother is a spry twig in comparison to Old Jon.”

His glance moved to Revanth. The horse stood, head bowed, knees bent in supplication. “That’s the first sensible thing anyone’s said today—besides me, of course.” He winked. “Your friend thinks you need to put aside your petty annoyance, and have a listen. He didn’t say it quite that way, of course.”

“He’s right,” Alton said, somewhat chagrined. “My apologizes, sir. I guess I’m used to being the old man of the bunch.”

Old Jon laughed heartily. “No offense taken, lad. You and I will get along splendidly.”

“How do we go about this, Old Jon? We can’t take her on head to head, as we’d planned. Do we sneak up on her?”

“There’s no sneaking with Eleion. She knows you’re here, and she knows your intentions. She’s got ears to the ground and the wind. The animals and plants are all her slaves. She’s as close to a god as it’s possible to be without divinity. I’m old and strong, but I don’t drain the life around me dry. As long as she’s got her feet in the mud, she can call upon everything to aid her.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Alton & Velda Part 16 by Dellani Oakes

alton and velda cover smallerAlton and Revanth know they must break his curse, before they can go after the women. An elderly dryad gives them advice and gifts to help in their quest.

Turning to Revanth, she took his face in her hands. Leaning her forehead against his, she breathed into his nostrils. “May the courage of all of us fill you, horse-man, for you will need it all. Watch after your impetuous brother, and keep him safe.”

Revanth snorted, nodding.

“My gift to you—is love. And this.” She braided a charm made from bits of glass and metal, into his mane. “Your brother is of the wood and earth. You are of the moon and sky. Remember that, for you will need it.” She kissed them both and headed back to the grove.

The others bid farewell. By this time, the residents of the next territory had joined them and been introduced. They took over showing Revanth and Alton the way. This handing off was done three more times before the two came to the place where they would sleep for the night.

Alton was all for forging ahead, but Revanth dug in his heels, refusing to go another step. He was tired, but he also knew that traveling all night was foolish. His protests were met with resistance on Alton’s part, until one of the dryads spoke. She was a pretty thing, with pale golden hair and moss green eyes. Her tree was an ash.

“Your brother is right,” she told Alton. “You can’t travel all night and arrive tired. You’ll need your strength to outwit Eleion.”

“Do you mean fight her?”

The dryad said nothing more. She set out food and drink for the two and showed them to a stream where they could bathe. The naiads here laughed and dove as Alton bathed, making comments about his attributes. Revanth chuckled as he splashed around in the river. The naiads climbed on him, weaving twigs and bits of glass into his mane.

As they ate, the sprites and fairies sang to them. Nymphs and dryads built beds for them from grass, moss and heather. They fell asleep with music winding around them.

His eyes fell shut and Alton stepped into the dream world. He was in the grove, but the colors were more vivid, the scents and sounds more pronounced. A man with black hair and dark eyes was standing beside him. Smiling, the fellow held open his arms, greeting Alton.

“Revanth?”

“Yes, brother. Apparently, this grove makes it possible for me to join you. It feels good to be a man again! I wish it could last.” His eyes turned sad and he fell silent.

Alton hugged him, clapping his friend on the back. “Soon enough, brother.”

“Do you know the agony I’ve felt all these months? What if I never change back? Am I destined to love a woman I can’t have? Will I revert to an animal? Even now, the human traits and thoughts fade from my mind. Every day, I become more horse and less man.”

“With the help of these good people, we’ll save you, my brother.”

“While we have this time, we should talk about our plan.”

“Agreed. Tell me what I need to do.”

They sat down together, talking long into the night. Near dawn, they woke, rested and refreshed. A quick breakfast, and they were on their way. After half a day’s travel, they came to a very different environment. The trees were gnarled and twisted. Thick moss covered the trunks. Tendrils of hanging plants and vines dangled from their branches. No friendly dryads or sprites came to greet them.

