As she stepped down from the wagon, a wave of panic engulfed Amber. Where was she going to go? What if Jem didn’t want to see her? How was she going to even find him?
Taking a deep breath and clutching her sleeping son close to her chest, she slipped across the bustling courtyard into the dark shadows. For a few minutes, she watched as the wagons were unloaded and the goods carried into the storage cellars and the stable block. A door opened and a young kitchen maid came out carrying a tray of beer mugs. The aroma of food wafted across the courtyard over her hiding place in the shadows, reminding the fairy/elf of just how hungry she was. Dare she risk simply walking into the castle kitchen?
While she deliberated, the maid disappeared back inside, closing the door behind her.
If she stayed in the shadows she reasoned that she could reach the sanctuary of the stable block unseen and hide in the hay loft until she could work out a better plan. At least amongst the sweet hay, both her and the baby would be warm and dry.
Silently Amber slipped along the wall through the darkness towards the dim light of the stable block.
“Mistress Morag!” called Jem as he came charging into the kitchen, clutching his daughter to his chest. “Where is she?”
“Where’s who, sir?” asked Urquhart’s sister as she turned to face the prince. “Who are you looking for? And why isn’t this little princess tucked up asleep in her cradle?”
“Amber,” stated Jem as if it were obvious who he was seeking. “I saw her from the nursery window. She was in the courtyard. She’s here!”
“Well, no one’s come in here, sir!” retorted Morag sharply.
Without another word, the prince marched across the kitchen towards the door. The cool night air hit him as he stepped out into the courtyard, leaving the warmth of the castle kitchen behind him. For a few moments he stood watching the hustle and bustle around the wagons as they were re-loaded for the return journey through the portal.
“Where is she?” he whispered softly to his baby daughter who was snuggled into his shoulder. “Where’s your mama?”
If it was him, where would he have gone? Where would he hide?
The sweet smell of the straw mixed with the pungent aroma of horse as Jem and the baby entered the stables. One of the horses whinnied as the prince passed its stall. In his arms the baby began to squirm and fret. She let out a pitiful wail that echoed round the vast space. There was a rustling noise in the hay loft above them.
“Amber?” called out Jem softly. “Are you up there?”
After what seemed like an eternity, he heard another rustling noise accompanied by a few creaks from the wooden rafters.
“Jem? Is that you?”
His heart swelled as he heard her beautiful musical voice. It was a voice that he hadn’t dared hope he would hear ever again.
“Yes it’s me,” he replied, his voice suddenly thick and hoarse with emotion. “Come down. Please.”
Keeping his gaze on the ladder, the prince waited with bated breath until he saw her soft leather boots step onto the top rung. With her back to him, the fairy/elf slowly descended the ladder. He worn leggings rode up exposing her ankles, both of which were red raw, chaffed from the chains from her tree prison cell. The tips of her wings poked out from below her travelling cloak, the flickering light from the lanterns causing them to shimmer softly. He long auburn hair hung limp and loose down her back. He could tell she was thin and frail, despite the cloak.
As she reached the bottom rung, he took a step towards her.
Stepping down onto the dry dirt floor, Amber paused before turning around. Her travelling cloak was still drawn around her, shielding the makeshift sling that cradled her baby son. Taking a dep breath, she turned to face Jem. The night had Urquhart had tried to reverse the witch’s spell, she had collapsed before she had seen whether the wizard’s magic had been strong enough to succeed against the dark curse.
Amber found herself face to face with the tall handsome prince she had admired at court over a year before; the tall prince she had bedded in this very stable. His hair was covering part of his face but the wizened imp was gone. Seeing him standing there with their baby daughter in her arms was too much for Amber. Tears flowed silently down her pale cheeks.
Seeing her emotions crumbling, Jem stepped forward and put his weaker arm around her.
“No tears, Amber. You’re safe now,” he assured her warmly. “This little princess has been missing her mama.”
The baby was reaching out towards her mother, instinct telling her that this was someone she needed in her life.
With a smile, Amber drew back her cloak to reveal the sleeping baby underneath. Jem’s eyes were wide in surprise.
“And this little prince has been missing his father and his sister.”
Rendered speechless, Jem felt tears fill his own eyes as he gazed down at the sleeping baby. He marvelled at his pale blonde hair. He smiled when he saw the tiny elf ears.
“My son?” he breathed softly. “Twins? I never guessed.”
“I never knew,” confessed Amber as she reached out to take her daughter’s tiny outstretched hand. “My grandmother wouldn’t let me keep them both. She only reluctantly allowed him to stay as all he can stomach is my milk.”
She swayed slightly on her feet as fatigue took over.
“Let’s get you indoors,” suggested Jem, concerned at how frail and tired she looked. “Get you some supper. Get you warm. Artie and Morag are going to be thrilled to hear that you’re home.”
“Home?” she echoed with a wistful smile. “You’ve no idea how good that sounds.”
