The Fae

Shaelan ran through the stillness of the forest, silent accept for her ragged breathing. She didn’t feel the bitter cold or her snow-soaked clothing that clung to her like a second skin. She reached for the thick trunk of an aspen tree and wrapped her arms around it, grateful for its strength to keep her from collapsing to the ground. She was shaking from exertion, her lungs burning with every breath as if she was inhaling shards of glass. Her vibrant blue eyes were wide with fear as she paused to look back the way she’d come. Her hearing was exceptional as were all her senses. This was normal for those born of the Fae. At almost seventy-five years of age she looked to be around twenty. Seventy-four she reminded herself, still considered a child and only a few months away from her coming of age when her powers would fully manifest. She’d stand a chance had she been a little older.

Being Fae and immortal didn’t mean you couldn’t die, it just meant that baring any major trauma you could live forever. The problem for Shaelan was those that pursued her were High Fae, like herself, capable of easily ending her life. They were from the Court of the Night, Dark Fae, unleashed upon the Fae lands by the new self-proclaimed Empress, Gwenyth, and they carried forbidden iron weapons. Beneath the mountains Gwenyth had been building an army. For thousands of years they secretly enslaved mortal men to dig iron from the ground and forge it into weapons the Dark Fae could use. Hardwood handles fused to iron became the weapons of her new army.

Shaelan continued to run, even her Fae strength and speed were beginning to fade. She ran south towards the Mortal lands. Gwenyth hadn’t been content to simply enslave and destroy the Court of the Light, she wanted more. The Court of Dawn would be next and then the tenuous peace that lasted between the Fae in the north and the Mortals of the south would soon come to an end as the burning hatred that fueled Gwenyth would ultimately consume the world. Shaelan didn’t expect help from the Mortals, but she had nowhere else to go.

Her parents, Emmeline and Ceard Scarletsun had done what they could to protect Shaelan. Knowing of the spreading dark threat, they sent their only heir to the south eastern reaches where she would be cared for and protected within the relative obscurity of the many Fae hamlets and villages near the Mortal lands border. Shaelan was fifty-three years old when they sent her away. Her parents were High Fae, King and Queen of the Court of Light. Their power was unmatched yet they ruled their realm with love and compassion. The people loved them for it.

Shaelan faltered as she ran, a branch tearing the sleeve of her cloak exposing the intricate whorls of the dark blue tattoo that ran along her arm. Her parents mixed their blood with blue ink and tattooed her arm with protective spells before they sent her off. She was sent away from their loving touch and gentle caresses to keep her safe from their enemies for Shaelan’s blood contained the power of two of the High Fae’s strongest bloodlines. While no one knew how she might manifest when she came of age, if at all, it was always assumed she’d be a force like no other. That’s why Gwenyth wanted her. She wanted to steal her essence, the power from her bloodlines to make herself the ultimate force in the world.

Shaelan staggered back to her feet and paused. The silent snowy forest became even quieter. She felt it, sensed it. Shadows flickered at the edges of her vision. They darted between the trees. She ran for all she was worth. Faster than a horse or a deer, more agile than a mountain lion, she ran. Her lungs burned, but she pushed harder than she ever had before until the darkness seethed before her. She skidded to a stop as tendrils of dark mist coalesced, the dark threads pulling the light from the forest. In a flash of darkness, black membranous wings appeared and a male Dark Fae stepped forward, a wood handled iron spear in his hand. His dark skin rippled with the fine-honed muscles beneath. Shaelan turned to run the opposite direction only to stop herself as Gwenyth stepped out from behind a large tree.

“There you are, and aren’t you precious.”

Shaelan drew her blade knowing it would do little against either of the Dark Fae, let alone, a Dark Fae with ten thousand years to master her powers and skills of artful killing. She hissed at the tall, slender, and beautiful woman before her. Ten thousand years old and she didn’t look a day over thirty by Mortal standards. She felt the Dark Fae male moving closer behind her but she kept her focus on Gwenyth.

“Is that any way to greet your Empress, youngling? You should be on your knees.”

“I’ll never kneel to the murderer of my parents and the enslaver of my people!”

“You shouldn’t snarl like that. It ruins that beautiful face of yours. You inherited the looks of your mother Emmeline, considered the fairest of the Fae… I believe you outshine her. Did you know I have her preserved in my throne room? She’s pinned to the wall with an iron spear next to your father, perfectly preserved with their final throws of agony upon their faces.”

Shaelan hissed again and lunged forward, but instead of running Gwenyth through she slammed into an invisible shield.

“Still haven’t reached your seventy-fifth birthday I see. Once I feed on your essence nothing will stop me. My first task will be to destroy the disgusting Court of Dawn then the Mortal realms will fall. It’s hard to expand my empire with those filthy vermin in the way. Kill her cleanly, Deverell.”

Shaelan whirled and slashed the male Dark Fae across his left forearm. The roar that came from him shook the forest as he leapt into the air. His iron spear suspended above her head. As fast as lightning Deverell descended, the spear aimed for her heart. Shaelan managed to catch the spear in her hands and the force of the blow buckled her knees and collapsed her onto her back. Her hands seared against the touch of the iron, wisps of smoke rose from them. Deverell pushed downward, the iron tip sliding closer and closer to her heart. The skin of her hands burned away leaving nothing but charred bone and tendons. Even so, she hung on to that last shred of life. She heard Gwenyth laughing in the background as the point of the spear burned her chest. With one final push Deverell plunged the spear through her heart and deep into the ground beneath her.

The light from Shaelan’s eyes dimmed quickly. Gwenyth continued her joyous laughter when the tattoos on Shaelan’s arm flared brightly. Deverell, still holding onto the spear, was cleaved in two as an invisible wall spread rapidly outward from Shaelan’s body.

“No!!!” Gwenyth screamed in fury. Darkness gathered towards her as she stepped towards Shaelan. She was seething and shaking as she reached her hands towards Shaelan’s dead body only to be repulsed by a sizzling force that pushed her away. It was the final act of betrayal from Emmeline and Ceard Scarletsun. She reached again for Shaelan again only to feel the shock against her hand once more. She screamed as the darkness enveloped the forest.

***

I crept stealthily through the aspen forest on my hunt for what little food I could find. It had been a week since I had a decent meal. I was told I was a fool for moving so far north from the village, the last village before the so-called border with the Fae lands. Not only was I a fool, they said, but I’d just be one of many that never returned. Rumors of Fae coming through the wall and slaughtering or kidnapping Mortals were commonplace. Yet no one alive would ever say they saw one. The ridiculous villagers believed looking upon a Fae was the last thing you’d ever see.

Fools. They were all fools. I was not a man to trifle with. I was a survivor. I looked down on my bare forearm as I held my bow at the ready. On my left arm, the burned scar of a slave of the Empire. Twenty four horizontal scars moved from that point up my arm signifying twenty-four years of fighting in the rings. On my right arm, the tattoo of the New Empire and my rank as General. I was a slave for thirty-four years, and a conscripted soldier for another fifteen. Three years ago I was finally free for the first time in my wretched life only to find freedom in this gods-forsaken land not so free. The New Empire taxed the citizens ruthlessly and prosecuted those that hunted in the Empire’s land. I had no skills other than fighting and mercenaries were considered unlawful as they were a risk to the current regime. I’d travelled as far away from the cities of the Empire as I could, moving north until there was nothing left. Here, I found a broken down shack I was allowed to buy for my last gold piece.

With no money or skills I was forced to hunt illegally for food as everyone at the remote edges of the Empire did. I paused and listened. Not a sound. Even the normal rustling of the leaves was silent. The only noise was the growling of my stomach. I ignored it. I’d been hungry before. Born into slavery, I never knew my parents. I’d been left to die in the mines at the end of an abandoned shaft. Someone found me and brought me to the overseer. I was only four when I was returned, deemed strong enough to at least clean the mining carts and earn my keep.

By the time I was ten, my daily existence was using a pickaxe to cut through solid chunks of rocks. I was already strong, having swung the axe millions of times. The conditions were brutal, the heat oppressive, and the food barely enough for the smallest to survive on. We were expendable, yet somehow I managed to survive. I’d grown accustomed to the whippings and the beatings, my back was covered in scars. But one day, I finally snapped. Something deep within me rose up. I stood defiant as the guard lashed his whip at me. It slashed across my face cutting my cheek deeply. I roared in pain and moved toward the guard with my pickaxe in hand. He lashed out at me again but I ignored the sting across my filthy exposed shoulder. Instead, I put everything I had into my swing, my pickaxe drove deeply through the guard’s foot and embedded itself into the rock below. He screamed, dropping his whip giving me a chance to grab his dagger and slice across his abdomen before I was surrounded and beaten by other guards.

Mercifully, or perhaps not, the overseer whistled to stop the beatings of the guards and the guards ordered to be bring me to his presence. The order was given to stay my immediate execution so that I could die in the fighting rings for the Emperor’s pleasure. I’d be heading into the ring to fight against seasoned veterans and I was the youngest to ever have that honor. I survived that fight and every fight thereafter. For twenty-four years I fought at least three fights to the death per week. They marked my years of service with slashes across my left forearm. If I received twenty-five, I became a free man, but no one ever got to twenty-five and found freedom.

I looked down at my scarred arms. They were frightening. I had more scar tissue across my entire body than I did regular skin. I’d lost one of my fingers on my left hand in one battle, but I was a survivor after all. In my final year of the ring, I’d lasted longer than any other fighter in history, but my freedom would come much later. Three self-pronounced kings rallied together to fight the Emperor. I was conscripted from the ring to fight for one of them. It quickly became apparent that I was a seasoned fighter and could lead men. I was elevated through the ranks and fifteen years later, after the rebellion had been successful and the three kings set themselves up rulers over the Mortal lands, did I finally gain my freedom, such as it is.

Now, in the remotest forest in the world, miles away from anything resembling civilization, my scarred and torn body ached every day. But I reported to no one. I’m free. I just don’t have any food and from what I could see, there was none around.

I sat down in the moist spring soil. I was close to the so-called wall between the Fae lands and the Mortal lands. I was told the barrier had existed for a thousand years. My only thought was the no wall could last that long. If the wildlife in the Mortal lands were gone, then I’d travel north until I found the wall or I found a new hunting ground that no one ever would dare travel to. I stood and marveled at how quiet the forest was. It was damn eerie.

Ignoring the pain in my stomach, I continued moving north. The stories of Fae monsters were a lie. The wall was a lie. I continued my steadfast plodding until I reached a small glen. I half closed my eyes from the brilliance of the sun as it beamed down upon the little opening in the forest. Flowers abounded. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It felt out of place, this beauty in the middle of the forest. I walked halfway across the glen when I felt my hair standing on end, almost as if static electricity filled the area. I took a few more steps forward and bumped into something solid. I could see through it, but it was there nonetheless. I stretched out my hand and felt the electrical tingle. My hand found holes, as if the wall were made of stone and the stones were falling out, yet, this invisible wall really existed.

I took a step back and stared at the forest beyond. It was at that moment when dark wisps of smoke entered the glen. They formed rapidly, pulling the light from everything around it. I raised my bow as a man stepped forward. He was a man and yet not a man. His dark wings and pointed ears reminded me of tales of Fae monsters. Could it be? Could the tales really be true? It stepped towards me as I raised my bow.

“Put that useless weapon down you filthy Mortal human. I could crush you in an instant.”

The sheer force of his presence was overwhelming. I fought thousands of men through my life and even the largest and most imposing never frightened me like this creature. I had no doubt he could do exactly as he said. “You’re on our side of the wall.” That was about all I could say.

“The wall has been slowly decaying for years. I found a way through. Prepare to die, human scum!”

My head pounded with pain. He stood before me. Smug. I could feel the metallic taste of blood in my mouth and felt a sticky warmth running from my nose and ears. I gritted my teeth. “Don’t kill me with your Fae magic. Give me an honorable death by fighting me like a man!” The pain in my head immediately stopped.

“The outcome will be no different, but a challenge is a challenge.” He moved so quickly that I didn’t even have time to draw my sword. His hand slammed into my chest and I flew backwards twenty feet and only stopped because of the tree I crashed into. I staggered to my feet and drew my sword wincing at my now broken ribs. I had nothing to lose. I was never afraid of dying. He drew his sword and approached slowly this time, savoring my imminent death. Our swords clashed and I was stunned at his speed and strength, however, I hadn’t survived thirty-nine years of fighting by not being good at killing. I feigned left, dove right, and slashed upwards, cutting through the skin and muscles on his chest, my iron blade burning and searing him. We battled back and forth but I was losing badly. The Fae was wounded but nothing critical. My life was forfeit so I chose to die by killing my enemy at the same time. It was a desperate move, but I left myself open, enough to allow his blade to pass into my stomach. My left hand grabbed his wrist to hold his blade within me and expose himself at the same time. I slid my blade up and under his rib cage. He twisted so violently my blade missed his heart and his blade pulled back from me opening me wide.

His screams were deafening as he bled out, but he still had enough strength in him to lift me off the ground and slam my back against his knee, shattering my back. Mercifully, I now felt nothing beneath my ribs any longer. His eyes flared in anger, but I could tell he was going to die. I’d seen it a thousand times before. He lifted me high once again, flapped his wings, and threw me down into the flowers of the glen as if I was a discarded piece of trash. As I crashed into the soft earth I felt incredible pain as something hard punctured through my back and up through my chest. I stared at the aged and pitted rusted iron spike as it protruded from my rib cage. I couldn’t move as darkness crept into the edges of my sight but I glanced over towards the Fae. He was on his knees as he slowly lost his breath.

I closed my eyes and let the peace of my death sink into my soul. There was a warmth that spread throughout my body. I could feel my blood flowing through and out of my body. I opened my eyes again, the iron protruding from my chest was glowing. Perhaps I was hallucinating? I closed my eyes again expecting the darkness to overwhelm me yet it seem to push back. I felt almost euphoric, lighter, and whole. Could this be what happens when you die? I smelled the forest and the flowers around me. I could smell the metallic scent of the blood on the ground around me. I could smell the Fae nearby. I could feel and sense his heartbeat growing weaker and weaker.

I hesitantly opened my eyes once again. The iron stake in my chest was gone. There were filaments of light floating towards me, like seeds floating on the wind. I watched as they landed on my body, slowly covering me. It felt like hands were lifting me from the ground, gentle and caressing. I floated above the forest floor. The glen filled with pulsing light. It was amazingly beautiful. So much so that I wept in my death. Never had I felt anything so wonderful and peaceful. I was freer than any time in my life. There was a flash as bright as the sun and a shock wave emanated outward from me. I closed my eyes against the light as I felt myself gently being placed upon the ground.

I don’t know how long I laid there. Perhaps I was now in Valhalla, my afterlife. I felt warm. There was no pain. I breathed deeply and felt the life of things all around me. I opened my eyes and was stunned at what I saw. I was still in the glen, but the colors were bolder, brighter somehow. I could see the details of a leaf a dozen yards away. I didn’t think Valhalla would look like this. I heard a noise to my right and I turned my head to see what it was. The Fae was there, still alive but barely moving. His eyes were wide with fear as he looked at me.

I’d turned my head. I looked down towards my body. I was dressed in lavender silk. I’d never seen fabric so wonderfully wrought. My chest… there appeared to be breasts under that fabric? I sat up suddenly expecting to see my insides exposed, but instead long golden hair fell in front of my eyes. I peered through it at my body, now clearly that of a young woman. I was alive, but how? I stood to my feet and looked at my unscarred and lithe body. I felt so strong. I sensed movement to my right and I looked back at the Fae. He was trying to reach for his sword.

He stopped when he saw me looking at him. Dark blood dripped from his mouth. “It can’t be! Shaelan Scarletsun is dead a thousand years.”

The name he spoke resonated within me. It gathered power and formed itself into my mind. Fragments of memories not my own became a part of me. I’m Shaelan, but no, I’m Marcus. I’m Marcus with the essence of Shaelan. I looked back at the Fae on the ground. An unnatural hatred washed over me. I recognized what it was. They did this to me, to her. The Court of Night, the Dark Fae, and Gwenyth. I took a step back and shook my head, ignoring the hair that moved in front of my eyes. I looked down at my hands. They were golden skinned, slender, with slightly longer fingers than normal. They were not human hands. I looked back at the Dark Fae. “Who are you?” My voice sounded so feminine, even sensual.

He coughed more blood and looked at me with hate-filled eyes. “I’m your death. The magnificent Empress Gwenyth will be please you’ve returned. She will feast on your essence then peel the skin from your body.” An image flickered in my mind of Gwenyth laughing as I, Shaelan, held the iron spear back over my chest.

I reached down to my old sword and picked it up. The iron handle warmed my skin. The Dark Fae stared at my hand on the hilt. “You don’t burn at the touch of iron. Yet you’re Fae. That’s impossible.” He coughed again.

I squatted in front of him and placed the tip of the sword at his chest and over his heart. His skin seared and smoked. From within me I felt a reply form on my lips. A statement my own and yet not. “I’m Shaelan Scarletsun. I was murdered by your kin, Deverell, and that wicked monstrosity you call your Empress, Gwenyth. They drove an iron spear through my heart, unlocking the power of my ancestors, forming the wall, and protecting my essence. For a thousand years my essence waited, absorbing the iron from the spear. In a thousand years my body dissolved away leaving nothing but the remnants of the spear buried in the forest floor. Your hatred for Mortals unwittingly released my essence. I will have my seventy-fifth birthday soon and then I will destroy Gwenyth and all that oppose me.” I looked at the Dark Fae and desired to see him suffer. The iron sword caused his wounds to not heal magically. He would suffer a long time before he finally died. Perhaps it was compassion, something I wasn’t very familiar with, but I plunged the sword into his heart.

I gathered the weapons that littered the forest floor and stepped away from the scene. I moved to the far end of the glen and sat down. I was a woman. A Fae. What did this mean? Could I undo it? I took my sword and held it in front of me using the polished metal to reflect a distorted image of my face. Long golden hair framed my face. My ears were pointed at the top. My eyes were blue and intense. My lips were full. I’d been given women for a night as rewards throughout my life. They were frightened things. Some were good looking, but none were impressive like the ladies of the court. Even through the distorted view of the blade, this face was the most beautiful I’d even seen and that both frightened me and somehow put me at peace.

I looked back down my body. There was not a mark on my skin. It was flawless. No scars. No marks of slavery. The realization came to me that there was also no pain in my body. I put my hands on my breasts. They seemed large to me. Their movement and sensitivity was both foreign and arousing. My hand moved between my legs knowing what I wouldn’t find. I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge I was now a woman that could be raped and degraded.

So now what? If this hadn’t happened I’d be dead now. While I rebelled at the thought of being a woman, I was alive. I was a survivor and I could live through this. I’ll live through this. To the south, my broken down home and people that would try to kill me for what I now was. To the north, Fae. Shaelan’s memories were like small trickles, but I knew there were Fae that would help me. There would be food. I tried to ignore the pleas in my head for justice for the Fae that were enslaved. Have I ever cared for anyone other than myself? I had to answer no. I was selfish in my survival. But Shaelan cared for her people and believed she needed to free them at all costs. I’d been a slave all my life. How would I feel if someone had come to free me? I’d be grateful at first, but then I’d have to learn to do things for myself all over again. You can’t just free people without giving them some way to also live. How could I, a Fae female, do any of these things?

I stood and notched an arrow into my bow. I pulled the string back with such ease. I was stronger than I ever was. I focused on a point on a tree fifty feet away and loosed the arrow. It flew to its mark. I had my old skills still. I retrieved the arrow and modified my old trappings to secure them to my new smaller frame. I looked south. There was nothing for me there. North it would have to be.

I paused another moment and considered the startling revelations of the past hour. The villagers were right. There was a wall. There were Fae. Had it not been for this… I looked down at my body… transformation, I would have died and the last thing I saw was a Fae. The legends were true. With one last look towards the south, I turned to the north.

Ignoring the new graceful movements of my new body I faced the invisible wall and stretched out my hand. A tingle of recognition moved up my arm. I could feel the wall and sensed where it was weak, but my hand passed through. It was as if it recognized me and let me pass. I stepped through the invisible barrier and immediately felt the air chill around me. This land appeared normal from the other side of the wall, but from this side, I could spot signs of death in the forest. I felt the Dark Fae magic slowly killing things. I placed a hand on one of the trees and felt its life force. I could feel how I was connected to it. An understanding came into my mind. All Fae have magic from birth, but their powers do not fully manifest until they come of age. I felt a need to breathe life into the tree. A soft voice escaped my lips. “Live.” It felt natural, a flowing of energy. The leaves of the tree became a vibrant green. I took my hand from the tree and looked at it. Such power and yet I was weak, a child even. The darkness must be great in this realm.

I started moving northward. I moved so silently through the forest. My feet seemed to know exactly how to step to be a part of the forest. As a hunter, I trained myself and watched the placement of my feet. This new body flowed effortlessly without a sound. I realized I was still hungry, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I was hungry before, or this new body needed sustenance on its own. Somehow I knew a small village was five miles north. I pushed the pangs of hunger aside and decided to test my new found speed. I jogged for a while, feeling how effortless the motion was. My bouncing breasts were disconcerting and my hair flaying around was also a distraction, but I pushed onward, faster and faster. I was so incredibly fast and yet I moved silently through the forest.

I slowed when I realized I was burning energy I needed to preserve. Who knows what I might run into? I needed to protect myself. A mile to go. I felt the threads of life drawing me forward. People, my people, kept being spoken into my mind. I slowed even more as I approached the edge of the forest. Fae were working in the fields. The tiny village was in bad shape, the golden skinned people, their eyes… There was so little life in their eyes. My new heart broke at the sight of it all. I closed my eyes and extended my Fae senses as naturally as if I was breathing. I felt the darkness. A single pinpoint of dark in the village. It was another Dark Fae.

My eyes were so strong I could easily see details within the distant village. There, a Dark Fae, his membranous black wings folded in stood near the field. His hate-filled eyes watching the enslaved Fae. He pulled his whip from his side. I could see the iron embedded in the tip. Lashes from that whip would take extra time to heal and be infinitely more painful. I watched as he raised his hand and let the whip fly towards a young Fae boy. My mind flashed back to that day in the mines and anger rose up in me as I heard the boy’s scream. I stood and strung my bow, knowing it would do little to the Dark Fae, but I had to do something. I was a long ways off, but with my enhanced abilities I was confident I could hit my mark. I notched an arrow and fired as I ran forward. I never stopped firing arrows until my quiver was empty. Each arrow finding its mark in the chest of the Dark Fae. As I figured, it didn’t hurt him too much but as each arrow hit him it slowed him down. I threw my bow to the side and vaulted for him, drawing my sword at the same time. He managed to deflect my blow but my blade still sliced through his left bicep, sizzling as it went.

He was still recovering from the arrows and regaining his strength and position when I felt a magical attack from him. As before, I felt the pressure in my head, but it was far less than when I was a man. The Fae must have resistance to this type of attack. I shook my head to clear my thoughts as he moved forward with his iron tipped spear. I noted how he moved. It was so similar to the other Dark Fae, almost as if they learned to fight the same way. While I had far fewer years of training and fighting, I made up for it in the sheer variety of weapons and fighting techniques I was pitted against. I anticipated his moves easily. He thrust his spear faster than anything I had ever seen before, but I was faster yet. I dodged to the side and slashed down on his right hand, nearly severing his hand. His spear falling to the ground. I dove behind him and took advantage of his momentary hesitation and pain by slicing through his hamstrings. With his legs useless he fell forward providing me a chance to plunge my sword between his wings and through his heart.

