{Author's Note: I got this part out as soon as I could as an apology to everyone who was sad over Impulse. Yes, there was a reason. No, it's not here yet. But I don't think too many people will complain too much about some parts of this chapter. I fear losing my audience this time seriously because FINALLY the major plot behind the story is shown. I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. So this one is dedicated directly to you guys. You know, those of you who stay home sick to read my stories, and those of you who read it from the rooftops, for those of you who once thought  I was doing a cliché prince vs. peasant story, for those of you who can't wait for me to update (even though you are slow to update your own stories *grins*), for those of you who find yourselves addicted, for those of you who listen to me whine over the scenes not going right and point out all my mistakes, and for all those who have read without reviewing. I love you all and please keep pushing me to finish this. There's still lots more to go.}


Final preparations for the Calmaarian Summer Festival were only a small part of Casimir's comfort for the pain of his lost horse. Auley's arms held the rest and he sought out that shelter more readily. Auley had been very patient with him, yet drew the line when Casimir began to blame himself for the situation. He never thought to ask how Auley knew of the sickness that no one else could see. He accepted that fact just as he had forced Cambrin to.

When he was able to focus on his work again, Casimir poured himself into the last minute details of the Festival. He usually had a deep dislike for formal affairs, but the Festival was his exception. Each year, the four countries that made up the continent would celebrate one season, holding a large Festival that honored the Royal Family of that country. No other country's Festival could hold a candle to the Calmaarian Summer Festival. People from all walks of life and from all over the world would end up in Calmaar for the designated week. A visitor would be able to enjoy several parades, hundreds of plays and concerts, tales by campfires, wild animals trained to do domesticated tricks, jousting and fencing tournaments, drinking contests, and that was only the beginning. Even within the expanse of a week, one could not possibly see or do all there was to do at the Festival. Everyone would leave, not able to wait for next year when they swore they'd do what they missed out on. Casimir enjoyed it due to the tightened security measures that allowed him to walk through crowds as if he were one of the people and he'd get so lost in it that people wouldn't notice who he was. Only during the first parade, held near sundown on the first day of the Festival, would he have to ride and be a Calmaarian Prince. For the rest of the time, he would only be a visitor. He had no idea of the other visitor he'd meet.


It was a few hours before sundown when Casimir found himself seated on a crate beside a long row of tents. He suspected that these were the tents belonging to musicians and actors due to the bright colors. He rubbed his eyes, not believing how tired he was already. The streets were overflowing with people laughing and talking and having great times. His eyes only seemed to pick out the young men who held hands with their beloved young ladies as they walked and played. Everywhere he seemed to look, there were couples. More than ever he wanted to go steal Auley from the stables and lead him around the Festival and point out its gaieties to him. Casimir wasn't even sure he could find his way to the stables in this crowd, though.

He had been having fun, nonetheless. He had spent way too much time and money playing poker with what he knew now must have been a card shark with some trick up his sleeve. He liked to be cheated though. No one else would ever have to balls to let him lose. He'd been pulled away from his game by a small group of young girls, barefoot and in flowing flowery dresses with daisy crowns on their heads. They put one of their crowns on his head and pulled him dancing through the streets for a while. He'd ended up seated at the feet of and old man smoking a pipe and wearing entirely too many cloaks to not be sweated head to toe. The man had told quite a few historical stories and found it amusing that Casimir would point out embellishments. Before long, the man gave up, claiming Casimir was too smart for his own good, and pulled out a lute, which he was no good with.

From there, Casimir found two boys playing with beribboned wooden swords they had been given. It did his heart good to sit with the boys for an hour or few, showing them a few basic skills to make their strikes at each other more graceful. A young lord, named Staven, strolled by, seeing Casimir trying to help the boys, and challenged him to a duel using the wooden swords. The boys watched, enthralled, as Casimir and the young lord fell into a fighting dance in which they stopped with every step to explain their actions to the boys. When they returned the swords, the boys had looked at them as if they were made of gold, obviously with the new goal in life of becoming knights.

