At the height they were soaring the afternoon breeze passed over the many tree tops and caressed them, just as gently as the rays from above. Cole was surveying the gradual change of the color in the trees with interest; some still a promising green, others a deep blood red, a few leafy domes of gold dotting the in-between spaces, and yet others displaying a regal blue hue. The majesty of it all reminded him of West Sparrow, and of a familiar tree house. Of course it was the memory of West Sparrow, and that funny familiar feeling which reminded him of Ruby.
"How far until we reach them, Pen?" Cole asked his pilot as he cocked his head slightly, glancing over a shoulder.
Penelope could sense his urgency. Intuitively she knew exactly how Cole was feeling at that moment, and more, although she did her best to dissemble her own emotions. "Still some time yet," she said, "before we reach the hideaway. I'm certain you will like it, really, it's so lovely this time of season." She wanted to think about it; the grove her brother and she would often retreat to, a secret nook of nature hardly anyone knew of, but she couldn't. Her concentration was centered upon the king.
She could smell a wafting wind; Cole's dark hair, carrying a creamy aroma that traced its roots back to the royal bathing chambers of the castle. Her arms were firmly wrapped around his body, and her outstretched wings glided less than gracefully as she supported the weight of two...possibly two and half, Penelope conceded. She held on a little tighter.
In an attempt to further engage Cole and end the silence that followed his flatly delivered, "all right," Pen commented as casually as she could, "I wonder what Aira's face looked like when she found out you were no longer inside the castle. She's probably furious by now." She forced a laugh.
"I'll deal with her, Malachai, and everyone else when we return, but I'm not going back without Ruby." His words were spoken with such resolution that they stung the heart of the fae girl, though she refused to succumb to jealousy.
In the several span of days that included Ruby's absence from Avelen, the slender fae had become a close confidant to the star-born king. After a lengthy duration of time spent bonding with the boy from a world beyond her own, she slowly submitted to the illusion that perhaps being saved by Cole alluded to greater aspirations. Before long, she became devoted to ideas and fantasies of romance beyond her control, but always she remembered her place and carefully made sure to never overstep those bounds.
She reflected, sighed, then replied warmly, "I admire your sincere dedication to your advisor-"
"Friend," Cole quickly curtailed.
"I wasn't finished!" Penelope retorted with a voice that feigned peevishness, and held as heavy of a weight in it as a stuffed pillow.
"There's no need for apologies, it gives me all the more admiration. You truly care for her Cole, in a way reminiscent to one of my favorite stories."
"Stories?" His tone wavered slightly now as he stirred from a solemn reverie. Cole perked up noticeably. "I like stories. Ruby would often read to me from books; stories about killer robots, pirate kings, world-class spies, and the like." His spirits lifted as he asked with sincere curiosity, "Do you remember how it goes?"
Being put on the spot, Penelope choked on her words and stammered. "Well, it's just - I mean...I'm not really sure how well I'll tell it. My mother is much better at reciting it than I am."
"Oh, come on Pen," Cole said pleadingly, "won't you at least give it a try?"
"I don't want to him to compare me to Ruby," she thought, "but I don't want to disappoint him either. This might be a chance to impress him. But what if I mess up?" After some hesitation, she gave in.
"Very well, but I'm only going to say the short version. The actual story takes more time to tell."
As they flew past a break in the tree tops, the horizon opened to a spacious landscape of bright green grass and a rushing river that splashed through the country side. A tall mountain rose high over the rotund plains, so high in fact that it merged with a sheet of white cloud.
"Look to your right, over there - do you see that mountain? And that flowing river too, do you see it as well?" Pen inquired.
"I see them both."
"That mountain is called Ellway, and the river is called Tarom Ellway. In the archaic language of the fae, Tarom translates to 'the tears of,' and so it is known as the tears of Ellway." She gave a brief pause, long enough to draw out Cole's anticipation, then Penelope gently cleared her throat and spoke.
"Jealous of their eternal love, of Ellway and Jasan,
Morglo," another brief pause, after which she added, "that's the name of the sun in this story, and in many fae stories. Sometimes the sun is a villain, but modern stories paint him more as a hero, and depending on the region you're in his name might change. Anyway, where did I leave off? Wait a second, let me start over."
She waited until her embarrassment lessened, prayed she hadn't already ruined the story, then recommenced.
"Jealous of their eternal love, of Ellway and Jasan,
Morglo plotted from heights above, devising a devilish plan
to tear a pair so close asunder, he offered his heavenly throne,
promising gifts of thunder, and mastery over stone
they could live as he forever, merry immortal youths,
each lie he told was clever, hidden by half-truths
and so the lovers he did swoon, their transformation terse,
of Jasan he turned to moon, of Ellway he did curse
it all came as quite a shock, their hearts filled with fright,
Ellway shrank to shepherd of rock, Jasan now queen of night
Far up high his lover did drift, as stone he could not leap,
Seeing such a saddening rift, Ellway began to weep
but determined to reach the sky, out forth he stretched a hand,
now Ellway towers high, a giant of the land
tears flowing, never dry
always reaching for Jasan."
Cole carefully analyzed the tale as it was recited, after which he remarked as profoundly as a sage, "I understand your message completely, Pen. I'm supposed to be Morglo, in a manner of speaking, and I need to come up with a clever way to permanently separate Ruby from Jace." He nodded in absolute agreement.
Penelope rolled her eyes and said, "No that's not it. You remind me of the determined Ellway; who started out as small as a rock, but whose determination grew him into the tallest mountain to ever be. You'll do just about anything within your power to bring back Ruby, won't you?"
"Then keep reaching Cole, you're almost there," she affirmed.
Suddenly the atmosphere reeked with a celestial fragrance so foreign to Cole that his head swam momentarily, as if a wave of sobering drunkenness washed over him. They banked around the edge of toothy cliff, soaring just beyond a circle of trees that fenced in a patch of spotted flowers. The closer the two ventured toward the flowers, the more dense the scent became.
"That meadow there is the hideaway I mentioned earlier. If Jace retreated to anywhere with Ruby, it would there."
Within several minutes they were walking on their feet once more, striding through a knee high field of flowers so pungent that Cole pinched his nose. It only took a few steps to discover a solitary figure in the field with them.
He stood firmly and silently, arm resting on arm across his chest. Presently his back was a quarter turn from the newcomers, but he did not move a muscle. Jace was concentrating on a thick line of trees with a lingering stare. Ruby was nowhere to be seen.