The entire fight had taken less than a minute. I looked at my hand and the sword in it, surprised at my strength, speed, and agility. I put the sword away and moved to the young boy that still lay on the ground, blood coming from his back. Other Fae slowly approached me, but I felt no threat from them. My hand rested on the boy as I squatted down. He seemed so young. Like the tree, I willed life into him, but the wounds closed only a small amount. His breathing became a little easier. “Is there a healer among you?” I shouted. I didn’t realize I’d started crying. I’d never cried in my life, but there was something inside me that just broke. A dam being released. The injustice of it all.

A woman approached me, bowed, and pointed to the village. “We have a healer in the village, my Lady.” I didn’t take time to ponder her behavior. I picked up the boy and carried him, my tears still flowing. I brought him to a small building and placed him on the table in the middle of the room. A woman came out from the back of the building.

“Can you heal him?”

She bowed as well but shook her head. “I’m sorry, my Lady. If I heal him we’ll all be punished.”

“Tell them I healed him if you have to. I’ll face any punishment that’s given. Just heal him. Please!”

The woman looked at me like I was crazy, but then something registered in her eyes. Was it recognition? She placed her hands on the boy and I could feel the magic in the air. His back slowly knit together. There would be a scar, the iron would see to that. “It is all I can do, my Lady. He’ll need rest.”

The boy’s mother ran in and wrapped her arms around him. “I heard what happened!” She glared at me. “What have you done? You’ve brought death to this village!”

The healer looked wide-eyed at the woman. “Brangwen, you don’t know what you’re saying. You must apologize to the Lady.”

Brangwen looked at the healer angrily then back at me. Her eyes softened and she bowed her head towards me. “I’m very sorry, my Lady.”

I had fragments of memories of who Shaelan had been, but I was still confused. I felt drawn to these people, inexplicably entwined with them. I glanced at the boy and placed a gentle hand on him as others flooded into the small building. Someone brought the Dark Fae’s weapons and my bow and arrows.

A man stepped forward, I could sense the age on him and a hint of familiarity. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and I felt moisture on my face. I felt such loss. How could I be having these feelings? I wasn’t Shaelan, and yet I was. I was still me but somehow I was more than I was before.

“Shaelan!” He cried as he pulled me into his arms. I heard gasps within the room and I felt a magical bond and threads of memories being unlocked. I looked into his eyes and felt his name come to my mind. People began dropping to their knees.

I stepped back. “No! Never kneel to me!” The people looked as stunned as I felt. I didn’t deserve anyone’s worship. “Darnel?” The man nodded. “I need to speak with you. I need answers.”

“Come with me, Shaelan.” He took my hand and led me to another room where he sat me down on a bed. “Tell me how you’re here.”

“That’s a little hard for me to share as I’m not clear about everything myself. I was born as a male slave in the mines of the Mortal realms. At the age of ten I was removed from the mines and put into the slave fighting rings. I fought in those rings for twenty-four years before a revolution took place and I was conscripted into the military. I fought in the Mortal military for another fifteen years before I was finally released as a free man. The past three years I’ve struggled to find food and I found myself travelling further and further north. Earlier today I found myself at the barrier between the realms. A Dark Fae found me there and attacked me, but, in the fight, he broke my back and threw me to the ground. An iron spike that was in the ground penetrated my body. As I lay there, darkness forming around me, the iron spike began to glow. I was infused with energy. My body changed to this and I have thoughts and memories of Shaelan.”

I continued. “I’m still Marcus, the fighter, but I’m also somehow Shaelan. I see her memories of her death, I feel her heart for her people. I should be dead, but here I am.”

“In all my years I’ve only heard of something like this happening once in the history of the Fae people. To think that a Mortal male was capable of absorbing the essence of Shaelan is remarkable. There’s a reason this has all happened and only the gods know why, but, I believe there is something within your character that is needed to defeat Gwenyth and retake the throne. I understand your confusion, however, you are Shaelan Scarletsun.”

I listened intently as he emphasized the word ‘are’. “How can this be and how come I feel like I’m somehow two people?”

“Marcus truly died today, but your life essence merged with that of Shaelan’s. Over time, you’ll learn to let go of your old self. Do you know who you really are and what you mean to all of us?”

I shook my head. “No.” I looked down at myself with a sense of foreignness.

“You’re Shaelan Scarletsun, daughter of Emmeline and Ceard Scarletsun, King and Queen of the Court of the Light.” Their names triggered deep loss within me. “They were murdered by Gwenyth who, over the past thousand years, has enslaved the people of the Court of Light and the Court of Dawn. After the death of your parents, you were hunted by Gwenyth so that she could steal your essence. At the moment of your death, your essence was trapped and protected and the wall between realms was formed. That wall prevented Gwenyth from destroying the Mortal lands.”

“The wall is decaying, yet it seemed to recognize me. I was able to walk through it.”

“Yes, but with your return I believe it will be restored as you come of age. That should be in about two months. You, Shaelan, were two months from your seventy-fifth birthday. That will be when your powers fully manifest.”

“But I have power now. I was able to heal the boy a little bit.”

“Every Fae has some healing ability. When the time comes, you might be able to heal the entire realm at once. Your father was an elemental Fae, with powerful magic with earth, wind, fire, and water. Your mother was a powerful healer and transformer. If the prophecies about you are correct, you’ll have their powers magnified, a force so mighty that an entire Dark Fae army couldn’t stand against you.” I watched as his eyes slid to my iron sword. “You can touch iron?”

“It warms to my touch. I felt something earlier today that somehow my essence melded with the iron.”

“That’s possible, but also your essence merged with that of a Mortal. You are the first Fae to withstand iron.”

“I recognize you but I don’t remember you, just your name.”

“I‘m Darnel Scarletsun, your uncle. We looked after you the years before Gwenyth took over.”

“What happens now? Why is the boy’s mother upset with me?”

“Gwenyth has ruled these lands for a thousand years, brutally and cruelly. Her Dark Fae minions are ruthless. Killing one will bring her wrath down upon us. She’s liable to destroy the entire village.”

Anger rose within me. “I was supposed to let him kill that boy?”

“Don’t let the fear of your Court decide for you what needs to be done. Brangwen didn’t recognize who you are and what you represent.”

“I know you tell me I am Shaelan, but who am I to all of you and what do I represent?”

“You’re our Queen and you represent hope, hope for the entire world.”

“In my Mortal life, I was a slave. I was never even given a family name, left to die as a baby. How can a slave become queen of an entire realm? How can I offer hope to people that have been enslaved for a thousand years?”

“While I cannot say it will be easy, or without pain, you’ll take back what’s rightfully yours. Just follow your heart.”

I stood and felt something stir within me. Family. I never had that before. Never had a feeling of belonging. That darned moistness was upon my cheek again as I reached for Darnell and hugged him. As I pulled back I could see the joy in his face. “How and when will the Dark Fae retaliate?”

“We have several days before that will happen. Tonight we celebrate and tomorrow… tomorrow’s the first day the Court of Light rises up in a thousand years.”

Darnell led me out into the main room again. The place was filled with people and I could see more standing outside. A hushed silence fell across the room. Some knelt and others bowed. “Please!” I implored them gently. “I don’t need to be bowed or knelt to. I’m here to serve you.”

Darnel pushed me forward into the crowd of people that had begun weeping. “Our Queen has returned to us. Tonight, we celebrate her return. Tomorrow, we plan.” I needed air and I squeezed through the people towards the front door. As I did so the villagers reached out to touch me, to feel my hair, and to bless me. I noted how careful they were to avoid touching my sword. When I got outside I took a deep breath and looked back down at my body. With the exception of a hazy reflection I still had no idea what I looked like. The gauzy clothing I was wearing felt so comfortable and light. My body moved so easily and gracefully.

Darnel stood nearby and seemed to sense what I needed before I even could vocalize it. He led me to another building where there was a room with a bed and a bathroom. “Rest up, Shaelan. I’ll have a snack sent over and a change of clothing for later tonight. Take your time and rest.” I merely nodded and sank down on the bed as Darnel left, closing the door behind him. I looked to the bathroom and saw a mirror there. I felt compelled to move towards it, like a moth drawn to the light. My hand moved to my face and my long fingers tracing my lips. I had to touch myself to make what I was seeing somewhat more real.

Reflected back at me was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life. So beautiful I almost felt unworthy to look upon myself. Was this why people were reacting to me as they had been? Was it my large vibrant blue eyes or how my long golden hair flowed around my face in light curls? Perhaps it was my full and sensual lips or perfect skin? I took a deep breath and continued to stare at my reflection.

A knock at the door shook me out of my trance. I moved to the door and opened it. A young woman stared back at me, her eyes dropping as she was embarrassed to look me in the eyes. She stood waiting as if expecting something from me. “Please, come in.” The young woman came in and placed a large basket on the bed.

“I have clothing and some food and drink for you, my Lady.” Her feet shuffled nervously.

“What’s your name?”

“My name’s Cadie, my Lady.”

“Well, Cadie. Please call me Shaelan. Why do you keeps your eyes averted from me?”

“You’re my Queen, Shaelan. It isn’t polite to look a High Fae in the eyes.”

I gently touched her chin and lifted it. “It’s alright, Cadie. I’m nothing special. You’ll not dishonor me by looking at me. How old are you?”

“I am one hundred and forty years old.”

I couldn’t fathom living that long. She’d been born into slavery like me, but had lived it for three times longer than I ever had. “You were born a slave?”

She nodded. “I’m sorry, Shaelan. I didn’t recognize you. I heard the legends that one day you would return, but after so long I always believed them to be stories to try to bring a little hope to all of us and nothing more. But, you’re real. You’re going to defeat Gwenyth. How can you stand touching that awful iron sword at your hip?”

“I may be real, Cadie, but I’m born anew. It’ll take time for me to fully grasp the task before me. Were you told that I was killed?”

“No. The legends said you left to build an army and would return when you had one.”

“A thousand years ago I was killed by Gwenyth. They used an iron spear. My essence was protected but it absorbed the iron through the years. It was only today that I was released. Iron no longer hurts me. I’m afraid I have no army and I still am not of age and don’t have my powers. I’ve no idea how I can help everyone or how I can help you.” I lowered my head, ashamed at being so unfit for the task everyone expected of me and, at the same time, confused as to why I felt so compelled to help anyone at all.

“Shaelan, don’t worry. You’re special and worthy of all of our honor and respect. What you did to that Dark Fae today… He was a trained fighter and a brutal, vicious overseer. You killed him so easily even without your magic. Our Fae legends may have been incorrect, but you’re here. I swear that earlier today I felt a wave of joy wash over me. There was a small glimmer of hope for the first time in my life. I didn’t know what it was, but now, standing next to you, I feel it again. There’s a thread of life that interconnects us all. It’s stronger than fate and for my entire life it was missing until you arrived. I believe the world became unbalanced, the thread of life severed when you were killed, and now that you’re back, it has come alive again and balance will be brought back into the world. I’ll fight by your side and use what my Lesser Fae powers can do to protect you.”

I sat on the bed and wept at her words, overwhelmed by the thought someone was willing to fight to protect me. “I’m not worthy of you risking your life for me.”

“Shaelan, it’s because you’re so humble and not lording over people that makes you worthy. Your blood screams power to all the Fae. We can feel your royalty. I, for one, have never been in the presence of someone that makes me want to kneel before them. What do you feel towards me, towards our people?”

“I feel you’re my people and that from deep within me there is a sense I must right the wrongs done to you and protect you.” I looked Cadie in her eyes and noticed she didn’t flinch or look away this time. “If you were to die trying to protect me, I’m not sure I could live with the guilt of your loss.”

“Then you feel it too. That thread that connects us. If you feel this burden for us, you can understand how we also feel this burden for you. For now, we need to protect you until you come of age. We’ll do so with everything we have in us. People will willingly die to protect you for you’re the hope of the world and for our children. After you come of age and your powers manifest, it might take time for you to master them, but I’ve no doubt that you’ll be able to restore the Court of Light to its former glory. Don’t ever feel you’re alone, we love you.”

Before I could say anything else, she turned, bowed her head slightly, and left. There was such power and wisdom in Cadie’s words. Perhaps if I lived hundreds or thousands of years one day I would also be wise like that. I began unpacking the basket and was a little dismayed at the beautiful gown that she left me. What I was wearing was versatile, halfway between a dress and a pant set and girly enough. This was a full dress. It was light, frilly, and would leave no one doubting the femininity of my new body. I sighed and unpacked the food and water which I rapidly ate allowing it to appease my growling stomach.

I headed to the bathroom and started the water in the tub before turning back to the mirror that had so transfixed me before. Once again I stared at my face for a long time before stepping back and looking over the rest of my body. I slid my clothes from my body and carefully placed them on a chair out of force of habit. As a slave I had to maintain the clothing I had and I looked after them the best I could. I hoped I would never get complacent with things.

As a man I would have been fully aroused at what I saw before me. My body was flawless. I was lean and toned but had ample breasts and a sexy curve of my hips. My fingers gently caresses my skin and slid effortlessly across my flat stomach. I didn’t dare touch myself between my legs. I turned and followed the line of my thighs and buttocks. The Fae were beautiful. I was beautiful. My mind struggled with the fact I was a man earlier this morning.

I climbed into the bath and let the hot water soak into my bones. I floated differently and my breasts bobbed with the waves. I dunked my head under the water and washed my long hair. My male mind wanted to be practical and cut it off, but something inside of me rebelled at the thought. Perhaps I would learn to live with it being so long?

With the water cooling I stepped out of the tub and dried myself off before looking at the dress once again. I stared at it a long time before I picked up the undergarments and put those on. I next attempted to put on the dress, but fought with the multiple layers. Finally the off-red dress fell into place and I slipped on the flat slipper-like shoes that were also left for me. I checked myself out again in the mirror and stood breathlessly in awe. The dress clung to every curve and accentuated everything I had. I almost began taking it off when a knock came at the door again.

I opened the door to see Cadie and another young woman. Cadie must have schooled the other woman as they both merely tipped their heads towards me. “Shaelan, we’ve come to help you with your hair. I realized you had nothing to comb it out with, I’m sorry I didn’t think of that earlier.” I looked down at my long hair and noted it was already shiny and beautiful, but I thought perhaps I could learn something from how they styled it.

“Please, come in. No apologies are necessary. And who might you be?”

“I’m Lorwen, my Lady.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Lorwen.”

Lorwen bowed a little and blushed at me. They sat me down in a chair and using combs and brushes teased the knots out of my hair. “My Lady, you look absolutely beautiful.”

“Please call me Shaelan, Lorwen.”

Cadie then spoke up. “While we’re with you in private we’ll call you Shaelan, but in front of others we’ll refer to you as my Lady, or my Queen. We hope you understand, this isn’t to make you feel uncomfortable, but to show honor. Not everyone, especially the elders, will be as accepting of being less formal.”

“I understand.” I held my hair in my hands and looked at the shimmering golden and soft ends. It was beautiful before, but now it practically glowed. “Thank you both so much!”

“It’s our pleasure. If you’ll follow us, we’d like to escort you to the celebration.”

“Let me put my sword on first.” I watched them frown as I strapped the iron sword to my hip. “We live in a dangerous time and I don’t want to be unprepared.”

“We understand, although once we find weapons for ourselves, you may find you’ve set a new fashion trend for women. You look both feminine and threatening at the same time, especially with that iron sword. Most women might carry a dagger under their skirts, but no longer as all our weapons were taken away from us and young people like myself have never been trained how to use them anyways.”

“I’d be happy to teach you, Cadie.”

Cadie beamed a smile at me. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to use a bow and arrows.”

“Then I’ll make time for you.”

I was led to another building that was larger than the rest. It used to be a meeting place for the villagers but had since been used for storage. Many people must have worked hard to clean the place and set it up for a celebration as it almost sparkled. Several hundred villagers were in attendance. They bowed to me as I passed them. Was the light in their eyes brighter?

Darnel greeted us and introduced me to the remaining village elders. There were three of them and the ancient wisdom in their eyes caused me to falter in my steps as I approached them. By Mortal terms, they appeared no older than men of fifty. I was unaware of the protocol, so I bowed in respect to them. They huffed and pulled me into their arms, tears glistening from their eyes. “The Queen of the Court of Light does not bow to the likes of us.”

“I’m sorry, I bow to you in respect of your age and wisdom.”

The three men laughed casually and joked with each other as only friends that have known each other for thousands of years could. “I rather like it, Owen. When was the last time a beautiful queen bowed to you?”

“Oh, hush, Gruffin. You’re embarrassing her.” He was right. I felt a blush spread across my face. I’d never been called beautiful by a man before and I felt a strange mixture of vulnerability and power come across me. “Welcome back to us, Shaelan Scarletsun. I’d thought I’d pass on before I could feel the hope within me again that now rises up at your presence. You’re reborn. I can only recall one other soul that had rebirth like yours. The gods knew they were needed when they came back to us. You being here has set in motion changes of historical proportion, legendary even. Have you experienced any glimmers yet?”

“Glimmers? I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

“Glimmers of your power. As you get closer to your coming of age, your hidden powers will begin manifesting. They should start soon, so don’t be surprised.”

Gruffin then leaned forward and looked into my eyes. “Have you given any consideration to whom you’ll choose as your mate?”

I know my eyes went wide and I took a step back. “Once again, Gruffin, you have no sense of timing. She’s been with us less than a day and you’re already trying to marry her off.”

“It needs to be asked, plain and simple. Of course there aren’t many High Fae around that would be acceptable.”

“Are you saying I need to marry right away?” I was unclear on the customs.

“Not at all, but it may help establish your court.”

“Gruffin, she may be our Queen, but there is no court yet, let alone a palace she can use until she kills Gwenyth.”

“Exactly my point. She needs to start thinking about these things.”

Darnel thankfully rescued me at this point as he took my arm and led me back into the crowd. “They mean well.”

“Glimmers? How will I know when they manifest? How will I control it so not to hurt myself or others?”

“You’ll see them. Your father was an elemental. I wouldn’t be surprised if your sword burst into flames or a small fireball erupted from your hand. Unless you intend to harm someone, it won’t.”

“I guess that’s a relief.” Darnel introduced me to many people, many of whom commented on my beauty and the iron sword at my hip. Walking in a dress that swished with every small movement and the feelings of my hips swaying and my breasts bouncing was disconcerting. People focused their eyes on me and I felt rather exposed even though I felt comfortable and safe with the people around me.

Darnel got everyone’s attention and all eyes fixed on him. “As you’re all well aware, our Queen has returned. This will have significant ramifications for all of us. Gwenyth’s minions will see this as a threat and will do everything in their power to stop that. Shaelan hasn’t come of age, but that doesn’t mean she’s weak. Far from it. We all saw what she did to the Dark Fae overseer. We must prepare ourselves. We begin that tomorrow. For now, we celebrate!”

There was light cheering and laughter, but I could tell people were frightened. How could people rise up after a thousand years of slavery? My heart grew heavy. Heavy for the toll they’d taken. Heavy for the burden that fell upon my now slender shoulders to protect them. The plate in front of me was full but I couldn’t eat as I looked upon the gaunt faces and how their plates were nearly empty. I stood and the room went silent.

“You’re my people. I feel it in the core of who I am. My heart weeps for you. I pledge I’ll fight to my dying breath to keep you safe and to free you from the tyranny of the Dark Fae. You’ve been so gracious to me, filling my plate with food when you yourselves take so little. Forgive me that I don’t eat until you’ve all had your fill.” I took my plate and placed items from it on other’s plates until mine was empty. I sat back down and conversations slowly started again.

“Darnel, I’m nothing special, certainly no better than anyone in this room. I don’t understand the reverence for me. I can understand hope but I never could figure out why kings and emperors demanded to be worshipped.”

“A good leader sets the tone for all the people that follow them. How you behave is how those that follow you will behave. Did you notice that once you gave up your food that others gave up some of theirs? I can already tell you’ll be a remarkable leader. No one in authority has given or cared for these people in a thousand years. In a single day, people have gone from fear of you to worshipping you.”

“But I don’t want their worship!” I don’t deserve it!”

“Real worship comes from earning it, not demanding it. They worship you for who you are. You gave up your food and promised to care for them.”

I reached for a glass of water when suddenly the water inside it froze and the glass shattered. “I’m so sorry. Was that me?” The crowd stared in awe at me and the broken, frozen glass of water.

“That, my dear, was a glimmer.”

“Some use that will be when I’m thirsty.”

Gruffin came forward. “That was more than any glimmer I’ve ever seen. Most elementals might see water move a little or warm to the touch, but to freeze a glass solid might indicate significant power beyond the likes we have seen an many millennia.”

“But what use is freezing water?”

“Let’s say you were facing a flying army of Dark Fae. Our bodies are made up of mostly water. You could freeze them solid and watch them fall and shatter on the ground.”

I frowned. “You think that would even be possible?”

“Glimmers represent the tiniest fraction of power compared to your full powers, so yes, in theory you could. Think of glimmers as your body’s natural way of exploring its powers and getting you used to them. Can you image if you suddenly had all your power all at once and didn’t know how to use them? You could wipe out a forest merely by accident. Now that this has manifested, try it again.” He handed me another glass of water. “Focus your thoughts on the water and what you want to do with it. Move it, freeze it, or heat it. The water is yours to command.”

I looked dubiously at the water and pictured it splashing out of the glass. The subsequent eruption of water from the glass rained down upon everyone at the table. I was shocked as much as anyone but the whole table cheered and laughed. “Very nicely done Shaelan. You’re a natural. Beauty, compassion, and power, a dangerous mix.”

The evening slowly wound down and Cadie led me back to my room for the night. As a celebration, it was a little subdued, but I could understand the reasons why.

“I must say I’m more and more impressed with you, Shaelan. I’ve never really met many High Fae before, but you seem so normal and not arrogant or haughty at all. Your glimmer was unbelievable! I’ve known Fae with their full powers that couldn’t even melt a piece of ice. I’m gifted with sight, and my glimmer allowed me to see splinters in my hand easily. Now, with my full powers, I can spot an insect on a leaf a thousand feet away. It’s not much of a gift, but I’m grateful for it.”

“I bet your gift will be even more valuable when you get a bow in your hands. I’m looking forward to teaching you. How long do you think we may have before Gwenyth sends reinforcements here?”

“It’ll be a few days, but less than a week. It depends upon when the overseer normally communicated up their hierarchy. This place is a little out of the way for them which is why they sent their nastiest as punishment to oversee us. The cities are where all the action is, but I’m told female Fae are often raped there.”

I shivered at the thought of being pinned down against my will. “I’ll see you first thing in the morning, Cadie. Let’s get you training with the bow.”

I was finally alone again. It had been a long day and I was surprisingly not very tired. Something about these Fae bodies gave them more energy, but then again, it could simply be that this is how a young, unscarred, female Fae felt like. In a way I’d both become older and younger at the same time. Seventy-four years old is still a child in the lifespan of an immortal Fae.

I carefully removed the dress, realizing that after a while I sort of enjoyed the feel of it against my body. It wasn’t such a foreign thing after all and it was exceptionally comfortable. As a man I’d never held power to captivate the sight of other people. The dress made me feel desirable and powerful.

