“How they came to be here is less important than why,” the voice said. An elderly elf came in, followed by the commander of the troop that had picked up Sandra and Glen. “I am Alderon and this is Commander Peregrine.”
“The Falcon.” Glen saluted. “But let me ask, why are you here?” Glen spoke quickly, and the old elf raised an eyebrow so Glen continued. “You have brought an army into the wilderness. I hope we have not fallen into the midst of a war.” Sandra suddenly looked concerned. She had not thought of that.
“No fear,” Alderon said. “Wars in our realm are rare events these days. Rather, we had a report of a demon djin crossing close to the border. We sought to destroy it, if we could, or at least keep it from our homes.”
“A ghoul?” Glen asked.
Alderon shook his old head. “Our observers did not see it well enough to classify it, except to say it is one of the lesser djin.”
“But a terror all the same,” Glen said, thinking out loud and turning toward Sandra. “They can possess people, and feed off the fear and pain they cause in tormenting their victims.”
“And how do you know the ways of the djin?” Macreedy asked.
“Behavioral Sciences,” Glen answered. “I have studied my Anthropology and my folklore, unless we humans have it all wrong.” Glen looked up at Alderon who was smiling, just barely.
“Essentially right.,” Alderon confirmed. “But now you must answer a question. Why have you come here?”
“My daughter and mother disappeared.” Sandra spoke quickly. “We were following their trail and found ourselves here. I don’t know how. None of this makes any sense, but now I fear we have lost the trail.” Sandra felt the surge of emotion rise up inside and a few tears began to fall. Glen quickly put his arms around her and reassured her.
“We will find them. Hush. It will be alright.” He stroked her hair, gently, and she quieted. “We were following the seeds, but I don’t know if we can pick up that trail again without going back and getting tangled up with the ogre.”
Alderon waved and Commander Peregrine held out his hand. “Were they pumpkin seeds like this?” Alderon asked.
Sandra jumped up and took the elf’s hand, not thinking twice about it. The hand was full of pumpkin seeds. “Yes,” she shouted. “But where did you find them?”
“In this place,” Commander Peregrine responded. “My command was charged with following them to see where they lead, and they brought us to you.”
“So, wait.” Glen said. “You’re saying if we followed the pumpkin seed trail from the beginning, it would have brought us to this place?”
Alderon nodded, and Sandra turned. “Oh, Glen, we haven’t lost them,” she said and then she just had to fall into Glen’s arms and kiss him smack on the lips, and she kissed his cheek as well before grabbing his arm and turning to sit beside him, and pull herself together.
At the mention of Glen’s name, Commander Peregrine looked surprised, Macreedy had one eyebrow up, Ellean was too busy watching Sandra and thinking her own thoughts to notice, but Alderon was smiling that almost invisible smile of his. “But where does the trail go from here?” Glen asked.
“Ahh…” Alderon said as he stepped up behind Macreedy and Ellean. “There are a small number of seeds heading into the caves of the Cormac. We have chosen not to explore that way since it leads away from our homes.”
“The caves of the Cormac?” Macreedy did not think much of those caves and Ellean looked positively frightened.
“What’s a Cormac?” Sandra asked, drawing herself as close to Glen’s side as she could get.
“An ever hungry troll,” Macreedy said.
“And the caves are full of goblins as well, no doubt trying not to be eaten,” Commander Peregrine added.
Alderon simply looked at Glen and would not let go of that smile that touched the mere corners of his lips. “Somehow, though, I have a good feeling about your chances,” he said. “And since young Macreedy and young Ellean have agreed to see to your welfare, I know you will do well.”
“What?” Macreedy looked up sharply at his elder and tried to stand, but Alderon put a hand on the elf’s shoulder to keep him seated. Then he clapped his hands and stepped aside while two elf maids came and went, quickly. The first had two more blankets and the second carried four little packs, provisions for the expected journey.
“You planned this.” Macreedy accused as Commander Peregrine set down his handful of pumpkin seeds and followed the maids out the tent door.
“Yes,” Alderon said, finally letting out a bit more of that smile. He held up his hand and twisted it like one might twist a dimmer switch, and the light in the glow-balls dimmed to night lights. “Sleep well,” he said, and left.
Macreedy was not entirely happy, but Ellean set about immediately showing their companions what they could do with the Fairy Weave blankets, changing the color, size, thickness and texture, and all with a thought.
“I don’t know why it is called Fairy Weave, though, since it is made by elves. These were made by the elves of the grove,” Macreedy said. Glen just nodded and he got the idea easily enough and made something like an air mattress with covers to sleep on. Sandra had a little more trouble with hers so Ellean helped; but by then with the thoughts and worries about the caves of Cormac getting in the way, Ellean was the only one smiling.
“This will be so much fun.” She said. “I just know I can learn so much from you.”
Sandra stared at the elf maid in disbelief. “You’re seventy three years old and I’m just twenty-three. How are you going to learn anything from me?”
Ellean cocked her head to the side and spoke in all seriousness. “You have a baby.” She stole a glance at Macreedy.
“But I haven’t got a husband,” Sandra said and Ellean looked at her again with eyes that were big and brown and suddenly sad.
“No, actually he was a jerk. Melissa and I are better off without him.”
“Well.” Ellean did not know what to say until she looked over at Glen. “Glen seems very nice, what do you think?”
Sandra just looked, and since Macreedy and Glen heard everything in that small tent, they also looked. Sandra appeared to be more concerned to find out if Glen thought she was nice, and while Glen was not ready to answer that question, he did feel that he ought to say something.
“I think we all ought to try and get some sleep,” he said, and he got under his covers and turned his back on them all. Macreedy finished dousing the glow-balls so only the dying embers from the fire provided any light in the tent. Even so, it was not long before Glen relaxed. He felt certain that everyone else in the tent was asleep. He was a little surprised when Sandra crawled under his covers to curl up beside him. He was more surprised when the other two spoke.
“I wish I had thought of that,” Ellean said.
“Go to sleep,” Macreedy responded.
Glen had a hard time sleeping at first since it was not easy to keep his hands to himself; but then the something inside of him rose up and he felt he could hold this beauty after all without being overly excited. He slept well after that. He could not vouch for the others.