3. On Thin Ice

By Ælfstangard

Fantasy / Adventure

Defend Thou Us!

When it was decided to take Ishandra by owlback to the Winter Woods, every effort had been made to make her arrival uneventful. However, rumors about the Ice Witch had spread rapidly throughout the Winter Woods and the stories about Lady Ishandra became more fantastic as they spread further north. They tried several times to change the time and location but each time it became the worst kept secret in the Winter Woods. Time was growing short and the problem worse. Lord Milori finally decided to schedule her arrival for the late evening when it was cold enough to allow the Winterfolk to greet Lady Ishandra and her sisters when they arrived but quietly he arranged for crowd control and had spies in the crowd watching out for any mischief.

That evening, a very large but well-behaved crowd has assembled in the central courtyard which includes the Winter Woods Guild Masters and aristocracy. All are scanning the skies towards Spring Valley when someone cries, “I see them!”

All look in that direction to see four snow owls approaching – three with riders and one holding a cargo basket. The Music Talents ready their instruments, the Snowflake- and Wind Talents make ready for a dancing display of fat, fluffy snowflakes, the Light Talents start a glowing display of Northern Lights and all the Guild Masters and Winter Woods VIPs line up. Lord Milori, dressed in his finest, stands in front of all.

Three of the owls land in the middle of the courtyard while the fourth carries on towards the cargo drop-off depot.

“Wait until your ride can kneel before you dismount,” says Minister Snowflake to the spike-haired rider on the owl beside her. But she ignores her and then, badly misjudging the glossiness of her mount’s feathers, loses her grip and her balance then tumbles down the owl’s back to land with a smacking belly-flop onto the ice while the crowd lets out a gasp.

“Newling rider,” says a laughing, childlike voice from the crowd which is quickly shushed.

“Let me help you up,” says a deep, masculine voice and Ishandra sees a hand held out to her.

Ishandra, upset that her grand entrance has been ruined, is about to bat the offered hand angrily away and swear at whomever he is that she is perfectly able to get up on her own but, finding that she had been winded far more than she realized, takes hold of the strong hand that helps her to her feet.

When Ishandra is stable on her feet, she finds herself looking into the face of a strong and very virile man with a strong triangular jaw, silver-white hair like her own and light-brown eyes. “Now, that’s a man!” Ishandra is thinking. “And more than those hero wannabes at Red Fountain could ever hope to be.”

Lord Milori, seeing that the silver-haired beauty standing before him is none the worse for her fall, smiles at her and says, “May it please My Lady, I am Lord Milori, Lord of the Winter Woods.” He signals the Talents to continue their show then starts looking around. “Your sisters are not with you?” he asks.

“I left them behind in Spring Valley,” responds Ishandra and Milori frowns. Then, predicting his next question, she adds, “My youngest sister, Stormy, would just be underfoot at this time. Also, being a Springtime Storm Talent, she really belongs where it is warm. My other sister, Darcy, is an Unlight Talent but who has yet to master her talent. She came very close to stewing the Light Talent, who was training her, in her own juices. I don’t want to risk any unfortunate accidents by bringing her here.”

“Wise of you,” agrees Milori but feeling uneasy hearing Ishandra’s news concerning the appearance of an Unlight Talent in Pixie Hollow.

Within a minute after, Lord Milori is escorting Ishandra, with Minister Snowflake and Aisha following, and introducing her to all the persons of note. In the line-up is an Animal Talent named Sled. “Handsome guy,” admits Ishandra to herself, “but not my type. I can see though why Rosetta’s gone – how did her friends put it? – ‘all twitter-pated’ over him.”

Finally, shuffling up the rear is a young, lanky fellow in a sleeveless tunic and a cap over his shoulder-length blond hair. Ishandra looks at him and begins to think that if this guy were to be any more laid back someone would have to remove all his bones.

“This is Slush, Guild Master of the Glacier Talents,” says Lord Milori as an introduction.

“Cooltameetcha, man,” says Slush, holding up a hand.

“Man?” says Ishandra, frowning and thinking, “I am certainly not a man.”

“Ya, like cool, man. Like we’re all glad yuh’re here, man,” smiles Slush and again holds up his hand.

“It’s not an insult, My Lady,” whispers Minister Snowflake into Ishandra’s ear. “Slush puts the word ‘man’ into every sentence he speaks and his hand is not being held up in defiance. He’s expecting you to slap your palm against his.”