Before stepping into this strange and unpleasant looking land, Alton stopped. He raised his head, sniffing and listening. “I don’t like this place,” he murmured.

Revanth snorted, nodding adamantly before nudging the wood sprite with his head.

“I know,” Alton snapped. “Do you know how this feels? Imagine walking into a room full of spider webs, and not knowing where the spiders are.”

Shuddering, he and Revanth advanced. The ground was spongy underfoot, oozing with each step. Puddles of stagnant, scum covered water dotted the landscape. Footing became treacherous, especially for the horse. Alton went first, searching for the best path. Their progress slowed as they struggled through the quagmire. Only the croaking of frogs, buzz of biting insects and slither of snakes accompanied them.

Late in the afternoon, they came across cultivated lands. Stands of barley dotted the marshy land. Neatly maintained shrubs and squat trees formed a ring around a clearing. The smell of decay and damp was slightly less here. It took a few moments to realize that there was a low hut not far from them, in the center of the clearing. Smoke struggled from the chimney, dribbling toward the ground, as if unable to rise in the moist air.

“Do we dare approach?” Alton whispered.

Revanth sniffed, raising his head. He turned slightly, inhaling deeply. With a snort and horsey chuckle, he led Alton forward, picking his way delicately between the paddies. Alton followed, the path not wide enough for two.

The door to the hut opened when they arrived. An old man, as dark and gnarled as the trees, stood in the doorway. He smoked a long, narrow pipe made of muddy clay. The smoke from the bowl dripped and wriggled downward like snakes hanging from trees. A toothless smile split his weathered, dark brown face.

“So, you’re here at last, eh? I’ve been expecting you all day. Well, don’t just stand there. Come in!” He gestured to the hut.

It hardly looked large enough for Revanth, but that didn’t stop the old man from inviting them in. Somehow, the horse fit through the opening, though Alton couldn’t have said how. It was as if the doorway stretched to accommodate the horse.

Inside, the hut was clean and cozy. A peat fire burned in the hearth and a savory stew bubbled in a cast iron pot. A pile of hay and bin of oats stood on the side of the hut furthest from the fire. A table, laid for two, took up most of the space in the floor. The old man gestured to Alton.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Alton & Velda Part 15 by Dellani Oakes

alton and velda cover smallerThe men return to Oak Mother’s grove to find her severely injured. While Alton and the forest people work to heal her, Revanth searches for signs of the women and their abductor. They are able to save Oak Mother, planting her severed limbs in the soil around her.

A collective sigh filled the grove. The level of activity subsided. Alton slid to the ground, his back to Oak Mother. His eyes closed. Revanth settled on the ground, resting his head at Oak Mother’s roots. She felt stronger, content, her pain ebbing away. The severed limbs shivered, their branches arching toward their Mother.

“What did you find, my friend?” Alton’s voice was barely above a whisper. He touched Revanth and froze. “It’s worse than I thought,” he said quietly. “But I fear I haven’t the strength to deal with it at present.”

Revanth assured Alton that he would keep watch and wake him if there was need. He might be useless for some tasks, but he was good at watching and guarding. As he kept an eye on their surroundings, protecting his friend, Revanth mulled over what he had discovered. A plan, of sorts, began to form.

During the night, tree sprites and dryads kept him company. Like Alton, they were able to communicate with Revanth. He went over his plans with them and they helped him with details, calling on their friends and family far away. By the time that Alton woke, Revanth knew what they must do, and where they must go. Only with his human body back, could they attempt to free their lady loves. It meant confronting Eleion without Velda. As much as it terrified him, he knew it had to be done. He would need Alton’s help. Even now, his strength ebbed, though not as quickly as it had at home. He felt invigorated by Oak Mother’s grove.

Convincing the wood sprite to abandon his search for Velda, would not be easy. If he made a strong case, Revanth knew the other man would listen to him. Wishing he had a voice, he appealed to the dryads and sprites, asking for them to help convince Alton.

“We will help you,” Oak Mother whispered. “My children and I shall make my son see reason.”

