The meadow at the edge of Claradon is a training ground. Amber and Sabba stopped to watch as the young cubs jumped and climbed their way across the assault course. Their red coats gleamed with health and they seemed to move with winged feet, as they soared over the jumps. It was a magical sight, but the couple knew what they saw was vital to the fox’s survival. In the centre of the course, Flora, the most senior of all skulk, barked orders at the young cubs, as she ran them through their paces. Like the Elfin, she knew too well how important this training was. She pushed her pupils to the limit until the pads of the feet hurt and their tongues hung from their panting mouths. The cubs complained of this harsh treatment to their parents, but to no avail. They, unlike their children, knew the value of her teachings and how one day it could save their life. Flora was not a cruel animal, but she vowed, when she was first offered the job by Mr and Mrs Furze, that she would never lose one of her troops to the hands of a mortal. Her love for those in her care spurred her on, and the dreadful memory that woke her howling from her sleep, as the hunting horn sounded, and she was reminded of the death of her parents.
“They look well,” Amber said, when the old fox ambled over to where they stood.
“They are coming along, Princess,” Flora nodded. “I think they are the best I have ever trained.”
Amber and Sabba knew little other that what they heard about the use of foxes in battle. In olden days they served as mounts for the dwarfs during times of unrest, and were as strong and swift as any war horse.
“We must go,” Sabba said.
“Stay safe,” the fox bowed her head and ran back to where her charges had taken advantage of her absence.
The glare from the waterfall at the edge of the sacred lake was blinding. Tiny beads of light skimmed across the surface of the water and glistened like diamonds. The teenagers sank down and watched the different life forms that lived and worked around the lake. The fairies were the most prominent, as they flew in swarms collecting water to feed the thirsty flowers growing in abundance around the three lands. In the summer months geese and swans flew in from the mortal world and made their nests by the lake, secure in the knowledge that their young would be safe.
“Hello,” Amber called to a small figure at the other side of the lake.
He stopped what he was doing and began toddling over as fast as his little legs allowed.
“Princess,” his cheeks glowed from his exertions. “What a treat. Yes, indeed, and the young lord too.”
“How are you, Brag?” Sabba motioned him to sit beside them.
“I am wonderful,” he plonked himself down on the grass. “Thank you for asking and there is no need to ask how either of you are,” he smiled at Amber. “Our princess grows more beautiful by the day and as for you, young lord. Well, you have to be the handsomest elf in all of Bargamore.”
“You are a rogue, Brag,” Amber laughed.
“That well may be, my princess,” he smiled. “But I am an honest rogue.”
Of all the dwarfs in Claradon, Brag was their favourite. He was kind, gentle and a great storyteller. He regaled them with tales of past battles and legends of long ago, and they never tired of his stories. Brags job was one of the most important in all the three lands. He was the Watcher of the Wells. Since the time of the sickness, it became important to check the drinking water for signs of infection. He took samples every morning from the numerous wells that dotted the land and from the Sacred Lake, to make sure there was nothing there that could cause infection.
“I have heard strange stories about you two,” he looked from Amber to Sabba. They say you are going up into the mortal world every day.”
“It is true, I am afraid,” Amber sighed.
“You know the risk you are taking, princess?” Brag was astounded by her candid reply.
“I know, but there are reasons for our actions.”
“Reasons, eh?” The dwarf raised his bushy eyebrows. “Very well, I will take your word for it.”
“I have stiff competition today,” Amber looked towards the lake, where an elfin woman was gathering wildflowers.
“Hello, Dawn,” Brag called.
The woman came over and bowed to Amber and Sabba. Her hair was the same colour as the princess’s.
“I trust you are well, princess?” Dawn asked.
“Very well,” Amber smiled up at her. “How are your children?”
“They are my greatest joy,” despite her words there was sadness behind Dawn’s smile.
“I am pleased for you,” Amber felt uncomfortable under the woman’s searching gaze.
Dawn bid them good day and they watched as she made her way through the grass, her green gown billowing in the slight breeze.
“She always seems so sad,” Amber said, “I do not like the way she stares at me.”
“Her sadness is nothing more than a terrible longing to be back with her own kind.” Brag said.
He spoke without thinking and left Amber and Sabba puzzled by his words.