“Oh!” thinks Ishandra then touching Slush’s palm with hers says, “Nice to meet you, Slush.”

“Cool, muu man!” replies Slush then saunters along.

“Crazy man,” thinks Ishandra, shaking her head.

“Would you like a tour of the Winter Woods before settling in, My Lady?” asks Lord Milori of the Ice Witch.

“Maybe later, Lord Milori,” replies Ishandra, “but right now, my time would be better spent at your library and getting down to tackling your immediate problem.”

“Very well,” Milori tells her. “The library is one naut that way,” pointing to the North. “I guess you will need Hou-Hou to fly you there,” seeing that the Ice Witch had apparently no wings.

“I can fly there under my own power,” says Ishandra but not unkindly. Then she unfurls her wings to ohs and ahs from the crowd.

“She’s a Fast Flyer!” gasps someone in the crowd.

“And a powerful one,” notes someone else. “Look at the size and strength of those flight muscles!”

“Your owl has put in a hard day’s flying and deserves his rest,” continues Ishandra, “and he and I have been getting along famously,” and the owl chirps at once in fervent agreement.

While Ishandra and Milori are conversing, Gliss and Spike fly rapidly to the library to alert Dewey and Periwinkle that Lady Ishandra may be arriving soon.

“She’ll probably be hungry,” says Spike.

“There are goose and owl mince pastries in the kitchenette,” Dewey tells them, “and won’t she want something to drink?”

“I hear she likes ice wine,” says Peri. “We don’t have any but we do have some vintage Winter Woods tart wine that may be to her liking.”

When Aisha and Ishandra land and enter the library, they find the lynx, Fiona, sitting on guard just inside the door. She is quick enough to accept rubs and scratches from Aisha but when she takes a sniff of Ishandra, she is immediately on all fours hissing and snarling with her back arched, her claws out, her stubby tail up, and her fur on end. Aisha has fears of the Ice Witch ending up in Fiona’s belly but Ishandra stands her ground, hisses and snarls back even louder and deals Fiona a sharp swat across her nose. The lynx looks at Ishandra as if in shock, sniffs at her again then is soon accepting rubs and scratches from her as she did from Aisha.

“What did you do to her?” asks Aisha as she and Ishandra head on.

“Nothing,” smirks Ishandra, “except to tell her who is boss in her own language. But I have to say that when this kitty sits around the house, she sits around the house,” and Aisha cringes, grits her teeth and starts thinking about how much Ishandra would enjoy all the luxury of a warm and slobbery cat tongue bath.

They find Dewey waiting for them in the main library dressed in his best suit and Peri, Gliss and Spike lined up behind him.

“Welcome to the Winter Woods Library, My Lady,” says Dewey, bowing. “I am Master Dewey Keeper of the Books and these are my assistants…”

“Yes, I know: Spike, Gliss and you must be the one they call Periwinkle,” she says smiling at the spike-haired Frost Faerie.

“May we first offer you some hospitality, My Lady?” smiles Dewey. “We have here some owl and goose mince pastries.”

“Something to drink, maybe?” asks Gliss, nearly taking to the air. “We have some really good Winter Woods tart wine.”

“Thank you, Gliss,” replies Ishandra, smiling at the excitable Faerie, “but I need to keep my head clear.”

“Oh...? Oh! I know: sage tea,” smiles Gliss. “It keeps the mind alert and the brain sharp.”

“Fine, Gliss,” says Ishandra, laughing to herself, “go make me some sage tea but, please, no sweetener.”

Minister Snowflake enters just as Gliss flies off to the kitchenette to make tea. “Sorry to be late,” she apologizes, “but it took longer to unpack then feed and settle the owls than expected. Have I missed anything?”

“Nothing so far,” says Ishandra, “just getting introductions and offers of hospitality done,” then, aside to Snowflake, in a whisper adds, “They seem eager enough to please.”

“Let’s get down to work,” says Ishandra. “I need to see the originals of these two books.”

“We’ll get them!” exclaim Spike and Peri together and fly off.

“We keep them in a special vault now,” explains Dewey. “They’ll be back with them in a moment.”

Meanwhile, Spike and Peri meet up with Gliss coming the other way with tea service balanced on a tray.

“What do you think?” asks Spike.

