"What do you think? Should we kill them?"
"No.... Let's let them live for now."
"They're after the Queen Mother."
A scoff. "Then we'll let her kill them."
"And the nymph? She is surely leading them."
"The Queen Mother will kill her, too. Let them go."
"As you wish."
I woke with a start just in time to see two dark shapes dart between the trees. Angel was missing from my arms and I panicked, looking around. She was by the fire, though, reheating the stew and I let out a sigh of relief.
"Did you guys hear that?" I asked, accepting the bowl from Angel.
She shook her head. "No. Why?"
I frowned and looked over my shoulder. "I could have sworn I heard people speaking."
"You're in an enchanted forest, fool," Rosebud snapped.
Adam broke his bowl and glared at the nymph, his nails extending. She looked fearful for the first time since I've seen her.
"Stop speaking to my alpha in such a way!" he snarled.
"I'll speak to him however I want," she said with a haughty sniff but she remained silent for the rest of the meal. "Ugh. Don't let him carry me again," she added when Adam untied her. "He smells of wet dog."
I shook my head wearily. "Oh, stop it. He will carry you until we reach our destination."
"You're the worst master I've ever had to serve," she growled.
"We're doing this for you," Angel snapped.
Rosebud just rolled her eyes and let herself hang from Adam's shoulder dramatically, letting her body swing like a rag doll. Despite what the others said, I could still feel the sensation that we were being followed. I was almost certain I heard people talking. I kept glancing over my shoulder until Tiberius stopped me.
"Worry not, David," he said.
I nodded reluctantly.
"How much longer, Adam?" Angel asked a few hours later.
"Not much, Princess," he answered. "I don't believe we will run into any more creatures."
Rosebud snorted. "We're getting close to my mother's realm; I can sense it. If you don't think we'll run into any creatures, you're dumber than you look."
"Elves don't count."
She narrowed her eyes at me. "You know nothing about elves, my master."
"I will soon," I said simply and ignored her.
The trees started thinning out and we were able to extinguish our torches. Finally, we were seeing the sun and it blinded me for a few seconds. When we came to the edge of the trees, we stopped to take in what we were facing. Angel gasped in surprise, her eyes wide.
Across a long, stone bridge was a realm unlike anything I've ever seen. It was like an island suspended in the air. Waterfalls fell over the sides. The terrain was beautiful, lush, and green. It was full of trees. Inside the trees were homes made with roped bridges connecting them. There were some at the base of the trees, as well. In the very center of it all, was a large white marble tower.
"My mother's home," Rosebud said in disgust. "Let's get this over with!"
I nodded to Adam and he led the way. Before we could get to the bridge, two elves appeared.
"State your names," the one on the left said and I recognized the voice.
"You were spying on us!" I said and he rolled his eyes.
"Don't be foolish human. Now state your names."
"I am Prince David," I said. "This is my wife, Princess Angel; my guard and friend, Tiberius; and my other guard, Adam."
The second elf narrowed his eyes at Adam. "We do not allow werewolves in the realm."
"They have the Sword," the first elf said. "We must take them to the Queen Mother."
"Adam comes with us," I said firmly.
The elves shared bitter looks but stepped aside for us to walk forward. I glared behind my back at them. I knew those were the two that had been talking about us, plotting what to do with us.
It took a long time to get over the bridge. When we entered the realm, we heard music and singing from everywhere. It was beautiful and I felt calmer than I had in a very long time. It made me a little drowsy but we walked on. I didn't need to fall asleep on my feet; not when I was so close to getting my life back to the way it was before all this began.
When we reached the tower, more elves blocked our way. The two that had followed, though, had them move and we walked up a winding set of marble stirs. I was getting dizzy when we finally reached the very top.
"Bow humans and wolf," the elf said behind us. "Show your respect."
We were in a... bedroom? On a large bed, a beautiful elf with long, white blond hair, was lounging. She was dressed in green velvet and lounged back. Her eyes were narrowed on Rosebud as we bowed.
