We stayed in the Realm for a week until Elyon had recovered. She was very tired from having been in the clutches of the Moarte for as long as she was. When she was able to walk on her own, we all gathered in the dining area to hear her story. Her two children sat up with her and I sat with my family.
"I was out hunting," she explained. "About 20 years ago, a young prince came through with the Sword of the Thousands. It awakened many creatures in the forest. The souls of the lives that were ended by the Sword rallied together. They became the Moarte. The very first one captured me. It forced me to do its will. I was placed in a sort of coma until a week ago."
"And what of the arrival of the humans and wolves?" an elf asked.
"That was the work of my daughter," my father answered, putting an arm around me, and I flushed in pride. "We had trouble at the palace that she helped end. When she did, she came back, knowing you would be in danger as well. She told me to get as many people together as I could. I smelled her blood and we left immediately."
"And the elves?" a human nearby asked.
"That's my fault," Bryan admitted. "The Queen Mother tried to keep us from going to battle. I was worried about my cousin, though, and Ryllae was worried about her brother. So... we kind of overpowered the two guards and got as many elves together as we could, too."
My jaw dropped. Bryan was the last person to break rules or go against orders. I looked to the Queen Mother but she was smiling, amused, at the whispering.
The rest of the evening was spent in merriment but I sought the company of one elf more than any other.
"May I have some time with you?" I asked the Queen Mother who nodded.
We walked over to the waterfalls until we were away from everyone else. I sighed and told her what happened to me.
"It was your heritage coming out," she explained. "The nails and elongated body: that was your wolf side. The ability to move as fast as you did: that was your elven side. Your ability to manipulate the trees around you: that is your nymph side."
I frowned at the water. "Why didn't they manifest before?"
"It seems you had to be in an extreme situation for them to unlock," she answered. "You were in a situation where you were fighting for your life. Almost like how a human gets an adrenaline rush when faced with danger."
"It wasn't just my life I was fighting for," I said. She looked confused and I smiled as Wren approached us slowly. I held my hand out to him and he kissed my fingers, something he seemed to enjoy doing. "You were right. I have experienced the love of a man."
She tossed her head back and laughed.
"I should have known! So this is who you were sneaking off for!"
Wren's eyes widened a bit. "How'd you know?"
"My dear, this is my Realm," she chuckled. "I know everything that goes on in it."
"What do you mean he was sneaking off?"
Wren suddenly became interested in the grass as the Queen Mother explained.
"About ten years ago, a he-elf had just started as a creature hunter. I agreed he could join because of his mother. I believed that's why he wanted to join. Then, one day as I watched the hunters, the he-elf broke away from the group. I had recognized the body stance. He had sensed something important. He ran to the edge of the forest and saw a little girl in the palace gardens. He returned there every day."
"So you're why I had that pull to the forest," I said and he smiled shyly. "Ever since I was a little girl, I would look out my window and feel like something was calling to me."
Wren made a grunting noise and I giggled, kissing his cheek.
"I have gotten the permission of her parents to join her," he said and the Queen Mother looked impressed.
"Not an easy thing to accomplish," she acknowledged.
"I have come now to request yours."
The Queen Mother smiled. "The creature hunters are losing a valuable member. You have my permission. You two are more than welcome to come whenever you desire."
I grinned and hugged her. She laughed breathlessly but hugged me back.
When we departed, the forest had a sense of... calm. I didn't feel like the darkness was closing in on us anymore. It felt as it should be.
We all went back at the same time. For some reason, Uncle David had come along and he admitted to slipping out when Angel wasn't paying attention.
"She'll give me hell for it, but I couldn't let you be in danger," he said, leaning heavily on his cane.
My father and Tiberius stood closer to him, though, as he stumbled. I shook my head at his stubbornness.
The elves had given us a good send off. They gave us a lot of food. And I mean a lot. We'll still be eating it into the next year. It would solve the crop issues with the wolves, though. The Queen Mother had gifted me with many new gowns. Wren had been made an honorary member of the court back in the Realm. When Uncle David offered a knighthood, he politely declined.
"I have all the recognition I need," he said, smiling at me.
We got back to the palace two days later. There was a loud cheer when we returned. Bryan, having given David the sword back, ran for Laura and gave her a kiss, lifting and spinning her. It was obvious she had been terrified and missed him.
David chuckled and I looped my arm through his.
"Do you like your new cane?" I asked.
He laughed again. "Only you would think of such a thing, Cori."
I didn't get a chance to respond. Angel threw herself into David's arms and they fell back into the mud. I laughed as she kissed him. I had changed his cane so that it resembled the water.
As Aunt Angel lectured David, not even letting him stand out of the mud, I led Wren to the bedroom I would be sharing with him.
"It's huge," he breathed. "I'm not used to it being so big."
I smiled and took his bag. I bit my lip and held his hands.
"It won't look so big for much longer," I said.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
I stood on my toes and kissed him. "You're going to be a father," I whispered.
He stepped back, his eyes wide and full of fear. He stared at my stomach.
"Really?" he asked and I nodded happily. "But- But it was just one time."
I wrapped my arms around his neck. "It looks like we were given that second miracle."
He beamed and kissed me.