“She’s beautiful and she’s nice,” bubbles Gliss. “Peri? Why did your sis say all those mean things about her?”

“It has something to do with a bad experience with her and her two sisters when Tink went to the Winx’ home world to repair a clock,” shrugs Peri.

“I hope that, after she’s fixed the shafts, she’ll decide to stay with us,” smiles Gliss.

“But Gliss, she’s a Witch,” says Spike, frowning.

“I don’t care what she might have been in the Winx’ world,” replies Gliss. “In Pixie Hollow, she’s a Winter Woods Fast Flyer. That makes her one of us which is more than Queen Clarion or even Princess Aisha could ever be.”

“True,” admits Spike, “and you should have seen the way Lord Milori lit up when he saw her. I think he’s smitten.”

“Tink was hoping they would find each other,” says Peri, “but I think Queen Clarion is going to take to this none too kindly. This might end up like having two queen bees in the same hive.”

The three Faeries are soon back with the books and tea and set them down before Ishandra.

“The last leaves of the first book have been damaged, I’m afraid,” says Dewey.

“I’m aware of that,” says Ishandra. “I have had a chance to read a book in Queen Clarion’s possession in which Queen Rhianna mentions writing these two volumes and those last leaves did hold the secret to the shafts. But then, it seems, she had second thoughts about giving the secrets of such powerful magic to an ‘emerging civilization’ so she deliberately smeared those pages. Unless my sister, Lady Darcy, can see something with her new vision, I hold out little chance of finding out what was written there.”

“We’re banging our heads against another wall,” sighs Minister Snowflake and Aisha slaps her forehead.

“Don’t give up so easily, Minister,” says Ishandra. “We’ve yet to exhaust all possibilities. Right at this moment, I need to see some writings by others living at the same time as Queen Rhianna and, if you can possibly do it, a grammar of the language of that time.”

“Thanks to Duchess Tecna’s catalog, we can do that quickly now,” smiles Dewey and in short order has the required tomes on Ishandra’s desk.

A dozen pastries and two pots of tea later, Minister Snowflake and Aisha have left and Ishandra is still pouring over books. She looks up to see the Keeper dozing in his chair and Gliss, Spike and Periwinkle about to fall asleep on their feet.

“Go get some sleep, you three,” she tells them.

“But, My Lady,” protests Gliss, “we’re not tired and you might need us to fetch more books or bring you something to eat or drink,” but then she yawns.

“Right,” replies Ishandra, drawing out the word. “It will be a long while yet before I’m finished and I will need you fresh and alert in the morning. Now, shoo! I’ll wake up the old guy here if I need anything,” she adds with a wink and the Faeries giggle.

It is mid-morning the next day when Ishandra shakes the Keeper and his assistants awake.

“Oh!” says Dewey. “Have you found anything?” he asks, barely taking the time to rub the sleep out of his eyes.

“Yes,” replies Ishandra, “and it’s what I feared all along. These are not the original books. These are only translations and bad ones at that. It’s no wonder it reads like gibberish. We need to find the originals.”

“Oh! It’s like a treasure hunt,” squeals Gliss all bright-eyed.

“Yes, Gliss,” agrees Ishandra – her expression serious, “but if the hunt fails, it may be at the cost of the lives of all in Pixie Hollow.”

Ishandra asks to take the Winter Woods Library copies of Queen Rhianna’s two books to the Pixie Dust Tree to have Darcy look at them. Dewey is, however, reluctant to let her because, he argues, it is the cold of the library that is preserving the books. Seeing the truth of that, Ishandra does not argue with him.

“Is there a way,” asks Ishandra, “to send a message that I want Lady Darcy to come to the library to look at them here?”

“No problem, My Lady,” replies Dewey then sends Spike to arrange it.

Darcy arrives late afternoon on owlback but much to Ishandra’s chagrin also Leffi, the Tinx and the Winx including that insufferable Princess Stella.

Ishandra has the Dark Witch examine the book at the same time trying to ignore the Faeries who are meeting, greeting and going all twitter-pated over each other. Darcy admits that, even after examining the blotched pages through the entire unlight spectrum, she is unable detect any writing within the blotches. She closes the book with the back cover up then frowns. “Hey, Ishandra,” she asks while pointing to the text, “have you noticed the difference in the writing on the back cover? It looks to be in another language.”

“What writing?” asks Ishandra. “I don’t see a thing.”