Staven had invited Casimir to join him for a drink. He wasn't sure what Staven had ordered for him, but he would never forget how it had burned going down and gave him the quickest headache of his life. He'd stumbled out of the large tent that was a makeshift tavern and headed back into the crowd. Everything from there seemed hazy and dizzy. His eyes wouldn't focus clearly, making the people around him seem larger and smaller with each second. The roar the crowd created would be overbearing one moment and leave him deaf the next. He knew he had to set his mind and body right before the parade, so he stepped off of the main paths through the tents and found the crate to sit on.

He closed his eyes and the dizziness and mottled sounds began to fade. With deep and even breaths, he vowed not to drink anything else that he couldn't identify first at this Festival. A chill ran up his spine just before he realized he wasn't alone. Before he could open his eyes, a voice spoke, making him feel cold within.

"Such a pretty man, you are. Too beautiful really, to be born a man," the voice crooned.

Casimir looked the person over as he stood up, irritated by the roar that suddenly rushed back to his ears. Covered by what seemed to be two or three burlap sacks sewn together, the person held a beggar-like appearance. Shorter than Casimir by a full head due to what seemed to be a hunched back, the person's face was downcast and hidden behind the hood of the makeshift cloak. The voice, raspy as it was, seemed to be one that was neither clearly male nor female. Everything about the crone made Casimir want to run away.

His eyes darted for an escape through the tents, but a decrepit hand reached out and seized him by the arm. The overly long bony and sore-covered fingers were surprisingly strong, making Casimir stop searching and stare in awe at it. He was sure by now that Staven had drugged him somehow and he was just dreaming this crone was holding him hostage.

The crone peered up at him, beady black eyes suddenly very visible within the cowl. Icy words came again, warning Casimir. When the hand released him, he stumbled two steps backwards as if the words had punched him right in the gut. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the beads. There was no way that the crone's words could be right, could they? He finally blinked as the crone laughed. He remembered screaming "No!" before his world faded to black. There was no way…


It was nearing time for the first parade. Auley stood back and began double-checking the horse's tack. Alteo looked entirely too regal when decked out in the black blankets and saddle Casimir had arranged for. The tall beast was black enough as it was, with only one small white streak running through the top of his forelock. Alteo seemed to realize there was a meaning behind the unusual attire. Auley stroked his nose once more and led him to the back of forming parade lines.

He didn't see Casimir in the small Royal crowd. The twins already sat atop their horses, deep in conversation about the fire-eater who's clothes had caught afire earlier. He knew it was too near time for the parade to begin for Casimir not to be there. He kept looking around as he tried to wait patiently. Maybe Casimir was changing clothes. He'd vowed to wear black in the parade in honor of Impulse. Auley had caught a glimpse of Casimir earlier and he had been wearing a striking mix of blues and yellows. He must have been changing and was taking his time about it. Auley nodded to himself, trying to keep from searching any further.

The King himself was the one that finally noticed Auley. Auley was quick to his knees when Caden approached him. "Your Majesty," he said in a clear voice, his head hung in respect.

"Is this Casimir's horse?" Caden asked.

"Yes, Your Majesty, it is," Auley replied.

"Take it back to the stables." Caden said. Before Auley had time to be confused by the command, Caden bent down beside the him and lowering his voice to a whisper. "You've been sharing Casimir's bed, haven't you?"

Auley felt his cheeks burn, but there were no voices chanting that he was a whore. He realized that somehow he wasn't ashamed of the fact; he was just merely caught off guard. After all, weren't one's sexual habits supposed to be private? Not that he and Casimir were doing anything more than cuddling in the middle of the bed, anyway. "Yes, Your Majesty. For a few weeks now."

"Maybe you can snap him out of it then. He's moping over that damned horse again, refusing to acknowledge anyone's presence. The guards found him lying passed out on the ground… Such a disgrace to see a Prince drunken to that state! Go. See what you can do for him," the King whispered harshly before rising and ignoring Auley altogether.

He felt sick to his stomach suddenly, worried beyond belief. He pulled on Alteo's reigns and was about to start running when he heard someone call his name.

"Auley! Brat, I tried to catch you in the stalls but you already had the damned horse out here…" Cambrin panted, his hands falling to his knees trying to catch his breath.

"King's orders. I have to go see about the Prince," Auley sputtered quickly.

