Queen Heather stood on the balcony overlooking the main square and stared into the distance. At any other time, she would have enjoyed the view over the land of Bargamore, but not today. Her eyes saw none of the breath-taking beauty of the skyline and the domes, spires and turrets of the houses were mere shadows, as tears clouded her vision. It would soon be her daughter’s eighteenth birthday. This is a significant time to both human and elfin, as it marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, but more so for the elfin. When anyone living within the land beneath the earth reaches the age of eighteen the aging process slows down, and they continue to live for hundreds of years. It was not just the milestone year that troubled the queen, but the change she saw in her daughter as the time drew near. She was running wild in the company of Lady Blackthorn’s son, Sabba. She put it down to the impetuousness of youth, but there were other signs that all was not well with the children. They had become secretive, whispering, and plotting together for hours on end.
Amber’s door was locked each time her mother tried to enter, and she saw furtiveness in her smallest actions. The king watched his wife’s restless pacing. Haunted by her suffering and that of Lady Blackthorn, he had vowed no other women would share such pain. If the elfin race were to die out, then so be it. The wise women cast spells and brewed potions until a cure was found for the sickness, but it came too late for his wife and her friend. He walked out to the balcony and put his arms around her.
“We will find out the truth,” he said.
He sent word to his daughter and Sabba summoning them to the throne room, but they had disappeared. After a tense meeting with, Larkeon, the dwarf chosen to tutor the children, they felt afraid and confused. The children were missing for the second time that week, he told them, and they had become secretive.
“They are very young,” the queen tried to excuse their behaviour.
“They are of royal blood and with that come certain obligations,” the king roared. “It is up to them to set standards for others.”
“But they are not of royal blood,” the queen’s words hung in the air.
Larkeon, who was one of the few who knew that the children were changelings, did his best to ease the tension.
“They may not be elfin in the true sense, but they developed our powers,” he said. “I have been studying them, majesties and I saw what they can do. The princess is the most powerful of all.”
“How can this be and what sort of powers?” The queen asked.
“Like all mortals and have adjusted to their surroundings. They have a sort of telepathy between one another and with…” his voice trailed off.
“With what?” The veins bulged on the king’s forehead.
“Beings the princess calls their shadow self,” the dwarf gulped. “Mortals from the world above. Two beings she says are their mirror image. It had gone further than telepathy, I fear. The princess has mastered the art of astral projections and has been in contact with them. They feel the need for this now because they have learned of our troubles.”
“How can that be?” The queen asked.
“There are rumours,” Larkeon said. “Someone has been whispering in their ears.”
There was no need to ask who, as the king called for his guards and issued a summons. They returned in minutes and dumped a body at his feet. Hack, a dwarf, who believed that he was the greatest newspaper reported ever, looked up at the king.
“What have you been saying to the princess,” the king spoke through gritted teeth. “Do not lie to me.”
“Just what I heard,” Hack said. “About the castle, and the mortal who wishes to destroy it.”
“You hear things because you spy on us and lurk in corners like some vile rodent,” the king fumed.
“No, majesty,” the dwarf begged. “I would never spy on you. It came from one of the Ereban hags.”
“You have been consorting with the Erebans?” The king could not believe his ears.
“Only to learn the news, majesty.”
“Get out of my sight,” the king roared at Hack.
There was no denying what the dwarf said was true. A local man from the mortal world was running a campaign to knock Culdoplin Castle, and for those within the hidden world, this could mean death.