Revanth touched her bark with his nose, doing his best to kiss her. She was a true friend and a strong ally. He thanked her with his mind, as he waited for Alton to wake.

At dawn, Alton stretched and groaned. Waking slowly, his nose caught the warm, welcoming scent of his favorite tea and hot scones, as well as strawberries and fresh cream. Smiling, his eyes fluttered open. Dryads and wood sprits had used his bag to prepare a meal fit for kings.

Revanth had sweet grass and mixed grains to eat. The dryads dribbled liquid on the ground at Oak Mother’s base. She and her saplings fed off it, their leaves turning to the rising sun.

Alton ate his fill, carefully replacing the leftovers in the bag. After a quick dip in the river, which was disconcerting with the naiads about, he and Revanth sat down to talk about their plans.

“We must pursue the women at once,” Alton began.

Revanth snorted, shaking his head. He projected his objections as clearly as he could, but his distress, and sense of urgency, clouded his thoughts. Alton received a jumble of images, nothing more. Frustrated, they argued for several minutes, until an elder wood nymph entered the grove. She sat near Alton, taking his hands as she gazed into his eyes.

“Child,” she whispered. “Listen to your brother. He has a plan he’s trying to share.”

“But the women!”

“Are alive and well. More than that, I don’t know. But even now, the plants, animals and elements search for them. We will find them. Meanwhile, you must confront Eleion. She has been located in a swamp nearly two days travel from here.”

“We can’t go there first!” Alton sprang to his feet.

Her hand grasped his wrist in an unyielding grip. “Your brother is a warrior. Though you’re a hunter, you don’t have his skills. Listen to his plan. You can’t rescue them, with him in his current form. This meeting with Eleion is something you must do together—without the women. They have their own battle to fight.”

Grudgingly, Alton settled on the ground. Sighing heavily, he closed his eyes and cleared his mind. Revanth touched Alton’s forehead with his nose. His thoughts melded with the wood sprite’s, filling Alton’s mind with pictures of what they must do.

Nodding his understanding, Alton’s eyes opened. “All right, brother. If this is what we must do—this is what we shall do.”

The wood nymphs, sprites and naiads who wished to accompany the friends, gathered around them as they walked from Oak Mother’s grove. A few miles from the river, they bid farewell. The elderly wood nymph took Alton’s hands, holding them between hers.

“I have a gift to give you, young man. You have many skills that you don’t even know you possess. You will need them all to conquer Eleion. The gift I give you is sight.”

“Respectfully, Mother, I can see.”

She tapped his forehead impatiently. “Inner sight,” she replied, tapping his head twice more. “Listen to your friend, and pay attention to that voice inside when it tells you something. And when the time comes—” she handed him a small leather pouch. “Use this. You’ll know what to do.”

Puzzled and frustrated by her words, Alton thanked her. He might not understand, but he’d never been so impetuous as to ignore good advice. She wouldn’t let him open the bag. It smelled slightly of damp earth and leaves, and rattled like stones on wood.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Alton & Velda Part 14 by Dellani Oakes

alton and velda cover smallerRevanth and Alton find out that Astrid and Velda have been kidnapped. Distraught, they aren’t sure what to do. The people of the river and forest promise to help in whatever way they can. A small dryad climbs on Revanth’s back, laughing and clapping.

“She wants to go with you,” a tree sprite said. “But you can’t, little one,” she intoned softly. “Too long from your tree, and you will die, precious one.”

The child pouted.

“We can’t leave our grove unprotected,” a wood sprite said. “But we can travel with you to the end of our territory. From there, new friends will meet you.”

“We don’t know where to go,” Alton said sadly.

“We’ll help you,” the naiad said. “Wherever water runs, my sisters and I can travel. Even now, the search is on for Eleion. We’ll find her.”

“Meanwhile,” the oak dryad said. “Let me tell you what Oak Mother said.”