“Are you blind or what?” snarks Darcy, tapping emphatically on the cover. “It’s written in glowing letters right before your eyes.”

“Well, I don’t see anything either,” says Bloom followed by a chorus of “Neither do I” from all the others. Then it hits Ishandra.

“It’s visible to only an Unlight Talent,” exclaims Ishandra, banging the heel of her hand against her forehead. “Okay, Darcy, write this text out for me. Go slowly and carefully. The slightest deviation could change the whole meaning,” then places several clean leaves and one of Tinker Bell’s newly invented writing reeds filled with visible ink in front of her.

It is two hours before Darcy finishes her transcription and checking it letter by letter against the original.

“It’s written in the Imperial Alphabet used for official documents during Queen Rhianna’s reign but this still reads like gibberish to me,” says Dewey and Ishandra has to agree with him.

Leffi is looking at the text and creasing her eyebrows. “Keeper,” she asks, “could you write out all the letters of this alphabet in their exact order?”

“Done easily enough,” replies Dewey and writes them out on a new leaf.

Leffi compares the alphabet with the invisible writing Darcy has transcribed from the back of Rhianna’s first book. “It’s a polyalphabetic cipher,” she concludes.

“What does it say?” asks everyone.

“I don’t know this language,” replies Leffi. “All I can give you for sure is the sequence of letters used to encipher it and writes it out above Darcy’s transcription.”

“Linphea?” asks Ishandra. “Keeper, can that be right?”

“That’s exactly right,” confirms Dewey then all turn to Flora whose eyes have gone wide open and Silvermist who is holding her tightly.

Tecna, following Leffi’s insight, soon has a deciphered holo-projection of the text floating before everyone. “I can’t do any more,” says Tecna, apologetically, “because I don’t know where the word boundaries are in this language.”

Everyone is again looking to Flora.

“I can’t read it. I don’t understand this writing. Could someone pronounce the words for me?” she asks.

“Let me give it a try,” says Musa, having had experience with the texts of that period and seeing something familiar within the letters. Musa begins hesitantly but in the next moment is bursting into song. Flora has Musa repeat it a second and then a third time while she nods more firmly in understanding as with each repetition the melody becomes more hauntingly beautiful.

“Okay, Flower Faerie,” demands Ishandra almost angrily, “spill it! What does it say?”

“A lot,” replies Flora, miffed at Ishandra’s tone of voice, “but the important information is that the original books and additional instruction books are hidden a little way down the shaft where the markers are smoothed and rounded.”

“But that was not Linphean because I have studied Linphean. What language is it then?” presses Ishandra.

“Oh, but it is Linphean,” asserts Flora, “but you have never heard of it because it is the secret language of the Priestess Sect on Linphea.”

“Then how do you come to know it?” demands Ishandra.

“Duh! Isn’t it obvious?” breaks in Leffi. “It’s because Flora is a Linphean priestess.”

“Is that true?” gasps Bloom while the others of the Winx gape at Flora thunderstruck. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It is because…,” begins Flora but gets no further before the Tinx, Gliss, Spike, Periwinkle and even the old Keeper are on their knees before her a with their hands held up to her in supplication and chanting, “O Beloved Priestess, Oracle of the Tree, grant us Thy blessing and defend Thou us from our enemies from air, land and sea.”

“This is exactly why,” continues Flora. “Silvermist, guys, get off from your knees. Yes, I’m a Linphean priestess and yes, someday, I may be the High Priestess of Linphea but that is yet a long way off – if ever. Right now, I’m just Flora and your friend.”

Slowly, they stand up but all are still looking at Flora, bewildered. Silvermist with tears streaming down her cheeks is suddenly running to hold onto Flora. “Please, Flora,” she sobs, “tell me that we can still be girlfriends. I love you!”

“Silvermist,” says Flora gently while lifting up Silvermist’s face and as tears start to tumble from her eyes, “there is no reason for anything to change between us. Yes, I’m still your girlfriend – now and forever – and I love you too.”

“This is the connection between our dimension and theirs,” says Ishandra to Flora, deliberately breaking into Linphean, “and why they are bound so closely to nature. Queen Rhianna was a Linphean priestess who probably planted or created the Pixie Dust Tree and the Pixie Hollowers, Flora, are your grandchildren.”

Then Flora looks down at Silvermist who is holding tightly to her and looking up at her with her face lit with absolute adoration.

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