Her unannounced arrival caused quite a commotion in the palace kitchen. Eyes brimming with tears of joy and relief, Morag fussed over Amber and the sleeping prince. Before she became completely overwhelmed, Jem intervened and asked that some supper be brought up to the nursery. Without further ado he guided his family out of the kitchen leaving Morag issuing orders to the maid.
The nursery was warm and a welcoming log fire burned brightly in the hearth. Carefully Amber loosened the bindings on her makeshift sling and lifted her son out. The movement disturbed the baby, rousing him from his magic induced slumber.
“May I?” asked Jem, anxious to hold his tiny son.
“Swap,” said Amber with a smile. “I’ve missed her so much. You’ve no idea how hard it was to let her go.”
By the time Morag brought a tray into the nursery with their supper laid out on it, both Jem and Amber were sitting beside the fire cradling a sleepy baby.
“Why don’t you put those two into the cradle together and eat this while its hot,” suggested the older woman warmly. “They need to bond too.”
“Morag’s right,” agreed Amber. “There’s a strong bond between them. A telepathic bond.”
Quickly she explained about probing her son’s mind and seeing visions of his sister in her crib.
“That explains a lot,” admitted Jem, recalling his own restless nights with a fretful baby. “Did you give them names? I’ve avoided naming our little princess until I could see you again.”
“I had two names in mind but I never named our son either. I was too scared to. Frightened that my grandmother would go back on her word and take him away too.”
“Jade and Jasper,” she whispered, scared to voice the names out loud in case it brought more ill luck tumbling down on them.
“I’d chosen Jade too,” confessed Jem with a smile. “Jasper I like. Suits him.”
While Morag busied herself setting out their meal on the table, they settled the twins in the cradle. Immediately the babies reached out for each other and lay side by side facing each other, babbling away.
“Now, how about you tell me what happened to you,” suggested Jem quietly, anxious to hear her tale. “And about how you managed to escape.”
Over supper Amber recounted her story, explaining about the twins birth, her tree top prison, the visits from Blain and the plan to ship her off to the elves to be dealt with. She shed fresh tears as she told Jem of the risks Blain had taken to help her escape then she wept for the homeland she could never return to.
“Sh, Amber, you’re safe now,” he soothed. “You’re home.”
Slamming her glass down on the table, Greta declared, “One of us needs to go back! We need that ruby.”
“Well, Karina can’t go,” retorted Isabella sharply.
“True. Look at the mess she’s already caused,” muttered Greta glowering at her sister. “Isabella, it needs to be you.”
“Why not you, sister dearest?”
“Because I need to remain here to keep an eye on our darling delinquent sister and to continue the search for the fourth stone,” stated Greta bluntly. “It needs to be you who fetches the ruby.”
“And how do you propose I do that?”
The three sisters sat in silence pondering the question. The minutes ticked by as they stared at each other.
“You’ll simply have to steal it,” said Karina eventually. “They’ll be on the lookout for one of us. But you’ll have to deal with that wizard first.”
Reluctantly Isabella nodded.
Three days had passed since Amber and Jasper had arrived at the palace. At Jem’s insistence, they had been left alone to bond as a family and for Amber to begin to recover from her ordeal. He’d had the castle medic treat the wounds to her ankles and had then ordered her to rest.
“Enough is enough!” declared Urquhart sourly as he barged in on their breakfast. “We need to put our heads together. We need to get to work. Something tells me that those witches will make another attempt to recover the ruby before the next full moon.”
“What makes you so sure?” quizzed Amber softly.
“My right big toe has been buzzing for a week. A sure sign of impending danger.”
“If you say so, Artie,” said Jem stifling a laugh. “What do you need us to do to help?”
“Read,” stated he boy wizard. “We need to find the legend or song or verse that tells them what stone they need as well as your father’s ruby, the emerald and the sapphire. We also need to find it before they do.”
“Logic says it will be a diamond,” said Amber calmly. “I’d start with the dwarf chronicles.”
“Why?” asked Jem curiously. “Dwarfish literature is simply awful to read. So dull and monotonous.”
“Dwarves mine diamonds,” said Urquhart. He paused for a moment, “But they also mine rubies, emeralds and sapphires in one particularly rich region. We need to find some southern dwarfish books.”
“Do you have any?” asked Amber hopefully.
“Did my mother?” asked Jem remembering that one of her vast collection had already proved to be invaluable.
“I have no idea,” sighed the wizard. “Do you still have the key to her chamber or do I need to speak to your father?”
“I still have it. Let me finished eating then I’ll help you to look,” replied the prince. “What would a southern dwarfish book look like?”
“Ornate, if it was given as a gift to the queen. Very ornate,” stated the wizard, “But small.”
“I think I know the very book,” mused Jem.
High up in the mountain keep, the three witches gathered at the entrance. With a click of her fingers, Isabella transformed herself into a snowy white owl. Silently, her sisters watched as she spread her wings and flew from the keep.