Gwen, The Third Daughter
Chapter 1: Divine Embla (Elm)
There is a tale as old as the great forest of Dara, where a particular breed of oak filled the forest with long branches, and knotted trunks. These majestic trees kept the world of the Elves hidden from men, home to every magical creature from the graceful unicorn, to the majestic griffin. But there came a great battle between two opposing kingdoms of men, taking life and limb of every creature, every tree within the forest.
The Elves were a peaceful race, content to keep the creatures of the forest hidden and safe. But the Elves were forced to wage war on man, who now encroached upon their realm, revealing the treasures hidden within. The Elves battled man, eventually driving them out of their forest. But the collateral damage to the Elves and the forest was severe.
Swearing to never allow such destruction to return, the Lords and Ladies of the four Seasons, gifted the surviving Elf King, Lord Jarlen, the power to conceal the realm of the Elves, and restore their grace over the forest. Out of the destruction, there survived one great Elm tree, which was transformed into the king's palace.
There, the Elf King greeted the Lords and Ladies of the Seasons with great ceremony, as they traveled across this enchanted realm. Their grace would slowly fade at the end of their time, giving way for the Lord and Lady of the following season to enter Dara.
It was a great pageantry which saw the magical creatures returning with their Lords. The Spirit of the Seasons accompanied the Lords, bringing more of the forest creatures with every appearance. As the realm of the elves grew, the Lords of the Season showed their appreciation in the form of gifts to each newborn. It was a ritual passed down through the ages.
One thousand years later...
The forest King Ailill sat in his throne room within the hollowed out majestic elm. This giant tree which sat at the center of his enchanted realm, was home to the Elves of Cian, that which means Ancient Elm. They were tall elves with dark, nearly black chestnut hair and eyes one would think eerie, for their golden hue drew you in. The female elves were fair, with long auburn colored hair, and green eyes.
When a child was born during one of the four seasons, the Lord and Lady of that particular time, would be petitioned to grant the child their elvish gift, unique to that child's strengths.
King Ailill was born during the Spring, and was gifted the power to heal the woodland creatures, and the power to make things grow. His father, the ancient King Jarlen, was nine hundred and twelve years old, when he planted the young elm sapling for Ailill. This tree, with the touch of his son's hand, would grow until the end of his life. When his own heir took the throne, the ritual link between the forest, and the elves of Cian would carry on in the new king's rule.
But King Ailill's quiver lay empty, and for many years his sadness was reflected in his realm. His desire to have an heir that would take his place seemed only but a dream. His first Queen, the Lady Mildred died during childbirth taking the young prince who would have been named Edric, with her.
The spirit of his realm suffered, as the mystical creatures began to fade. Without the Spirit of the Forest, the woodland creatures once again fell victim to hunters in great numbers. It was only after the Elf King took a new bride, that his grace renewed and life returned to Cian.
But nearly a century into his pairing with the Lady Sunniva, found the Elf King's quiver empty of any arrows, and the branches of his divine elm did not bloom in the spring.
Lady Sunniva, was born on a full moon in the autumn. She was gifted with the power to harness the light of the moon and stars, yet she continued barren for many years. It was said, that during the new moon, the moon flowers of the forest would bloom, and glow. However, the forest was without it's evening coat of flowers, and it's glow was weak, reflecting the queen's sorrow.
It was said that she was cursed for insulting the realm's Spiritual Elf, Saga, the forest witch. There had been a rash of mysterious disappearances of the golden elks, the sacred guardians of their realm with large golden antlers, and eyes as black as night. Lady Sunniva, angry that she could not bear children, pointed out that Saga also had black eyes with golden highlights, indirectly accusing her for their disappearance. This insult was never forgiven by Saga, so Lady Sunniva continued barren.
Ailill never cared for Saga's gifts, seeing her as an opportunist, more than any sort of spiritual adviser. But when he thought about it, the truth of the matter was that Lady Sunniva had poisoned his thoughts against the old elf witch due to her own bitterness. It was true that Saga's age was unknown, and it was widely speculated, that she was born as the result of an affair between Lord Winter, and Lady Summer.
Others would say, this was the reason her heart was known to be as cold as ice, yet at times as warm as the sun. A contrast that gave her blue eyes the ability to change to black, depending on her mood. She was given the gift of foresight, and divination.