I moved to the bathroom and looked once again at myself. Was I Shaelan or was I Marcus? I felt a little more like Marcus if I were honest with myself, but within me I knew I wanted to yield to what I now was. My life before hadn’t been much of a life and I was happy to have a fresh start, even if it meant I was a woman, a queen, the hope of the world…

I continued to stare at myself as if staring long enough would either change me or make it less disturbing to see a strange face looking back at me. I never really considered life as a female before. Aside from being weaker and more vulnerable, were they really that much different? Although, the way I fought the Dark Fae overseer, I certainly didn’t feel weaker or vulnerable. I only felt vulnerable when I imagined I could be raped and impregnated. How much different could it be?

I moved back to the bed acutely aware of how my unbound breasts moved and the extra width of my hips made my butt sway a little from side to side. I slid under the sheets and found my hair tangled around my face and neck as I laid my head down on the pillow. I spent a frustrating thirty minutes rolling around with the weight from my breasts shifting from side to side and my hair getting caught in my mouth. I finally sat up and found something to tie my hair back before lying back down. It took a while, but I finally drifted off to sleep.

I woke at the first hint of light entering the window. I felt very refreshed and filled with energy. I couldn’t remember a day where I’d awakened without pain, but today I had no pain whatsoever. I went to the bathroom and sat down to relieve myself. So what if I couldn’t pee standing up anymore as long as I was pain free. It didn’t seem like such a burden, at least not at the moment.

I hesitated a moment looking at my two sets of clothing. I actually wanted to wear the dress from last night but I put the other clothes on as they were far more practical from a fighting perspective. A knock at the door sounded and I could almost sense it was Cadie. I wondered if this was just logical thinking or if the Fae could truly sense the presence of someone. I opened the door and Cadie smiled at me. “Good morning, my Lady. I’ve brought you some breakfast. You must be hungry after not having eaten anything last night.”

I was hungry. “Thank you, Cadie. I don’t feel right about taking someone else’s food. Are you certain everyone has enough?”

“Yes, Shaelan. The gardens seem to have sprung to life overnight and even some trees are showing signs of recovery. Perhaps this thread of life I feel from you is also affecting other living things as well.” I sat down on the bed and thankfully ate the bread and cheese that Cadie had brought. Cadie moved to my dress. “Would you like me to clean this for you?”

“I’m not sure where you even found the dress, Cadie. I can clean it and bring it back to whomever you borrowed it from.”

“It’s yours. It belonged to my mother and I have many. You need it more than I do at this point.”

“I’m so grateful for your generosity, Cadie.” I meant what I had said as no one had ever freely given me anything before. “Are you ready to start learning archery?”

“Oh yes!”

“Well let’s go then.”

I grabbed my bow and arrows that were recovered for me yesterday and we headed out to the field near the forest edge. Cadie had been correct in that the fields and some trees were looking healthier. I had a hard time believing that this was caused by my presence, however, more and more I felt connected to the people and the land. It was more of a slowly awakening awareness as if my senses continued to learn their limits and stretch further and further. “I know you’ll do very well, Cadie, so let’s cover the basics first.” I showed her proper stance, how to aim, the importance of understanding wind and how an arrow will fly upwards before it begins to fall. I then aimed at a bale of hay a hundred feet away. “Different bows have different pull strengths and different arrows weigh different amounts. It’s important to learn to pull back consistently each time when you’re learning so that the force applied to the arrow is also consistent. I’ve marked this bow for different distances. The hay bale is about a hundred feet away.” I showed Cadie the height mark for one hundred feet, then slowly drew the bow back and let the arrow fly straight into the center of the bale. “Now, you try.”

Cadie was a trooper as her fingers were raw from several hundred shots at different distances and targets, but she was a remarkably quick study. Before long she was hitting mere inches away from the center of the targets. I felt Darnell before I saw him as he began walking across the field toward us. “Good morning, Darnell.”

“You seem in good spirits this morning, Shaelan. Good morning, Cadie.” Cadie nodded to Darnell but she couldn’t keep the smile off her face as she held the bow. “I see you have a protégé.”

“I do, and Cadie is brilliant with the bow. Of course there’s a lot of practicing to do, but I believe for mostly stationary objects she’s very capable.”

“That’s good because we need to be prepared for the arrival of more Dark Fae.”

“Can you show me where they might arrive from and what we have to work with?”

“Of course. We have several experienced fighters in the village, but most haven’t touched a weapon in many years. I’ve taken the liberty to distribute the overseer’s weapons amongst them. I’ll introduce you later this morning as they’ll make up the bulk of your protective guard.”

“You can’t leave me out, Darnell. Now that I have a weapon, I won’t let Shaelan fight alone.” I saw the fierceness in Cadie’s eyes. She was determined to be by my side. Darnell merely nodded.

“Come, both of you. Let’s figure out how we’ll handle the Dark Fae when they arrive.”

We walked through the small village and Darnell pointed out the most likely direction the Dark Fae would arrive from. Northwest was the nearest city and where they would be dispatched from. “How many fighters do we have?”

“We have six, but only have three weapons. Four if you count Cadie with your bow.”

“The Dark Fae had iron-tipped weapons. Do we have any smelting ability? Could we melt some iron down and tip the arrows with it?”

“We could do that, but no one can touch the stuff but you. We wouldn’t need much.”

“My sword has fine iron chain on the hilt. I can remove that and wrap it with leather instead.”

“I’ll make that happen for you. It’s a great idea and will put some real stopping power behind the bow.”

“When they arrive, is it on horseback, do they fly, materialize, or walk?”

“Quite possibly materialize and fly as they like to make an entrance. Gwenyth is powerful enough to materialize from a far distance. I suspect you’ll also be able to do that. We call it sifting.”

“Can we get volunteers to help Cadie practice with moving targets? They can throw things for her to shoot. I also might need something new to wear.”

“I can arrange for the volunteers. If they know what it’s for we’ll likely have the entire village wanting to help you. About the clothes, what do you have in mind?”

“You know my past, Darnell, and how I spent my time. I’ve learned that sometimes distraction can be a powerful weapon. I may not have powers yet, but the right clothing could convey power. I think we should try to use every advantage we have.”

Darnell smiled. “I have just the outfits for you. I’ll get that to you tonight. We need to be prepared as early as tomorrow for the arrival of Dark Fae.”

We walked over to a small square where six men were fighting with wooden weapons. Someone had already manufactured the swords to look and feel like the iron-tipped ones of the overseer. It amazed me how talented these people were. I looked over the men, their muscles rippled under their skin. I was a little surprised that their shirtless forms stirred me a little sexually. I wasn’t expecting that. I focused on their fighting techniques and although rusty, they were excellent fighters.

I strode into the middle of them and they all paused and bowed to me. I bowed my head to them which caused them some grief, but I’ll not be one to not show respect to these people. One stepped forward. “My Lady. My name is Ewen. We’re here to protect you, to be your honor guard.”

“Thank you, Ewen. I appreciate your willingness to put yourselves at risk on my behalf. I’ll not ask any of you to do so out of a feeling of obligation on your part. I may have royal blood, but I’m no Queen as a Queen has a kingdom and that’s something we must ultimately take back. I’m a fighter. I’ll not sit back while you risk your lives for me. I’ll fight for your freedom and my own. If you wish to still fight next to me, then it would be my honor to have you with me.”

I watched as one after the other they knelt on the ground before me. Even Cadie went to her knees. A tear slid down my cheek. “Rise then. You have honored me and I don’t take the risk to your own lives lightly. We have so little time to prepare and we don’t know if one or a hundred Dark Fae might come here. Do you have a spare sword?”

A young boy, the same as the one from yesterday ran and found me another wooden sword. I touched his brow and thanked him.

“Attack me.”

Ewen looked at me like I was crazy. “You wish me to attack you, my Lady?”

“No. I want all six of you to attack me. We don’t know how many Dark Fae will arrive and there may be situations where you’ll be fighting close to one another. You’re all very skilled, but we need to quickly get you all communicating well in a group fight. As you know, I’ve been reborn and I need to challenge my own skills as well.”

“Yes, my Lady.” He launched himself at me and the others followed suit. At first I was pressed back, but they slowly began interfering with each other. I used that to my advantage and my strength, speed, and years of fighting in the ring began to give me the upper hand. I began pushing them back, slowly at first, then one by one I isolated them from one another. My wooden sword flew so swiftly. Fighting for my life and skills learned over the years clearly had given me an edge over the core training these fighters had. One by one I took them out until only Ewen remained. We circled each other and he swung a blow that smashed against my sword. I intentionally let my sword fall from my grasp. I taunted him to continue. He swung tentatively at me which I expected. I rushed him once his sword swung clear. I grabbed his sword arm to hold the sword away from me as I threw my weight against his legs forcing him to the ground. His blade now resting close to his throat. Try as I might, I couldn’t press any further as his strength was too much for me. He slowly pushed the sword away from himself and in a burst of speed and force threw me onto my back and had the sword at my throat.

I started laughing. “Well done!”

He smiled and pulled me to my feet. “You intentionally gave up your sword. It was hardly fair at that point."

“True, but without my sword you held back. You should never do that.”

“I’ve never seen any Fae, Dark or Light, High, or Lesser fight the way you fight. We may be rusty, as you say, but we belonged to your parent’s royal guard. We were training eons before you were born. You bested five of us and then you were simply playing with me. I don’t understand, my Lady, but quite frankly I don’t care. I’d fight beside you any day.” He tipped his head in a deep bow.

“I’ve seen what I need to see. Cadie, with your sight, I want you on top of the furthest building starting tomorrow morning. You’ll be our first warning for when the Dark Fae arrive. Alert us when you see them coming, but I want you securely hidden and not shoot if the numbers are less than six. Let them come. You have six arrows which we’ll tip with iron. Take no chances until I give a sign or they attack. Take out any archers they may have first or any that fly up to get into a better position. If there are more than six, then shoot as many as you can once they’re within range.”

I turned to Ewen. “We have three weapons, plus my sword. I’ll want your three best fighters off to the sides, hidden by the buildings. I’ll give a sign when I want you to attack. Again, if the numbers are under six, I want to personally greet them in an attempt to throw them off guard. If there are more than six, then as soon as Cadie takes as many out as she can, then it’s an all-out fight. I recommend in either case the additional fighters without weapons stand in the wings and look for opportunities to join the fight.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve done this before?”

“Let’s just say I wasn’t entirely idle between my death and resurrection, Ewen.”

Darnel came forward and whistled low. “I’ve never seen the likes before. A warrior Queen. The gods knew what we needed in these times. Come, let them continue to practice, Shaelan. We have a lot yet to do today.”

I felt exhausted but exhilarated by the end of the day. The village was abuzz with activity and rumors flew around the villagers how their Queen bested a dozen trained fighters. Even though I tried, there was no squashing the rumors. I plunked myself down on the edge of my bed and looked down at myself. I was rather dirty and my clothes were splattered with mud. I realized I hadn’t thought much all day about this female body I was now in. I considered this and understood that someday I wouldn’t even question the feelings I was now having. Assuming I lived, of course. I stripped out of my clothes and washed them carefully in the tub, hanging them up to dry before I stepped into the tub myself.

After my bath I put my hair up and slipped into the red dress for a moment when the door knocked. It was Cadie, I could definitely feel her now. I opened the door to see Cadie holding onto another basket. “I have the clothes Darnell fetched for you, Shaelan. I also found a nightgown for you.” She looked around the room and saw my clothes from the day drying. “I can’t believe you’re High Fae. I mean I know you are, your presence simply screams it, but you’re so nice to people and you do your own laundry.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you, Cadie.” Cadie set the basket down and winced a little. “What’s wrong, Cadie.”

“Nothing.” She gave a weak smile then held out her fingers. They were raw and almost bleeding.

“How long did you practice today?”

“All day.”

“Let me see your fingers.”

“There’s nothing you can do for them.”

She put her hand in mine anyways. I felt the connection so deeply with everything around me at that moment. I reached inward and willed healing into her fingers. When I let her hand go her fingers were healed.

“That’s amazing. Your healing powers are so strong and you haven’t even come of age yet.”

“I thought we all had healing gifts?”

“We do, but it can vary from person to person. Some can heal muscles while others bones. You healed the boy’s cuts yesterday and yet you healed my fingers today. That’s not normal.”

I smiled and laughed gently. “That’s the story of my life. Not normal. Besides, an archer is no good with her fingers all damaged. If the Dark Fae don’t arrive tomorrow promise me you’ll not practice so hard.”

“If you can heal my fingers like this every night, it’s worth the pain to keep practicing. It’s not every day someone gets to fight alongside a future Fae legend. I saw what you did to those men. I swear you let Ewen beat you in the end. He’s handsome. I wouldn’t mind a roll in the dirt with him.”

“Cadie!”

“Sorry, my Lady.” She blushed brightly.

“First Griffen, now you. Is everyone trying to get me married off?”

“Oh no, my Lady!”

It finally dawned on me. “You like Ewen, don’t you?”

“Yes! But don’t say anything to him. I’d be terribly embarrassed!” She giggled. “Good night, Shaelan.”

“Good night, Cadie.”

I took a moment to unpack the basket of clothing. I could easily make a few adjustments, but it was perfect for what I had in mind. I then undressed and put the nightgown on. As with the dress, it felt so free and light on me. I could get used to wearing clothes like this.

I slipped into bed but sleep eluded me. I replayed all the events that have happened to me over the past few days. A woman. A very beautiful woman is what I’d become. I surprised myself by having some arousal today looking at the men. It made me wonder what sex would be like as a woman. A gentle warmth spread over me at the thought. The women I’d had sex with had all been forced into the situation and I could understand why they would be unsatisfied with it. There were a few times with one woman that seemed to like me that really enjoyed herself, even wanted more. I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with a woman’s body and knew the major places that seemed to stimulate them…

My hand slipped seemingly of its own volition under my nightgown and between my legs. My slender fingertip easily finding ingress between the moist folds. The warmth spread quickly throughout my body. My male thoughts began to analyze the sensations but as soon as I did, the sensations dwindled. I was stymied. I never lost feeling when having sex as a man when I thought about something logically. Why would this be? I started to think about another beautiful woman. Perhaps someone like Cadie who I could feel close to. The sensations blossomed once again, but try as I might I couldn’t quite connect deep enough. I then thought of one of the handsome, finely chiseled bodies of the male Fae, how they would lie me down and suck my breasts then, when the moment was right, penetrate me. I gasped loudly at the sudden onslaught of sensation. The feeling of my finger sliding in and out of me was driving me to the brink. My other hand began squeezing my breast sending shockwaves through me. I closed my eyes and pictured myself making love when suddenly I was screaming out and shaking with waves of pleasure that radiated throughout my entire body. An orange glow appeared in the window of my room from somewhere outside, but I ignored it as the pleasure shook my very being. After what seemed like minutes as I continued to gently touch myself, the waves slowly subsided.

I lay there panting basking in the afterglow of my first female orgasm. This had been, by far, the most amazing experience I’d ever had. I contemplated how, like the dresses, I could find myself enjoying life as a woman. My thoughts were interrupted when I sensed a half dozen people scurrying around outside my room. I quickly got up and wrapped the blanket around me as I opened the door. I small bush outside my room was on fire.

Cadie rushed up to me. “Are you all right, My Lady?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I tried to act casual as I’m sure I was still flushed from my experience. “What happened?”

“I was about to ask you that question.”

“Why would you think I had something to do with this?”

“I think it was another glimmer. What were you doing? What were you thinking?”

“I… I was just thinking I was warm under the blanket.” I lied.

“Try putting it out. If it was you, you should be able to control the flames.”

I looked at Cadie hoping she hadn’t seen through my lie. I then pictured the flames dissipating and they suddenly stopped. “That’s amazing.” I held out my hand and imagined a small flicker of flame and one arose in the palm of my hand.

“I think you’ll be fine now, my Lady. Glimmers are sort of random and spontaneous the first time, but after that you can generally control when and where they happen. You’re so powerful and yet you’ve still not come of age. Gwenyth won’t stand a chance.”

“That’s assuming I live long enough to reach my seventy-fifth birthday.”

“You will. I’ll make sure of it. Good night, my Lady.” She bowed slightly and the rest of the crowd disappeared with her.

“I knew it was powerful, but I never knew it was that powerful.” I whispered to myself.

***

Early the next morning I spent time re-working the outfit Darnel had found for me and then put it all on. I stood in front of the mirror and I was impressed by how it turned out. I’d worked my hair to one side and a small thin silver strip circled my head under my hair and across my forehead. The silver strip was very ornate and gave me a look that reminded me of someone wearing a crown or tiara, but much more understated. On the tips of my pointed ears were ornate silver coverings with fine silver chains. This emphasized my regal look. My dress was fine and delicate, exposing my arms and one shoulder, but angling down in an asymmetrical way from my right shoulder down to my left knee. Another layer underneath added dimension to the dress and formed as a skirt that stopped at my mid-thigh. Knee-high, leather boots with silver highlights covered my lower legs and silver bicep bracelets and wrist bracelets adorned my arms. Everything was designed to give me freedom of movement yet, at the same time project authority and beauty. It was exactly the effect I wanted to have.

I strapped on my sword on my left hip, my dagger was strapped on my bare right thigh. “Come in, Cadie!” I’d felt her before she even knocked. I watched as the door slowly opened and Cadie stepped inside.

“My Lady!” She immediately bowed low.

“Cadie, please. You don’t need to bow to me.”

“I’m sorry, Shaelan. You look positively queenly. I felt compelled by your look and your presence.”

“That’s the impression I wanted to give to the Dark Fae, not everyone here. I never want to be feared or appear as untouchable.”

“You look stunning. The design is so unique, where did Darnel ever find such clothing?”

“I made modifications from several outfits. I needed to make sure I could move freely in a fight.”

“Darnel and the guards are waiting for you in the village square. Did you have something to eat yet?”

“I did. I see you’re also wearing your bow.”

“It’s your bow, Shaelan, and it won’t leave my side until you request it back.”

“No, Cadie. It’s your bow now. You’ve done so well with it and you deserve it. I’ve a feeling I’ll not need one any more anyways.”

“Thank you, my Queen, I mean, Shaelan! Why don’t you think you’ll be needing it anymore?”

“I’ve been practicing a little. Watch.” I sensed the water in a glass nearby and drew three six-inch slivers of water from the glass. I froze them solid then caused them to fly across the room, embedding them into the wooden window frame. Cadie stood with her mouth open and her eyes wide.

“That was incredible! How are you doing that?”

“It just seems to come naturally to me. Whatever I picture I want the water to do, it does it. Three slivers is all I’ve been able to manage so far though. It’s almost like that’s all the magic I have.”

“And yet, that’s more magic than I’ve seen anyone use with water before. You’re going to be so powerful! Come on, let’s go greet the others. I can’t wait to see their reaction to your outfit.”

We walked to the square and people stared and bowed, murmuring ‘my Queen’ everywhere I went. It was unnerving as I wanted these people, my people, to feel protected and cared for by me, not the other way around. When we got to the square Darnel had his back to us, but he turned, smiled broadly when he saw me, and all the guards knelt.

“Please, everyone. You don’t need to kneel or bow to me, but my outfit seems to have the effect I was hoping for. I want the Dark Fae to hesitate, to think I’m more powerful and confident than I am. That give us all an edge.”

Darnel stepped forward and took my hands in his. “You’re breathtaking, Shaelan. You’ll no doubt stop them in their tracks.”

Ewen smiled at Cadie then addressed me. “I understand you had another glimmer, my Lady?”

I held up my hand as it burst into flames, my hand and skin unaffected by the fire. “I had a bit of an accident with a bush last night.”

“How well can you control it?”

“Not as good as water yet. I can get it to move and shape. I’ve thought about altering intensity and size. Inside a building is not the right place to test and train with fire.”

“I saw my Lady throw small spears of water into wood this morning!”

“You’re learning so quickly, Shaelan. Perhaps we should place containers of water around the village so it is available to you in a fight.”

“I doubt a few shards of ice would do much damage to a Dark Fae.”

“Magically formed weapons will hurt them as badly as iron.”

“Twice when I fought the Dark Fae, I felt pressure in my mind. How can I prevent that?”

“The Dark Fae all have that ability, but they have to be close to you. You can sense and feel living things all around you. Use that same skill to form a shield in your mind. Think of it like building a living hedge around you.” Darnell turned to everyone and let them know they should move to their places around the village in case the Dark Fae arrived. Cadie and the men ran off leaving me with Darnell. “I know you’re capable, Shaelan, but please don’t put yourself in any danger.”

“I learned a long time ago that the best defense is staying outside of someone’s reach.” We walked the village and I greeted more people.

It was nearly noon when we heard Cadie’s whistle. I felt nervous. I had no idea what we might be facing and for the first time in my life I was afraid of dying and letting other people down. I looked down the street towards the northwest and could see the darkness pooling. I turned and began walking slowly forward towards where the Dark Fae would appear. I watched as three Dark Fae suddenly appeared before me, hovering with their large bat-like wings. I made sure my chin was high and my shoulders were back as they landed in front of me.

They looked startled and I sensed they recognized me. “You’re not welcome here!” I spoke clearly and loudly, trying to portray authority. One drew his wooden handled sword, another his whip. I didn’t draw my weapons but chose to show as much confidence as possible.

“Shaelan Scarletsun.” The center Dark Fae spit out my name with hatred and venom as he stepped forward. “You’ll come with us.” I could feel the immense pressure within my head start and I hastily thought of the hedge in my mind. I pictured a thorny hedge just in case and the pain and pressure immediately went away. Two of the three Dark Fae looked a little worried.

“I think not. Lay down your weapons and leave now or die.” I still hadn’t moved for my sword or dagger.

“She’s not yet of age, don’t let her fool you.” He raised his whip and I pictured the handle of it bursting with intense fire. The affect was rather startling as his hand sizzled and the whip fell to the ground, the handle nothing but smoking cinders. He screamed and drew his sword and rushed towards me. My sword was drawn and blocking his attack before he even got close.

“Now!” I shouted. An arrow sunk into the eye socket of the Dark Fae attacking me, he fell dead instantly at my feet. My guards were immediately at my side and pushed to get in front of me. It wasn’t what I’d planned, but there was such light in their eyes. They had a fire within them, a thousand years of pent up anger unleashed. I’d seen this type of rebellious anger before and I took a step back to allow them their vengeance.

Another arrow plunged into the chest of the second Dark Fae and our unarmed guards were now hovering nearby. One grabbed the wood handled sword from the first Dark Fae and attacked the now wounded one. I sensed another arrow coming and watched as it passed through the neck of the third Dark Fae. In moments it was all over and the three Dark Fae lay at our feet and none of the guards had been injured. Cadie arrived at our sides and retrieved her arrows.

The villagers came out and surrounded us with singing and cheering. The fear in their eyes greatly diminished. Darnel came up and hugged me. “Our first victory!”

Ewen had taken charge and was distributing the Dark Fae weapons to the remaining guards. His eyes were shining brightly. I moved to Cadie and hugged her tightly. She was shaking slightly. “You did incredible, Cadie!”

“I was so worried I’d hit you or the others.”

“Assuming you meant to hit these Dark Fae where you did, you’re aim was perfect.” Cadie held onto me until her shaking subsided. I moved to hug and thank the guards who were all shocked I did so. “Ewen, you and your men were all fantastic. Well done! I barely had to do anything.”

