I watched as the group returned to the palace. My green eyes narrowed and focused on the woman. She walked with the grace of an elf but her aura gave off something... confused.
"I swear, Wren, you're going to really get it from the Queen Mother," my sister, Ryllae, said.
"But, sister," I said. "That woman-"
Ryllae rolled her eyes and dragged me back up the forest trail. "Come on, Wren. You know the rules."
"What does the Queen Mother have against the humans?" I asked for the hundredth time. Ryllae didn't even bother to answer. "I mean, there's nothing in our history that speaks of any conflicts with them! We should at least be able to go to their side of the forest."
"It's not our place to question the Queen Mother," Ryllae snapped. "Don't speak those words when we get to the Bridge. You will surely be in even more trouble than you already are."
I sighed. "Whatever you say, Ryllae."
I glared out my window at the forest. I had sensed something close by, too, but I was better at controlling the overwhelming power the forest stretched out. It was true that things were changing in there. I hadn't heard from my mother in several years and I considered contacting her to find out what it was.
"Or you could send Corstelis."
I sighed as Angel walked in, closing the door behind her.
"Let me guess, David sent you in here to explain himself," I said dully.
"Well, you know how David is. Come sit, Rosebud," she added when I kept my back to her. "You really need to hear this."
"Fine," I snapped and sat by the fireplace.
Angel sat across from me. "When we went in there last time, you and Adam were the only ones who got us through safely."
"So send another werewolf," I said. "Crostelis can't go anywhere near that forest, Angel! It's dangerous for her! You know this!"
"She'll have Bryan," she said and I groaned. "And David doesn't want to send one of the wolves."
"With the weather changing, they are becoming restless," she answered. I nodded, having noticed a change in William's personality just like every fall to winter change. "Since they can't hunt in the forest like they could before, they're taking it out on themselves. If we were to send one in there.... I'd hate to think what would happen. Bryan needs Cori's protection and she needs his."
"I can go," I said quickly. "I'm sure William wouldn't mind."
"You have been smothering that young woman," Angel said. "That's why she keeps doing all these pranks. Don't you remember what it was like when we had you confined to your quarters?"
"Yes, of course I do," I said. "I guess I'm just...."
"Worried?" she suggested.
"She's the only one of her kind, Angel. What if something were to attack or try to kidnap her?"
"She can take care of herself." Angel hesitated. "David is considering giving her the Sword."
I stared at her. "Come again?" I whispered.
"Calm down, Rosebud," she said. "Think it through: if she has the Sword, then she has your protection."
"She can't wield it, Angel! She's a supernatural being!"
She shrugged. "Then we'll let Bryan wield it."
"It's too dangerous. What if the wolves act up again?"
"David and William are talking about that now. Rosebud, you need to let her go."
I swiped at the tears that were falling down my face. Even though I hated to admit it, I knew Angel was right.
"Please bring Corstelis to me," I whispered.
Angel hugged me. "It will be okay, my friend."
"Clean the painting room," I grumbled, scrubbing at the paint on the easels. "Clean the painting room, she says, and you'll understand why-"
"Corstelis?" Aunt Angel said and I jumped.
"Your mother wishes to see you."
I rolled my eyes. "I'm not done cleaning this stupid room. Why is Uncle David so messy with the paint!?"
Angel laughed. "That's not why she wants to see you. She's in her bedchamber."
I put the rag down and wiped my hands on the apron I had over my gown. I took it off and draped it on the nearest easel. Angel walked beside me silently. I could tell she had just been talking to my mother. Could it be that she convinced my mother to let me go?
"I'm going to go to the throne room," Angel said, stopping outside my parents' bedchamber door. "If you need anything, that is where I'll be."
"Gotcha," I said and she shook her head with a smile as I walked in, shutting the door.
My mother was standing in front of the fire, frowning at the flames. I stood beside her and waited.
"You leave in two days," she said. "Wait," she added when I grinned and started to speak. "I have strict rules for you that you must follow. If you do not, I will know immediately. Sit," she said and I obeyed. She looked at me with sad eyes. "You will not leave Bryan's side. I don't care what you see or what you hear. That forest... it can cause severe trouble. Did David tell you what happened when we went in?"
"That a creature tried to get him to kill Angel," I said, shuddering at the thought.
"Yes. There's no telling what will happen while you're in there. I have a story to tell you about Bryan, Jr.'s father. But you cannot tell Bryan until the time is right."
"How will I know?"
"You will," she said and took a deep breath. "It all starts with David's father."
"No offense, King David, but I really don't think I need her to come with me," I said, standing in front of his study desk.
"I know you think that now," he said, "but you don't know what that forest is like."
"What could she do for me?" I asked. "She can't fight and, as far as I can tell, she hasn't inherited any gifts from her races."
William nodded. "That's true. I lament that she hasn't shown any powers. That doesn't mean they aren't there, though."
It took me a minute to understand what he just said.
"So you think sending her in will help her find them? Isn't that a bit... extreme? Is there not anything you can do from the castle?"
"Your mission isn't just to find out what's lurking in there," David said. "You'll also be going to the realm of the elves." My jaw dropped. "We've already sent word to the Queen Mother and she has accepted you."
"There's one more thing," William said and sighed. "I'll let you tell him."
King David took the Sword of the Thousands from his hip and placed it on the desk. I stared at it in wonder. I had always wanted to touch it but David refused to let me. The Sword was too powerful to be handled without a competent swordsman.
"You'll be taking it with you," he said.
"What?" I asked, my eyes wide.
"It will give you the power you need and confirm your connection with us."
"But I thought I'd have to be its master for it to protect me."
David shook his head. "No. You'd have to be its master for it to fight for you. You don't need that, though. Tiberius has made sure you and your brothers are masters with swords."
That was true. For the first five years of my teenage years, I had training two hours every single day. Sally, being a woman, was taught the bow and arrow. They didn't explain the reasons for Sally needing to learn to fight but, Sally being Sally, she didn't even question it.
"Pick it up," David said. "That's when we'll know."
"Know what?" I asked, my hand hovering over the hilt of the Sword.
"If it will accept me lending it to you," David answered.
I took a deep breath and slowly took the hilt in my hand. It pulsed, the blade's blue glow getting brighter. I felt warmth spread up my arm and I lifted it with ease. William winced and I quickly put it back in its sheath.
"Sorry," I said. "I forgot."
"It's okay," William said.
"What will you do if the wolves act up?"
"I've given William permission to transform and do as he sees fit," David answered, standing with some difficulty. William passed him his cane. "I've also written a notice for the wolves explaining that and the reason we have stated is because I am severely ill."
"Won't they see that as a sign of weakness and try to mutiny?"
David smirked. "With my beta in his true form? No, they won't."