For this reason, she lived away from the the giant Embla. Choosing instead to live near the edge of the realm, in the hollow of a giant knotted oak tree whose limbs extended in every direction. She lived with a young wolf boy, a lone survivor of a she wolf named Milly. King Ailill had healed the young cub, and given him to Saga as a gift.
But now the King was searching for answers, and Saga's home was the last place he wanted to be. Ailill felt strange, coming to her for what normally was done by a female elf who was with child.
Saga was often sought after to learn the gender of the unborn child, so that the right Lord and Lady of the Seasons could be petitioned for a blessing. But it always came with a price.
He arrived at her home, and before he could knock, the large wooden door opened on it's own. He had not planned on entering, but didn't want to insult her now by refusing.
To what do I owe, this royal visit? Saga's voice was sweet, but a lower growl was unmistakably Ulric's, her wolf cub.
The light tone of her voice, led the King to think that perhaps her eyes were dark today, and the visit would have a positive outcome. At least that is what he thought to himself, as he entered to find Saga sitting by a large window. She was watching a group of children play near a brook. Ulric was sitting at her feet.
My Lord, may I ask what is the true reason for this visit? It is not like you to walk across all of Cian, to visit my humble home. Saga rose, and quickly put a pot of tea on her stove. I haven't been in the company of royalty for ages. Tell me, is your Lady fair doing well?
Yes, Lady Sunniva is well. I see that young Ulric has healed up nicely. King Ailill smiled.
Yes, he has. Saga winked at the young boy. But he's a little upset, having to cut his playtime short, with your arrival. He is nothing if not protective of his adopted mother.
By all means, join your friends, Ulric. Ailill smiled, as he extended his hand palm down for him to sniff.
Ulric still growled, but recalled the scent as the one who healed him of his wounds. He whined in a quiet tone, then licked the King's hand. Ailill smiled, and stroked his head.
He's truly grown quite a bit since I last saw him, he was hardly a handful to hold. Ailill gave the boy a nod, before he changed his form into a young boy, and ran out the door to rejoin his friends.
Such a noble creature, just like his mother. Saga smiled weakly. Now, my Lord, to what do I owe this visit?
Saga, I have come to request of your gift of foresight.
I am not getting any younger, and I need an heir for my realm. For as you know, this forest will begin to diminish if the grace of the elves fades, and we are not be able to hide the creatures of my realm. I don't have to remind you what that will do to our world, if man was allowed to view this realm.
No, my Lord, I do know the end result, as little Ulric reminds me everyday of the cruelty of man. Saga served King Ailill a cup of herbal tea. Honey?
Yes, thank you. Ailill sipped his tea, and smiled, Berries and is that a hint of mint?
As always, my Lord. Saga brought a golden bowl, which she poured water into. Next, she plucked one dark hair from the King's head, and began to chant in the language of the gods.
A gust of wind blew the many wind chimes around her home, and a cold chill filled the room. She opened her eyes, which had now changed to blue, her tone as cold as ice.
You come to beg of my gifts, granted to me by the Lord of Winter, and the Lady of Summer, do you? You know my birth is a contrast of two seasons, mingled by the lust between gods that cared not for their stations? An heir you desire, fruit from a barren Queen who looks down at my birth, yet cries to her Lord King to come like a beggar?
Suddenly, the tea in King Ailill's cup froze, and shattered the cup, cutting the king's hand. Before he could wipe it off, Saga took his hand and let a few drops of blood fall into the golden bowl filled with water. She then looked into the bowl, and gazed into his future.
An empty quiver makes for a cold queen, but her desire to bring forth fruit will finally come. However, they will arrive in four seasons, as the Lords of the Seasons enter their celestial stations. Each child will enter the world representing a season, beginning with Spring. Saga smiled, through cold blue eyes. But wanting and getting, will not be up to Lady Sunniva, nor the desire, of my Lord. But if you hold true to your gifts, and remain noble, the wish to have an heir will come to pass.
Saga's eyes turned brown, then black as she smiled sweetly, The insult by Lady Sunniva to the Lord of Winter, and Lady of Summer is the cost for this foretelling if she has truly come to regret those venomous words.