Cambrin rolled his eyes. "Think I don't know that? Gimme those!" He jerked Alteo's reigns from Auley's hands. "Go. I'll be a cow's tit if I let a stable boy get blamed for the Prince's well being. Don't just stare at me, brat, GO!" He gave Auley a small shove, which made him stumble. When he gained his balance, he fought his way through the crowd to the castle doors.

The inside of the castle was no longer a maze to Auley. The halls were practically empty save for a few pages and guards hurrying through to try to make it to the parade on time. He pressed his forehead to the cool door and tried to catch his breath before he knocked on it.

No answer. He knocked again.

He gave up that game quickly and opened the door slightly, sticking his head in slowly. "Cas? It's Auley. Can I come in?" he asked. He always asked.

He swallowed hard when he didn't get a response. Then he saw Casimir. He was still in the blue and yellow clothing, minus his boots. He was curled up on his bed, his eyes focused on something far, far away. His hand was gently clutching the light bedspread. His bangs were matted to his forehead from the heat in the room. His breathing was slow and even. Auley closed the door and stepped towards the bed. "Cas?"

At first, nothing changed. Then slowly, blue eyes shifted purposefully to Auley. "You didn't tell me," he said lowly in accusation.

Auley blinked. His heart was frozen in his chest. "Didn't… tell you what?"

A pained expression crossed Casimir's face before he closed his eyes and turned over.

"Didn't tell you what?!" Auley shouted at his back, desperate for an answer. His entire world as he knew it was being threatened. He wasn't going to let Casimir do that to him.

"Don't yell at me. My head hurts as it is. I don't know what I had to drink… But I swear to you, I didn't know. You didn't tell me." A hand lifted to wave dismissively at the tone of voice Auley had used.

"How could I have known what you had to drink? I was in the stables the entire day!" Auley said, lowering his voice. Maybe the prince was drunk.

"No, not that. I mean… What the fortune teller told me."

Auley decided it was drunken banter and folded his arms, relief putting a half-grin on his face. "What'd the fortune-teller tell you?" 

Casimir muttered something that Auley didn't quite catch.

Auley found his way onto the bed and pulled Casimir until he was lying on his back and staring dazedly at the ceiling. "What didn't I tell you that she did?"

"I don't know if it was a she…"

"Try to focus on the point, please?" Auley asked.

Casimir's eyes blinked and his hands found Auley's. "She… he… it… Whatever… Told me that my heart belonged to someone."

Auley waited for the rest of the fortune, but it never came. Casimir's eyes were searching his face expectantly. "That's all? Such a random fortune has you this distressed?" 

"Auley… It's true."

He took a moment to think. In all his naivety, did Casimir still not realize what he was asking for of him? He fought back the laughter within. "You didn't realize that?"

"You did know! You've known all along!" Casimir accused, squeezing Auley's hands.

He nodded. "Of course. It was why I was so hesitant beforehand. It's an awful high price you wanted me to pay, but you were always willing to pay it as well."

"You mean that… you too?"

Auley peered down into Casimir's glassy eyes. He seemed so much younger than he really was. Gods, he was beautiful that way. He pulled one hand loose momentarily to let his fingers trail lightly over Casimir's sweaty forehead and brush the bangs aside. "I do believe I love you too." His heart sped up at the very mention of those words. He could see a slight blush creep over Casimir's cheeks as his mouth fell into a perfect "o."

"I didn't know… You didn't tell me," Casimir repeated. "All this time you've spoke of some game I was playing at… I never realized… You must think I'm the most ignorant bastard on this Earth."

"Why? Because you didn't say it? Because you chose to show me rather than just use worthless words that I probably would not have believed anyway? Everything you've done for me… There's no way anyone would do it if they didn't love the other somehow."

Casimir looked away for a moment, his mouth moving as if to say something. He gave up and looked back at Auley. "Was it truly enough?"

Auley began to stare at their joined hands. "No one has ever shown me this type of kindness before. One of my biggest fears living my life the way I do has always been taking the easier roads and becoming someone's whore. I can't explain why clearly, but it has been. It's why I was always so cold to you to begin with. Not only did you not realize that you wanted to give and receive love, but you were putting me in a spot where I could easily become what I didn't want to be. And after the entire ordeal with Vaymas…" He paused to take a deep breath. The very name still gave him chills. "After that, I just don't care. I don't care if the rest of the castle sees me as your whore. I don't care if the entire world sees me that way. I know you don't see me that way. That's what really matters to me. That's why I know you love me. You let me find my own ways and reasons. You don't tell me what to do or think or feel. You let me be. And I know my heart is yours, and that I must hold yours as well."

