Slowly, as if she wasn't sure if she should do so, the Queen Mother put her arms around me. I cried into her chest and she stroked my hair. So it was true. I'm alone in this world. And I always will be.
"You may stay in my realm as long as you wish," she whispered.
"But I can't stay forever, can I?" I mumbled.
"No. I'm sorry. Only elves can stay here."
I groaned and stood, pacing her tower room. "Then where do I belong, Grandmother?"
"You have to find that for yourself; I cannot show you."
"Why not?" I asked.
She smiled and stood as well. She put her hands on my shoulders.
"It is your journey, Corstelis. It is not mine, not your parents', and not your uncle's."
"Will I be alone all my life?" I whispered.
She sighed. "I should not be telling you this," she muttered. I waited, tears in my eyes. "No, you will not. You will know the love of a man."
My knees gave out in relief.
"Stupid human and... girl," I muttered to myself.
It was nighttime. We had several elves offer to join us as creature hunters but not as much as I had hoped for. Bryan was very eager in searching the forest with us. The sword he held.... I was envious he got to wield it. Above us, in her tower, the Queen Mother still had not come down. We were all gathered below, our food laid out in front of us, and my stomach was growling. On special nights such as this, we were to wait for her to eat before we did so ourselves.
Finally, the door at the bottom of the tower opened and she walked out with the girl. She had been dressed into one of the Queen Mother's old dresses. It was green velvet with silver silk. It flowed around her and showed how she was part royalty. All the assembled elves bowed and I did the same, my eyes lingering on her for a second.
"I would like to introduce to you my granddaughter," she said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. A murmur ran through the crowd. "Her name is Corstelis and I expect all of you to give her the respect she deserves." Her eyes met mine briefly and I nodded. "I have called for this feast to announce her visit and to thank everyone who has agreed to join our brave creature hunters."
The Queen Mother pointed to the table where Bryan, Ryllae, and I were seated. The girl walked over and smiled shyly at us.
"Well, look at you," Bryan said, grinning.
The girl turned pink. "She insisted I wear this."
"You are the granddaughter of the Queen Mother," Ryllae pointed out as we all sat down. "You are the spitting image of her, by the way."
"For the most part," she agreed, looking past us to the Queen Mother.
Ryllae nudged me. I cleared my throat. "I'm glad you got some answers," I said.
Ryllae sighed and shook her head as the girl looked at her plate.
"How did it go?" Bryan asked. She didn't answer, playing with her fork, and he sighed. "I'm sorry, Cori."
"When do you go back into the forest?" she asked.
I stared at her for a second. So she really didn't know what she was. Judging by the look on her face, the answers given were not to her liking. As Bryan explained everything to her, she looked up and our eyes met. I had never seen eyes like hers before. Of course, I had never seen a being like her before, either.
"What will you do while we're gone?" Bryan asked and she turned to him.
"Grandmother is going to teach me about elves," she answered with a small smile.
"That's good, right?" he asked. "I mean, everything Rosebud couldn't tell you-"
I dropped my fork. "Rosebud is your mother?" I asked.
"Wren," my sister said in warning but I ignored her.
The girl looked surprised. "Well, yes. She's the Queen Mother's daughter. I thought everyone knew that."
"The Queen Mother doesn't have any other children?" I demanded.
"No. Why? What's wrong?"
I stood up and stormed over to the Queen Mother.
"May I speak with you?" I asked through clenched teeth.
"Now is not the time, young elf," one of the elders said.
"No, it is okay." She stood and beckoned me to follow her. "What weighs on your mind now, Wren?"
When we were out of hearing distance, I pointed to our table. "You did not tell me that girl's mother is Rosebud!"
She narrowed her eyes. "That girl has a name and you will call her by it. Rosebud is my only child. Who else do you think her mother would be?"
"But Rosebud is a traitor," I hissed. "She mated with a werewolf."
The Queen Mother sighed and put a hand on my shoulder. I closed my eyes, not wanting to hear whatever it was I was about to.
"Why does it matter so much, Wren? Look at her." I did so grudgingly. She was talking with Ryllae, smiling and laughing. "Tell me, what do you see?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. A girl."
"A young woman," she corrected. "And not just any young woman; she is strong. Despite all she has been through, she is kind hearted and managed to be a pure soul. Women like those are hard to find these days."
I frowned. "What do you mean about all she has been through?"
She put her arm around my shoulders. "You two are not as different as you believe, young Wren. Give her a chance and you just might realize that."
Wren returned to the table but didn't speak to anyone. Ryllae was trying to get him to talk but he shot her a glare and she fell into silence. When my stomach was full, I turned to Bryan.
"Do you know where I'm sleeping?"
"I'll take you," Ryllae said quickly.
"Okay," I said a little surprised. I kissed Bryan's cheek. "Good night, cousin."
"Good night. Sleep well."
I hesitated. Despite how rude he was, I felt compelled to at least befriend him.
"Good night, Wren."
"Good night," he said. Ryllae kicked him. "Corstelis," he added through clenched teeth.
Ryllae took my hand and led me to a cabin. It was humble and had a bedroom, kitchen, and living area.
"This is where you'll sleep," she said. She opened a wardrobe. "It looks like the Queen Mother had clothing brought down for you. I assume she told you when to meet with her?" I nodded and she sat on my bed. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Of course," I said, taking off the slippers that had been given to me.
"Do you have... a man?" she asked and I looked away, shaking my head. "Oh. Do you know how to find him?"
I turned to her. "Why are you asking?" She blushed and I smirked. "You're in love, aren't you?"
She stared at her hands. "I think I am. I just don't think he feels the same way."
I sat beside her. "What's his name?"
"Onvyr," she answered with a smile.
"Is he a creature hunter, too?"
"No. He is a musician."
"What instrument does he play? The Queen Mother is taking me to the music tower tomorrow. Perhaps, if I see him, I can speak with him."
"Oh no, you can't do that!" she breathed.
"Because-Because.... Because then he'll know!"
I giggled. "I don't have to say I'm asking for you," I said. "Trust me. I know how to do this. I did it for my cousin, Sally, when she was a teenager."
"Did it work?"
"In a sense," I said. "It turned out that he was an immature boy so I saved her from an awkward relationship."
She giggled and a horn sounded. "That's the signal for me to go to bed."
"Okay. Good night. Good luck tomorrow."