“There was no way we’d let you stand before three Dark Fae on your own, even though I’m sure you could handle them all by yourself. You represent our future. If you were to be injured or killed, our rebellion might be over before it even begins. You’re more valuable to us as our leader than a fighter.”

“I just won’t feel right if I’m not at your side when the battle is raging. I’ll not risk anyone’s life without risking my own as well. I understand your thinking and I’ll honor your wishes to stay back unless absolutely necessary. What happens now? What will the Dark Fae do when these three don’t return?”

“I think we have several weeks, my Lady. If I place myself in their position, they just sent three here and will not expect any trouble. A week would likely pass before they’re concerned. By then, they’ll mobilize a much larger force which would take another week to organize.”

“What if we weren’t here when they arrive? There are other small villages nearby. Could we move from village to village, freeing the people and gaining a larger force for ourselves? Once we have enough we could take over a city. However, I’m just not sure how the people here would take to moving.”

Ewen sat on a wooden fence rail and pondered this for a while. “With Cadie, we have seven armed guards now. The next town over is about twice our size and will have two overseers. I do know that there are more than a dozen trained fighters there. There are two smaller villages beyond that one. In total, I’d say we would have twenty-five fighting men. We’d need weapons. There is a small city northwest of here. It’s possibly where these Dark Fae came from. The city likely has twenty or so Dark Fae protecting it. I do know for a fact that the city is one of the five locations where the weapons of the Court of Light were stored. If we do as you suggest, I’d recommend we travel north to the larger village and take back control there, then make forays to the other villages to free them as well, consolidating everyone to the larger village. From there we try to unlock the Court of Light weapons cache before making an attempt on the city’s beyond.”

“I want your honest opinion, Ewen. Is this feasible? What about food for everyone?”

“Yes, my Lady. It removes the immediate threat to this village. We can send runners to the other villages with information. Younger Fae will not be noticed by the overseers and can get messages safely through. Have you seen the crops, my Lady?”

“No. What’s happening to the crops?”

“They’re flourishing. More than I’ve ever seen them in a thousand years. Your presence in the larger village as well as moving food stores from the smaller villages will be more than enough. If our timing is right, the city will remove the majority of its guards to attack our village here. When they do, we take the city. The timing could work to our advantage, my Lady.”

The entire village had come out and was around us. “It’s their decision. I won’t decide their fate for them.” I turned to the crowd. “I’ll not risk any of you unless you choose this path. You can stay, and I’ll stay with you and fight for you, or we can choose to move and take back our land and free our people. Either way, I’ll not think less of you.”

There was murmuring but then the three elders stepped forward. “We choose to follow you, Shaelan Scarletsun, Queen of the Court of Light. We willingly will move with you. As you free more of our soldiers, there will be a need for cooks, menders, and healers. An army cannot fight our enemies without these things.”

“Then it’s settled. Ewen, send runners to the three villages. Tell the smaller ones to prepare to move once they’re freed. Tell the larger one we’re coming and we’ll need space for people. Do we know the layout of the larger village?”

“I recommend the eight of us travel to scout the larger village out tomorrow. If you don’t mind sleeping under the stars, my Lady, we could plan an attack the following morning.”

I smiled at Ewen. “I’m as happy sleeping in the forest as I am in a bed.”

He raised an eyebrow at me clearly not believing royalty would wish to get dirty. “I might suggest you change first, my Lady. You should keep that outfit clean for battle days. It’s rather inspiring.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. Cadie took my arm in hers. “I’ll make sure our Queen is properly outfitted for roughing it in the forest.”

***

Back at my room Cadie sat with me on the bed. She found some additional travel clothes for me and I tried them on. I always pictured kings and queens having ultimate authority about what they did day-in and day-out, but I was finding that leaders were subject to all sorts of expectations. For example, my outdoor roughing it clothes were designed to be functional, but also made me look regal and sexy at the same time. I also felt almost as much of a servant to the people as I had been a slave to my masters before, albeit the difference was that this was my choice.

I was so much aware of my body now than ever before. I’d never considered myself a sensual being before, but the feel of my new body and the responses it elicited from people made me constantly aware of what I now was. If I were to admit to myself that I was rather enjoying the feelings I would need to admit I no longer looked at myself through the eyes of a man. Shaelan’s memories were slow to trigger and I wondered if I would ever grow into the role I was expected to fulfill.

“Cadie, what happens if I never fully recover the knowledge I had before? I feel like I’m blindly walking through a maze. I’ve no desire to disappoint anyone or tread on cultural expectations I can’t remember.”

“I can’t imagine being reborn like you were after so long, but in a way I’m not in such a different position than you are.”

“How so?”

“You’re giving me your bow has bequeathed upon me a set of cultural expectations. By my receiving them willingly, I have found myself now a part of an intricate web of rules within the Fae world, a world I’ve never seen before or been a part of. Ewen has tried to explain this to me that I am forever bound in service to you now. Not that I mind in the least, but actions here carry more weight than we realize.”

“If I’d known I’d never have put you in that position.”

Cadie laughed. “I’m happy to be bound to you. I’ve never felt such purpose in my life before and I feel a part of something that’s worthwhile. You and I may fail in our understanding of things beyond our knowledge, but a thousand years has past and we can write our own rules. The world is a different place and who’s to say that the old ways are still the best ways?”

Cadie had a way of making me feel better about myself. I laughed lightly. “As long as I don’t inadvertently ask someone to marry me, I’m okay with that.”

Cadie smiled brightly. “You mean you have your eyes on someone?”

“No… not at all. It’s just I don’t want to accidently accept someone’s sword and suddenly be betrothed. Do you know what really happened to me?”

“What do you mean?”

“I shared with Darnell some things I haven’t shared with anyone else. I’ve memories of events and things from before I was killed, but not many. I recall when Gwenyth and another Dark Fae plunged the iron spear through my chest. Cadie, this may sound very strange to you, but I feel I must confide in someone I can trust. Most of my memories are from another life.”

“Do you mean your life before as Shaelan?”

“No…” I looked down feeling like I might lose my best friend, someone who for the first time in my life, would willingly die for me. “Darnel explained that rebirth requires a strong life essence to be merged. A catalyst perhaps. I had a life before my rebirth.”

“You’re saying you were someone else, and through whatever circumstances, your essence merged with Shaelan’s? I talked with our elders the other night about rebirth and they explained what they knew. They said that the only way this could work is if the essence, the character, the life force was very similar, or perhaps what the gods determined was needed. Who were you before? A High Fae?”

“Hardly. I was born a male slave in the Mortal realm.” I looked into Cadie’s eyes and I could see sympathy and understanding.

“Tell me about your life.” She leaned forward towards me so I told her everything and how I found myself as Shaelan. “I understand now. Your fighting abilities, your knowledge of warfare and strategy. How you can relate to all of us being slaves.”

I nodded. “If you so choose, I release you from any binding to me you have as I can understand how you must be feeling about me now. I’m an imposter living inside the shell of a High Fae Queen.”

“Oh hush! Sorry, my Lady. I shouldn’t speak to you that way.”

“Cadie, you’re one of the few who will speak to me what I really need to hear. You can always speak what’s on your mind to me.”

“I’m honored to be chosen as your confidant this way. You’re Shaelan, my Queen. You’re not an imposter in her body. Let me put it this way. Whose body is that?”

“Shaelan’s”

“No, it’s yours.”

“And who are you inside? Who’s the person that loves their people? Was that Marcus that belongs to this land and this people?”

“I think I understand what you’re telling me. I’m not individually Marcus and I’m not individually Shaelan, but something new.”

“Exactly. You’re Shaelan with additional life experience and skills and essence that you need to accomplish the tasks before you. You mustn’t let this worry you. You’re not an imposter, rather you’re an enhanced Shaelan Scarletsun. If anything, it makes me even more in awe of you and who you are.”

“You don’t think it is strange that I was a man before? A slave?”

“Who else could lead all our people effectively but one that was a slave, one that experienced life from both perspectives, a fighter and a leader? You’re what we need.”

“As always, Cadie, your wisdom far exceeds your years.”

“May I ask a question, Shaelan?” I watched as Cadie blushed slightly.

“Anything.”

“What was it like as a man and how do you feel now?”

“That’s a challenging question to answer. In a way, as a slave, I was nothing. Perhaps closer to a beast of burden. I’m not sure I really knew what it was to be a man. Comparatively, I was far stronger than a woman, but that just made me more valuable as a slave. I feel so comfortable in this body, lithe, strong, even pure if that makes sense. I feel powerful in many ways and even far more sensual.”

Cadie smiled. “We women do have that power over men. And what about the other things? Personal things? The difference between…” She blushed again.

I laughed. It was odd to think the Fae even had such thoughts. “My experience as a man was not the best comparison. I never had anyone I cared about and partnering with someone out of love was not an option for me. I believe from a woman’s perspective, that the experience can be far more emotionally and physically satisfying than for a man.”

“And how would you as a man show your interest in a woman?”

“Sadly, I never had the opportunity. However, I do believe if I had the chance, I’d show special interest in that person. I’d go out of my way to show them I cared. Sort of the way I see Ewen treat you.”

If a woman could blush any more I didn’t think it would be possible. “You think he’s interested in me?”

“I do.”

“What should I do?”

“If you like Ewen, then there’s nothing wrong with you showing equal interest.”

“And what about you? Practically every male in the village drools over you as you walk by. I’ve even seen a few women fan themselves. You’re beauty is beyond compare.”

Now it was my turn to blush. “I hadn’t noticed. That’s not entirely accurate. I’ve noticed how people look at me, but I don’t feel it’s anything serious.”

“But if you could choose, do you know whether you would choose a man or a woman as your partner?”

“I didn’t know I had a choice.”

“Of course you do.”

“I’ve not considered it. I’m not sure I’m ready for either.”

“You’ll know when you’re ready. I have to get myself ready for tomorrow. Good night Shaelan!” Cadie hugged me then left me alone in my room.

It was less than a week since my transformation and I was starting to feel much more at home in my situation. What I admitted to Cadie helped galvanize my own sense of personhood. I was happy to be Shaelan. My life was better and softer. It was filled with people that cared about me. I walked to the mirror and stared at myself, the person looking back no longer feeling quite so foreign.

***

The next morning I donned my travel outfit and put my other clothes into a small pack along with a little food and water. Horses were uncommon these days so we’d be travelling on foot. It would take a full day to get to the next village. As I walked through the village people came out to greet me and touch my hands. I encouraged them to pack as much food as possible and prepare to meet us in the next village in a few days.

I met Darnel, the elders, and my honor guard of seven in the village square. The elders placed their hands on my head and spoke a blessing over me and everyone. Darnel hugged me and encouraged me to let the guard do their job. I sighed at that. It was hard to let others fight my battles for me.

Throughout the day I noticed Cadie walking close to Ewen. They seemed to be drawing closer together. I could feel the spark between them. It was late in the day when we approached the village. We looked down upon it from a rocky outcropping that overlooked the area. The village was at least twice the size of ours and there were both crops and flocks being taken care of. I stretched my senses and could feel three Dark Fae in the area. We were still a long ways off and Cadie was relaying what she was seeing with her enhanced sight. That’s a nice trick I thought to myself when I felt a small shudder flow through my body. Suddenly things became very focused and clear and I could see what Cadie was now seeing.

“My Lady? Are you all right?” Ewen was looking at me strangely.

“I’m fine Ewen. I can see everything so clearly now.”

“Your eyes, my Lady.” Ewen fumbled with his clothes and produced a small hand-sized mirror. What I saw was rather startling. My blue eyes were still blue and their shape was the same, but they reminded me more of bird’s eyes. I closed my eyes and opened them again and they were normal, but my vision was not as far reaching anymore.

Cadie came to my side. “Another glimmer?”

Ewen nodded. “Transformation magic. Can you think of claws, or wings, perhaps even cat eyes?”

Claws? I held out my hand and thought of mountain lion claws. Before my eyes, my finger nails extruded and became razor sharp talons. “That’s so strange. Frightening even.”

Cadie held my clawed hand and watched the claws disappear. “That could come in handy. If you were tied and your weapons taken, you could escape easily. I wonder if you’ll be able to fully transform when you get your full powers.

I tried switching to my hawk-like eyes and looked down on the village again then shifted them back. “What’s our plan?” I thought perhaps discussing the plan might help me calm down.

“I saw two Dark Fae.”

I cut in. “There’s three. I could feel a third down there.”

Cadie looked at me and smiled knowingly. “Your High Fae senses are growing stronger as you approach your birthday. You’ll be able to feel the land soon and after your birthday, you’ll likely be able to sift as far as you can feel.”

“Wonderful. Another magic anomaly from your Queen.” I said sarcastically.

“This is a good thing, my Queen. What you see as a burden, we see hope through your growing powers. How will we deal with these Dark Fae?”

“The village knows we’re coming, correct?”

“We must assume our messenger arrived and the people know already.” Ewen went and sat next to Cadie and I caught a small flicker of a smile from her.

“The village is laid out much like ours was. If they’re expecting us, then what if I simply walk into the town square? Wouldn’t that draw the attention of the Dark Fae?”

Ewen chuckled. “You going anywhere draws attention, my Lady.” Cadie elbowed him lightly. “Uh hmmm. What I meant was you’d be spotted early so any positioning we do around the square would be undone.”

“Would the Dark Fae sense us, or me while they’re sleeping?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take shifts or one might be awake. A Dark Fae can sense a few hundred feet.”

“Then what about a distraction? Do you see that bale of straw between the crops and the barns?”

“Barely, my Lady.”

“What if in the early morning before the sun rises, we move ourselves down there. Cadie can get on the roof of the barn, the rest of us hidden as we did before. I can set the straw on fire which should cause the Dark Fae to come and investigate. Then we simply attack them.”

“I’m glad this time you said you would remain hidden with us, my Lady.”

“I’m just trying to do my part. Personally I’d rather just walk down there and attack them on my own.”

Ewen sighed. “We need to consider the impact you can have on the village people. We need to show strength, power, and confidence. They’re broken people. I don’t want you front and center, but you’ve proven to all of us we can trust you in a fight. So let’s do this in a different way. Before dawn, we all move to the square. It’s possible we may be intercepted, but that’s not a huge concern. Let’s assume we aren’t as these Dark Fae are rather lazy brutes. We position ourselves around the square and you wake up the town. There’s usually a town bell in the square, simply ring it a few times.”

“It all sounds rather simple. We should try to keep at least one of them alive. We might be able to gain some information from them. Can we prevent ones we capture from sifting?”

“Pain will distract them from sifting. Then chains or something to hold them to a position.”

***

That night I lay on a thin blanket and stared into the night sky. The stars here seemed so close and vibrant. I closed my eyes and thought of seeing in the dark like a cat. When I opened my eyes the world was transformed. Everything was bright, almost as bright as day, but there was little to no color. I saw movements of the minutest creatures as small flashes of light. The world became alive to the point it was rather disconcerting. I closed my eyes and returned to normal and stretched out my senses. Cadie was right. I could feel further and further. I traveled in my mind to the next village. I felt the Dark Fae there and saw a young female one had taken to his bed unwillingly. My anger burned at the Dark Fae. Then I felt something. It was strong, very strong. A man was chained, but his mind was free. I could feel him, my senses keenly aware of his surroundings, his position almost as if I could see him in my mind. I whispered to him. “I’m coming.” And then I heard it in my mind as I felt the man stir. “My Queen!”

The entire thing shocked and stunned me. How could I speak and be heard to another person so far away. I couldn’t speak to Cadie this way. Between the speaking to the man and the anger that burned over the young woman being taken unwillingly, sleep eluded me for a long time.

***

I woke several hours before dawn and I changed into my royal battle outfit. Within moments we were ready to go and I fell into step next to Cadie as we headed towards the village.

“Cadie, last night… I wanted to see how far my senses could go and I directed them north and beyond the village. I could almost see things in my mind. In the next village… I sensed a man, a Fae. He was chained. I whispered to him to let him know I was coming. He felt powerful. I think he heard me. Is that possible?”

Cadie’s face looked rather pale in the early dawn light. “Yes, my Lady and also no.”

“That makes no sense.”

“You’re not of age yet so you shouldn’t be able to see or sense like that. Even for a High Fae. Did you feel your senses could move further east or west?”

“I’m not sure, it seemed easy to move north.”

“Try now, but go west, then try going north again.”

I stopped walking and closed my eyes. I reached as far west as I could and could only go a little ways west of the city. Then I tried going north and easily went to the next village. I tried to go further but couldn’t. “I can go north as far as the next village, but not too far west.”

We started walking again and Cadie grabbed Ewen’s arm and whispered into his ear. He looked back at me like he had to consider something then whispered back to Cadie. Cadie then spoke to me again. “I can’t tell you too much as this is rather unheard of. You’ve an anchor in the next village. Something that allows you to sense in a line to that point.”

“An anchor. What about the man and the fact I thought he heard me?”

“Ewen thinks that’s a conversation for another time and I agree with him. Let’s focus on this village and take care of the situation here first. We can discuss this more later, my Lady.” Did I sense a smile lurking on her face?

We arrived without incident at the village square just as the sun began to rise. I could feel the village stirring and getting ready for the day. As soon as the sun hit the square, I rang the village bell three times. Within minutes doors opened and people came out of the buildings to stare at me. Three Dark Fae materialized in front of me.

“Good morning.” I tried to put as much of a cheerfulness into my voice as I could. “Lay down your weapons now and surrender. This is my village and these are my people.” I could see Ewen reach for his sword and I held my hand towards him.

The largest of the Dark Fae stepped forward. His wings unfurled in an agitated way. He was huge. “I don’t care if our Empress wants you, no one comes to my village and demands anything. You’re dead!”

He drew his sword and I had him disarmed in a split second. I then grabbed his neck with my left hand and extended my claws as my sword pressed against his bloated stomach. The other Dark Fae drew their weapons but both went down seconds later with arrows through their heads. I started closing my fingers letting my claws dig into his neck and I ran the tip of my sword along his stomach causing it to sizzle.

“He’s all yours.” Ewen and the other guards were instantly disarming him and tying the Dark Fae. “I’m sorry, Ewen, I couldn’t let you have all the fun.”

“It’s quite all right, my Lady.”

“Cadie, you’ve been practicing!”

Cadie stood by my side and kept her arrow trained on the Dark Fae until they had him fully bound and staked to the ground. “I’ve spent six hours a day practicing. I’m getting much faster and better.”

I turned to the people of the village who had all circled us and began to bow before me. “Please stand. You’re free.” I waited until they were all standing before I continued. “I’m Shaelan Scarletsun reborn and returned to you all. It’s my promise to you to fight against Gwenyth, free the Court of Light, and restore the land or die trying. Our village to the south is also free, but they’ll need shelter for a few weeks until we can build up our strength. You’re no longer slaves to the Dark Fae.”

A cheer arose and people came forward to thank each of us with tears and hugs. One of the remaining elders held me tightly. “You really have returned. I’d almost lost hope. How many glimmers have you had?”

“Three. No four. Water, fire, transformation, and far sense. I’m guessing the last one is a glimmer.”

Cadie and Ewen snuck closer and interrupted us. “Santhiel. It’s so good to see you!” Ewen hugged the elder and led him away as Cadie asked another woman if there was a private room where she and I could talk. We were led through the village to a small cabin. The woman left us be and closed the door behind her.

“What’s going on, Cadie?”

“Your far sense isn’t a glimmer. It’s something else. We didn’t want to tell you earlier.”

“Tell me what?”

“The anchor in the other village… It’s the man.”

“I sensed he’s very strong.”

“That’s not it.” Cadie was wringing her hands.

“Cadie, please. What does this mean?”

“You said you thought you could speak to him and he heard?”

“Yes.”

“Shaelan… that man is a High Fae and he’s your soul mate.”

“My what?”

“Your soul mate. The one person in the world you’re meant, or should I say destined, to be with. You’re very strong, Shaelan, but no one can sense that far before they come of age. You can always sense in the direction of your soul mate. When you whispered to him, did he respond?”

“I thought I heard him say ‘my Queen’.”

Cadie bit her lip. “Shaelan, the gods have chosen your mate for you, one that will fulfill your desires, complement your power, and help you restore the world. You must save him. We must save him.”

I sat down on the bed. “This must be a mistake. I’m not even sure I could be with a man.”

“Regardless, my Lady, the gods have chosen your husband. He’ll know when he sees you and you have time to get to know him.”

“Why do I suddenly feel like a slave again? A slave to the gods.”

“My Lady… Shaelan… You’re free to choose your own path, but know this… I believe the gods are looking after you and after everyone’s best interest. Any other path will lead to death and pain for you, or for many others. If I may offer some advice?”

“Certainly, Cadie.”

“Don’t be too quick to dismiss this. You’ve a new life now. A life that impacts many thousands of lives. Find joy within yourself, with who you are, and everything will fall into place.”

“And you, Cadie? Do you have this connection with Ewen?”

“We have a connection, but it’s not like what you’ve described. Lesser Fae have never been known to have the type of connection to their mates as High Fae. Perhaps it’s the lower level of our power. No one really knows. Even with High Fae, what you’re experiencing is rare, perhaps only occurring once every few hundred years.”

“Were my parents soul mates?”

“Everyone believes so. They married for love and not for political gain, which is the usual High Fae bonding.”

I put my head in my hands and thought about fate and destiny. Was I better off since I became Shaelan or have I simply traded one life of pain and suffering for another? “Will you come with me, Cadie?”

“Of course. But where are we going?”

“To the next village. There’s a single Dark Fae there that deserves to die and I suppose I need to free my god’s picked future husband.”

“What about the rest of the guards and the people here?”

“Ewen will have enough on his hands getting this place organized. We can handle a single Dark Fae. Last night, he was raping a young girl. He receives no mercy.”

***

We left the room and were immediately set upon by over a hundred villagers. They wanted to see me and touch me to make sure I was real. I was happy to see them, yet, at the same time, all the activity wore me out. I’d never been a people person and being Shaelan had immensely helped me become more extroverted, but the change from being on my own to having so many people depend upon me added to my stress. Ewen squeezed through the throngs of people to give me a report. Thirteen villagers were trained fighters and ready to take up arms. We had enough weapons for only four of them, bringing our armed fighters to eleven.

“Ewen, you’re doing an excellent job but there’s something Cadie and I must do. We’re heading to the next village. There’s only a single Dark Fae there and I’m sure you’re aware of Cadie’s suspicions regarding my ‘anchor’.”

“Let me send more men with you both, just in case.”

“You need all the help you can get to help the villagers here. Tomorrow our village should arrive and perhaps even the one further north too in a few days. This will take all the help you can get to be prepared. We also need to be ready for the fourth village and we could send scouts to the city to find the weapons cache. Cadie and I can defeat a single Dark Fae and I promise to bring her back to you safely in three days.”

It was clear Ewen didn’t like the idea but he nodded and with a quick squeeze of Cadie’s hand he left us.

“Come on, Cadie. Let’s get moving.”

***

The next village was only half a day’s journey and we made good time, arriving just after the sun reached its peak. This village was much like the first one with the exception that the crops seemed to be thriving much more. Cadie told me she suspects that’s due to the influence of the High Fae, similar in a way to my presence bringing life to the land at the other village.

“I can feel him strongly.”

“The Dark Fae?”