King Ailill frowned, Yes, my queen has great remorse, and has paid the price. Nearly a century of being barren was indeed a fair price for his wife's error in judgment. Nevertheless he was overjoyed to learn he would have children, and quickly emptied his purse of gold and many a precious stone on her table.
Saga, would you do me the honor of witnessing the births, and gift ceremonies?
Saga bowed, as she collected the gift. I do not think that is wise, my Lord. Lady Sunniva will not approve, and we wouldn't want another unfortunate misunderstanding to come between us, do we?
For my part, you have always been welcomed in my halls, and were never cast away--
Please, my Lord, Saga raised her hand, and interrupted. Your heart, has never changed from the day your father, King Jarlen, let me hold you during your gift ceremony. I know my place, but I will take your request under consideration.
Six months later, the air of celebration filled the forest, as Cian was covered in white clover, and many beautiful flowers from one corner of the realm, to the other. King Ailill's grace had returned to forest realm, along with the woodland creatures that came out from hiding. The first sighting of unicorns was a sign that the Elf King was once again celebrating life.
The realm was set to celebrate the birth of the first born, when word that Saga, the all-seeing one was spotted in the queen's birthing room.
The gentle sound of wind chimes announced her presence, then she materialized before the court with the newborn.Congratulations, my Lord! A Princess has been born to you today. May the gods bless her with a gift worthy of your throne!
The volume slowly rose, as the royal court burst into applause. Saga was dressed in her priestly attire, holding the princess gently in her arms. An aura of gold was about her body, and flower petals gently fell only to vanish before striking the ground.
King Ailill smiled, as he saw Saga return to his throne room. Indeed, today is a glorious day, Lady Saga!
The throne room murmured upon hearing the title spoken before her name. Saga had been noticeably absent from the king's court, and with every step she took into the room, the air filled with anticipation. This birth was foretold to come in the spring, and Saga's presence would now precede the visit from the Lord and Lady of Spring.
The doors slowly opened, as flower petals began to fall out of thin air. The gods were about to descend upon Cian. The majestic elm began to glow as Lord Bronte stepped in through the door with Lady Kelda at his side. With each step they took, flowers grew and bloomed before them, softly fading when they passed.
Saga bowed in reverence, as they approached the throne. Lord Bronte smiled, We come to bear witness of the young Princess, and to bestow upon her the gifts of her heart.
You honor us, my Lord. King Ailill bowed.
For too long, have these woods been without it's keeper, King Ailill. Lady Kelda smiled. I have it on good authority, that blessings come in three's.
Is that so, my Lady? One can only hope! King Ailill laughed. Though my queen may not appreciate this so soon after giving birth.
Quiet laughter filled the throne room, as everyone gazed at the two gods before them. They stood nearly a foot taller than the tallest elf, and were dressed with the finest clothing, and decked with precious gems. Their hair nearly reached the floor, and they wore crowns made of gold with a faint rainbow for an aura.
Saga approached the King, and handed his daughter to him. A true beauty, my Lord. May she bring you lasting joy.
King Ailill stood with his daughter, and walked down the steps of his throne, and bowed before Lord Bronte, and his mate.
Her name shall be called Ingrid. For she is truly beautiful. Saga spoke, as the two gods touched her forehead.
Several butterflies that graced Lady Kelda's hair fluttered over Ingrid, then faded. She will manifest her gift when she comes of age. Lady Kelda spoke. But until then, her smile will enchant all who know her.
As the final gift was given, Lord Bronte and his mate, faded in a swirl of flower petals. All present began to approach the King, as he held his daughter for all to see. His eyes shined with tears of joy, waking the giant Elm as it bloomed with a gust of wind. The jasmine vines were a sea of white upon the interior, and everyone cheered.
Saga approached King Ailill, extending her arms. My Lord, I must return the princess to her mother.
Yes, please tell my queen, I'll be up shortly to see her.
Yes, Sire. Saga faded from his side.
The realm flourished, in the King's joy, as Princess Ingrid's smile touched every life she encountered. The forest was alive with many creatures coming back out from their hiding places. Their confidence grew in the passing months.
The young Princess was already walking, when Lady Sunniva discovered she was once again pregnant. The child would arrive the following summer, and the realm was once again filled with joyous expectation. As the day approached, the elves once again gathered within the giant elm. Wind chimes announced Saga's presence once again.
