Renefaire gazed at her reflection in the clear blue lagoon. She wondered what it was like back home. If the ruins of her village still resided there, or had the people of Anecia claimed the land as their own. After all, there was no one left to maintain it. The fields could have been transformed into farmland, since the soil was perfect to grow anything.
What would it be like if any of her people had survived?
“Renefaire?” Amira knelt next to her. “Are you all right?”
“I was just thinking.”
She sat back on the grass and plopped her hands in her lap. “Anything you would like to talk about? I am a good listener, you know. Perhaps I can help you.”
Renefaire looked for the right words to say. “I just…I miss my home. It has been so long since I was there with my family and all of my friends.”
A sad expression crossed over Amira’s face. “So, you wish to go back? You want to leave us?”
She shook her head. “There’s nothing for me to go back to. I have no one left,” Renefaire replied, placing her hands over Amira’s. “I really have enjoyed our time together, and I have learned so much from you and your mother. Everything has been absolutely wonderful, and I would not trade the time I have spent with you for anything. I just really miss being with my kind.”
“There are still those who are considered your kind.”
The girls turned to see Morose standing there.
“You may not even be alone, really.”
“What do you mean?” Renefaire asked.
The corner of Morose’s lips twitched up into a small smile. “The elves, my dear. Distant though your lines may be, the leïfae have always been considered close to the elves. They are your greatest ally right now.”
“You seem to know a lot about the elves,” Amira remarked.
The druid woman chuckled. “I frequently visit them.”
“Do you live near the elves?” Renefaire questioned.
“Oh, yes. We live in their very woods at this moment. I am curious, have you or any of your people visited the elves beforehand?”
Renefaire shook her head. “If they ever did, it must have been a long time ago. We haven’t left our home in at least…two hundred years or so.”
Morose considered her words. “Hmm. That is most interesting. I wonder why that is. Anyway, if you ever wish to see the elves, I can lead you there myself.”
“You would take me there?”
The woman nodded. “It might be important that you do go to the elven kingdom. King Engwen and Queen Aila must know about this strange enemy that is traveling all across Aleron. It seems to be growing in power.”
Renefaire quickly rose to her feet. “You know where the enemy is.” It wasn’t a question. She was very certain Morose knew exactly where this army had gone.
“Since the refugees from Gresh told me their tale, I have sent men to every corner of Aleron. I could not risk the chance of being caught by surprise, since that seems to be the enemy’s main advantage.”
“Well, where are they?” Amira rose also. She bowed her head. “I’m sorry if that came out wrong.”
“No, of course not. Protecting ourselves from this threat will not require any amount of courtesy, though it would not hurt to keep at least a semblance of it.” Morose turned and motioned for the girls to follow her. “I received word just last night that this army went to the town of Alderpool.”
“Alderpool,” Renefaire echoed. “That is so far away. How could they have possibly made it that far from Anecia without anyone spotting them earlier?”
“It takes great skill for an army of their size to move with such stealth. They also have prisoners.”
Morose stopped and turned to Renefaire. “The man who sent me the message said he couldn’t get a good look at them, but it might be possible at least some of your people survived the attack.”
Renefaire staggered back. There were other survivors? She really wasn’t alone?
Amira held her by the arm to keep her steady. “Take it easy, Renefaire!” she urged.
Morose continued, “I know it is a lot to take in, but consider this.” She took Renefaire’s hands in hers. “The elves are the most skilled warriors in all of Aleron. They would surely take a large force to the Outerlands, defeat the enemy once and for, and save your people from their suffering.”
Her heartbeat raced. She could hear the pounding echoing in her head. For a moment, she wasn’t certain whether to laugh, or cry, or both. After all of this time, her people were out there, waiting for some form of rescue. The elves were their best option. Morose was right. Leïfae and elves, though different in few aspects, were still kin. Family. They could never leave family behind, no matter what. “I want to see the elves,” she finally said. “Today, if that is possible.”