“No, my anchor.” I still had a hard time believing or saying he was my soul mate. We stood to move closer when my left hand flared with searing pain. I almost shouted but I looked at my hand and there was nothing wrong with it.

"What’s the matter, Shaelan?”

“My hand is burning.”

“Reach out with your senses. What’s happening to your soul mate?”

“Oh gods… We need to move.”

There were villagers in the field that we all but ignored as we ran into the village. I knew instinctively where to go and I bolted for a door of one of the larger buildings. Cadie was barely able to keep up with me so driven was my urgency. I threw the door open and drew my sword and stared at a Dark Fae holding a small torch under the shackled hand of a man. I was incensed. I put the torch out with my magic and dove at the Dark Fae. My iron sword cutting up between his legs. “That’s for the girl last night.” I seethed at the creature. The Dark Fae nearly passed out from the pain. I managed to regain his attention by slicing through his membranous wings. “That’s for torturing him.”

The Dark Fae suddenly went wild in my arms, grabbing me and throwing me across the room. My sword clattered away. Cadie tried, but the room was too confining for her bow.

“Your death will bring me great riches, Shaelan Scarletsun.”

I looked at him, his wings ruined, and dark blood dripping from his loins. He would die slowly if I just left him but one thought as to what he had done to the young girl and to this man and rage filled me afresh. I drew my dagger as he drew his sword. I crashed into him again, my vision picking out every twitch of his muscles and my reactions faster than I even thought I was capable of. I dodged his clumsy sword play easily and began tearing him to shreds with my dagger. He swung again and I grabbed his wrist stopping the force of his blow and I willed freezing into his arm. I watched as his arm crystalized. He screamed in pain.

“Die you filthy beast!” I shouted as I drove my dagger under his chin and into his brain. I pulled my dagger out as he fell to the building floor, his arm shattering into a thousand pieces.

“My Lady, you’re hurt.” I felt Cadie’s gentle touch on my left shoulder. I turned towards her and she gasped. “Your eyes, my Lady.” I didn’t even realize I’d shifted them. I closed them and took a deep breath. When I opened them again Cadie’s smile returned.

“That’s never happened to me before. I’d heard of people called bezerkers in battle. I’ve never lost myself in a fight like that before.” I looked at my shoulder. It was bruising and cut, but it was already healing.

Cadie touched my shoulder again. “I’ve never seen anyone fight like that before. I couldn’t even see you move you were so quick.”

“That’s all very touching ladies, but do you think you could get me out of here?”

We turned to look at the man who was shackled and chained at both wrists. An iron band was around his head and I could see it was burning his skin. He was stripped bare with only his breeches left. His face was bruised and bleeding, his torso striped with whip scars. His left hand was blistered. For all that, I took a hesitant inward gasp of air. He was extremely handsome and his muscles were well defined under his bronzed skin.

I moved to him involuntarily. My heart ready to burst within my chest. I gently removed the iron band and tossed it away. I placed my hands on his sweated and dirty brow and willed healing into him. It was almost as if something snapped inside me as I drew on magic I didn’t know I had. Cadie would tell me it was another glimmer, but I didn’t care as my heart would break if I didn’t touch him.

He was staring at me when I pulled back. He was healed with only minor scars left across his chest and back. His blue eyes drew me in and I found it hard to breathe. Then he smiled. “Thank you for that, but I’ve been hanging here for three days and I’m rather hungry and thirsty. Why don’t you find something for me to eat and drink while this other one here finds the keys and unlocks me?”

Cadie almost pushed me aside as she was very upset. “You’ll not talk to our Queen like that you miserable piece of…” She stopped when he started laughing. It wasn’t a mirthless laugh, but the laugh of someone who knew exactly what he’d just done. Cadie turned to me. “I think we should leave him here.” She stamped her foot and stormed out of the building.

I looked into his eyes again. They were softer, more compassionate. “Do you know where the keys are?”

“There’s a drawer in that wooden desk over there. They should be inside.”

I found the keys and unlocked the man. He stood and stretched almost like a cat. His long matted brown hair went to his broad shoulders. I gathered my weapons and sheathed them then handed the Dark Fae’s sword to the man. Not sure what I should be doing as his presence confused me, I turned and walked out the door into the village square. Once again, the entire village had turned out and was waiting to greet me. They all bowed low and whispered “My Queen.” I moved from person to person and raised them to their feet. They waited for me to speak to them.

I looked around the crowd of people until my eyes fell upon a young woman. She was beaten and bruised. I knew she was the one the Dark Fae had raped. I moved through the crowd without saying a word; strangely I felt the man standing on the steps of the building behind me, watching me. At first the girl shied at my touch as a reached for her, but then she fell into my arms and sobbed. I held her and once again poured healing into her body. The crowd gasped as her bruises disappeared.

I looked her in the eyes and stroked her hair. “I want you to know that hideous creature that did this to you is dead. I made him suffer for what he did to you.” She bowed her head not wanting to look me in the eyes. I gently lifted her chin. “You never have to bow to me. Never feel ashamed of yourself. Use your pain to make you stronger.” She hugged me and clung to me as I stood.

“People of the Court of Light, you’re free! The Dark Fae will eventually come to investigate this village, but we’re rebuilding at the village to the south. The people there are making room for all of you. Until we can gather enough fighters and weapons, we’re still at risk. Gather your things, your valuables, and your food. Tomorrow we travel to the other village where you’ll be protected and cared for.”

There was a cheer and a half dozen men pressed forward. They told me they were trained fighters. “I welcome you all. We need every available fighter. Be with your families now and get them prepared.”

Two elders approached and wept openly. They were both women and they pulled me into hugs and they kissed my cheeks. “You’re welcome to stay with us tonight. You’ll honor us at a feast as well?”

“I would be honored. Thank you.”

The crowd had dispersed some and I turned to see the man standing there still staring at me. Cadie came around the corner with a bucket in her hand. She tossed the water at the man, soaking him. “Here’s your water you asked for! You’ll need more than that to remove the stink though.”

I burst out laughing not expecting Cadie to ever do something like that.

The man started laughing as well. “I guess I deserved that. We’ve not formally met yet.” He extended a hand to Cadie who looked him straight in the eye with a slight level of distrust. “I’m Altarin Camdenoly.” I watched Cadie’s eyes go wide, but she maintained her eye contact with him. “You’re a feisty one. I like that. Most people won’t look me in the eyes.”

“I’m Cadie and I’ve been trained well, your Majesty. My Queen insists I not bow or look away.”

“Your Queen is a remarkable and unique woman.”

“She’s the most beautiful, courageous, and gifted person I’ve ever met.”

“I’m right here you two. What’s with the ‘your majesty’ stuff?”

Altarin turned and bowed slightly towards me. He took my hand in his and I felt like my knees would give way. He kissed my knuckles and looked me straight in the eyes. “So you’re the one? The prophecies were true after all. I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I felt your touch last night I admit I was disheartened. After all, who wants to marry someone they’ve never met before? You could have been an old hag.”

I threw my hand down releasing his hand from mine as I watched him smile mischievously. “How dare you insinuate we’re getting married! You’re insufferable!” I was blushing and I knew it so I turned my back on him and walked off, Cadie following closely in my footsteps.

“I can’t believe I threw a bucket of water on the King of the Court of Dawn. I’m so dead!”

I stopped walking and turned to Cadie. “What do you mean he’s the King of the Court of Dawn?”

“The Court of Dawn is an island kingdom to the far west. The Court of Light and the Court of Dawn were allies, but Gwenyth attacked the Court of Light early on to decimate our armies as the Court of Light was by far the biggest threat to her. History says she all but ignored the Court of Dawn until a few hundred years ago. Altarin’s father was killed by Gwenyth and his court scattered. I’d heard rumors that Altarin, the rightful heir to the Court of Dawn, came to our lands to try to build an army to fight Gwenyth.”

We continued to walk as I felt a need to put some distance between Altarin and myself. “How old is he?”

Cadie beamed. “You like him!”

“No I don’t. He’s a… he’s a real piece of work.” I was blushing again.

“It’s alright, Shaelan. I saw how you looked at him and how he looks at you. You really are soul mates, but that doesn’t mean you’ll instantly fall in love with each other. He’s young, six or seven hundred years old I think. He’s also powerful, a transformer and a telekinetic. The iron band that was around his head negates Fae magic. I’m told it’s very painful.”

***

Cadie and I found a runner to take a message to Ewen at the other village to let them know we were fine and to be prepared for more people coming the next day. We made ourselves as useful as we could and leveraged our new guards to keep the people organized. Altarin had disappeared even though I knew exactly where he was at all times. I suspect he was helping the people but kept his distance on purpose, which was fine with me. I spent time with the people in the fields and helped them dig vegetables and put them into carts. The people couldn’t get over the fact that their queen was doing manual labor. I needed the distraction and the labor helped make me feel useful.

This village had several horses that would pull the carts, these were the first I’d seen in the Fae lands. They were large, strong, and beautiful animals. I considered moving on to the next village, but the larger village needed time to adjust as the community grew and I needed to be here for this village to help them be ready to move.

The feast was held in the large community building. A special table was set for me, but I refused to sit there by myself. I picked up my plate of food and squeezed in besides some of the villagers so I could get to know them better. I couldn’t bring myself to be served by them, even if I was their queen. It wasn’t long before I felt Altarin’s presence nearby. It was unnerving to feel the connection. I was in the middle of pondering my situation again and looking down at my hair and body when he came into the building.

I looked up and our eyes met. He gave me a slight nod and a smile, then I watched as he mingled with the crowd. He knew all of them by name. They loved him. I watched him as he gracefully moved from table to table and person to person. He was a natural leader. He’d cleaned himself up as well. His brown hair shone and flowed to his shoulders with the lightest touch of curls. He was clean and wore clothing that slightly exposed his chest and his tanned skin. My heart beat faster in my chest as he neared. Could I ever be with a man? Were my feelings contrived or manipulated by the gods? Did he feel what I felt?

I found another plate and got some food together. I brought Altarin the plate and watched his eyes dance merrily. Cadie, who had been talking animatedly with the villagers paused to watch our interaction.

Altarin tipped his head towards me and showed another devastating smile. “It’s not every day I’m served by someone as beautiful as you, my Lady.” I felt the heat rise to my face. “Will this be a daily occurrence once you’re Shaelan Camdenoly-Scarletsun?”

“The only thing larger than this room, your Majesty, is your arrogance.” I turned and placed the plate of food in front of one of the villagers who looked confused since he already had a plate of food. “Sleep well, your Majesty.” I turned to go but my way was blocked.

“My Lady, please forgive me. Sometimes my witty remarks leave my mouth faster than my brain can stop them when I’m nervous.”

I turned back, flustered at not having an escape route. I reminded myself of who I was and the power I had over men. I gave him a smile I knew would melt any man’s resolve. I placed the flat of my hand on his chest for emphasis. “Why would the King of the Court of Dawn ever be nervous?”

He straightened himself out and tried hard to keep his eyes focused on mine and not at the cleavage my clothing generously displayed. “In all my years I’ve never been challenged, I’ve never seen anyone or anything so beautiful as you, and I find myself stumbling over myself trying to make a good impression.”

Cadie’s mouth fell open. I moved my hand from his chest to his cheek as I gave him another smile. “That almost felt like a compliment. I suggest you keep working on trying to make a good impression. Good night, your Majesty.” I squeezed passed him and slipped out into the cool night air.

Cadie rushed up behind me and took my arm in hers. “That was some excellent dinner entertainment back there.”

“If he expects me to faint at his words and fall immediately into bed with him, he’s got another thing coming. He’s so frustrating!”

“But you’re attracted to him, aren’t you?”

I paused and thought about that. I was a guy, how in the name of the gods could I even remotely be attracted to him? I sat down on a bench, Cadie sat down next to me. Shaelan hadn’t been interested in women, only men. We were one person now and I knew I was drawn to Altarin, just as I had a response to the shirtless guards the other day. “Yes…” I whispered with a hint of resignation and maybe more than a hint of acknowledgement of who I really was now.

“I mean who wouldn’t be attracted to him? He’s incredibly handsome and a good match for your beauty. If he could only keep his mouth shut he might even be perfect.”

That caused me to laugh so deeply tears formed in my eyes. I’d never laughed so hard in my entire life before. Was this what joy was like? “Come on, Cadie. Let’s go get some rest as we have a busy day tomorrow getting the people to the other village.” I felt a little surge of magic and a pair of eyes watching us from the forest. I smiled and took Cadie’s arm and headed to the elder’s cabin.

***

It was late the next morning that the people were ready to go. I’d watched Altarin as he helped load the carts and organize the people. He’d lead us back to the other village and I’d follow up the rear with Cadie. The unarmed guards spread themselves out within the line of people. They wanted to surround me but I convinced them I was fine and to move on ahead. We’d just started and the last of the villagers were crossing the fields when I sensed darkness pooling behind me. I turned and drew my sword just as four Dark Fae materialized before me. There was no discussion as they immediately drew their weapons and surged forward to attack.

Cadie backed off and started firing arrows, killing one of the Dark Fae, but she was too close and a powerful backhanded hit from one of them sent her flying unconscious. I watched her collapse in a heap on the ground when it happened to me again. I only vaguely heard the screams of the villagers as three more Dark Fae materialized to my right. And then I was the wind and fire as I wove through the Dark Fae like they were statues. There was no quarter or mercy as I slashed, burned, and froze them. Within minutes four of the six were dead. I’d taken some hits but I just kept going. Then suddenly I felt slow and sluggish and pain washed over my body. I wasn’t sure what had happened but I realized I was bleeding and I was being pushed back, my strength fading rapidly.

The two remaining Dark Fae were closing in. My blocks were becoming weaker and weaker. I reached for my magic only to find it not there. I continued to battle fiercely but I knew I was in trouble. I backed up as I fought, my tiredness growing by the second. Then I tripped over one of the bodies of the Dark Fae. I raised my sword feebly as the two closed in for the kill. My eyes swam and I could feel darkness creeping in around me. Suddenly the two Dark Fae were slammed from their side. I saw a tawny hide, fangs, and claws, then nothing.

***

When I opened my eyes Altarin was cradling me. His eyes were golden with dark vertical slits reminding me of a cat’s. He blinked and they were normal again. I tried to speak but I was so exhausted. “Shhhh. Stay still, Shaelan.” I could feel tendrils of magic wrap around me. My energy was returning.

“Cadie! The villagers!”

“Are all fine thanks to you.”

Cadie came to my side with a worried look. “I’m so sorry, my Lady. I failed you!” She was crying. I reached my hand up to touch her face but my arm felt like it was made of stone.

“You did well, Cadie. A bow isn’t a good weapon for such close fighting. I’ll need to teach you to use a sword.” She smiled weakly.

“You completely expended your magic. That’s why you’re so tired. You’re amazing. I’ve never seen anyone take out four Dark Fae before and you still haven’t come of age yet.” Did I get the impression Altarin was concerned for me?

The elders and villagers laid their hands on me and I could feel my energy return and my cuts and bruises begin to heal. I slowly got to my feet and looked at the carnage. The six guards had already collected the weapons and stood guard around us. Altarin held me even though I didn’t need his help. I leaned into him a little. “What happened?”

One of the elders spoke up. “What do you remember?”

“I remember Cadie getting hurt, then it was as if I woke from a dream. I was exhausted and fell, then a great cat rescued me?” I turned to Altarin. “That was you?” He nodded.

The elder continued. “I’ve never seen anyone fight like you did, my Lady. You were so fast, and you wove your magic into your fight effortlessly. It seemed like only seconds and the four Dark Fae were dead. Then Altarin arrived from the front of our line and killed the remaining two.”

“When will my magic return?”

“It already is, but when you completely expend yourself it can take longer. A day, perhaps.”

Altarin’s arm was around my shoulders and I felt comforted and protected but then it dawned on me how intimate the touch was. “We have a ways to go. We should keep moving.” I glanced at Altarin’s eyes and turned away at the intensity of them. Four guards decided they had to stay with me and Altarin took his place back at the front of the line. I was grateful to get going again and have the attention off of me for a while.

“I’m so sorry, my Lady.”

“Cadie, these things happen in battle. We weren’t expecting any attack, let alone one so swift and with so many. You killed one, and at such close range, that’s admirable. I think I know what’s happening to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“You say Altarin is my soul mate. When I felt his pain, when I was concerned for his safety, that’s when I lost it. When I saw you hurt, it happened again. It’s as if when someone I’m close to is in danger, I do everything I can to protect them. I lose sense of space and time. I was thinking I might be able to control it better next time.”

Cadie’s eyes went moist. “You’re saying you care for me?”

“No, Cadie. I love you like the sister I never had. I’ve never had family I can truly remember. I feel loss over my parents, but it’s such a vague memory. You’re my best friend. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

She took my arm in hers. “The feeling is mutual.”

“If I adopted you would you be a princess?”

Cadie laughed. “It doesn’t work that way. I have to be High Fae to be royalty of any kind.”

“That’s ridiculous. You’re more royal than anyone else I know. If I can’t make you princess, then what good of a Queen am I?”

“I don’t need to be a princess.”

“And I don’t need to be a queen. I have to build my court. What if I start with you? Advisor and head of my archery divisions.”

Cadie giggled. “Divisions of one person.”

“You may be one now, but I foresee thousands in the near future. What do you say?”

Cadie stopped and I looked back at her. “You’re not kidding are you?”

“No, Cadie. I really mean it.”

“I’m not qualified.”

“You’re no more qualified than I am to be queen. You can do this and I already trust your wisdom, which is well beyond your years.”

“Then I’d be honored, my Queen.” She curtsied and I found a twig and touched both her shoulders with it.

“Now it’s official.” We both laughed and caught up with the rest of the villagers.

***

It was late in the evening when the last of us straggled into the village. By the time we got there the first villagers had relayed the heroics of their Queen and Ewen rushed to us full of concern. He even hugged Cadie. It wasn’t long before Darnel showed up and some of the other villagers. It was like a reunion. Altarin had been standing back from us, but I waved him forward.

“Ewen, Darnell, meet Altarin Camdenoly, rightful King of the Court of Dawn.” Ewen gave him an appraising look then glanced at Cadie who nodded.

Ewen stepped forward and shook Altarin’s hand. “Well met, your Majesty.”

Darnel wasn’t a hand shaker and simply hugged Altarin. Darnel glanced at me then at Altarin. It was as if everyone shared our secret which I wasn’t sure I even believed in myself.

Stories were shared and we found several Dark Fae attacked this village earlier in the day. It was clear that the Dark Fae were aware of things happening in the area. We now had twenty-one armed fighters, including myself. We needed more weapons, fighters, and space as one look at all the people I knew space would be tight. The people had a joyous perspective though and it felt like one giant family.

Ewen had wasted no time and invited the elders, several key fighters, two scouts that had gone to the city, Altarin, and myself to an evening meeting in the large hall. I was still exhausted, but I pulled Cadie to my side and told them she was the first of my council and in charge of our archery divisions. Ewen smiled and led us all to the hall.

In a way, this was the first strategy planning session of the rebellion. Ewen had brought us all up to speed and the scouts shared what they had seen. The city was called Atherton and it was a moderately sized city, capable of housing nearly ten thousand people. Most of the city was desolate but three or four thousand people still lived there. The city itself sat on the banks of a river and had a small palace on the west side. The weapons cache was under the palace.

Dark Fae were fairly visible throughout the city. An estimated thirty or forty of them were seen however, the numbers seemed to be dwindling. We calculated at least a dozen had been killed by us that were likely reinforcements from the city.

I yawned and apologized. “I’m sorry, I’m still exhausted.” Ewen wanted to keep the meeting going but I saw Cadie place a hand on his arm. “I don’t want to delay long, but I think we need a week to prepare for this. We have many skilled craftsmen and women from the three villages. We need more archers and iron-tipped arrows. Cadie can oversee those interested in joining her ranks and the stocking of her supplies. We should send three or four guards to the further village, take back control and bring them all back here. How defensible is the city? Are their gardens and food supplies within the city?”

The scouts suggested the high walls of the palace made for an exceptional city for defense. There was enough water and gardens within the Atheron’s walls to sustain it indefinitely.

“Then I suggest we send runners into the city and awaken the population. We’ll need their help to overthrow the city. We plan our attack carefully, take over the city, and make it our base and stronghold.”

“I’ll go to the far village.” I looked at Altarin and knew I didn’t want him to go but he was the only other High Fae and they’d need the extra protection. I nodded sadly which didn’t go unnoticed by Altarin or Cadie. Ewen agreed to the suggestions and we finished the meeting.

We were walking out into the evening when Altarin called my name. Cadie gave me some space. “Shaelan.” I looked into his eyes as we both fumbled for words. “You know they’ll need me.” I nodded. “Am I getting the feeling you’re worried about me?”

I smiled sleepily. “Don’t get your hopes up. Have you considered I agreed to your going merely to be free of seeing your face for a few days?”

“And here I thought I was leaving so you could sleep well at night without the constant passions running through your mind from seeing me all day long.”

“Keep working on trying to make good impressions, your Majesty.”

I turned to meet up with Cadie when I felt his touch. His hand stroked my hair and he looked into my eyes. “Be safe, my Queen.”

“You too, my Panther.” It sounded a little too endearing but I was too tired to care. I watched him smile and sneak off into the shadows.

***

The next four days were busy ones. No Dark Fae were spotted and Cadie was doing an excellent job identifying good archers and overseeing the building of new bows and arrows. My energy had fully restored and I even had another glimmer of wind which proved very useful for archery situations.

Every night we met to go over the plans for attacking the city and each day when I got a chance I stretched my senses north towards a certain individual. I could hear his voice but it was harder for him to hear mine. I suspect that was due to me not being of age yet and the distance separating us. When he was nearer I didn’t seem to have any difficulty speaking to him through our connection. He gave updates on their status which gave me some comfort. The further village had more horses and several trained archers as well as a few more fighters. Of course, he never missed an opportunity to try to seduce me. I found myself strangely looking forward to his ramblings about my beauty.

When our scouts alerted us to a large group of people arriving from the north I ran out to greet them. I wanted to see my people, but secretly I was looking for a glimpse of Altarin. I hugged the people one by one as they arrived and kissed the foreheads of the children. When the last of them entered the village I felt a little lost. I knew Altarin was near, but he wasn’t in the crowd of villagers.

“You missed me.”

I turned around to see him standing there and smiling. “How?”

“It’s part of my magic to mask my sound, scent, and hide from senses if I so choose. You were worried about me.” He smiled smugly.

I’d never felt so relieved to see someone before. This soul mate thing was causing such conflicting emotions within me. I threw my arms around his neck and held him tight.

“I knew it. You want me.” He slipped his hand to my butt.

I grabbed his hand, spun, and pushed him towards a wall. “Don’t press your luck. You’re not that good looking.” I lied.

“So what you’re saying is that I’m somewhat good looking. I’ll take that as a step in the right direction.”

“Besides, you stink and need a bath.”

“And am I to assume the fresh scent of flowers in your hair was for everyone’s benefit? Maybe you freshened up just because you knew I was arriving today?”

I pushed him towards the bath then carried on my business for the day, but I had a hard time removing my smile. The truth was I did add some flower scent into my hair. It had been almost two weeks since I was transformed and I’d never felt so free to be me. I adored the clothing, feeling beautiful, smelling nice, and being desired. I even noticed how my people looked at me. There were subtle differences between how they treated Altarin and me. They loved Altarin, but towards him it was a cool respect and an awe of his strength. To me, they were warm and loving and the women liked to emulate me. I’d say they were even more in awe of me and my powers, but it felt softer, kinder.

