Storming into her room the witch threw her black riding gloves angrily onto the bed. A dull glow from her crystal ball immediately caught her attention. Still scowling she picked the sphere up and scrutinised the image. Her view of the imp’s mountain hideaway was blurred. Someone had cloaked the hut in magic. Either Jermain had accidentally discovered the power within the brooch or someone had discovered him. There was only one way to be sure.
Bolting the door shut, the witch shed her cloak onto the floor and began the short transformation incantation. With a gentle cloudburst of feather she transformed herself into large black hoodie crow. One strong beat of her wings and she was soaring out of the window towards the mountain.
Up on the mountain in the hut Jem stared at Amber, the obvious unspoken question hung in the air. Keeping her eyes cast downwards the fairy turned towards the door.
“Amber,” began Jem softly.
“If we are going to stop her I need to go,” she said calmly. “I’ll be back by dusk tomorrow. If all goes as I hope, we will leave under cover of dark. She’s watching you. I can feel her.”
As she reached the door she paused momentarily then turned back to face him. With a hand resting tenderly on her bump she nodded and whispered, “Yes.”
Before he could respond she was gone.
He sat staring at the closed door for a while trying to make some sense of everything Amber had told him. Despite attempting to maintain a logical train of thought, his mind insisted on focussing on one word – baby. In his current bewitched form how could he support a child? How much time did they have until the baby was due? Could a fairy even safely deliver a half human child?
Suddenly the room felt oppressively hot and stuffy. In need of fresh air, the imp got stiffly to his feet. His tumble had jarred every bone in his twisted body and each step sent knives of pain stabbing through him. Sheer will power and determination got him outside and onto the bench where he had sat earlier. The sun was sinking lower in the sky and a gentle breeze was rustling the leaves in the trees. He gazed out at the magnificent view, relieved to be seeing the world about him clearly again but took little notice of the crow sitting high in the tree closest to the bothy.
Silently he watched the sun set then, with a weary sigh, the imp headed indoors.
Satisfied that all was as it should be, the crow spread her wings and flew back towards the castle.
Under the cover of the trees, Amber began the long trek back down the mountain. In her current condition she couldn’t fly. Her elf senses were telling her that the witch was close by. Using a simple cloaking spell she vanished in among the trees. As she made her way down the steep path a wave of guilt swept over her. It had been cruel of her to leave Jem alone without explaining about the baby but then again perhaps the less he knew about the dangers of that the better. If her calculations were accurate there was less than one full cycle of the moon until the child was due. Hopefully when she reached her destination there would be reassuring news about that as well an up to date report from the castle.
It was after midnight by the time she crept through the sleeping village that was nestled in the shadows of the castle walls. A dog growled at her as she walked wearily along the narrow cobbled street towards the house at the end of the row. The last house was shabby and rundown. Once the door had been painted green but now the faded paint was curling off in large flakes and rot was visible at the hinges. With a deep sigh of relief at having made it there safely, Amber knocked on the door. It was opened within seconds by an elderly woman wearing her night gown.
“Come away in,” she whispered ushering the exhausted fairy into the house.
The older woman led her to the kitchen at the back of the house where a fire was still burning in the hearth. Above it hung a large pot and the room was filled with the welcoming smell of broth.
“We didn’t expect you so soon, child,” said the woman as she ladled out some broth into a wooden bowl. “You look worn out.”
“I’ll be fine in a minute,” assured Amber, sitting on a stool beside the fire. “There was a change of plan.”
“Should I waken him?”
“Not just yet,” said Amber rubbing her back. The baby was stirring, making her feel sore and uncomfortable.
“Drink this,” ordered the woman handing her the bowl of soup. “Has he seen you?”
Amber nodded as she sipped the hot vegetable broth, “I had no choice. He fell. I had to help him”
“How much did you tell him?”
“Enough. Too much,” answered the fairy. “And before you ask, yes he knows about the baby.”
Muttering under her breath the older woman sat down opposite her. Quickly Amber explained all that had happened that afternoon and confessed she had used magic to restore Jem’s sight and hearing.
“Time I wakened him,” declared the older woman. “Urquhart has news for you too.”
Leaving Amber to finish her supper she went to wake the sleeping Urquhart. A few short minutes later she was back leading a small boy, wearing a long white nightshirt, in by the hand.
“I may look like a child but stop treating me like one,” he snapped sharply, yanking his hand free from her grasp. When he saw Amber his face lit up. “Ah my beautiful fairy elf princess! How are you?”
“Tired, Artie,” she admitted with a smile. “It was a long walk back here.”
“In your condition it must have been,” he conceded. “Now what news did you bring that was so important that I had to be dragged out of bed?”
“Oh, Artie,” she giggled. “You’re as disagreeable as a child as you were as an old man.”
“I am an old man.”
“In theory,” she agreed. “Jem has the brooch. It’s still fastened to his cloak.”
“Does he know what it is?”
“Two pieces of good news,” nodded the small boy. “And I have a third.”
“Yes but it can wait. How do you plan to get the prince here?” asked Urquhart bluntly.
“I’ll go back and fetch him tomorrow and bring him back down tomorrow night under the cover of darkness.”
“Risky for both of you,” he commented. “And possibly premature.”
“I can’t leave him up there alone for long,” protested Amber, wincing as the baby kicked her sharply. “And I don’t know how much longer I can make that journey. This little one is due within the next moon, maybe even the current one.”
“Not much time,” sighed the boy. “Fine. Bring him here but not for another few days. I need to get back into the castle. There’s a few things I need to collect.”
“Like what?” demanded the older woman “You’re not the king’s wizard now, Urquhart. You can’t just waltz in there.”
“Actually, I think I can,” replied the wizard. “At least as far as the stables.”
As court wizard, Urquhart had been one of the witch’s first targets. He had been the primary threat to her plans. It had amused her to watch him transform from a formidable aged wizard into a weak eight year old boy but she had underestimated his power. Unable to stop her curse in time, Urquhart had been able to deflect it and, despite his physical change, had retained of full use his magic powers. Masquerading as his sister’s grandson, he had easily hidden himself amongst the village’s children. Only Amber and his sister knew his true identity.
“Care to explain?”
“I’ve made a new friend,” he confessed, his cheeks flushing red. “Martha. She works in the castle kitchens. If we’re lucky she could fetch the items I need to help the prince. Every day around noon she delivers lunch to the workers in the stables.”
“Could she get a message to the King?” asked his sister. “He must be frantic at the prince’s disappearance.”
“Possibly,” nodded the wizard. “But that’s too risky for now. If Martha can fetch the items I need then the prince could be home within the month with a bit of luck.”
He paused, deep in thought for a moment or two, then stared directly at Amber.
“Go back to Jermain tomorrow as planned but don’t bring him here for five days,” said Urquhart calmly. “If I need you both here before then I’ll get a message to you somehow.”
Amber nodded her agreement then said, “You said you had a third piece of good news.”
“Yes,” said Artie coming over to take her hand. “I spoke to your grandmother. You can go home to have the baby. She told me she has sent word to the elves to send a midwife to assist her.”
“If the baby lives will they let me keep it?” she asked, her voice barely audible.
The childlike wizard shook his head.
A single silent tear slid down the fairy’s pale cheek.