She appeared before King Ailill and his first daughter, Ingrid. Congratulations, my Lord! A Princess has been born to you tonight, may the gods bless her with a gift worthy of your throne!
King Ailill's face never betrayed his disappointment, as he smiled. A son would not be born to him yet again. But being a positive man, he found many reasons to celebrate. Daughters would produce grandchildren, and therefore, perhaps a grandson. At least, that is how King Ailill saw it.
I find myself blessed with not one, but two princesses in my realm! May the Lord and Lady of Summer bless her! Ailill smiled, as he held his newborn daughter.
The large doors to the King's court opened, and Lord Somerled and Lady Theresa entered with the rays of the setting sun, dressed in the colors of the forest. They were dressed in dark green gowns embroidered with golden ivy leaves, and many a jewel embedded upon a belt made of silk.
Their skin was sun kissed, and their eyes the color of emeralds. Their hair was black as night, and appeared to have a life of it's own, as if dancing in a summer breeze. A crown of silver graced their heads, with delicate chain-mail that covered the length of their hair. Lord Somerled had a set of antlers which were carved with intricate detail of two elm trees.
With each step they took, a set of unicorns began to appear behind them, slowly fading in and out of sight. The gods walked across the room, and stopped before King Ailill's throne.
We come to bless the second daughter of Cian. Lord Somerled spoke, as he glanced at Saga. He was always rather cool when it came to her, confirming that the affair between his mate, and the Lord of Winter would never sit well with him. Still, he acknowledged her many gifts, and knew her birthright had a place in this realm.
Saga bowed, then raised her hands up. The child is to be named Bridget, for her birth arrives during our Lord's midsummer walk through Cian. Saga smiled, as the Lord and Lady of Summer touched the child's head.
A flame of red and orange danced above the child's head, as the court gasped in delight. Her gifts shall manifest when she comes of age, but until then, her voice will enchant all who hear it. Lord Somerled looked down at the infant.
I thank you, my Lord, my Lady. Ailill smiled, as he bowed. I count myself blessed with Bridget, my second daughter.
May she bring you a much joy, King Ailill. Lady Theresa smiled, then glanced at Saga as she took her Lord husband's hand, and faded into the final rays of the sun.
I shall visit you, my daughter before the end of my walk. Lady Theresa spoke to Saga in her thoughts. Saga looked on, as Lady Summer glanced back. The third arrow will land upon it's target, and this realm will be turned on it's head.
Saga looked worried, as her mother faded. I look forward to our time, my Lady.
King Ailill was turning to Saga with the child, when he noticed her concerned look.
Ingrid danced around her newborn sister, smiling as she kissed her cheek. This delighted the court, and thus began the celebration of King Ailill's second daughter.
Is all well? King Ailill whispered.
Saga smiled, Yes, my Lord. It was just my mother inviting me for tea. Saga gave King Ailill a knowing glance.
I see, that last cup of tea brought me two daughters! King Ailill teased Saga, before he handed Bridget to her, and both vanished along with Ingrid.
In the days that followed, King Ailill knew there would only be one more child born to him, and that worried him. He wanted to ask Saga about this, but at the same time, didn't want to appear desperate, and perhaps offend the Lords of the Four Seasons, nor their mates.
One evening the following Spring, Lady Sunniva smiled as she leaned close to her husband's ear during the evening's banquet, and whispered that she was once again expecting. She blushed as little Ingrid was now going on three years, with little Bridget trying to catch up to her older sister.
The child would be born by winter, and no doubt would be considered special for several reasons. This child would be the last born to the King, and his final chance to have a son. Ailill kissed his queen, and smiled at Saga who was sipping her wine carefully watching the two. She was now regular fixture at the King's table, and enjoyed seeing the children, who would run to her for sweets.
As the final days of fall gave leave to cooler weather, Queen Sunniva found herself anxious. Her third child would be born in the winter, and even though Saga had appeared to have forgiven her, this did not mean that her father had.
What can I do? King Ailill tried to soothe his queen, as her hour approached.
Speak with her. If her father is Lord Winter, she may soften the blow if he still holds anger towards me...I fear for your unborn child! Lady Sunniva clung to Ailill.
That will not be necessary, my Queen. Saga appeared before queen's bed. Your hour has arrived and you, my Lord, must return to the throne room. Your subjects have gathered.