I wandered out to the field to watch Cadie practicing with her archers. I’d never seen anyone so talented as Cadie with the bow. I’d be hard pressed to do any better and I was considered a master marksman. The only edge I might have over her now is with my small control of wind. I praised Cadie in front of the others. Cadie thrived on encouragement as did all the people. A thousand years of slavery and not hearing positive words could put even the most positive person into a depression.

I noticed a young woman in Cadie’s group. It was the same one that had been raped. I called her over to us. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Emily, my Queen.” She bowed to me but she looked me in the eyes.

“I was watching you practice. You’re very good.”

Cadie put a hand on Emily’s shoulder. “She’s one of our best.”

“Please let me fight, my Queen!”

I thought back to the day I attacked the guard in the mine. I’d been ten years old.

“How old are you Emily?”

“I’ll be twenty-two next week, my Queen.”

“You realize you’ve an entire lifetime to fight. We’re at war and war isn’t a pretty thing.”

“Yes, my Queen. But I’ve already seen the hardness of war, it’s tainted me and soiled me. I never want another Dark Fae to do to another what they did to me.”

I looked at Cadie who nodded.

“Then you have my blessing to fight by our side. I’m honored to stand with you. Come here.” I hugged Emily tightly. “You know if you get hurt I’ll never forgive myself.”

She smiled brightly. “I won’t get hurt then, my Queen.”

I turned to Cadie as Emily ran back to her place and continued practicing. “I sure hope not.”

Cadie hugged me. “Remember one of our first talks? People will get hurt and people will die. You can’t protect them all. Just know that if they do, they die paving the way for future generations to be free.”

I went back to my room and lay on my bed. I closed my eyes and felt Altarin smiling at the other end of our connection. “Cheeky bastard.” I whispered to myself.

***

The day of the attack on the city had arrived and we all got into position. We had ten archers and fifteen fighters. We left the rest of our guards to protect the village. There were eight Dark Fae on the city walls as early warning guards, the rest were spread throughout the city. Each of our archers had one of these guards targeted. We waited for the gates to open in the morning knowing at each gatehouse there would be several guards helping to concentrate our efforts. The Fae had a remarkable sense of time and we selected the moment when our archers would fire and we’d attack the gates.

I was situated at the south gate and Altarin was at the north gate. I sent a whisper to him. “Be safe.” I was very thankful that our bond seemed to be growing stronger and the shorter distances allowed us the ability to communicate easily.

I felt a moment later, “Dinner for two if this works? You’d need to wear something sexy.”

I whispered back to him, “When this works, you can take me to dinner with Cadie and Ewen and I’ll wear the ugliest outfit I can find.”

“I’ll take that.”

I smiled and felt the time was near and snuck closer to the open gates. When the moment was right, I heard the whisper of arrows and the falling of heavy Dark Fae bodies. We rushed the gate and I was careful not to use any magic as we easily vanquished the three guards at the gate. From here on out it would be a free for all. Our archers quickly regrouped and joined us. I saw the gleam in Emily’s eyes. We moved steadily through the city taking out the odd guard we came across. We reached the city square and saw Altarin and their group arrive at the same time. Something wasn’t right. I whispered to Altarin, “Fan your archers out. There’s something wrong here.” I directed the archers to the left.

I took a step forward as forty Dark Fae materialized in the square in front of us. They were well armed and I could feel the presence of at least two High Dark Fae. It was then that I saw the people of the city. There were Dark Fae guards blocking the streets that entered the square and hundreds, if not thousands of our people were blocked and obviously frightened. Our archers opened fire and took out a dozen, but their bows and arrows began to bend. The High Dark Fae had some kind of magic to warp wood.

I walked forward into the square. I heard Altarin scream into my mind “No!” I felt the pressure again even more intense than ever before. I put up my hedge shield and it eased. A massive High Dark Fae strode forward.

“We seem to be at a standoff, Shaelan Scarletsun. Surrender and we spare all the people in the city and surrounding villages.”

“What would Gwenyth do to you if you killed me?”

“If I bring you in alive or dead, she’ll raise me to the highest position in the land.”

I knew this type of fighter as I’d fought many like him before. He was extremely prideful and wanted all the glory for himself. “And if one of these behind you kill me in an open battle, then they would be elevated before you?” The High Dark Fae grunted which I took as an affirmative. “In that case, then I suggest just you and me fight. If you win, we surrender. If I win your men surrender.”

I whispered to Altarin, “They’ll never surrender. As soon as I beat this fellow, attack with everything you’ve got, but send a few to the Dark Fae blocking the city people.”

I heard his voice in my head, “Please don’t do this.”

I whispered back, “Trust me. We’ll have our dinner date. I’ve beat bigger foes than this one.”

“We have a deal. How can you possibly defeat me? You’re scrawny and you’re not even of age.”

“Stop talking and get on with it.”

His sword was massive as were the muscles on his arms. I was also sure he would be quick as well. No magic. I had to hold off long enough so that we could get into position. He swung a blow that would have cleaved me in two, but I lightly skipped out of the way. He forced me around the square as I watched his stance and technique. He was good, very good, and very fast. I bided my time, my arms stinging with each blow he landed against my sword. I slowly began to move more on the offensive and still withheld my magic. I was far faster than he was and my endurance was greater. I began to whittle away at him, my iron sword burning into his thighs and arms. He swung viciously getting more and more desperate. I dove and rolled out of the way, then sliced upwards digging deeply into his thigh.

He bellowed a roar and I cut him again. I pushed him back towards his men who all scattered out of the way of the fight. I whispered to Altarin, “Now!” I let myself snap and unleashed the magic I had. Everything slowed as I shredded the High Dark Fae before me and wove my way through the stunned and unprepared Dark Fae. I could feel the well of my magic and stopped myself this time before I ran dry. I turned and looked back, fully ten Dark Fae, High and Lesser lay dead on the ground. Our men were busy taking out the remainder and I heard the people of the city cheer wildly and begin fighting their guards.

I was busy with more fighters and watched Altarin effortlessly and gracefully slice his way towards me. One Dark Fae got behind me and was about to slice me open when an arrow stabbed though his neck. I saw Emily and Cadie fighting with nothing but arrows. Soon it was all over. Dark Fae covered the grounds. I moved to our fighters first and healed whomever was injured, but my magic was dangerously low. I then moved to the people of the city, those that were wounded trying to join the fight. I healed them until I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Altarin. I collapsed into his arms.

***

I was floating, but no, that’s not quite right. I felt like I was lying on big fluffy pillows. Wherever I was, it was the most comfortable I’d ever been. I opened my eyes to see I was in a large expansive room with incredibly high ceilings. Light was streaming through windows and I was in a very large bed. I looked down and found I was still dressed in my battle outfit with the exception my boots had been removed. I could see the dark stains of the Dark Fae blood on my clothes. I sat up and looked around. I saw Cadie sleeping in a chair not far from me but at the slightest sound from me she woke and was immediately at my side.

“Shealan, how are you feeling?”

“I feel fine, great actually. Where are we?”

“You’re in the palace. After the fight, you tapped out your magic again healing people. By then the city was ours. Altarin carried you here so you could recover. This room and palace was where your parents used to stay when they visited this city.”

I glanced around the room and began noticing the decimation of it. At first glance it looked so grand, but now I could see it had been left to decay. Dirt had built up on the walls and floors, but still, it could easily be brought back to what it once was. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Altarin is seeing to the city defenses. We found and opened the weapons cache and Ewen is working with the fighters in the city distributing weapons and setting up an interior guard.”

I reached out and touched Altarin’s mind. “Good morning.” I whispered.

“It’s about time you’re up. You must stop doing that.”

“Do what?”

“Draining yourself.”

“And I thought you rather enjoyed holding me in your arms.”

“I’m sure I would as long as you were aware I was doing it. I’ll be right there.”

I looked over at Cadie. “I sort of made a promise to Altarin.”

“Oh?”

“If we won the day he wanted dinner with me. I told him I’d accept dinner as long as you and Ewen ate with us.”

“I’m sure we can arrange something. I get the feeling you’re starting to like Altarin.”

“Let’s just say I’m no longer entirely displeased with his attentions.”

I put on my boots and strapped on my weapons when a knock came at the door and Altarin and Ewen poked their heads in. “Cadie, my Lady.”

“Ewen, and your Majesty.” I nodded towards them. “How’s the city doing?”

“Come see for yourself. Everyone is asking about the golden-haired goddess Queen with fire in her eyes and an iron sword at her hip. You’ve made quite the impression.”

We started walking through the hallways and I noticed guards had been posted inside the palace. “What are they protecting, Ewen?”

“You, my Queen.”

I didn’t know how I should feel about that. I sighed. “What of the villagers?”

“They’re on their way and should be here by nightfall.”

I was led to a large balcony that overlooked the city square. When the doors opened I squinted in the brilliant sunshine. Throngs of people were moving everywhere as they cleaned the city. Sections that had been closed for years were being reopened for the villagers. Hundreds stopped and stared at me. Cheers arose from them and more and more people came to the square to look upon their savior. Tears were falling from my eyes as I looked upon them. I turned to Altarin. “I need to be with them.” He nodded and wiped a tear from my cheek.

“I’d expect no less from someone that gives all they have for them. You and I need to talk about your little stunt with the High Dark Fae.”

I looked up into his eyes and felt his hands on my shoulders. In the past, I would’ve been angry. Who is he to tell me or scold me about anything? But as I sought his eyes I could only see concern and my feelings became confused. I never had anyone care for me or look after me. I longed for a feeling of being protected. The warmth from his hands on my shoulders poured into me. I pictured myself enfolded in his strong arms. I bit my lower lip and suddenly felt very vulnerable and feminine yet I tried to put up a brave face. “You know I had to do it and I was more than capable of protecting myself. These people need to believe in something, to know I’m willing to stand and fight for them.”

We all walked together towards the square where more and more people stopped what they were doing to come see us, or more likely me. Altarin paused and I turned towards him again. “You know we have a rather unique and rare bond. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.” He said.

Perhaps it was female hormones, or a miniscule amount of male pride that still resided within me, but my anger returned. “I’m fully aware of the bond we have between us. I felt your pain when you were tortured. I can sense you all the time. But I can’t be smothered or coddled. I made a promise to fight for these people and, gods be dammed, I’ll not shy away from that, regardless of the pain it might cause me or you.” Ewen and Cadie had a look of disbelief on their faces and I could see Altarin was hurt by my words. I reached a hesitant hand towards his face and pulled it back. “I’m sorry… I…”

Now fully embarrassed and ashamed I turned away to hide the conflicting emotions within me. “I sure hope you get cleaned up for our dinner tonight. That Dark Fae blood on your clothes and in your hair could prove distracting.” There was a lightness to his words and a smugness behind his smile as he said it.

How can he do that to me? How can he say a few words and I melt inside? I needed to laugh and smile. I turned back to them and took Cadie’s arm in mine and pulled a little of my golden hair in front of my eyes in a very feminine way of examining it. “I saw a nice burlap shop on the way into the city. Cadie and I will go there later to look for a suitable sack for me for dinner.” Cadie started laughing.

“And I, for one, will no doubt still be held breathless by your beauty and grace. Come on, there’s a lot to do yet today.”

***

It was nice not to have to talk about serious things for a while. We wandered the entire city and greeted and met the people. I helped some women cleaning windows for a while and sweeping the streets with a group of men that owned some shops. Cadie disappeared for a while inspecting the archers on the walls now they bows supplied to them from the weapons cache. Ewen had been interviewing fighters and assigning responsibilities to the guards. Altarin took it upon himself to see to the city defenses. It was rather late in the afternoon when Ewen and Cadie found me cleaning a fountain.

“We found a vault in the palace and thought perhaps you would like to be there when we open it.”

“Of course.”

“Besides…” Cadie chimed in, “We need to get you ready for dinner later tonight.”

I knew how filthy I must look. My hands were almost black with dirt, I’m sure my face was smudged. My hair was matted and I still had blood stains on my clothing. “You mean I can’t go like this?”

They led me into the palace and down below into the basement. A large metal door blocked the room beyond and it had several locks on it. A locksmith within the city had been found and was working on the last lock. With a click it came away and the door was pulled open. I stood transfixed by what I saw. “What is all of this?”

“It’s a very small portion of the riches of your Court, my Queen.”

“But there’s so much! How could it all be so well preserved?”

“When the artisans make these objects, they infuse preservation magic into them. The same as the weapons, my Queen.”

I walked into the large room and never in my life seen so much wealth. There were portraits, furniture, weapons, and artwork. Silver and gold. “Why did Gwenyth and the Dark Fae not use this or destroy them?”

“They don’t find beauty in these things. Beauty is darkness, pain, and suffering for them all. They had us remove these things from their sight, my Queen.”

My fingers glided across the items until I saw it. A portrait stashed at the back of the room as large as I was. I fell to my knees and wept. I recognized Shaelan’s parents in the portrait. My parents. It released some memories and the tragic loss. He was so handsome and strong and my mother, so beautiful, caring, and compassionate looking. I felt Cadie’s hand on my shoulder and Altarin’s presence comforting me in my mind. “Are you alright, Shaelan?”

I whispered back. “How can I ever be? How can we ever undo what’s been done?”

“I’m coming…”

“It’s okay. I just found a portrait of my parents.” I felt his sadness well up in him. “I’m fine. I’ll see you soon.”

I stood and turned towards the people in the room. “These items belong to the people of the Court of Light. Distribute them accordingly to where they belong.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

I looked and found a pair of bows. They were exquisite with ivory and silver inlay. I picked them up and handed them to Cadie. “Take this bow for yourself and give the other to Emily. You both deserve them.”

Cadie’s eyes went wide. “Thank you, my Lady! Look here!” Cadie had opened a large chest. I looked inside, then back to the portrait. There were dresses and clothes and one looked exactly like the outfit my mother had worn in the painting. “I think these were your mother’s clothes. At least some of them. Let’s bring them to your room to see if we can find one you can wear tonight.”

***

Unbeknownst to me, my room in the palace had been cleaned and scrubbed. The bathrooms were sparkling and the linens washed. I’d found a robe and towels and had a long soak in the bath. By the time I was becoming more like a prune and got out of the bath, I noticed my battle clothing had been removed. Someone had come to wash them. I sighed again knowing that left me fewer options for dinner. “Come in, Cadie.” I’d felt her hesitating to knock at the door. I watched as she peaked in to make sure it was okay. I waved her in. She looked stunning. Her hair was pulled up and she was wearing a lovely blue sequined dress. “Wow! Cadie, you look beautiful!”

“I wanted to make an impression on Ewen tonight.”

“Cadie, you already made an impression on him.”

“I know, but I’ve never had a chance to really dress up like this. Do you know what you’re going to wear?”

“Not a clue.” I shook my head as I looked at the clothes spread across the bed.

I watched as Cadie dragged her fingers across the clothes and looked back at me then back at the clothes. She had a mischievous glint in her eyes. “This one!”

“It looks very expensive. Would it send the right message to the people?”

“Shaelan, you just gave away the city’s wealth to your people. They’re celebrating and wearing their finest tonight. They have you and the city returned to them. Not only will this make a statement to them, but, more importantly, it’ll make a huge statement to Altarin.”

“If you’re sure, then I’ll try it on.”

An hour later I looked at myself in the mirror. Cadie was excitedly jumping up and down behind me. “It doesn’t leave much to the imagination does it?”

“By the gods, Shaelan, you’re beyond stunning.”

Cadie had helped me pull my hair up and style it. She even put some light makeup on she’d found that highlighted my eyes even more and a lipstick that enhanced the fullness of my lips. Pearl earrings and a necklace drew my eyes to my pointed ears and exposed neck. The gold fabric of my dress, if you could call it that, covered the areas that needed covering, but left my cleavage, midriff, back, and legs bare. Thin gold fabric tied it all together and fell to the floor behind me. Gold sandals adorned my feet.

“You need one more thing. I found this in the vault.” She handed me a gold jeweled dagger. “You need to keep up the look.”

I smiled at Cadie and tied it to my right thigh and looked back at myself in the mirror. I was truly amazed at what I saw. I didn’t know such beauty existed in the world. “What’s the message I’m sending with this outfit?”

“I can’t wait to find out. Come on, the guys are waiting.”

I’d never worn anything so revealing in my life, but this apparently was the way in the Fae world. The Fae were highly monogamous and also highly sexual beings. I felt powerful, yet exposed. This was different than the battle outfit I’d designed more for regal confidence, this was pure raw sensuality. I’d given myself over to it and found myself enjoying myself thoroughly.

The city was lit up for the night and sections of the city had raucous music and cheering happening. The villagers had arrived earlier and were busy settling in. Cadie, Ewen, and Altarin spent a fair amount of time seeking a venue for our dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to be led through a building entrance into a quaint courtyard with lighting overhead that looked like stars. I had to smile at the ingenuity of Altarin in that there were two tables set for two, but separated by a low hedge. Several wait staff stood in the corners of the courtyard, dressed in their finest but what drew my eyes were Ewen and Altarin. I wasn’t sure where they found their clothes, but they looked magnificent. Altarin had his shirt open but tied across his hips was a sash of golden cloth. His sword hung from his hip. His hair unbound and shining across his shoulders. My heart skipped a beat or two. I was in trouble. I still struggled with my attraction for him, almost questioning whether the gods were smiling or laughing at me.

I watched Altarin’s eyes light up when he saw me and felt his raw desires pour forth as he looked me up and down. I glanced at Ewen who only had eyes for Cadie. They stepped towards us and I wrapped my arms around Altarin’s neck as I did before and pulled myself close. I felt his lips brush my cheek. “I’ve seen many beautiful sights in my life, but there’s nothing that comes close to you. Your eyes are like the deepest ocean and your hair softer than the finest of furs. I must find the burlap dealer and congratulate him, for I’ve never seen burlap like this.”

I smiled as we pulled apart. I could sense the desire within Altarin and I felt a fair bit of it myself. “You’re getting better at making good impressions. You clean up very nicely. I thought we were eating with Cadie and Ewen.” I emphasized the word ‘with’.

“I tried, but Ewen just didn’t want to eat with you.”

“Oh really?” I went and hugged Ewen. “If I didn’t know any better, I think this looks a little contrived.”

Ewen shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t my idea.”

Altarin laughed. “Traitor.”

Cadie whispered in my ear. “Altarin can’t keep his eyes off of you.”

“So Cadie and I are eating together over there?”

Cadie giggled. “Sorry, my Lady. I was planning on talking strategy with Ewen tonight.”

“Traitor. I guess that means I sit with you then.” I extended my arm as Altarin led me to my seat. “Just how did you find this place?”

“It was easy to find someone that wanted to feed the Queen. The hard part was trying to find the place with the right ambiance.”

“How will I pay them for the meal?”

“It’s already taken care of. Relax. This is just you and me. Let the rest of the world, our worries, and fears drift away, if only for one night.”

“That’s a luxury I feel I don’t deserve.”

“The entire city and villagers are reveling in our victory tonight. Your victory. Your return. The Lesser Dark Fae can’t sift into the city, we’re well protected. Tomorrow will worry for itself.” He reached over and took my hand in his. I felt his thumb brush lightly across the soft skin of the back of my hand.

“I’m sorry for what I said earlier today. I didn’t mean it to come out that way.”

“And I’m sorry you ever feel smothered by me. I look at you and I can’t control my heart. I’ve never desired anything in my life before like I do you.”

“The first time I snapped, was when I felt your pain. Nothing in the world would have kept me from coming to you. Do you feel conflicted that we can have such strong emotions like we do? At times I feel like a puppet of the gods.”

“Gods or no gods, I’ve never felt so alive as the day you first touched me with your mind. About your snapping, I’ve never seen anything like it before. You move so fast, you’re a blur to my vision. I have a theory about it.”

“I’m all ears.”

“When you come of age, you’ll be able to sift. Your senses are strong so you sifting power will also be strong. You’re also have the gift of transformation. I believe you’re tapping into the speed and agility of your transformation ability, with a type of sifting. How does it feel when you do that?”

“Like the world slows down. Everything is at quarter speed except for me. This last time, I protected my magic until everything was right and I could sense when I was about to run out.”

“You’re the most amazing fighter I’ve ever seen and yet it’s hard for me to see you put yourself at risk.”

“What if I promise you I’ll be careful and not risk myself?”

“I couldn’t let you do that. It would be like caging a wild animal. Promise me you’ll always come back to me.”

“You know as well as I do that things happen. I can’t promise something I’ve no control over.” Fae culture taught me one thing so far, and that’s a vow went far deeper than a promise. “I vow to always return if possible, that I’ll always consider our lives, yours and mine together, whenever making a decision that puts me at risk.” I saw his eyes widen and deep down I knew I’d just made a commitment far deeper than I’d ever made to someone before. It meant I’d return to Altarin at all costs. It was almost as much of an acceptance of our togetherness as marriage would be. I looked up into his eyes and I both knew and felt deep within my soul this was right.

“I can’t tell you what your words mean to me, Shaelan. Know that I vow to always be there for you within my ability and while I have breath. To protect you and provide for you.”

There, he said it as well. Did we just give ourselves to each other, one slight step away from marriage? It sure felt like we did and with that realization my body yearned for him. I knew he felt it to. I tried to shift our conversation to other topics. “Tell me about the Court of Dawn.”

I could feel he wanted to climb across the table and take me in his arms. “They’ll love you.” I was about to object at the inference, but I realized I was okay with it. “They’re a warm and friendly people, masters of the sea. They value courage, compassion, and family. My bond with them cries out to me. They’re broken and torn apart, in much the same way that the people here are.”

“We’ll defeat Gwenyth and restore them. Tell me about your parents.”

“My father’s dead, but you already know that. My mother, Ellena Forsyth, was taken and I have no idea where she is or even if she’s alive. They were very loving parents. Always had a kind word for everyone, but dedicated time to be with me as I grew up. I have a younger brother, Estable, but he is back in the Court of Dawn trying to hold our people together as I try to find a way to end all of this.”

I was overwhelmed with emotion and sadness. Tears were flowing freely again as I thought about his people. Why was I crying? Then the overwhelming anger washed over me and I saw Altarin’s eyes darken. A brick exploded next to us and the next thing I knew Altarin was holding me. “What’s happening?”

“Your emotions are tied to mine, I’m sorry. When I saw you start to cry, I got angry about all that’s happened. You had another glimmer. They start with heightened emotions.”

“I did that?”

“You’re an elemental. You can control earth, wind, fire, and water. Try to put the brick back together.”

I looked at the brick dust and willed it all back together as a brick. I watched amazed as it reformed before our eyes. Altarin reached for it and I put my hand on his arm. “No.” I lifted it back into place with my mind. “I wanted to see if I could do that.”

Altarin sat back down. “One of the High Dark Fae yesterday bent the wood of the bows. He likely could only control wood. I suspect you could do the same, but also affect metal.”

“Why do I have these powers?”