Morose nodded. “Of course. We can go now, if you wish.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Amira asked.
Renefaire paused before shaking her head. “I should go alone with Morose. We might not be gone for too long.”
With a small smile, her friend nodded. “Of course. Tell me everything when you get back. I’ve never seen Zoron before.”
“All right.” Renefaire pulled Amira close for a warm embrace. She was so grateful to have such a wonderful friend in all of this. This girl and her mother took her in as if she were their family; no one could ask for kinder people. “Thank you, for being here. I don’t know what I could have done without you.”
“It was nothing,” she said with a laugh. “You’re practically my own sister now.” She pulled away. “You should probably go now, before we waste daylight. You have your people to save.”
“Come along, my dear,” Morose said before leading Renefaire deep into the woods.
The road within the trees was an easy path without any obstructions to delay their travel. Tall trees towered high above them, full of large leaves of red, yellow, and orange that let the sunshine break through in scattered openings. This forest probably looked very beautiful in the winter.
“I’ve never seen trees so big,” Renefaire marveled.
“Any other side of the forest, and it would take days to reach the elves,” Morose replied. “My camp resides near the bottom of the forest, which is closest.”
“I always thought that Zoron was in the middle of the forest.”
“Oh, it is. Part of it anyway. The elves divided their kingdom into different sectors in order to protect the forest from those who might try to destroy it.”
“Why would anyone want to destroy a place like this?”
“You would be surprised what one might do, given the right price. It always seems to be mankind who finds that price, much to the misfortune of everyone else. Sometimes, they do not see that they overstep their bounds. It is quite unfortunate, really. I’ve met many of mankind who were generous and kind. They just get less than ideal leaders.”
“It sounds like a lack of communication to me,” Renefaire observed as she stepped over a risen root. She watched two birds flew past. They almost looked like they were dancing in the air as they sang their tunes.
An old memory flashed across her mind when she used to watch the birds with Lenna. They were so young, so happy. She wondered if she would find her best friend with the other prisoners, or if… She took in a deep breath, not wanting to think of the alternative.
“Everything all right, dear?” Morose asked, still walking ahead. “You’re awfully quiet back there.”
Renefaire jogged to catch up. “I just want to get my people back,” she answered. She was ready to be reunited with them. The only thing that made her hesitate was finding out who hadn’t survived. She hoped that those who did die had quick ends without much suffering.
They were soon met by a group of nine elven guards dressed in blue fabrics that looked too perfect to exist. Renefaire looked upon them in awe. So this was what the elves looked like. Their features were much sharper than hers. Their ears were longer and more pointed. Their jawlines looked like they could have been sculpted from stone, and their skin was very fair, it almost brought a serene glow about them.
One of the elves stepped forward. He was tall like the others and had long brown hair and a shining saber by his side with golden details decorating the beautiful steel. “Welcome to Zoron,” he said. “What brings you here today, my lady?”
Morose bowed her head gracefully. “Thank you, Haldir. I have come today with urgent news and also a guest.” She motioned to Renefaire.
Haldir looked over the druid’s shoulder and his eyes glistened with recognition. “You are a leïfae,” he said.
Renefaire attempted to bow her head as Morose had done, unsure of how to act around these people. “Um, yes, I am.”
He came forward and gently grasped her hands. “We had heard about what happened, and did not know whether any had survived. It pleases me to see you alive and well.”
She could feel a blush rising in her cheeks, and she smiled. “Thank you.”
The elf turned back to Morose. “You said you had urgent news,” he said.
Morose nodded. “Yes, very urgent. We would appreciate it if you would take us to the king and queen.”
“Of course. We shall escort you to them right now. I am certain they would be very interested to meet your guest as soon as possible.”
The elven kingdom was far more beautiful than Renefaire could have possibly imagined, even in her dreams. Silver lights, like fireflies, floated all around the intricately carved staircases winding around a large tree trunk. It was the biggest she had ever seen. It was possibly even larger than the castle of Anecia. This was The Great Tree of Zoron, often described in stories and old legends. Now Renefaire was finally witnessing what her mother had told her in all of those bedtime stories when she was little.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Haldir asked, walking beside her.
