Chapter 3

Through the forest below, shrouded in near darkness, Llewellyn and company made their way quickly toward their destination. They followed trails that could scarcely be seen even by the savviest tracker. They knew that by the time that they reached the border to Cherillion that Amaya and Palin would already be in the grand city, at least that is what they hoped, anything could happen and they knew it.

Many miles ahead Shaydra and those she carried neared the border. Shaydra could sense a gathering of elves along the main road leading into the forest. There were hostel feelings, fearful feelings. Shaydra deliberately found a spot to land away from those who were waiting for their arrival. It would be best if they walked the rest of the way.

Amaya was worried; a lot rode on the ability to get Palin to the city and the healers there. She hoped that the amulet she carried was enough to get them through the guard and on their way. They had been seen and as she had figured those waiting on the road were prepared for them as they crested a small hill. Standing with several armed elves to either side of him was the biggest elf lord she had ever seen.

"You are Amaya the Red." He said. Amaya wondered why he was accusing her of her name.

"I am Amaya Tumaille, daughter of Phinnia Tumaille and grand-daughter of Eloria Tumaille. I come to see my grand-mother. I have recovered something of hers and wish to return it to her. My uncle Palin is also in need of a healer."

He stood there looking at her as she spoke. His clear blue eyes seemed to stare through her and Shaydra didn't like the feelings of anger and contempt that emanated from him. There was silence for several moments after Amaya finished speaking, the wind blew through the elf lord's long blond hair and whipped his cloak around him from behind. At last he spoke, "I have been told to allow you to pass only as long as you have the Queen's amulet. Do you have it? Let me see it." Elves were known for soft voices song like speech, however, when he spoke; he growled sounding more like a rabid dog than an elf.

"I have the amulet. No, you cannot see it. It is for my grandmother's eyes only; those were her instructions to my uncles. I will follow her instructions and hers only." Amaya bristled at the tone he used with her. She knew that she wasn't accepted by her mother's people any more than she was with her father's. Her treatment in both communities was always coarse and usually unfriendly. Yet it was hard to be treated ill by the elf lord standing before her when she knew that had she been full elf he would have been bending over backward to help her and not blocking her way making demands.

"I will only let you pass. The others will have to stay outside of Cherillion until you return." He sneered at her.

"You mean to bar my uncle Palin Lewynne entrance to his father's homeland; you would deny him the aid of a healer and commit him to death in the outlands?" Amaya questioned, holding back the roaring fire in her blood.

"It's no more than he deserves." Came the haughty reply.

"Who are you to judge, is not my grandmother still Queen? Is she not still the ruler of Cherillion? Have you become King and adjudicator and the news not reached me yet?" With this reply to his last comment many in his party started to feel less righteous and very uneasy. One does not try to usurp the power of the Queen. To be accused of such is a major charge and the sentence for such a crime could be exile or even death.

"You would do well to know that the Queen has the highest regard for my insights and advice. You are an insignificant half-breed; you mean nothing to her, beyond being the physical manifestation of her daughter's shame." He was baiting her and Amaya longed to take the bait, she felt the fire raging in her blood and even Shaydra became incensed by the latest insult laid upon her friend.

Quietly, barely loud enough to be heard, Palin spoke to the elf lord. "Dewynne, you have always been a conceit. You know full well you cannot block our progress we come on the Queen's business. Step aside or I will have words with my sister about you." "Your words hold no sway with her majesty any longer."

"So you hope. I am her blood, what are you other than a bastard cousin. You talk of shame in Amaya's birth only to cover the shame of your own." Palin was so weak that his voice was barely above a whisper yet in the silence his voice carried well enough all heard his words.

Dewynne, ignited by Palin's words drew his sword and started toward Palin. Just as quickly Amaya had both of her swords in her hands and blocked his progress. His anger transplanted upon her and he struck with rage filled force. Amaya met him with enough rage to match his own. It was a battle that ended before it could begin. In seconds all that traveled with Dewynne lay their hands on him and drug him from the fight. Amaya stood her ground and needed no one to hold her back although Shaydra barely contained herself and resisted tearing him to pieces.

"I am Soan. I am the Queen's adjutant and I bid you welcome to Her Majesties lands. Let us proceed to the city and report to the Queen." The small elf who scurried up the hill behind the crowd just as the insults were beginning hurried to Amaya's side. "I will have words with the Queen about his behavior as well." He continued. "He should know better, yet what can one expect of one hardly better trained than a guard dog." He finished casting his last words over his shoulder at Dewynne. Dewynne's reply was lost as his comrade's drug him further away down the hill.

Amaya was startled by the abrupt change. Clearly, this elf held some sway, but Amaya was not lulled by his power over Dewynne. She understood better than anyone standing there that she had a formidable enemy in him and he would not easily leave her and her uncles be.