“They’re handed down through your parents, but it’s more than that. There are cycles. Think of the seasons how they ebb and flow. Magic does the same. When a Fae is born, the magic from your father’s bloodline and from your mother’s combine. Most High Fae receive a moderate amount of magic depending on how the magic cycle is with their ancestry. My father’s magic of transformation was likely at a moderate level. I can transform into a panther but nothing else. My mother had telekinetic ability and sense, and her magic ancestry cycle seemed to be high when I was born. When you were born, I believe both your father’s and your mother’s magic cycles were at their peak. When that happens, the results are usually powerful and unpredictable.”

“I can shift my eyes from bird to cat.”

“Which tells me you’ll likely be able to transform into any creature or even portions of them. There’s no doubt you’ll have power beyond the likes the Fae have ever seen. That’s why you’re such a threat. We need to keep you safe for another six weeks. The problem is, we just had a very visible impact on the Dark Fae world. They know they’ve lost ground and they’ll not hesitate to come full force to reclaim it.”

“So what do we do?”

“We have to keep moving and taking back land. We now have several hundred fighters. The Dark Fae army is nearly fifty thousand strong throughout the world. There’s a larger city west of here that might hold up to a thousand of our fighters. Rest assured it will also hold a lot more Dark Fae.”

I was still a little shaken about my latest glimmer and the intensity of emotions I channeled from Altarin. I tried to keep myself focused. “We ran into fifty or more Dark Fae for three thousand people? They either knew we were coming, we underestimated their numbers, or they fortified knowing that the Dark Fae they sent to the villages weren’t returning. Still, that’s one for every sixty people. The next city has how many people?”

“At least six thousand. It’s twice this size. Based upon your estimates, there would likely be one hundred or more Dark Fae there.”

“How many High Fae did we rescue?”

Altarin looked downcast. “None.”

“What do you think happened to them all?”

“I suspect they were killed. When I was captured, they put the iron band around my head right away. I don’t know what their purpose was except to remove any threats. The High Fae are comparable to three or four Dark Fae, plus their powers could potentially swing a battle.”

“Then it’s you and me against four or five High Dark Fae?”

“You’re worth a dozen regular Dark Fae in a fight and you killed two High Dark Fae yesterday. I only wish you’d be of age before we were forced to fight.”

“There’s no guarantee I’ll be anything special.”

“You’re already special.”

I suddenly felt guilty that Altarin didn’t know my history, that I’d been a Mortal man. I couldn’t continue feeling like a fraud so I told him everything. He listened quietly and asked the odd question from time to time but his silence made me nervous. I was finally feeling like I was in a good place with myself, and the one person that I felt compelled to be with could simply walk away from me any second. I was on the verge of tears feeling very foolish when Altarin reached across the table and took my hand in mine.

“Thank you for sharing that with me. I’d wondered a little about your fighting skills and where you might have learned them. I even had a few discussions with some elders about rebirth and how that might change someone. Do you know what they told me?”

I was so hesitant and afraid I almost got up and left the table. I managed to squeak out a reply. “No.”

“They told me that for rebirth to occur, the essence of the living must be compatible with the essence of the dead. In other words, you were practically identical in all ways. Shaelan, look at me.” I slowly lifted my eyes to his, feeling more vulnerable than I ever had in my life. “You’re my soul mate. I can’t fight my attraction to you. I have no fears, no doubts. You’re Shaelan, my future wife and everything in the world to me. The question is, what do you feel for me?”

Tears started falling from my eyes at the acceptance and knowing he understood fully what had happened to me. I thought of something funny to say but my heart took over for my brain. “Don’t ever leave me.”

“Let me take you back to the palace.”

I looked over and noticed Cadie and Ewen had already left. I didn’t even recall my meal much. I thanked the owners and Altarin took my arm and led me back. Instead of going straight to my room he veered off and headed to another balcony that overlooked the river. The moon was high and it reflected off the waters. Altarin held me in his arms. My eyes met his and I felt a deep contentment. I was Shaelan and no longer Marcus. I’d met my femininity head on and it won. I loved being a woman, being beautiful, and being cherished. Whether the gods were playing with me or not, I’d all but given my heart. I didn’t have to, even with the overwhelming pressure of the soul-mate tie, but I did anyways.

I pressed myself up against Altarin’s firm body and knew he was struggling. It was rather evident from the bulge at the front of his pants. “I want you Shaelan, with every fiber of my being. Your body calls to mine like a siren’s song. I’m drowning in your beauty. We have to remain pure. By law, I can’t even ask you to marry me before you come of age.”

I sighed. “Then we’ll wait for as long as it takes.”

He cupped my face with his hands and kissed me. It was a long tender kiss that made my legs buckle. My lips were on fire and I felt moisture between my legs. All I could do was let out a little moan. When he pulled back, it was like the vastness of space had erupted between us. He felt so far away. He smiled. “I’ve been wanting to do that for days now. Luckily there’s no law against kissing. You, however, need to get to bed before I break all the laws in the Fae kingdoms.”

I placed my head on his shoulder. “Mmmmhmm.” I forced myself to let go and turn away. I felt his eyes on my backside the entire time. When I got to my room I nearly collapsed with desire. My breathing was heavy and my breasts were heaving. I stripped out of my clothing and splashed cold water on my face. When I crawled into bed, sleep eluded me. I imagined myself with Altarin, my naked body pressed against his. I gently rubbed myself and my breasts all the time picturing him penetrating me. When I orgasmed, I felt something between our connections and blushed knowing what he must have been doing and realizing he felt what I had just done. I smiled and drifted off to sleep.

***

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of activity. I worked with our fighters and helped get them trained and ready for battle. Cadie worked with our archers and Ewen sent scouts to the city of Wennolyn, just west of us. We had no more attacks of Dark Fae and we were all growing a little suspicious that they were up to something big. Ever since our dinner and our first kiss, my connection with Altarin was stronger than ever. Not only would we talk throughout that day no matter where we were, but in the evenings we’d always find time to spend with each other.

We sent scouts out to all the villages and cities nearby and somehow the people there had already heard I’d returned and we’d rescued several villages and the city. We even heard of some villages rebelling and overthrowing their overseers. The rebellion was happening just with the knowledge that it began elsewhere. I was worried that people may get hurt or killed without the right resources. This caused us to rethink our plans and consider sending out fighters and weapons to various villages, yet our focus was still to take the next big city. We finally adapted and adjusted a little and sent resources where we could but it was a huge concern as it left us with too few fighters to protect our city and take on another.

Two more weeks went by and we felt we were finally prepared to attack. Our fighters had returned and with them more villagers making a pilgrimage to our city. We were now fairly bursting at the seams and had no choice but to attack and expand. This was not the way I’d ever done battle before. Having to build an army from scratch was difficult enough, but being pitted against a huge army was borderline insane.

It was the last day before we left to take the next city and I was in the square practicing with several new fighters when a dozen High Dark Fae and Gwenyth sifted into the square. I tried to move but was frozen in place by Gwenyth’s magic and my nose started bleeding with the immense pressure in my head. I stood helpless as the combined pressure from all of them was focused on me. Even my screaming out to Altarin through our connection was blocked.

I could hear people screaming and I felt a wave emanate from Gwenyth that threw the fighters I’d been working with backwards from her like feathers. I watched in horror as they collided with the walls of the square. “Say goodbye to your people.” Gwenyth sneered. She grabbed my shoulder and everything went black.

I was surprised I woke up at all recalling Gwenyth’s last attempt at stealing my essence. I felt surprisingly good, but I was surrounded by iron. I was chained with it, I had an iron circlet on my head, the walls and bars were all iron of the cell I was in. It was a dark and filthy place. I tried to sense Altarin and my sense was blocked. The iron walls prevented my sense from reaching beyond them, but I still had my magic and I could feel it. I heard a noise and I looked around to see a beautiful Fae woman chained to the wall within the same chamber. They were not using iron on her like me, but it was clear she’d suffered through many years here.

“Where am I?”

“You’re in the main city of the Court of Light, Escalon.”

“You’re hurt. I stretched myself as far as the chains would allow and touched the woman. I poured a little healing into her, but as I did so, I could feel the iron heating on me a little.”

“How can you do that? How can you use magic with the iron on you?”

“I’m afraid I’m a bit unique that way.” I was hesitant to share much with someone I didn’t know well.

“Don’t let them see you do that and don’t worry about me. Keep your magic in case you get a chance to escape.”

“Why do you look familiar to me?”

“I’m no one, my Lady. My life was destroyed and I’ve nothing and no one anymore. Why is Gwenyth so interested in you?”

“She’s power hungry and believes she can take my essence. I’m not sure why she just didn’t do it already.”

“There are two ways this can happen. Before you come of age it can be stolen at the moment of your death. After you come of age, it’s much riskier. First you need to be released from the iron as that would block the process, then a crystal is used as a conduit. The danger is that the conduit can go both ways and Gwenyth would have to be secure she’s stronger than you before attempting it. This means they’d likely beat you close to death to give them the advantage.”

“None of that sounds too pleasing. I think I know why she hasn’t attempted to kill me yet.”

“Why is that?”

“She tried once before, but was thwarted.”

“By the gods! You’re Shaelan Scarletsun!” I looked at her cautiously and nodded. What difference would it make for her to know? “I heard you were dead.”

“I was, for one thousand years. Then, by the gods, I was reborn.”

“Then all is not lost.”

I looked at the chains around us and the iron walls. “I’m not in the best of predicaments. You have me at a disadvantage. What’s your name?”

“Ellena Forsyth, my Lady.” I started to cry for joy. “My Lady, what’s wrong?”

“You’re my soul mate’s mother.”

“Altarin?”

“Yes!”

“How?”

Over the next few hours I told the story of how I found the first village and how I found Altarin. Ellena was weeping knowing her son was still alive. Over the next days we shared much, cried, and laughed. She’d told me how the High Fae had been brought to the dungeons and kept alive here. There were hundreds of them. She believed Gwenyth wanted to pull their essence from them as well, but she was waiting for something. I assumed it was me, that some part of my magic would unlock her ability to gather magic to herself.

I began to formulate a plan, but much depended upon what would happen after I came of age. I could feel the day and hour growing closer, feel the tickling of power that just eluded me. We were fed, but barely. We had no visitors other than the Dark Fae that delivered our food. Every night I cried myself to sleep over the separation I felt for not feeling Altarin. Often I’d wake to Ellena stroking my hair.

Elena and I grew very close over the days and nights we spent together. In a way she felt like the mother I never had. She was so caring towards me.

***

It was nearly two weeks that I’d been stuck in the dungeons and I could feel myself sitting on the edge of coming of age. It was a strange feeling. Almost like an anticipation. It was then that the Dark Fae came for me. They also took Ellena which surprised me a little. We were dragged up to into the city. The sunlight stung our eyes and the Dark Fae laughed at us as we were dragged through the streets towards the palace. Once out of the dungeons I could feel Altarin. He was close and I smiled. I held onto my magic not wanting to waste it just yet.

We entered the palace, once beautiful and once my home. The doors to the main hall opened and we were thrown unceremoniously to the floor. High Dark Fae sat and laughed at us from their chairs that looked down upon the floor. I looked up at Gwenyth sitting smugly on the throne, and to her right my parents still preserved in their final deaths, pierced with iron spears and hung on the walls as ornaments.

I was about to unleash everything I had in pure anger when I felt Altarin’s presence. He was thrown, bound in iron near me. “Altarin!” I screamed. I was close enough that I could reach out and touch him but I was yanked back. He was beaten and not responding but he was alive. I stood angrily and defiantly to my feet.

“Well, little one. It comes down to this. Do you like what I’ve done to the place?” She waved her hands at the room.

I stood defiantly not saying a word. A High Dark Fae slugged me across the face. “Our Empress asked you a question.”

I staggered but I didn’t fall. “If you like filth and dirt, then it suits you well.”

She stood gracefully. “I have no attachment to cleanliness.” She walked over to us and stroked Altarin’s face in a loving way.

“Don’t touch him!” I hissed at her.

“He’s very handsome. I understand you’re rather fond of him. I think I’ll chain him as a pet next to my throne. And you… Mother of the King of the Court of Dawn. I wanted you here to see your son become my personal slave.” Altarin moaned but remained where he was. I knew he was trying to conserve his energy. “Did you know he attacked this city all by himself? He must really love you to do something so reckless.” She came and stood in front of me and lifted my chin with her fingers. “You’ve been a bad girl. You made me wait a thousand years and when you came back, you killed dozens of my beloved pets. But, you’ll be happy to know that your little rebellion is about to be over. Twenty thousand of my army is standing near Atheron ready to destroy it. I sent another twenty thousand to the islands of the Court of Dawn to slaughter all of them. I wanted you to know that they could have lived reasonably happy lives had you not interfered. Now, they’ll all die.”

She turned away and I considered making my move. My fists were clenched. “The moment of your coming of age is at hand. Sorry that we can’t celebrate it with the normal Fae ceremony. Prepare her.” I knew what was coming and I could do little about it. Altarin yelled out as Dark Fae surrounded me and began beating me. What magic I had I used to keep myself conscious and internally healed. I felt the blows, the bleeding from my mouth and nose, the bones that broke. The pain was almost unbearable and I collapsed on the ground in a bloody heap, screaming in agony. I lay there and wept, trickling what little magic I had into healing myself, but my well of magic was almost dry.

I watched through my bruised eyes as a large crystal was brought into the room. “Can you feel it, little one? Can you feel your magic ready to be released?” I could feel it. It was coming closer and closer, and then it was there. As I looked into myself I could see no bottom to my well of magic. It was frightening the amount of power I had. “Remove her iron.” As soon as they did, I could feel the pull as she tried to drain my essence. Wisps of light came out of me and through the crystal as it flowed toward Gwenyth. “Yes!” She almost moaned in ecstasy.

I was so weak physically, but I was glad I could heal myself enough before to stay conscious. The pain of my essence leaving me was horrendous. I laid their whimpering until I remembered Ellena’s words that the crystal could go both ways so I tried a tentative pull on my magic. I felt my pain diminish rapidly and I could taste her magical abilities. I could feel her ability to make shields and her ability to cast a wave of telekinetic energy away from her. I pulled some more and I saw her face begin to contort in pain. “No!” She screamed. I used my magic to fully heal myself and I continued to pull. I stood up, much to the shouts and dismay of the Dark Fae in the room. Realizing what was happening, the Dark Fae attacked me but before they could even get close I flung them away from me and burst them into flames. All that remained were the High Fae screaming in terror.

I reached out with my magic and dissolved the iron around Altarin and the bindings on Ellena and I healed them without touching them. And I continued to pull the essence from a trapped and helpless Gwenyth. I could feel Altarin was up, grabbing a sword and helping his mother to his feet. He came and stood protectively by my side.

I could feel what little power was left in Gwenyth and I severed the connection watching her collapse on the ground. There was nothing but a dried husk of her left. I hadn’t mean to kill her and I felt horrible. I’d wanted her to pay for her terrible deeds, but I didn’t want that to be through death. She deserved to suffer for many years.

I turned and looked to the stands and the throngs of High Dark Fae and could see their anger and feel their magic being thrown at us. I made a shield and looked at them angrily. “You have two choices. Drop your weapons and leave peacefully and return to where you came from, release the mortals in the mines immediately, or die.” One High Dark Fae vaulted over the railing and swung his blade at me that harmlessly bounced off my shield. I froze him completely watching as he shattered on the floor. “Any others?” One by one they dropped their weapons and left.

I turned to Altarin and Ellena who stood in amazement and I ran into Altarin’s arms and kissed him. “By the gods, I’ve missed you so.”

He clung to me and I pulled his mother into our hug. “Mother, I thought I’d lost you forever. I get the feeling you two have met?”

“We shared accommodations, my son. She’s both courageous and beautiful.”

Altarin turned to me and kissed me again. “You were stronger than Gwenyth. I failed you. I couldn’t protect you the way I should have.”

“You attacked an entire city on your own to find and save me.” I sought my feelings and knew that I had nothing but love for this man in my heart. “I love you, Altarin.”

My words seemed to catch Altarin off guard as he enfolded me into his arms and kissed me like the world was about to end, which, in a way, it was. “If we survive all of this, will you, Shaelan Scarletsun marry me, for I cannot endure to live without you?”

I looked to Ellena. “I guess that somewhat depends on what your family thinks of me. But should they accept me for who I am, with all my flaws, then I’d like nothing else than to be your wife.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Shaelan, my Lady, my Queen! I love you like my own daughter.”

I kissed Altarin again and kissed Ellena on her cheek. I looked back at the dried husk of her Gwenyth’s body and shivered. “I’m very grateful what they said was true about me. That could have been me. The High Fae are in the dungeons. We must release them but I need to do something first.”

I walked up to the wall where my parents hung. I screamed in anger and tears flowed from me. I felt Ellena and Altarin touching me and giving me their love and support. I used my telekinetic power to gently pull my father and mother from the wall and lay them on the floor. I disintegrated the spears out of disgust. I knelt between them and used my fingers to bring their faces back to a position that made them look like they were peacefully sleeping, then I laid my arms across them both and wept.

“Shaelan, my love. We can properly take care of your parents soon, but we must help the others.” I looked up and stood, still shaking uncontrollably.

“They’ll pay! Either they leave peacefully or they all die!”

***

Altarin took my hand and led us back outside. The Dark Fae were running scared as I was sure the High Fae that were in the palace had quickly spread the word that Gwenyth was dead. Those that we did run across ran the opposite direction. One look at my hate-filled eyes and they knew. However, it could also be that they felt the raw power that I now possessed.

When we reached the dungeons the Dark Fae guards blocked our entry. I was a little surprised when Ellena lashed out with her magic and sent the Dark Fae tumbling into each other and over a thirty foot wall to their deaths. I looked at Ellena.

“What? I wasn’t going to let you both have all the fun. Besides, these kept me locked up here for many years and they certainly didn’t deserve the easy death they got.”

Neither Altarin nor Ellena could touch the iron doors that lined the long hallway before us. I closed my eyes and disintegrated the doors and the chains making it easier on everyone. One by one the High Fae from the Court of Light and the Court of Dawn came out of their cells. I washed them with a wave of healing power, restoring their strength. Hundreds of them came and knelt at our feet. I heard many “My Kings and My Queens” being murmured.

I looked over them. “Stand, please. Our people across our kingdom need your help. There are Dark Fae armies ready to attack the Court of Light at the city of Atheron and the Court of the Dawn. We also have this city that needs to be fully returned to its people. Suggestions?”

Altarin spoke up. “The Court of Dawn is a land surrounded by water. The Dark Fae army would have to come by sea. There’s only a dozen Dark Fae that I know left on the islands keeping the people in slavery. I can sift there and take care of them.”

I looked over the High Fae in the room and felt their combined power. “Take twenty with you. I suspect this city has few Dark Fae fighters left. With weapons, all that remain should be able to take control here and remove the Dark Fae living in the city. You don’t need to kill them all, just those that refuse to leave peacefully and return to their homeland. I’ll go back to protect Atheron.” There were nods in agreement, but I could tell none wanted me left unprotected. “Don’t worry about me, the way I feel right now, the entire armies of the Dark Fae wouldn’t stand a chance. One more thing to those that stay here. My parents are lying on the floor of the palace. They deserve every honor we can provide them. Treat them properly.” The High Fae separated into two groups and some headed into the city.

Altarin took my hand in his and searched my eyes. “This doesn’t feel right. I don’t want you out of my sight. You’ve not tested your full powers yet or how much magic reserves you have.”

“For once, I’ve no fear of tapping out my magic. It’s limitless as far as I can tell. This is all the power that Gwenyth felt she needed to take over the mortal lands. An army of Dark Fae won’t stand a chance.” He nodded but still hadn’t let me go. “But I need something from you.”

“Anything, my love.”

“Promise me you’ll stay alive for I can’t live without you.”

“I promise, but I need something from you. A kiss.”

I kissed him long and passionately.

I sensed and felt the city and Atheron and found Cadie and Ewen on the ramparts looking out to the north at the gathering Dark Fae army.

“I’ll come to you as quickly as I can.” Then I sifted.

***

I materialized before Ewen and Cadie with a flash of white light. I heard a cheer rise from within the city. Cadie ran to hug me once she realized it was me. I turned and hugged Ewen. “Did you two miss me?”

“More than you’ll ever know. What happened?”

I quickly told them of the events and how Altarin had gone to the Court of Dawn. “Let’s see if I can get this army to turn around.”

“Don’t put yourself at risk!”

I winked at Cadie. “Don’t worry about me. I’m more than fine.” I closed my eyes and a pair of large wings appeared on my back. Cadie and Ewen were amazed. I flew over the edge and headed towards the army. When I got close I shouted down to their general, a High Dark Fae. “Your Empress is dead, the city of Escalon has fallen to the Court of Light and the Court of Dawn. Drop your weapons and leave, heading back to you original homes or risk death.”

I felt the pressure in my head but this time I pushed back to see his nose start to bleed. “Fire!” He yelled. A thousand arrows bounced harmlessly off my shield. I looked down at the ground and a fissure opened in front of their feet.

“I’m Shaelan Scarletsun and I killed and took the power from your Empress. Are you sure you wish to attack?” The Dark Fae hesitated and looked worried. Many dropped their weapons and ran, but that still left thousands.

“Attack!”

The Dark Fae rose up on their wings and rushed forward. I froze the wings of their front line and sent a strong wind throwing them back. A hundred Dark Fae crashed from the sky. “This is your last chance. I don’t want to kill you. You’re members of the Fae kingdom.” I lowered myself so I was on the ground and I removed my wings. I stood a few feet from the general. More and more Dark Fae were dropping their weapons and leaving. Their army of twenty thousand was now only two thousand. I extended my hand. “If you leave peacefully now, I’ll give you my vow as Queen of the Court of Light that I’ll do everything I can to restore peace between the Dark Fae and the rest of the Fae Courts.”

“On behalf of the Dark Fae I represent, I accept.” He extended his hand and we agreed.

“Send word to your overseers and the Dark Fae within the villages and cities to pull out immediately and peacefully. Any retaliation on their part will be dealt with by me personally. In six months’ time, I’ll come to your court to plan a way forward.”

He bowed and I tipped my head and sifted back to Ewen and Cadie. “If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Why seek peace with them?”

“I believe that the gods know why they’re here. There’s a purpose for them and they’re part of the Fae. Why should they die for the lack of guidance from Gwenyth? I need to get to Altarin. We’ll be back soon.” I hugged them both as cheers erupted within the city as the Dark Fae dropped their weapons and departed. I sifted to Altarin’s side.

***

Altarin practically tackled me with a hug and kiss. “What happened at Atheron?”

“The Dark Fae army decided it was in their best interest to go back to their homelands and withdraw. I promised them I’d come to them in six months’ time to find a way to restore peace between our courts. How fares the Court of Dawn?”

“It didn’t take long for us to rid ourselves of the Dark Fae here, but we only found weapons for about fifty fighters. We still have a big problem.” He pointed out to sea where hundreds of ships floated on the horizon.

I turned back to see all eyes on us both. Thousands of Fae from the Court of Dawn looked fearful towards us. One Fae stepped forward. He was a High Fae and looked a little like Altarin. He looked at Altarin and then at me and how our hands were together.

“I’m guessing that you never intended to build an army and that you merely went to the Court of Light to find a bride?”

Altarin ran into his brother’s arms. “Estable!” They held each other tight and I could see their strong family bond. “Let me introduce you to someone. Estable, meet Shaelan Scarletsun, Queen of the Court of Light.”