"I hope you have a good reason for bringing her back," the Queen Mother said quietly.
"Like you have any room to talk," Rosebud grumbled.
"Set her there," the Queen Mother said, pointing to a wooden chair.
Adam did as he was told. Rosebud looked like she was going to run but the elves blocked the exit.
"Your Highness," I began, bowing again. "We have come with a request."
"You wish to help my fool of a daughter be free of what she calls a curse," she said and I nodded, not bothering to ask how she knew. "What has she told you?"
I looked over at Rosebud. For a second time, she looked a little afraid. I narrowed my eyes as Angel answered. She told her the story and the Queen Mother began to laugh, sitting up.
"Oh Rosebud," she said, still laughing. "You truly are a trickster."
Rosebud glared. "I am not a trickster!"
"I'm afraid my dear daughter lied to you, Princess Angel," the Queen Mother said.
Angel frowned. "But how could she have? I am a woman."
"Rosebud is not just a nymph," the Queen Mother said, getting out of bed. She was incredibly tall. "She is still part elf."
"I don't understand," I said, looking between the two women.
The Queen Mother walked to her daughter who was avoiding her gaze.
"I was the one to fall in love with a young woodsman," the Queen Mother said quietly. "I don't think she has the capacity to love."
"Thanks to you," Rosebud snapped and the Queen Mother's eyes flashed.
"Ungrateful child," the Queen Mother snapped back. She turned to us. "When the woodsman learned of my true nature after we gave birth to our child, he tried to kill her. To spare her, I turned her into a nymph. Unfortunately, I wasn't very skilled at that kind of magic. So, she retained many of her elven traits. Such as that loose tongue she's had since a babe," she added, glaring at Rosebud who gave her a sarcastic smile. "She was still in danger, though, so when I was saved from the bear, I bound her to the Sword. She is no longer in danger."
I frowned at Rosebud. "Why would you lie?" I asked. "It sounds like your mother does love you. She saved you."
"I don't want to be bound to some stupid blade," she snapped. "I belong in the world!"
The Queen Mother shook her head. "I will never understand this child. I never should have tried that spell."
"Is her father still alive?" Angel asked and the Queen Mother smiled.
It was anything but pleasant.
"Oh no, my dear," she said. "He tried to find my realm again. Sadly for him, I have a temper and a proclivity for grudges. He paid most terribly for all he did to me and my daughter. Let me guess," she added as she stood in front of Rosebud. "My daughter has been a nuisance to you and your family?"
"Yes. Is there a way to free her?"
"Let me see the Sword," the Queen Mother whispered and I handed it to her. She pulled it out of the sheath and sighed. "It is still as beautiful as the first day I saw it." She ran her hand down the flat side of the blade. "You see this gem? That is where Rosebud truly resides." She looked at me with sad eyes. "If I remove her from the blade, my magic goes with it."
I gripped the head of my cane. "Which means it will no longer be able to kill the werewolves."
"And other mythical creatures like the aswang you encountered on your way here," she nodded.
I took the Sword back and stared at Rosebud. She was glaring out the window, tears in her eyes.
The Queen Mother sighed. "You need rest. I'm sure you are hungry. My elves will lead you to a place where you can freshen up." The two elves came forward but I stopped Angel before she could follow. The Queen Mother frowned. "Why do you hesitate, Prince David?"
"When I woke this morning, I witnessed these two speaking of killing us," I said.
The Queen Mother's eyes flashed again as she glared at the two elves who shrank away.
"How dare you?" she hissed.
"Nothing," she interrupted. "You know better! Show the humans and the werewolf to their rooms and return to me."
"Yes, Queen Mother," they grumbled and led the way down the stairs.
"You are safe here, Prince David," she said quietly. "I swear to it."
I bowed and gripped my cane as I descended the stairs.