"My uncle needs to see a healer as soon as possible. I fear he is very ill." Amaya said as Shaydra drew nearer to her and Palin drooped down upon Shaydra's back once again.

"He was wounded?" The question sounded odd, his tone didn't seem right as he said it.

"No, he just fell ill." Amaya admitted, though it troubled her to do so.

Soan just sighed and turned motioning for them to follow. He refused to say anything more as they walked along, Amaya posed a few more questions even though she was sure that he had done with speaking to her for the moment. The path that they took was well groomed, the grass smooth and soft beneath their feet. The trees provided just enough shade for comfort and allowed enough light to see. One could see the meticulous planning that went into making near natural perfection.

Shaydra was uncomfortable. She followed behind Amaya feigning ease, but inside she felt hostility coming at them in waves. All was not right in the forest and she could feel it. Through the bond that Shaydra and Amaya shared Amaya felt the worry her companion held. Amaya questioned her friend, silently in her mind. "What is wrong?"

"Everything." Shaydra replied. Amaya was startled.

"I don't understand." She replied.

"Neither do I." Then Shaydra was silent.

It seemed like they walked in the peaceful shade for a couple miles before coming to the outskirts of the city. Here the boughs above them no longer made the graceful arch that created the shade they walked through but soared toward the sky gently bending and arching above. Staircases spiraled around the massive trunks of the trees to the tops where elves could be seen milling about in the leaves and limbs.

Here were the first signs, however, that things were not well, the trees, in the height of summer, should have been lush and green. They were in fact dull, the leaves were sparse and many were already turning brown and withering. The desperation was tangible in the air, no one had any idea what to do or how to fix whatever was going wrong with the forest and the city. Worry and anger etched all the faces she saw around her, even a few of those making their way through the forest were looking ill, much like Palin. Everything was wasting away.

"So you see it, do you? Things do not look right?" Soan finally said. His words startled Amaya as she was absorbed by the sights around her.

"What is going on?"

"If we knew that…" he started, there was a hint of despair in his voice, "We just don't know. The Queen is hoping that by calling on the power of the amulet that you carry we might be able to end this horror."

"This is why she sent the message to Uncle Palin then, to find and return the amulet?" Amaya said. "I see." A silent remonstrance echoed in her head to watch her words. Amaya agreed.

The evidence of the degeneration of the forest and the city was unmistakable the further they walked. The trees were looking sick. On some of the trees the bark was turning spongy and soft, mold grew where moss might have thrived. The stairs that were dazzlingly spiraled around the tree trunks sagged and had even fallen down in places. The leaves were speckled with slimy black mold and the ground was littered with the slippery leavings.

"This started about a year ago." Soan started. "It rained for almost three weeks, strange rain. It often came from a cloudless sky." He shook his head and glanced sideways at Amaya. Her attention was focused on him so he continued.

"When the rain stopped, many felt that there was no reason to continue looking into the reason behind the strange occurrence. It did not take long for us to discover that there was something seriously wrong after that rain.

"The leaves started to be speckled with mold within days. We pruned the leaves and pretended nothing was wrong. Then more and more leaves started to turn, the evergreen trees were being affected as well. The needles of those trees turned soft and fell like leaves in the fall, though it was mid-summer. They were bare, the branches sagged and then the druids came and applied their gifts. Things seemed to change, they were getting better. It was not to last, now they work without rest, night and day they chant, work their magic and each day they lose a little more ground. It gets a little worse every day." Amaya watched as he grew more wearied, the more he spoke the more he seemed to slump, he looked haggard and tired and he eyes lost a little luster. "Even I am feeling the effects of the plague; yes they call it a plague. I am slowly becoming ill, each day another falls ill. So far twenty-five have succumbed and passed from this world. Some of us think that they are the lucky ones, their suffering has ended."

Desperation was all Amaya could think about. The absolute desperation that the people around her felt, the anger and resentment that they must feel toward any who were not sick and the fear of becoming ill or of a loved one becoming ill. Even Amaya felt uncomfortable at the thought of contagion, though her thoughts drifted to Palin, how could he have come by this disease. He hasn't been to the city for years, not since they fled when she was a toddler.

"Are the elves the only ones becoming ill, or are the humans and animals infected too?" Amaya asked.

"It seems that all creatures in the forest are infected, but only those who were here when the rain fell. Other elves have come and gone and none have become ill. The Druids who have come to our aid also are not ill though they have worked closely with the sick and have also worked with the infected trees and earth. Even the earth is infected, crops refuse to grow, seeds mold in the ground without ever sprouting." He drifted off on a tangent as Amaya leaped on the chance his words offered her.

"Then Palin cannot be sick with this disease. He has not been back here for years."

"That is not so." Soan replied, though he kept his own council when Amaya asked him to explain further. "Speak to the Queen. She awaits you." He said as they approached a white marble staircase and he motioned for her to go on ahead of him. "I will take Palin to the infirmary where he will be cared for. Just follow this path until it ends and you will find it." With those parting words Shaydra continued on with Palin and Darin toward the infirmary.