Casimir sat up, coming alive from his daze rather suddenly, and hugged Auley tightly. "I'm so sorry!" he whispered into Auley's hair.

"It's quite all right. I find it amusing, really." Auley nuzzled his head against Casimir's cheek.

The heat of the room was dizzying and the closeness between the two only created a much more welcomed warmth.

Auley felt Casimir's hot breath right on his ear as he whispered, "I love you so damned much." Something inside Auley snapped with that. Pure desire rushed from that ear to the pits of his belly and he wasn't so sure he could fight back his emotions. Shaking slightly, he pulled his head up. Casimir seemed to have the same idea as his hands ran over his cheeks, his eyes searching his own as well as his lips.

Auley tilted his head onto the strong hand that had held the back of his neck before sliding upward. A question lay within Casimir's eyes and Auley could see it clearly. He licked his lips and nodded ever so slightly to let him know that it was perfectly all right. His eyes closed as Casimir's lips descended on his own, pressed softly and gently at first. Both minds soared before Casimir pulled back for a moment, then kissed Auley once more. After the initial shock of actually kissing one another wore off, Auley gave a small moan and surrendered to Casimir's lips. Arms wrapped around bodies, trying to pull themselves to a closeness that could not exist, for just being pressed tightly against each other wasn't enough. Their bodies pulsed so hard that each was sure the other could feel it, creating the sweetest agony either had ever known.

Auley had never known a kiss could feel so overwhelmingly right. No one ever took the time to kiss someone like him. He was meant for single nights of pleasure. But Casimir certainly knew what he was doing. Auley could only hope he was reacting and returning the favor properly.

"Oh gods, Auley," Casimir whispered in one ragged breath as he broke the kiss to quickly and carefully push Auley back onto the bed. His lips pressed hungrily back to Auley's before Auley had the chance to answer.

It had become entirely too hot in the room. Neither would complain.

Auley could barely tell he was lying on a bed in Casimir's embrace. His mind told him he was someplace safe and he was loved. That was all he allowed himself to be aware of until he felt the small wet flick across his lips. His eyes flew open, only to meet Casimir's steady gaze.

Casimir pulled back for a moment, testing his reaction. Auley lifted his head to meet Casimir's lips again, slowly opening his mouth within the kiss.

He moaned once more, tangling his fingers in the hair on the nape of Casimir's neck. His tongue swirled around Casimir's, making him feel dizzy and vague. He was becoming more and more aware of the burning within the pit of his stomach and the need growing in his loins. He tried to keep his mind focused on Casimir's loving torture, but fear was creeping in. It wasn't chants of whore this time that made him push Casimir away. The fear of what Casimir may ask him to do washed over him. He became confused very quickly, not understanding why if he loved and wanted Casimir, he'd fear him and push him away. But once the images of Vaymas had set into his mind, he began to shiver.

Casimir didn't seem to mind being pushed away, though. He pressed another kiss to Auley's lips and then to his cheek before rolling onto his back on the bed. Auley nearly instinctively curled up against him, his head resting on his chest.


Off in the distance, Casimir could hear the trumpets heralding the Royal family for the parade. He tightened an arm around Auley, feeling much more happy and content than he'd felt in a long time. Relief that Auley didn't hate him for not realizing he loved him. He recalled the very first day he'd pulled Auley from the stables and how bad he'd wanted him them. Casimir knew now he didn't just want Auley by his side. He needed Auley by him. He couldn't put to words why he felt that way, but he knew it had something to do with love. Auley had known that very first day what Casimir was up to and had dared him to prove that he knew as well.

"You're missing the parade," Auley said softly.

"Eh. I'm happier here," he smiled.

Auley raised his head. "Are you drunk after all? The King will be very upset with you."

"I don't care about the King. He won't say very much to me. And as for being drunk? I'm not sure."

"You're not sure? Did you have something to drink?" Auley asked, smiling at him incredulously. His fingers were still playing with the ends of Casimir's hair.