Saga smiled sweetly, bowing down before King Ailill, who gave his wife a kiss before vanishing. Now, my Lady, let's bring your child into the world.
Sunniva's labor was a difficult one, and Saga feared history might repeat itself, for both mother and child. She watched the midwives worry, knowing this labor was taking longer than the first two. She stood at the foot of the queen's bed, bowed, and extended her arms before her with her palms up, and spoke.
Oh Lord, my father, please grant me this one gift for the sake of the unborn. Saga began her prayer. It is but a little thing to bring life into King Ailill's child, and his noble kingship. This child is special, for it will walk in your steps, with the grace and understanding that all life is precious. That while the world may slumber in your season, you bring the gift of hope to the world, and the promise of life as you cross our realm.
Lady Sunniva could be heard crying out, as her labor came to an end and the first cries of the newborn were heard. Lady Sunniva, exhausted in her labor had passed out. She didn't get to see her newborn, or it's gender.
But this child was different, as Saga noticed not one, but two cords tethered the child to it's mother. It was a mysterious omen, since there was only one child. This second cord which was gold in color, was kept from Lady Sunniva's sight and only the midwives knew of it. Saga quickly removed the second cord, and gave the women explicit orders to keep this detail from the queen.
It appeared as if the whole kingdom of Cian made the journey to the throne room. Winter did not keep them away, for they knew the Lord of the season would make an appearance. While most in attendance were there for the gift ceremony, many wanted to see what, if anything transpired between Lord Winter and his mate, the Lady Morana over Saga.
Saga appeared before King Ailill and his two daughters. Congratulations, my Lord! A Princess has been born to you tonight, may the gods bless her with a gift worthy of your throne! As Saga walked over to the Elf King, she bowed her head, and whispered. Your Queen suffered much, but will recover, my Lord.
King Ailill, sighed at the news. His smile was bittersweet, as he looked down at his two daughters. His hopes for a male heir disappeared, knowing his queen would not give him a fourth child. He felt the foretelling by Saga missed by one, though grateful for the lives of his daughters.
Ailill held his daughter, as he faced the court. I find myself blessed! The grand hall cheered, as King Ailill kissed his newborn.
A chill in the air had everyone looking at the doors to the grand hall. Ice began to slowly form on them as they opened. Lord Tinek and Lady Morana entered the throne room shrouded in a cloud of fog. They were followed by two larger than life white foxes with blue flaming eyes.
With each step they took, the ground sprouted snowflake flowers with green spotted petals, whose subtle scent permeated the throne room. The Lord and Lady of Winter were dressed in white raiment, and an array of gold jewels. Their hair was blond, nearly white, with a crown of gold and sapphire upon their heads. Their skin was flawless, and as white as snow, with only a hint of blush upon their cheeks. Eyes as blue as sapphires, with an aura of gold over their heads.
Lord Tinek glanced at Saga, his eyes were gentle as he smiled. Though it was a scandal frowned upon by the Lords of the Seasons, Lord Tinek proudly acknowledged her many gifts, and knew her birthright had a place in this realm.
But it was not seen that way by his mate, the Lady Morana.
The Lords of the Seasons all had children, but to have children born between seasons, was considered taboo. The punishment called for the child to be abandoned to the Earth to keep the proper balance. And depending on the Lord or Lady, the child would either suffer, or flourish.
Lord Tinek knew the affair between himself and the Lady of Summer, brought Saga difficulties but admired the woman she became despite the stigma. But Saga knew love from both parents existed, and used it to survive within Cian.
We come to bless the third daughter of Cian. Lord Tinek smiled at a very nervous King Ailill.
Saga smiled at her father as she bowed, then raised her hands up. The child is to be named Gwen, for she is fair, and a blessing to this realm. Her birth arrives during our Lord's journey of renewal through Cian.
Saga's smile faded, as Lady Morana's stoic expression, gave her chills while she spoke. To the Lady of Winter, Saga was only a reminder of her mate's infidelity. Though she had to admit that Saga was an exceptional beauty, this was something she would never admit.
As Lord and Lady of Winter gazed down at the newborn, they were surprised by the two white foxes that now moved forward and bowed their heads. They licked Gwen's tiny hands and feet, as King Ailill gasped, and everyone watched in awe.