"Stay with Shaydra, Darin. I will find you shortly." Darin looked at her as though he thought to protest but reconsidered and left quietly.

As she proceeded up the stairs to the palace situated around a waterfall Amaya tried to remember it from her childhood. It was said that it was the most spectacular palace ever built. The stone was worked and shaped so that it flowed without sharp edges without perceptible joints and cuts it looked like a solid piece of stone. Trees draped graciously overhead dripping their leaves and flowers like natural curtains around the balconies. It was exquisitely decorated as well; the finest silks and furniture all in perfect taste not ostentatious.

The white marble was streaked with black, it looked as though the stairs had not been cleaned for years and yet there were people cleaning them right in front of her. They were slippery and slimy as she placed her foot on each tread. At the top of the stairs she stared in awe at the scene before her, the waterfall that she had heard so much about in her childhood, the one that was featured in all of her most beautiful dreams was as diseased as the rest of the forest and city. It flowed green from its apex; it smelled rotten and appeared to be rather viscous. Tears formed in her eyes as she looked on at the devastation that it had wroth upon the great balcony that was elegantly formed around it. No longer the striking blue of the waterfall, the marble of the balcony had changed to the same black streaked gray stained marble of the stairs.

"Ah! Madriel, our Amaya had arrived. Come and greet your niece." A soft, musical voice said from behind the waterfall. "Come forward child that I might see you better."

Amaya was rather hesitant at first, but forced herself to stand tall and move around the water fall to come face to face with the speaker. The woman sat in a gilded chair in the middle of a circular terrace edged by tall crenulated columns. A younger woman moved toward the chair, the air slightly ruffled her gown as she moved, she appeared to be floating.

"You were so young when you left here you probably have no memory of me?" The woman sitting in the chair asked.

"You are the Queen?" Amaya questioned.

"I am your grandmother."

Amaya thought quickly about what she should do, women curtsied to royalty but she wasn't wearing a dress, does she curtsy or bow. Softly in her mind Shaydra whispered to do either but do it quickly before offence can be taken.

"I have brought the amulet." Amaya replied as she dropped to one knee and bowed her head. It was a movement that she had seen her uncles perform before.

"Good, then perhaps we can find some answers." The queen said as she raised her open hand to Amaya. "Did Palin tell you of his visit to these lands a year ago?"

"No, I just found out about his being here." Amaya stepped forward and pulled the pouch carrying the amulet and placed in in the open hand before her.

"I presume that since he isn't here with you that he had other matters to attend to?" The worry in her voice was very thinly veiled.

"I am afraid that Soan has accompanied him to the infirmary. I believe that he has contracted this plague, he has been very ill for a week or more."

"I was hoping that was not the case. I fear we all may perish if I cannot find the answer to this curse upon us." Her face grew grim as she spoke. "When Palin was here a year ago we had already endured many days of unnatural rainfall. It fell from cloudless skies; it felt like ice water though the temperatures were exceedingly hot. Something was wrong; all our wind readers said that he heat and the rain were against the natural environment. Outside our boundaries it was typical summer, nothing inside Cherillion was acting according to nature.

"I sent for Palin. He is an amazing wind reader and he also has a strong empathic ability. So he came, for two weeks he tried to solve the puzzle. In the end all he could say was that he felt insane rage in the barrage. He felt that a person and magic were behind the rain. We agreed that with the amulet you have brought we might find the answers we need."

"I know that you must be tired after your journey, there are also others in your party?" Madriel said after a few moments of awkward silence.

"There are others, Uncle Llewellyn, some of our friends, my young brother and his guardian and Shaydra, a Chimaera."

"A Chimaera?" Madriel asked obviously stunned.

"Yes, she and I have shared a bond since I was about three years old." Amaya replied. Both she and Shaydra tensed.

"That is amazing, historically speaking a chimaera hasn't bonded with a human or an elf for over two thousand years. There are stories in the histories about a strong friendship and partnership between the elves and the chimaera and then something happened and seemingly overnight it ended and the chimaera went away and refused to bond with any human or elf." Madriel replied, her interest evident.

"They were betrayed." Amaya said, conscious of Shaydra's growing concern about Madriel's interest in her people.

"I would love to hear more, but now I should get you and those with you settled." She said. The Queen had laid a hand on her arm to curb her questioning.

"Amaya, one last thing." The Queen said as Madriel began to lead her away. "Tonight will you return here, I would like you to be here when I use the amulet? You have your mother's strength in elemental magic; I would like you to participate in what would have been her place." Amaya felt riveted to the spot she was standing in by her grandmother's eyes, she felt like she wouldn't be able to move until she agreed. She managed a slight bob of her head in assent and the Queen turned away from her and went in the opposite direction.