"Yes and I can't tell you what it was. It was bought for me and I just drank it. I don't really think I am drunk, but I almost believe my drink was drugged."

"What happened?" Auley asked, pulling away from Casimir propping himself up with one elbow.

Casimir grinned at him. "I was showing these two kids how to do more than play with their wooden swords. This lord, probably our age, came and helped and bought me a drink afterwards. Everything got very strange after that."


"As if it were a dream. I can't even promise you that the crone was there and I didn't dream it all up. It felt very real, yet not really all at once. I was sitting on this crate by some tents. My head hurt like the Hells and then the crone was just there. Out of nowhere. It was freakish, too. It reached out and grabbed my arm. That grip was like ice and death or something."

Auley lifted an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound too pleasant."

"Then its voice… As if it weren't enough… The voice called me beautiful and began giving me what were most likely random fortunes. The part about me loving you just really caught me off guard. 'Your heart belongs to someone, child. That someone is cursed. You are spared of your brothers' sins, just as he once was. He will be spared again, this time with you at his side. What has happened will come to pass yet again.' Gods, I wish I could forget that icy voice and those beady eyes! It just seemed as if…" Casimir stopped his words dead.

Auley had turned completely white.  

Casimir could only blink at him in confusion at first. "Is something wrong?"

Auley let out a quick breath. "Cas, tell me and please try to remember clearly. What did this crone look like?" 

"Eh… I don't know. All I remember was the hand covered in sores and the beady eyes. It was dressed in a heavy cloak and was hidden within it."

Auley gave a panicked whimper before he began to shake, his eyes darting around and not focusing on anything. "Cas, are you certain that's all she said?"

"Yes. I told you, I can't forget those icy words. What is wrong with you? You're acting as if you've seen some sort of phantom."

Auley's eyes closed as he sat up and drew his knees to his chest. He rocked back and forth quickly, still shivering. "This can't be. It can't be. Not here and not now. Dear gods, not here. Why did the bitch follow me? Oh gods, what am I going to do? She's here. She can't be here. She's…."

"She's not going to hurt you!" Casimir said sternly, sitting up himself to take Auley's shoulders in his hands. "I won't let her or anyone else ever hurt you again!"

Auley's eyes flashed. "You can't stop her. Don't you understand? I couldn't stop her, neither can you."

"I'd like to see this woman try to get around the crown!"

Auley shook his head. "A crown holds no binds over her."

"Who is she? What has she done to you?" Casimir demanded.

Opening his mouth to speak, Auley finally realized what he was saying. His mouth snapped shut and he shook his head once more. "I cannot tell you."

"You promised me no more secrets like that!"

"This is more than a secret. Oh gods, she's here…" Auley whimpered. "She said for sure you'd be spared?"

"Of my brothers' sins, yes. Don't change the subject. Who is she?"

Auley merely began to rock again, beginning to babbly incoherently to himself.

"Auley? Auley!" Casimir called out, but the boy seemed beyond reason. Two light slaps to his right cheek brought Auley back to the present.

"Casimir…' Auley sighed. "I don't know what to do."

"Then tell me what the Hell is going on!" Casimir said, starting to show his annoyance.

"But… you wouldn't believe me if I did tell you."

"I'd believe anything you told me, Auley. I trust you."

"And you don't know me. Not at all, Cas."

Casimir blinked, stung by the harsh words. He let go of Auley and sat up straight. "Then maybe… Maybe it's time you let me know you."

Auley tore himself from the bed, standing up and folding his arms. He paced back and forth along the side of the bed. "I would trust you with this. Honest. But you will not believe me."

"I will!" Casimir pleaded.

"What if I told you I was cursed? What would you think?" Auley tested.

"Cursed how? Like as if you have bad luck all the time?"

"No. Cursed as in the most basic meaning of the word. Cursed in a magical sense." Auley stopped his pacing to look at Casimir. "What would you think?"

"I'd… Magic doesn't exist, Auley."

"Exactly. That's why you will not believe anything I told you."

"Are you trying to tell me you're cursed by some evil spell?" Casimir asked, trying to not sound sarcastic.

Auley's eyes were too honest as he nodded. "Yes. I'm telling you that I am cursed and it is by such means."

