King Karone sat on the balcony overlooking the main square and watched as the first ray of dawn broke through the earthen sky. Bargamore, like the mortal world, experiences both day and night. A series of tunnels are designed to let the sunlight in. There are also dark places beneath the earth that never see light. The silver mines where the dwarfs work, are darker than Hades, and they dig for the precious metal with the aid of hundreds of torches. While those in the hidden world are self-sufficient, they had other needs. Thesale of silver provides for this, and the pureness of the metal is prised by those who trade for it inthe mortal world.
Then, there is the land where the Ereban live, a place of endless night. From his vantage point, the king could see the dark forest forming the boundary to this land, and the eerie shadows of the trees,
“You have not slept my husband?”
Like all her kind, the queen moved on airy feet, and he did not hear her come in.
“Talk to me,” she took his hand in hers. “I sense your fears.”
She knew how troubled her husband was, but she was unprepared by the hopelessness in his eyes when he looked at her. The child in her womb leapt, sensing her distress.
“The scourge that is killing our people has to be stopped,” he said. “There are many poisons that might cause it, but yet the wise women cannot find the cure. We must strengthen our people before it is too late.”
“Have the wise ones thought of a way of doing this.” She asked.
“There is one way of strengthening the blood, but it is so terrible I cannot bring myself to speak its name.” The king said.
“Tell me. “The queen urged.
“Changelings,” his voice was muffled by his hands. “We must exchange elfin babies for mortal ones.”
The queen, overcome with horror, groping her way to a chair and fell into it.
“What have you decided?” She asked.
“Galten had seen into the future. There are two children who are not yet born, that will suit,” he said. “They will be the first of many. The wise women have gone to the mortal world to watch as the time of birth approaches.”
“How can you speak of such a thing?” The queen knuckles glowed white, as she gripped the arm of the chair.
“What is the taking of twenty children over thousands of our people?”
“It is barbaric,” the queen was trying not to cry. “It is beyond cruel to ask a mother to part with her child.”
“The suffering will be in this world, my love,” the king explained. “The children will be swapped at birth and the mortal mother will have no idea it is not her child.”
“So, the mortals will be spared, and the elfin women know the bitter sting of parting?”
“If there was any other way,” he sighed.
The queen walked out on to the balcony. The square below had come to life, and the elves went about their daily duties as though nothing was amiss. Those who sensed her presence looked up and bowed in respect. In that fleeting moment it was impossible to miss the look of fear in their eyes. She went back inside to where her husband waited.
“How many babies are to be born in the hidden world?” She asked.
“Fourteen, according to the wise women,” the king answered.
“What will you do, go from door to door asking who is willing to surrender their new-born? You will not find your subjects so forthcoming, when faced with such a decision.”
She knew she was being cruel, and her words just added to her husband’s torment. But she was queen and if such sacrifices were to be made, she must lead by example. A knock on the door kept her from saying anything more. One of her ladies-in-waiting peeped in.
“Forgive me, majesties,” the woman bowed. “But Lady Blackthorn’s pains have started, and the wise women are not here.”
“I will come at once,” the queen dismissed her, and turning to her husband, asked. “Can you forgive me for the cruelty of my words?”
“There is nothing to forgive,” he kissed her. “These are terrible times.”
As the queen hurried down the hallway to her friend’s chambers, she tried to ignore the gnawing pains in her back and stomach. Her child was in a hurry to be born, and she could not bear to think about the terrible price she would have to pay to save her people.