“I have never seen anything like it before,” she replied. “Nothing can compare to this place. I knew Zoron was known for its beauty in detail, but this is…something extraordinary. The tales I’ve heard do not do it justice.”
Haldir smiled and walked ahead of the group. “If you will,” he started before climbing up a tall flight of stairs, “this shall take you to the king and queen.”
Zoron proved to be even more magnificent as each second passed. The higher they climbed, the more surprises were exposed. Houses were built all around the giant tree, nestled within the safety of smaller trees surrounding the main tree. Some elves stopped to watch as the group walked up the staircase to their king and queen’s hall.
When they reached the highest level of the tree, they were greeted by two statues standing tall at the top of the stairs. Renefaire recognized the statues as Caern and Tamlin: two of the greatest elven warriors in history. They were remembered for saving their entire race; gaining their freedom in a dark time, before Zoron was even a reality. The kingdom was named after Tamlin’s firstborn son, who came into the world after the elves’ victory. Zoron’s descendants then continued to rule over the kingdom. It was by his great granddaughter, Aeris, who fell in love with young man named Riyan that the leïfae was born. It was one of Renefaire’s favorite stories.
Sitting as a statue, himself on the throne was Engwen, the elven king. His wife, Aila sat in the throne next to him. They both appeared too magnificent to even exist. Engwen had long dark hair that cascaded down to his waist with a silver circlet wrapped around the crown of his head. His green eyes glowed as an emerald constellation in the darkest night. Aila’s blond hair was much longer—just above her knees—and she had a matching circlet atop her head. Her eyes were like the clearest blue skies. They glittered with kindness.
Their thrones were just as beautiful. Each was crowned with weaving branches carved ever so carefully as if they were reaching for something in the sky above. They looked just like the rulers’ circlets.
“Many years have passed since these halls have seen such a guest in my kingdom,” he said with a smooth and beautiful voice. His voice was like a low melody. “It is pleasing to welcome our cousin.”
Aila smiled. “We are so happy to have you here,” she said.
Renefaire returned the smile. “Thank you,” she replied. “I never expected to find myself here before.”
Haldir walked up to Engwen’s side and whispered something in his ear. The elven king listened, his eyes narrowing in deep thought.
“Thank you, Haldir,” the king said. “You may return to your post with the others.”
With a bow Haldir started back the way they had come. He stopped momentarily by Renefaire’s side. “I hope you enjoy your time here with us,” he said before leaving.
“I’m told you have some urgent news for us, Lady Morose,” Engwen said.
The woman nodded. “Yes, I received word only last night, and I thought it would be best to bring Renefaire with me.”
“You may speak freely, then.”
“As you already know, my camp has taken in refugees from Gresh and you also know about the attack upon the leïfaen village,” Morose started. “I decided to send some of my men all across Aleron to send word if they ever came across this strange enemy. It took some time, since they clearly know how to move with great stealth; I believe by traveling through less occupied land. They arrived outside of Alderpool in the Outerlands. They were spotted with prisoners. I believe them to be the last remaining leïfae.”
Engwen’s attention was fully grasped. “You are certain?” he asked.
She nodded. “Very much. There were no such prisoners taken from Gresh. Any survivors from there are now with me.”
Aila turned to her husband. “Engwen, we must do something,” she said softly.
“And we shall.” The elven king rose to his feet. “I will begin planning a rescue immediately. The council must be alerted to this. If we move fast, we may be able to save the people in Alderpool, as well as the leïfae. We shall not abandon them in their time of need.”
“Oh, thank you!” Renefaire exclaimed before she realized it. She felt as if a huge weight had just been lifted from her shoulders. “Thank you so much!”
Engwen smiled down at her. “We do anything for family. I shall call upon all of our allies: the dragons, gliffs, anyone who will give aid. This enemy will surely be defeated.”