Casimir didn't dare laugh. He'd just told Auley he'd believe whatever he told him, hadn't he? How much faith did he have in his own words? The very least he could do was hear Auley out.

"If you would only try to believe in such things for a little while, I'd tell you. The circumstances now really have become too great for you not to be involved. Especially since you're going to be like me very soon."


Auley nodded. "In a sense, yes."

"This is becoming very weird, Auley."

Climbing back onto the bed, Auley pressed a kiss to Casimir's forehead. "Please trust me." 

After a moment of searching Auley's honest eyes, Casimir sighed. "Fine. Tell me of this curse then."

Auley took a deep breath before raising his index fingers to Casimir's temples. As they slowly began to massage in a circular pattern, Casimir found himself relaxing more and more until he was at a point where he felt he was going to fall asleep. He tried to open his eyes but they were too heavy. Panic rose in him but somewhere Auley's voice asked him to stay calm and relaxed. Strange… The voice didn't seem to come from his ears. Was it inside his head? He felt a jolt that left him shaken and disoriented, much like when he experienced muscle spasms as he was trying to fall asleep. Then his mind didn't seem to belong to him anymore. His mind was that of a young boy…

            A young boy stood before a tall silver-framed mirror, adjusting his clothing.

::That night, I had to wear my new white robes. It was the first day of the first snowstorm in the Land. My old ones were too short, but my new ones were too big. It would only be my family at the supper, but nothing I ever did could please my family anyway.::

He tried adjusting the shoulders of his robe once more, frowning at his reflection. He peered closely at his hair next, making sure each dark blonde strand was in place as it fell down loosely past his shoulders. A strategically placed silver circlet adorned with blue gem snowflakes held his bangs from his bright green eyes.

::Then my sister came.::

"Aulend, we're waiting for you to stop your preening and come to supper."

::But I wasn't preening. I was merely making sure I had no faults for them to point out. I followed her down from my room to the easternmost dining room.::

The images were blurs. Dark corridors, strange paintings, cryptic words scrawled on signs, curious floorings and walls… A castle of some sort? Soon the image settled and the boy was seated at a table with his sister, an older woman who looked so like the sister that it had to be the mother, and man with a deep red beard to match his fiery red hair who sat at the head of the table. Father. They were eating and discussing something, but the words were not clear at all.

::I don't remember everything clearly from there. I do remember picking up a warm roll that nearly burned my fingers as the knock came at the door. The supper was just to be my family, so there was no one else. Father had to answer the door himself.::

And indeed, there was a knock at the door, which was answered by Father. An old woman stepped inside, shivering from the blizzard underneath her snow-covered black cloak.

::That's her. But I was too young to know, or understand.::

The woman lifted her head and smiled hopefully at the family. "May an old woman beg her pardon for intruding on such a wonderful family affair and beg for a few minutes out of the cold storm? I'm so hungry, as well, if I could please beg for anything you could spare?"

::I didn't know, but my family did. She seemed harmless enough, so I raised my hand to her, offering her my bread. She smiled at me…:

The actions carried on just as the voice narrated them. Mother slapped the boy, and he and his bread fell to the floor.

"How dare you defile this place with your presence! Begone, witch!" Father roared, pushing her back through the door from which she came. He slammed the door shut and glared at the boy. "How dare you befriend such a being!"

::I was scared. I knew he was going to beat me again. But the door flew open again. The witch was back.::

Images blurred again as the voice hushed. The boy and his family were suddenly outside. The sun was barely hanging on in the horizon. The snow from the storm had frozen in midair, leaving an unnatural hush throughout the Land. The witch hovered in the air, raised above the ground. She pointed to the boy, and suddenly he was lifted as well. Sister, Mother, and Father were left on the ground and the boy noticed in horror that they weren't moving.

:: And then, others came.::

People seemed to come from everywhere, out of their houses to become living statues in the frozen-still storm. The boy remained the only one lifted from the ground. Then the witch turned to him.

"You are spared because you did not deny me the simple favor I asked of your family. This Land is cursed. These people shall sleep until they have learned to be generous and live kindly with their fellow man. Just as they have kept the Land, the Land will now keep them. They will not die, but they will sleep, Boy."