Lady Morana extended her hand, and touched Gwen's head. A golden aura appeared and several snow doves flew over her, and then faded. Her gifts will manifest when she is of age, but until then, her grace will enchant all who know her.
Lord Tinek looked down at Gwen, and could see there was more within her soul. He looked up at her father, and spoke into his mind.
She will have more than compassion, she will embrace the realm. For these Spirits of the Season have also conveyed a gift.
What does this mean, my Lord? King Ailill spoke, as he looked down on Gwen.
It means, good King Ailill, that your nobility has held true, and your kingdom has been blessed by the Spirit's of the Seasons. For the third daughter of Cian will bring a healing salve to your heart, on the path she is to walk.
King Ailill didn't understand, but bowed to Lord Tinek and Lady Morana. The Lord and Lady of Winter smiled, and began to fade. The two white foxes turned to see the King, then faded as well.
Your prayer reached my heart, Saga, you have done well...my daughter. Guard well the third daughter of Cian for she has found favor in our eyes.
Saga was struck by her father's words. So he knows.. She smiled, as she faced the Elf King, and touched his shoulder, My Lord, I must take Gwen to your queen.
King Ailill shook his head. No, Saga, let me hold my daughter for another moment or two.
Yes, my Lord. Did Lord Tinek's message shock you?
What do you know of this second blessing, this gift by the Spirits of the Season?
It means, Gwen will have an extraordinary life. I do not know what Lord Tinek spoke to you, but I do know that a second gift from the Spirits of the Seasons is among the most rarest. Neither daughter before Gwen received such a gift. Nor have I ever witnessed a gift ceremony where more than one gift was granted.
Indeed. King Ailill smiled down at Gwen, wondering about her future. He sat on his throne, and held Gwen, as Ingrid and Bridget came to kiss their younger sister.
Fourteen years later...
In the years since the birth of the three princesses, the kingdom of Cian had prospered. It was a joy to see them grow, and mature into young ladies. They were each different but all would come of age in the season of their nineteenth year.
This proved to be a challenge to King Ailill, who faced not one daughter, but three that would soon have an army of suitors from every kingdom breaking down his doors with marriage proposals to the likes which have never been seen before.
Ingrid, being the eldest daughter would be up first, but the Elf King decided to have the girls educated as to the role their lives would have in his realm. Since there was no male heir, status seeking kingdoms would be chomping at the bit to have their son's sit on the throne of Cian.
Knowing that a Princess could be seduced, he decided to have the forest witch, Saga, place spells on his daughters. The only way one could marry on of the princesses, was to witness her using her gifts. The daughters were only four years apart in age from Ingrid to Gwen, so as he walked to the edge of his realm towards Saga's home, he tried to find the right way to ask for such a spell.
But the elf witch could see him coming, and hid with Ulric in her potions room.
King Ailill was not fooled, as smoke continued to come out from her tree. No doubt she was cooking her evening meal. He waited and paced outside the large oak tree, then decided to toss a pebble at the door.
I am not home! Saga yelled from within her giant oak.
If you are not home, why do you answer?! King Ailill laughed despite himself, but when he looked at the ground he had been pacing, found a mound of flowers growing on the dust he had raised.
There was silence for a few moments, which had the elf king growing impatient.
Pretending you are not home, is futile, Lady Saga, I am in a bind! King Ailill stomped his foot, and up from the ground flowers began to sprout. He didn't mean to do it, but found they brightened dreary looking giant oak just the same.
Yes, my Lord, but it was you who asked! Saga grumbled.
Would you have me allow just any prince to sit on my throne? The marriage proposals have not ceased since Ingrid turned ten! She is going to come of age this Spring, and soon thereafter Bridget, and then Gwen. Though, I don't believe she's in any danger at only sixteen.
King Ailill was pacing once again, when he heard footsteps across the floor of tree, and the locks being opened. He was greeted by a great plume of smoke. Uric ran past the king, coughing.
Thank you, Saga-
I didn't open my door for you, my Lord, I burned my dinner and the house was filling up with smoke! I must have an owl nesting in the vent again, though dying sounds better than dealing with your issue. Saga complained.
King Ailill laughed as he entered the large tree. I thank you nevertheless, Saga.
Marriage proposals, you say?
In the hundreds... The Elf King grumbled.