“Now what am I going to do?” Flern spoke to herself, but still spoke out loud so everyone heard. “This was definitely not supposed to happen.” She pulled her cloak tight around her. It felt like a cold winter.
Andrea scooted back a bit for a better look, and she put her hand to her mouth, but she did not scream this time, thank goodness. Moriah only stared, but Badl went to his knees in a sign of respect and pulled the girl down with him. His Lord had gone, but his Lady had taken Wlvn’s place. Elleya looked speechless, wonder of wonders, but Wlkn looked thoughtful when Flern burst out with it.
“Skinny Wlkn! What am I going to do? I can’t kill a Titan! You will have to do it.”
“Oh my God, Wlkn, what am I going to do?”
“Wait, wait!” Wlkn said.
“Calm down.” Andrea added.
“Take deep breaths.” Elleya suggested. “That is what I have to do sometimes. Deep breaths. That’s the way.”
Flern put her hand to her chest and took some breaths, but they came rapid-fire and were not very deep. She stared at Wlkn and wondered how she got in the middle of this. Wlkn spoke as calmly as he could. “You have a name?”
“Flern. Flern.” She tried to calm down. “My name is Flern.”
“Well, Flern. This is the way of it. I figure you must be Wlvn inside there somewhere. You look exactly like him.”
“You do.” Andrea confirmed, though Flern heard a softness in Andrea’s voice that Wlvn never heard before.
“You do, but not.” Moriah decided.
“I am exactly like him, except I got bumps and curves and soft places and a woman’s face and hands, and I guess that means I don’t look like him at all.”
“That’s the odd of it.” Badl said. “You look like his twin, but not at all, you being a Lady and all.”
“But Skinny Wlkn.” Flern turned back to the man. Wlkn shook his head in a definite no.
“I am, too,” Flern interrupted. “Even more. I don’t even like to think of him.”
“I’m not finished,” Wlkn said, sharply, and Flern took the scolding well and held her tongue. “But, you see, I’ve been scared of my own shadow all my life, and I probably still would be if I didn’t have to watch over this hopeless, lovely child.” He looked at Elleya and she could not resist her own interruption.
“Do you think I am lovely? Oh, I so hoped you would think that. I’m so happy I—” Wlkn put his hand over the mermaid’s mouth to finish his own thoughts.
“Now, I know without hesitation that there is no way I can face that monster. And Badl, good gnome that he is, well, I suppose there is not a dwarf in the whole world that is built to battle a Titan. And the girls, of course, are not here for that, and I would not ask it of them. So I figure it is still up to you to decide what to do. Either you find Wlvn and change back, or whatever it is you do, or you will have to figure out something else.” He paused long enough to remove his hand from Elleya’s mouth. “I don’t know, but I hope the goddess is happy that I have tried to use the wise old head she said I had.”
Flern said nothing. She just stared at her reflection in the pool and could not find Wlvn anywhere in time or space, or anywhere at all. Perhaps he had been removed from her life forever, she thought. Perhaps she would never know how her friends made out, and that was a bitter thought. Everyone stayed quiet, but even so no one, except perhaps Moriah, heard the approach of Gallred and the elf maid, Laurel. Finally, pulling back from her own thoughts and not being afraid to shed a few tears, Flern spoke again, softly. “I can’t.”
“But you must.” Laurel spoke up in response, even as she went to her knees beside Badl.
Flern looked at the maid and then looked up at Gallred who smiled in that strange elf way where no mortal human would ever imagine what he was smiling about. “My Lady.” He bowed his head. “My daughter has had a vision. She never had a vision before, but she has had one and you must hear it. I do not know if this was given to her by the gods or if she has a natural talent for such things, but it pertains to this journey that my Lord Wlvn was taking with his companions seated here.” He became silent, and everyone waited. Laurel looked to be having a hard time composing herself, and Flern’s heart went out to the girl because she was so young, just over fifty, which in human terms made her closer to twelve-years-old.
“My Lady.” Laurel said, and she looked up once to see Flern’s smile and then she looked back toward the ground as if the earth itself became her strength, which in a way, it was. “You will not find my Lord Wlvn again in the pool, and neither will you be able to return that way. I can only tell you what I have seen, but be assured, Lord Wlvn will continue your journey, and you must continue his. I cannot say if you may find some other way to return to your rightful places, but if you cannot, then you must face the abomination in my Lord Wlvn’s place. There is no one else among the gods or men that can do it. More than that, I do not know.”
Flern closed her eyes and said nothing. She knew what Laurel said was true. She hated it, she hated hearing it, she did not want to think about it. She desperately wanted to find some way out of it. She felt afraid, no, terrified, and all she could imagine was a terrible, torturous death; but she knew that what Laurel said was true and she had no way out. She felt trapped. If Wlvn was not there to face the Titan, then there was only her to stand in his place. She shivered from the cold and not just the cold in the wind.
“But I am so afraid,” she said, and to her surprise, Andrea scooted forward and hugged her. Moriah, whose eyes were filled with sympathetic tears, joined them, and Elleya did not want to be left out. Last of all, Laurel herself came forward and let Flern cry all over her, and she participated with Flern in the tears, in the way of the little ones, sharing in the deepest human emotions in an empathy so deep and true it became indistinguishable from the real thing. But as with all things, Flern could not sit there and cry forever.
By late afternoon, by the time she finished, there remained nothing for her to do but go to the place Wlvn had slept. She knew the way perfectly, as if she herself had slept there, and in that cabin, she shut herself off from the others, and from everyone, except Laurel. When the elf brought some supper that Flern did not feel like eating, Flern asked Laurel to stay the night and the young maid complied. More important, Laurel seemed both willing and glad to do it.
By the time the morning arrived, Laurel would be going with them. She knew the ways over the mountains and across the Were Plateau, which Badl did not know. Gallred could object all he wanted, but it became a settled matter, and Flern would not leave without Laurel, so Gallred’s objections did no good.