The boy watched with wide frightened eyes as his family fell gently back onto the snow-covered ground. First, his Sister. The ground seemed to shift beneath her and swallow her whole, as if she had simply sank into it. She sank until the earth covered her body completely and there was nothing left. The boy screamed. Then Mother began to sink. He tried to run to them, but he was trapped in the air. Mother was soon gone.

But as Father began to sink, one phrase broke through the witch's spell. "The castle at Calmaar!" And then he was gone. The boy watched, crying as the rest of the people sank into the Land.

::My family, my people, everything I knew vanished that day. I was utterly alone with the one thing my Father had left me. "The castle at Calmaar."::

Casimir felt sick as his eyes suddenly weren't heavy anymore. Auley had removed his fingers from his temples and was sitting on the bed in front of him, waiting with sad eyes. Casimir blinked, trying to regain himself. "Auley…" he murmured. "What just happened?"

"Well, if you don't believe in magic, there's no sense in me trying to explain that, either."

"Stop playing games. How did you do that?" he demanded.

"It's a sort of mind link. I'm not very good at it, I'm afraid, because I never had much practice. I hope you were able to see what happened, though."

Casimir decided not to question it and tried to piece the puzzle together as it went along. "That boy… Was that you?"

Auley nodded. "So you did see. Yes. That was me. Long ago."

"That girl called you Aulend."

"You focus on the most unimportant details."

Casimir sighed. "I saw everything quite clearly, but I don't understand it."

He leaned back against the headboard of the bed and sighed. "The people of my kingdom were punished for my family's sins. It's as simple as that. Would it really have hurt us to share our food and shelter with that beggar woman for a night? No. We were more than content. One visitor would not have hurt us in the least. But she was what she was. The witch. So my family cast her out. Only because I had been willing to help did she spare me. She called me cursed, burdened with the duty of finding a way to wake the Land. The people sleep just beyond the Earth's surface, unable to be reached until her spell is broken. I've thought long and hard yet nothing makes sense. Nothing works. And now…" Auley stopped to run his fingers through his hair. "Now she's followed me here. She's tested your family. There was something that you were willing to do, Cas, that your brothers were not. Why she didn't strike immediately is merely one of her games. You've had your warning. Your people are next, Casimir. Your family and your entire country will suffer for your brothers' sins."

Casimir refused to argue with Auley. If Auley wanted him to believe this, then he would. He couldn't deny what he'd seen, after all. As strange as the situation was, he felt an honesty behind it that overpowered his doubt. "Why? Why the Hells does she feel responsible for punishing people? What right does she have to pass such judgments?"

"You don't understand. She's the witch, Cas. Her rationale is always simple yet meaningful. No gods guide her, no devils guard her. She's her own entity, living in a world of her own creation."

"You keep saying the witch as if I should know her. It's almost as if she's straight out of one of your fairy tales, the way you speak of her."

"That's because she is."

Casimir blinked. "She's out of a fairy tale? Auley, I'm really straining here to have this conversation in the first place. Please don't mock me."

"I'm not! I'd never mock you!" Auley rubbed his face with his hands. He groaned. "There's still more to this story."

Seeking out Auley's hand for reassurance, he nodded. "Go on with it then."

"She's haunted… She's haunted my people for as long as we've existed. Usually, your people are left out of such affairs by strict unwritten laws but in this case it cannot be helped. I could be killed if my people knew that I'd mind-linked with you, because it…"

"Wait. I'm sorry to interrupt, but I fear you're losing me. What's the difference between my people and your people?"

Auley's eyes suddenly had sadness in them that Casimir didn't want to see there. "I'm not like you, Cas."

He shook his head. "Please don't make me drag it out of you, just explain it."

"Your people usually call us the fey…" Auley started.

"The fey?" Casimir groaned. "There's no such thing, Auley."

"Then there's no reason to be afraid, Cas. She'll take down your people and then you can try to tell me there's no such thing." Auley's words weren't out of anger, but frustration instead. "I am what your people call fey."

"Fairies are little tiny creatures with wings that wear flowers for dresses and sprinkle dust everywhere!" Casimir replied. "You are not fey."

"I said your people call us fey. There are no such things as what you've described. What you've described are pixies, and no. They don't exist, either. Please try to believe me. There may not be much time and it'll be simpler if you wouldn't argue and just listen."