Velda woke slowly, holding her head. The walls around her whirled and dipped, making her cry out. Grasping her head to stop the spinning, she found herself in chains. Her wrists were bound, though her ankles were free.

“You’re awake,” Astrid spoke softly, not far away. “Be still a moment. It passes.”

“Where—?”

“Are we?” Astrid shrugged. “Could be worse. At least it’s clean.”

Velda chanced a look around. The room appeared to be dense stone, like marble. The walls and floor were smooth and free of cracks. There were no windows, though there was light from somewhere.

Astrid sat on a stone ledge, big enough to lie on. Velda saw she was on one too. A rough woven blanket covered her lower limbs.

“Not a dungeon, but still a cell,” she mused. “No roots, dirt or water. They know something of our kind, then.”

“I think we’re above ground,” Astrid said. “I thought I heard the wind before, whirling about like it did around our tower—at home.”

Velda nodded. That made sense. Her kind, and Alton’s, were weakest in the air. Roots couldn’t penetrate this stone and there was no moisture present. For a prison, it was ideal.

“Not even a mote of dust,” Astrid frowned. “What is this place?”

“I don’t know, but I think it was built especially for us.”

“Do you remember anything?” Astrid pulled her knees to her chin, folding her arms around them.

“Darkness—whirling—and the smell—”

“Yes, it smelled like dead things.” Astrid shuddered.

“I think it was a puka, an evil spirit which can be sent to do its master’s bidding,” Velda explained.”

“Why would anyone want us?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps they’ll introduce themselves.”

As if on cue, a rattling at the door heralded a visitor. Velda stood, shoulders and head defiant, too angry to be afraid.

Astrid did her best to emulate Velda. Though not as confident as her friend appeared to be, there was no fear in the wide eyes. Her copper hair hung around her in a wild tangle. She touched Velda’s hand briefly before the door opened.

Alton and Revanth were well provisioned by their new friends. They insisted on filling his bag nearly to bursting. Once on their way, they traveled to Oak Mother’s grove, the wood sprites in tow.

Devastation met their eyes. The trees were slashed and uprooted. Oak Mother’s lower limbs lay in the tangle at her base. She was alive, but barely. Those of her wood sprites and dryads who were still able bodied, did their best to keep her alive.

The new arrivals sprang to action, Alton at their head. Revanth stood well out of the way. His horse’s body didn’t lend itself to rescue missions. As the flurry of activity surrounding Oak’s Mother increased, he looked about for clues of the events. As a man, he was a warrior and hunter. As a horse, he could sniff out even more than he could see. Something evil had passed here, not long ago. The very land reeked of it. Activity at the other side of the grove increased. Revanth barely noticed. He bent low, moving brush and debris aside with his nose and breath. He smelled Astrid and caught Velda’s scent. Both women had been close together when trouble came. There were signs of a struggle. The women had tried to fight, but whatever had taken them, was a superior force.

The odor was so strong in one spot, he knew the beast had stopped there. From that point, he no longer sensed the women. The scent of the beast disappeared a few steps away—and the lingering smell of ozone replaced it. What he found was beyond his ken. Revanth would have to wait for Alton to interpret his findings. At the moment, the wood sprite was engaged in a life and death struggle, with Oak Mother’s survival in the balance. Revanth was too ignorant of this, as well. He could only hope she would survive.

“Revanth!” Alton bellowed.

The horse-man responded without question. A sense of urgency filled him. He trotted across the grove.

“Here,” Alton commanded. “Just a touch,” he said, indicating the damaged trunk.

Revanth pressed his nose against the bark. To his alarm, it felt warm and pliant, like living flesh. He recoiled slightly, but didn’t pull away. He did his best to share comfort and strength with Oak Mother, imbuing his thoughts with love, projecting them to her. She shuddered and sighed, relaxing. The wood sprites worked quickly, healing and binding her wounds. Her severed limbs were planted in a ring around her. The dryads of her grove chanted over them. They took root, the leaves unfurling with renewed vigor.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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