Months flew by in bliss for the expecting couple. The child had awoken in them both a sweet affection that made them feel invincible. Meanwhile, the Alfar, a race which had previously been little more than a hindrance to Eirethstead, became a growing threat. Fear had no hold on the young king, but he knew that he would soon be forced into more serious action against these beings.
The peril came sooner than he had expected in the form of a late-night messenger. Gillireth had just fallen asleep, his hand resting on his wife’s rather large protruding stomach, when a knock jerked him into awareness.
“Bloody hell, what is it?” he groaned.
A man’s voice replied, “It’s a soldier, sire. From the Eastern Fortress. He says the Alfar have amassed a formidable command against them and will attack in two days’ time. About five-thousand of them, he says. And more expected to follow.”
Gillireth felt a kiss on his hand in the dark. It had become Calysta’s way of saying goodbye whenever he had to leave early in the morning for a skirmish. But this was no skirmish; this demanded many more troops, many more lives. “Gather the reserves!” the king yelled. “We leave at first light!”
The castle became a lonely, empty thing that reminded Calysta of her heart before she had allowed it to be inhabited. Most of the guards and some of the servants had been called into battle and had left with the brothers. Calysta found company in her ladies-in-waiting, and they helped her to pass the time, but anxiety had begun to dig its way back into her flesh as a relentless parasite.
Lengthy days passed and the baby kicked. The queen had to wonder if Gillireth would even be present for the birth. She was thankful at least that the women tending to her had been well-trained in midwifery upon learning of her pregnancy.
On a particularly dreary evening she sat in a small game room playing chess with one of her ladies while the other sat knitting.
“Seeing as we’re alone at present, m’lady, may I ask you a question?” the knitting one asked.
“Of course you may,” the queen said as she slid a pawn forward on the gameboard. She preferred to be fairly casual with her ladies-in-waiting.
“I cannot help but wonder about this birth. I can tell that you think the baby will be delivered in human form, because his father is human, but what are we to do if that is not the case?”
Calysta frowned. “Fate has dictated that my son will unify our races. Whether it be the case that Dechi children enter the world in wulfen form or not, my son could not possibly be born in such a way. I would not be surprised if he were unable to shift at all, given the fact he’ll have less magic in his veins than full-blooded Dechi. It’s a silly idea, really.” She looked almost accusingly at her aid for having mentioned the possibility, but her stomach still twisted within her at the thought, and the baby kicked accordingly.
“‘Tis a valid point, m’lady. I meant no offense,” the woman said quietly.
Calysta’s pawn reached the opposite end of the board and was made a queen. Her opponent felt emboldened by her compatriot’s question and decided to ask one of her own.
Upon receiving permission, she inquired, “M’lady, what really happened that night with Hemming? That bit about the tree roots… that was just a ruse, wasn’t it?”
Calysta used her new queen to smite a bishop. “It was the truth.”
She recounted the entirety of her ordeal for the first time. Upon accepting Hemming’s betrayal, she had shifted into a beautiful, golden-haired greywolf with a white muzzle and underbelly, her red dress in tatters draped around her. She knew now that it was sometimes necessary to resist in order to achieve eventual peace.
Hemming dropped the dagger and shifted into his larger, slate grey form.
“So this is how you want it?” he asked. “After all your father worked for to secure a future for you and all the Dechi, you betray him for an unborn half-breed. So be it.”
He lunged at her with his powerful jaws, narrowly missing her as she took off into the woods.
Meanwhile, the faerie Ghillie Dhu perceived the troubled heart of a child in a nearby wood. He followed the sense urgently as it led him closer to the capital city until he could spot swift movement among the tree trunks. He was puzzled by the figures, knowing that they were of beasts and not of men, but he heard the youthful screams coming from the one being chased and asked a favor of the trees.
Calysta knew that Hemming was gaining on her and that her time grew short. The only thing she could do now was to try and fight him off, though he was much larger and more experienced a brawler. Not a moment after she had turned to face him, a rumbling akin to an earthquake moved beneath her feet. Hemming closed in on his target, but just as he lept forward, large tree roots caught his legs and threw him to the ground. Within moments, his entire lurching body was enveloped in the roots.
As much as he tried to resist, he was dragged beneath the ground until all fell silent again and the trembling Calysta was left alone. Ghillie was not partial to wolves, so thought it best to leave himself unintroduced and take his leave.
“It didn’t really make sense to me, either, but the trees saved my life that night.”
“Sounds horrifying, if you ask me!” the knitting woman said.
“I’m just glad you made it out safe, m’lady,” said the chess player. Calysta’s queen had been forced into a corner beside the lady-in-waiting’s king. A simple move and the queen was knocked over and taken off of the board.
Calysta suddenly became upset. “Ugh, this is such a dull game, anyway. I’m done for now. Shall we ask the kitchen if they will fix us some soup?” Upon rising, she felt wet.
She lifted the skirt of her dress to reveal a puddle of water beneath her.