Biddy was breathless from the climb and in no mood for the stares from the brightly coloured elfin women.
“Are you unwell,” the captain asked, as they paused outside a silver panelled door.
“No, I am quite all right,” Biddy assured him. “Just a bit winded from the climb.
Biddy looked straight ahead as he led her towards the king and queen. She had heard of Queen Heather’s beauty in her mother’s stories, but to see her in the flesh was something else. Her red waist-length hair glowed like fire and put the room’s beautiful surroundings to shame. Her skin was pale with a touch of rose in each cheek, but her eyes were the most startling thing of all. Bright green, they sparkled with life, but there was something else too, a haunted look that marred the light within. It was the queen who spoke first.
“Get our guest a chair,” she ordered one of the guards.
Biddy nodded her thanks, as she sat down on a soft cushion.
“A drink, perhaps?” The queen suggested.
“Thank you, your majesty.” Biddy accepted.
A small table was placed beside her chair and she was handed a silver goblet filled with wine as red as the queen’s hair. She sipped, expecting a sour taste. To her surprise the drink was sweet and warm with a hint of berries.
“It has been quite a journey for you,” the queen smiled.
“It has indeed, your majesty,” Biddy tried to ignore the king’s frown, and concentrated on his wife. “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think it urgent.”
“Tell us what is so urgent that you should dare cross the boundary into our world?” The king’s eyes were hard when he spoke.
“I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t think it necessary, and the boundary is of your choosing.”
“It was not an easy choice,” the king’s eyes flashed. “We did not abandon the upper world lightly. Your mother had filled your head with stories that do not mirror the truth.”
“My mother taught me facts,” Biddy said. “She told me that you chose to go in to hiding.”
“Chose,” the king’s laughed. “We had little choice. Let me explain to you, old woman. In ancient times fairies, elves and dwarfs lived in harmony with mortals. Their worlds remained separate, but they respected one another’s boundaries. It is your so-called modern world that sent us in to hiding. We became creatures of mirth to you mortals, to be trapped for the price of a pot of gold. We are creatures of light and air. Can you imagine what it is like for us to spend our life below ground? We belong in the forest, beside streams and in silent hollows, but modern man will not allow that. He tears down the trees and sends not only the fairy folk, but the animals in to hiding.”
“My dear,” the queen interrupted. “Our guest came here for a reason.”
Biddy spent the next few minutes telling them about Juliet and Corey. Lady Blackthorn drew closer to where she sat when she mentioned her son.
“Is he well?” She asked.
“Corey?” Biddy smiled. “He’s a fine boy and the image of your young lord.”
“The girl, Juliet?” The queen got up from her throne and walked down to join her friend.
“She is beautiful, majesty,” Biddy assured her. “She is like you in many ways.”
The queen and Lady Blackthorn hugged one another.
“So, you have guessed?” Galten asked.
“At first, their looks fooled me,” Biddy said. “Then I realised my mistake. My mother told me about the sickness that weakened the elfin.”
“We had no choice,” the queen’s eyes shone with tears. “It was a sacrifice that we had to make.”
“I understand that, majesty,” Biddy said. “It was a very brave thing to do.”
“Well, now that you know our secret,” the king said. “What is it you want from us; gold to buy your silence?”
“I want nothing from you,” Biddy stood up. “I came here to warn you, that’s all.”
“Warn us,” the queen put a restraining hand on Biddy’s arm. “Please sit down. My husband forgets his manners. You speak of a warning,” the queen knelt down beside her. “Are the children in danger?”
“Grave danger, majesty,” Biddy said.
She told them Corey’s story about the Ereban, and the fairy dog that came to his rescue.
“I knew they were plotting something,” the king said. “They will spread their venom about the changelings, and make it appear that we have been fooling our people for all these years.”
“But the people will not believe them. We can explain why we had to do it,” the queen said.
“The Erebans are powerful, majesty,” Galten said. “They can steal into the minds of those who would believe, and plant seeds that would flourish into poison thoughts.”
“We have known enemies in the past,” the king said. “We can deal with them.”
“That may be, majesty,” Galten agreed. “But never before have they been armed with such tools. If the elfin believe them, the Erebans could take over the hidden world.”
“We cannot allow that to happen,” the king said. “We must strike before they do.”
“The only way to do this is to tell your people what was done to save their race,” Galten said. “But first you must tell your children, both changeling and elfin and hope they understand.”