Casimir lowered his head in agreement. "Okay. So we call you fey. Why?"

"Because we tend to the Land. Or at least we did. The Land is dying now. Slowly, but it is dying. You see, each country has one section that belongs to the fey. It won't appear on maps, because we've carefully hidden it away from your kind and even from others of our kind. Only Calmaarian fey would know where to find our Haven. Calmaar is so much richer than any other country because the Calmaarian fey are more talented than any other fey. We tend to the Land, helping the flora, the fauna, and the minerals flourish. Have you not noticed a slight decline in the past years from what you can remember as a child?"

Casimir thought back to his hideaway by the lake. The waters had always been brighter when he was a child, but he had decided that childhood memories always made things seem better. The slight decline in harvests the past few years had been a constant. Things suddenly began to pour into his mind that would support Auley's story even more. He pulled his hand from Auley's to chew on his thumb.

"I wasn't old enough to learn to tend the Land. I don't know how and I couldn't do it alone in any case. It would take a great many years, but this Land is dying. I can see it much more clearly than you can, because the Land calls out to me. I can see the sickness spreading through it and I can't bear it. It's only much more obvious when you take me to beautiful places."

"So you have to find a way to wake your people to save Calmaar."

Auley nodded. "The witch has seen to that. I've researched every fairy tale I could find remnants of, trying to find an answer in one of them. There are so many stories where she's put kingdoms to sleep and they were saved by true love's kiss, but that isn't going to be the case in this story."

"Are you telling me that a fairy tale is actually a piece of your peoples' history?" Casimir peered at Auley quizzically.

He nodded. "Yes. All of them are true. They are all stories of how the witch had somehow punished our people. We should have learned thousands of morals from her cryptic mind. Even though we can recognize her when she calls, we still defy her. My parents knew who she was. They still cast her out into the snow, knowing that there would most likely be retaliation. I can't say that my people are very intelligent at times."

"Why would she choose to judge your people by your family? I understand that you came from a well-bred family, but…"

"Don't try to make sense of her. You'd be better off asking the sky why it's blue. She makes sense to herself and herself alone."

"You had a crown."

Auley gave a half-hearted grin. "It was a circlet."

"And a cousin to a crown."

"Like I said, you're focusing on minor details that aren't important."

"You're a prince," Casimir stated plainly.

"No. I was a prince. Now I am a stable hand. My kingdom and my people have vanished and unless I find a way to save them, yours will join its fate."

Casimir swallowed hard. The stories were too incredulous for him to dismiss as lies. Everything Auley had done, everything he'd said, every time he'd reacted to certain things in certain ways… It all supported the stories. "How much time do we have? Before she strikes Calmaar itself, I mean."  He was going to believe it, even is his reason said it was impossible. If they were delusions, at least believing them would bring him closer to Auley.

Auley shook his head. "I don't know. Hours. Maybe days. There's no telling with her. Can you think of anything that you've done out of kindness that maybe your brothers didn't?"

"I can name hundreds of things. Simple things, like actually talking with common people. But I can't think of one instance that it may have mattered."

Auley sighed. "There's something here, Cas. In this castle, somewhere. My father sent me here for a reason. He wasn't daft enough to try to get your people put to sleep as well. He despised humans. He wouldn't have sent me to live among them even as much as he hated me. Can you think of that, maybe? Something that always struck you as out of place?"

Casimir did take a moment to think, but came up blank. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm still trying to take all this in. I know there may not be time, but I can't think clearly yet."

Auley raised his hand to Casimir's cheek, stroking it. "We have all the time we need. It's the people we have to worry about."

He nodded. "Will you let me help you find a way to wake the Land and save my people as well?"

"Of course I will. I don't think I'd want to do it without you now," Auley admitted. "And please forgive me for not telling you any of this. You do understand that…"

"I would have cast you aside as a madman," Casimir replied, kissing Auley's fingers as they passed.

"I may still be," Auley whispered, letting Casimir pull him close once more. "But I won't rest until this story has ended."

"Don't suppose we could skip to the happily ever after, eh?" Casimir pressed a kiss to Auley's sweaty temple.

"I don't think that's the way it goes," Auley said with his half-grin again.

Casimir looked around his room for a moment. "So where should we begin to look?"