“By the gods, brother, you sure know how to pick them. She’s stunning.” He nodded towards me. “Your Majesty.”

“You should see her when she’s cleaned up.”

“What?” I said in mock anger.

“She’s also feisty, and very good with a sword, so I wouldn’t recommend crossing her.”

I hugged Estable. “I’m very glad to meet you. I hope your manners are better than your brother’s.”

“Of course they are. Are you here to watch us get slaughtered?”

I smiled. “No one here is in danger today.”

Estable looked frustrated. “Don’t you see what awaits us?”

“I think the bigger question is do they know what they are getting themselves into?” Estable grew irritated. “Would you like to join us as we persuade them to go home?”

“What can we do?” He was clearly angry now.

“Watch.”

We all turned to look at the approaching ships and I concentrated on the water. I could feel the power building inside of me as I released a mighty wave. A wall of water formed and stretched for thousands of feet in each direction and rose higher than the tops of the ship’s masts. I released it as it raced towards the oncoming ships. We could hear the screams of the Dark Fae as the wave approached them. Just as the wave was about to hit the ships it dissolved into nothing.

“Can you sift?” I asked Estable who stood open mouthed. Altarin was ginning. He nodded. Then come with us.

We sifted to the deck of the lead Dark Fae ship. I immediately tossed up a shield around us. The Dark Fae stood in shock having just been saved by the massive wave. The general, a large High Dark Fae drew his sword and approached.

“Drop your weapons or that wave I sent will be the last of your worries.” They hesitated. “I’m Shaelan Scarletsun, Queen of the Court of Light and the one that recently killed and absorbed the essence of your Empress, Gwenyth.” They began speaking back and forth amongst themselves.

“And I’m Altarin Camdenoly, King of the Court of Dawn and betrothed of the Queen of the Court of Light.” Estable looked at his brother like he was a little crazy for not telling him. “I’m sure you’ve heard the legends and prophecies, I’m here as witness that those prophecies are true. You quailed in the presence of your Empress, but her power was nothing compared to Shaelan.”

“We’ve not heard from our Empress. This is a trick!”

I sighed and snapped, this time I was even faster and without a limit to my magic, I disarmed the entire ship and returned to my spot in seconds. When the general noticed his men were disarmed he bowed his head.

“We’re at your mercy.”

“You are at our mercy. The City of Escalon and the entire kingdom of the Court of Light is now in our full control. The armies of the Dark Fae are returning to their homelands. I’ve promised in six months that I will come to the Court of Night and find a way we can all live peacefully together. These ships once belonged to the Court of Dawn. Leave your weapons behind, consolidate your men to as few ships as possible, and we’ll let you leave peacefully. Any action on any Dark Fae to harm another person of the Court of Light or the Court of Dawn will be considered an act of war and will be dealt with most harshly. Pass the word and make it happen.”

“You won’t kill us?”

“Not unless you make us.”

“You’re our sworn enemy and yet you spare our lives. That’s more than our own Empress would ever do. I vow we’ll honor your request and depart peacefully. I look forward to a time when perhaps we can all live in peace together.”

***

We sifted back to the coast overlooking the Dark Fae army to oversee their departure. Estable and Altarin sent runners to the people of the Court of Dawn to let them know the threat had passed and they were free. The cheering rose in volume as the word spread and thousands began congregating in the Court of Dawn’s largest city, Gortumnal.

I stood alone for a few moments pondering our next steps when Altarin and Estable came back to my side.

Estable knelt on one knee before me. “Please forgive my rudeness, your Majesty. I’m awed by your power.”

I pulled Estable up and into a hug. I was surprising myself by how loving and caring I’d become. “You’re almost family, Estable. I didn’t know my own power until today, and I still don’t know what I’m capable of. There is no forgiveness required because there is nothing to forgive.”

Estable looked at Altarin. “You realize I’ve already fallen in love with your bride to be.”

Altarin hugged his brother firmly. “As has all of the Fae kingdom.”

Estable looked at me. “You don’t happen to have any sisters do you?”

I smiled. “Not that I’m aware of, but I do know a pretty young woman I could introduce you to.” I was thinking of Emily, the young Fae girl that became Cadie’s protégé.

***

With the immediate threat passed, we decided I would head back to Escalon to oversee the challenges of that city. Altarin would stay at Gortumnal long enough for Estable and his mother to take command. We’d all rejoin Ewen and Cadie back in Atheron.

“By the gods, Shaelan, I hate to be apart from you. If the people only knew the abuse you had taken in Escalon, I’m not sure they’d be so willing to let the Dark Fae go. I felt every blow, every broken bone they caused you and I was unable to help you. I’d never felt so helpless in all my life.”

I placed my hands on his chest and leaned into him. “We’ll only be apart one night until we see each other again. This bond we have is both a blessing and a curse, but more a blessing I think. I knew you could feel my pain and in a way I was so focused on you that I wasn’t thinking about myself. Our bond helped me to survive. How long do we have to wait?”

“Wait for what, my love?”

“To be married.” I couldn’t believe I was saying these words but I wanted this so badly. In the dungeons I’d even dreamed of having children.

“It almost sounds like you’re anxious.” He grabbed my butt and pulled me closer but I spun away.

“No touching until we’re married!” I teased him. “Just a little cuddling and kissing. We have to adhere to protocol.”

He laughed. “Let’s see… I suspect it will take a month to visit all the cities and villages, then once everyone is prepared we could be wed in as little as another two months. Gods… to think I’ll have to look upon your lithe and beautiful body for three months before I can touch you. I’ll go mad.”

I smiled and kissed him. “Then we’ll both go mad together. I’ll see you tomorrow, my love.” I grabbed his butt and sifted hearing “Hey!” in my mind through our connection.

***

I arrived in Escalon’s main square with a bright flash of white light which immediately notified everyone around that I arrived. Within moments I had hundreds if not thousands of people surrounding me, anxious to hear about the Court of Dawn and the city of Atheron, wanting to touch me to believe I was real, and to give me updates on the state of the city. There was no stage or podium and the number of people so great, I needed a better vantage point to speak with them all. I unfolded a pair of large white wings that might have given the people an initial scare, but I soon found they thought I looked more like an angel.

I raised myself above them slightly and shared the news. “Good people of the Courts of Light and Dawn. For those that haven’t yet met me, I’m Shaelan Scarletsun.” There were many cheers but it was clear that everyone pretty much knew who I was already. “The armies of the Dark Fae are returning to their homelands. They were poised to attack the thousands of Fae at the city of Atheron and the islands of the Court of Dawn, but we managed to convince them to drop their weapons and leave peacefully.”

“How did you convince them?” One man shouted.

“I showed them how foolish it would be to not leave peacefully.” That drew chuckles and laughter but I could tell there were still a few people questioning. I gently lifted the man up into the air and placed him back down. “Think of what I just did to you, but doing it to twenty thousand armed Dark Fae at the same time.”

The man was smiling broadly and bowed low. “Then with your great power, my Queen, we’ll never have to fear being enslaved again.”

“I vow to protect you all with my very life for as long as I live.” That elicited a very loud cheer. “I want you all to know several more things. I’ve promised the Dark Fae that in six months’ time I’ll go to the Court of Night and begin discussing a plan to allow us all to live peacefully with each other. I realize how this may make you all feel, but I don’t believe the Dark Fae are our enemies as they belong to the Fae kingdoms. It’s my belief that the Fae kingdoms can be united and thus forever strong together. It was Gwenyth that corrupted them and the one they feared that caused them to enslave you all. However, I will not tolerate any deception upon their part.”

There were a few grumbles, but that was to be expected. “What’s the second thing?” Someone shouted.

“The King of the Court of Dawn has requested my hand in marriage and I’ve accepted.” The crowd cheered wildly at that.

I lowered myself back down and removed my wings and mingled with the people. One of the High Fae I’d released earlier introduced themselves. “I’m Dragoth, my Queen. The city of Escalon is secured. We’ve found a very large weapons cache and are seeing to rebuilding the palace guard and city defenses. There are approximately twenty thousand Court of Light citizens living here and another five thousand Court of Dawn citizens. There’s much room in the city, with space enough for another thirty thousand. The palace, and in particular, your quarters are already being restored.”

“Thank you, Dragoth. I’m happy to help out anywhere I can. The homes and livelihood of the people here must come first. What of my parents?”

“I understand your wishes, my Queen, but there’s no stopping the women that used to wait on your family. I’d have to take the sword to them to keep them from getting the palace ready for you. It’s their joy and honor to serve you. I’ve placed guards in the throne room to protect your parents and stand as an honor guard. We’ve also found your mother’s clothing and the treasure vaults. Your ladies in waiting have already brought the clothing to your rooms.”

I reached out and took his hand in mine. “Thank you for all that you’ve done.”

“My Queen, it’s a true honor to witness the very prophecy that was foretold a thousand years ago. The city wants to hold a feast.”

“Let them celebrate. I’ll need to return to Atheron tomorrow as we make plans on uniting the kingdom. I’ll return tomorrow night and we can feast then if you wish to pass the word.” He bowed and quickly sent messengers running in all directions.

“My Queen?” A pretty woman bowed to me.

“Yes?”

“May I take you to your rooms now? We also have food and bath ready.”

I suddenly realized I must look terrible and my stomach growled at the thought of food. In all the fighting and events I’d forgotten I’d been wearing the same clothes for several weeks and not had a bath in all that time. Food had also been meager. “Yes, please, and thank you for arranging all of this. What’s your name?”

“Weslia, my Queen.” She had a hard time looking into my eyes.

I took Weslia’s arm in mine. “Well, Weslia, please feel free to look me in the eyes and when we’re alone, call me Shaelan.”

“My Queen?”

“It’s quite all right. I’m not your typical High Fae, or queen.”

“Whatever you say, my Queen. I want to thank you for freeing us. I sense you just came of age today?”

“Yes.”

“Oh my! I’m so sorry, my Queen! We’re not prepared. I… gods… please forgive us!”

She had stopped and was crying. “Weslia, what’s wrong?”

“Normally on the day of one’s coming of age, there are celebrations. Gifts are given. It’s one thing for a Lesser Fae like myself, but for a High Fae, our Queen, the celebrations become enormous and we’ve not done anything for you.”

I lifted her chin and looked her in the eyes and wiped her tears. “What possible celebration and gift could be better than our people being freed after one thousand years? I’m also grateful to simply be alive.”

“You’re so kind and gracious, my Queen. I still feel badly.”

“I’m sure I look quite the fright. A bath right now and some food would be the greatest gift anyone could possibly give me right now.”

She smiled and led me to my rooms.

***

The palace was huge and I could tell it would take me time to learn all the hallways and passageways. We walked for a long time and I could see hundreds of people scrubbing and cleaning. I wanted to tell them to take care of themselves first, but one look at the profound sense of loyalty in their eyes and how happy they were to see me made it difficult for me to send them away.

Finally we came to a large set of double doors that rose to the ceiling in a great arch. Weslia pushed the doors open and I almost cried at the opulence and the beauty of the room. A very large canopied bed was off to the side, a separate bathroom that glittered with silver and gold, balconies that overlooked the mountains in the distance and the city, a sitting room, and a dressing room.

“This is all for me?”

“Of course, Shaelan.” I noticed Weslia looked around to make sure we were alone when using less formal ways of addressing me. “You deserve the very best.”

How could I get across to everyone that I didn’t deserve the best? I looked at the bathroom and at the food on the table in the sitting room and was suddenly torn. A little food first, then a bath, then more food. That’s what I needed.

“Would you like help bathing, with your hair, or selecting clothes, Shaelan?”

“It’s been a difficult day, Weslia. I’ll be fine on my own today. Please, go home to your family if you have one. Be with them.”

“Thank you, Shaelan. There are celebrations all over the city tonight in case you wish to attend. Also, I understand you’ll be leaving and coming back tomorrow night?”

“Yes.”

“Then I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

“Weslia?”

“Yes, Shaelan?”

“Thank you!” I pulled her into a hug which caused her to gasp in astonishment.

“Are you always this kind, caring, and loving, Shaelan?”

I thought about that for a second. “I am now.”

When the door finally closed behind me I practically ran to the food and ate a quick snack. I carefully removed my clothing, which now that I looked at them were terribly soiled and filthy. I checked myself out in the mirror and saw dungeon straw in my hair still and how my face was caked in dirt and who knows what else. I must have really smelled horrible.

I practically orgasmed with delight as I sank beneath the hot soapy waters of the tub. I whispered to Altarin. “Escalon is free and apparently I have ladies in waiting that have scrubbed my rooms, found me clothes from my mother, and drew a bath for me. I think I’m in heaven!”

“Heaven is where I’ll take you the night we’re wed. Gortumnal is well. Celebrations are happening all over the islands. Our fleet has been restored to us by the Dark Fae. I too happen to have ladies in waiting and they even asked if I needed help in my bath.”

A surge of jealousy overcame me. “That’s not acceptable!”

Altarin laughed. “I’d never dream of it as I have the most beautiful woman in the entire world to look forward to. But the bath is a wonderful idea.”

“That’s good, because you needed one.”

“Did you look in the mirror, my love?”

“Oh hush! You should have told me that I was so filthy.”

“It was a test.”

“A test?”

“Definitely. If the people could love and accept you while you looked like you slept in a barn for a few weeks, then they’d certainly love you when you’re all cleaned up.”

I needed to get back at him for that. “Do you realize that I’m completely naked right now and all alone with a very large bed nearby?”

“That’s not fair, but I could sift right there. You could wash my back.”

I pictured him in the bath with me and a sudden flush came over me. “And I could press my body against yours and kiss your neck as I did so.” I felt the desire rise from him.

“You realize if we continue like this neither of us will be much good to anyone, let alone sleeping tonight?”

“Fine, but you can picture me alone in this big bed of mine, with nothing on, shivering with the cold.”

“You’re a vixen!” He paused for a moment. “I have a gift for you, for your coming of age. I guess it’ll need to wait until tomorrow.”

“Escalon is throwing a celebration dinner tomorrow in our honor. I think we should bring, Cadie, Ewen, and Darnel.”

“We’ll make it happen. Good night, my love.”

“Good night, Altarin.”

I climbed out of the bath infinitely cleaner than when I went in. Even after using the towels my thick, long hair was still wet so I encouraged it to dry a little faster by using some magically heated wind just to keep myself learning. That’s what I told myself anyways. I thought it was just fun having never really had magic before. Once my hair was dry I found a silver and gold hairbrush that I painstakingly used to brush my hair out and tried to recall how Cadie had helped me style it.

I next walked into the dressing area and was startled by the vast array of clothing that was before me. There were hundreds of outfits and by the look of them they hadn’t aged a day. I wondered what Emmeline, my Fae mother, would say to me right now. I walked down the aisles of clothing and surprised myself when I chose a silver dress and silver boots. The outfit seemed to come with a variety of jewelry. It took some figuring out, but when I looked at myself in the mirror I was once again startled by how exquisite I looked. The dress turned out to be more of a very short skirt, ending mid-thigh. Filmy silver cloth wrapped around me and my breasts. Bracelets were on my arms and wrists along with earrings and a necklace. My boots wrapped up my calves to my knees.

I certainly felt much better about my look. It was early evening and I wasn’t tired yet so I left my room and headed into the city, taking the time to show appreciation for everyone I met. As I left the palace a pair of finely dressed guards started walking with me. I stopped and asked their names and suggested that perhaps they could join their families. Dantoi and Zolast were their names and I could tell they would love to be with their families but were unwilling to leave my side.

“Dantoi, why don’t you introduce me to your family?” He smiled brightly and led us through the city to an open area where hundreds of people were celebrating. Everywhere I went I was getting admiring glances, but even something more than that. There was a deep respect, perhaps for my power, or perhaps it was reverence for their queen. When we entered the open area, the celebration stopped suddenly as people turned and bowed. I encouraged them to continue their celebration. Dantoi led me to his family.

“This is my wife, Alise.”

Alise’s eyes were wide looking at me. I hugged her and shook the hands of the men and learned a little about each of them. I was fed and was given drink and I was thrilled to be there with them all. After a while I turned to Alise. “Alise, I’m so honored to have your husband watch over me tonight, but I’m well protected. Please makes sure he has fun tonight.”

“I will, my Queen.” She smiled and I gently pushed Dantoi into Alise’s arms.

I turned to Zolast. “Let’s go find your family.”

“My family is dead, my Queen, but I do have a young woman I’m very interested in. She would be in another part of the city.”

“Then by all means, let’s go find her.”

He grinned and led me through various sections of the city until we came to another large celebration. There was music and singing. Once again, the celebration stopped as I entered, but a few words from me and the celebration continued.

“There she is!” I was surprised I knew her. It was Weslia. I watched as Weslia smiled and ran into Zolast’s arms.

She nodded to me and smiled. “You look stunning, my Queen. I couldn’t have chosen a better outfit or hairstyle for you. I must say, even with the state you were in before, you were beautiful then, but now, you truly look like royalty.”

Zolast was a little shocked at Weslia’s suggestion that I wasn’t at my best earlier in the day. I laughed. “You’re too generous, Weslia. I looked dreadful and we all knew it.”

“Only as dreadful as a diamond necklace that’s fallen into the dirt, my Queen. It still sparkled and shone brightly even beneath the dirt.”

I hugged her tight. “Zolast, tonight my orders for you are to stay with the celebration and to have fun.”

I left them then and wandered the streets and celebrations until I finally headed back to the palace. I was still too awake to sleep so I whispered to Altarin. “You still awake?”

“Who can sleep with all the racket these people are making?”

“Are you decent?”

“I’m always decent, my love. I’m on the balcony looking over the party, sipping some wine the Dark Fae were so kind to leave for us. Wish you…” I sifted to his side. “…were here.”

With the flash of light from my sift all the people cheered my arrival. “I kept telling myself I could stand to be without you for a day. Looks like I can’t after all.”

“Do you know how much power it takes to sift that far? I’m still regenerating from earlier today.”

I snuggled into his arms as he kissed me. “I missed you.”

“You look amazing, my love. You always look sensational, but all cleaned up, I’m not sure this is a good thing for me. You’re a temptation of the highest magnitude.”

Estable came out onto the balcony with a glass of wine in his hand. He whistled. “When you get tired of this arrogant and pompous brother of mine, I’ll be happy to oblige you, your Majesty.”

“Careful brother. I can still beat you in a fair fight. She’s mine.”

Estable sighed. “You can’t help a prince for trying.”

Altarin kept his arm around me. “It’s still your coming of age day. I have your gift in my pocket.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You’re desperate, aren’t you?”

Ellena came out onto the balcony and she rushed to give me a hug. “I never would have believed it, Shaelan. You really saved us all. I’m so glad all that power belongs to someone that will use it wisely and for the good of the people. All I hear from anyone is the golden-haired angel sent by the gods to save us.”

“Ahem… Mother, Estable… Perhaps you could give Shaelan and me a moment?”

They stepped back a ways and I looked into Altarin’s eyes. I was once again lost in them. He fished into his pocket and then dropped to one knee and took my hand in his. “This ring belonged to my great grandmother.” He placed it on my finger and I felt the weight of it, the significance. “In honor of your coming of age and being willing to marry a fool like me, I thought it appropriate.”

I looked down upon the silver ring with a large diamond solitaire and smiled. I was sure it would be worth a small fortune, but here, in the Fae lands, such trinkets seemed easier to come by. “I love it!”

“Damn the gods! Why didn’t I think of that?” Estable was ranting.

Altarin grinned at him then turned back to me. “Until you accept the ring, the marriage proposal is merely informal. This formalizes it. Had Estable got you to take a ring, you’d be marrying him instead.”

I placed my hands on Altarin’s cheeks and kissed him passionately and let my body press into his. I didn’t care that Estable was still whining or his mother was there. “Mmmmm” I moaned softly into his ear. “It’s going to be a very long wait. I should get back to Escalon in case they think they lost me and send out search parties. I had to convince the guards I could be on my own for a bit.”

“You’ll get used to it, your Majesty.” Ellena came and hugged us both.

I smiled at Ellena. “Should I start calling you mom?”

***

I woke for the first time in my new bed. I had fallen asleep very quickly and slept well. I did have nightmares about being turned into a dried up husk and being beaten, but waking at all was a blessing. I was no longer feeling like I was in the wrong body. It had been two months now since my transformation and I’d never felt better. I didn’t miss the old me in the least. There was something incredibly special about who I now was. Not the royalty part. It was the female part and being cherished by so many people. As a slave I’d lived my life in isolation. Now I had friends everywhere.

I ate and dressed and found Weslia waiting for me outside my door. “Good morning, Weslia.”

“Good morning, my Queen. Have you looked outside yet?”

“No, not yet.”

“I think you’ll be surprised.”

We stepped outside and the trees and flowers were all blooming. The city looked amazingly beautiful. “It’s so wonderful.”

“For the feast tonight, will it just be you?”

“I’ll have Altarin, Estable, Ellena, Cadie, Ewen, Emily, and Darnel joining tonight.”

“I’ll make sure there are enough seats at the head table for you all.”

“I don’t need a head table, Weslia. We can sit wherever there are seats.”

“You’re so different from what I’d expected.”

“I hope I don’t disappoint.”

“Never, my Queen.”

“I’ll see you tonight, Weslia.” With that I sifted to Atheron.

***

I arrived at Atheron’s city square and was promptly set upon by hundreds of adoring people and elders. Altarin, Cadie, Ewen, Estable, Ellena, and Darnel all rushed out to greet me. Cadie noticed my ring right away. “So, it’s official?”

I nodded as Altarin swept me into his arms.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

All of us were led into the palace and into a large room with a round table. We sat and I invited the elders of the city to join us. They were all starved for information so I relayed all the happenings of the day before. Afterwards, one of the elders placed his hands on my head and confirmed my magic powers. I wasn’t sure exactly how he did it, but I assumed this was his special gifting.

“Our Queen has peak magical gifting in at least five specialties. There is so much power there, that I doubt she could ever use it all.”

We spent the day reviewing plans. Altarin and I would travel from city to city and village to village to make sure everyone in the kingdom had a chance to voice their opinions and meet us. After all, in a few months’ time, we’d be married and would be King and Queen of a new merged Fae kingdom. We’d travel to the wall and I’d strengthen it for now. In the future, we’d reach out to the humans and forge new alliances and trading with them.

Cadie and Ewen would oversee the rebuilding of the cities defenses. Estable and Ellena would work within the Court of Dawn to rebuild their lands.

It was late in the afternoon when I sifted Cadie, Ewen, Emily, and Darnel to Escalon. When we arrived with Altarin, Estable, and Ellena sifting here on their own, the city was in full swing. Weslia was immediately at my side. “Good afternoon, my Queen!” I gave her a hug and she beamed. “The feast will start in a few hours. There are people awaiting all of you in the palace.”

“Lead the way, Weslia.”

We walked up from the city square to the palace. The throne room had been transformed to its sparkling former glory. The High Fae and the elders from far and wide had converged here it seemed and the place was brimming with people. Altarin pushed me forward. “Go on, love.”

I walked towards the throne as one of the oldest of the elders spoke. “Our queen has returned to us!”

“Long live the queen!” everyone shouted.

“Come Shaelan Scarletsun and receive your rightful and honored place.”

I looked at saw the elder held a tiara made of silver and diamonds. I knelt in front of him and he placed it upon my head. The weight of it was frightening. The weight of thousands of lives now under my care. I looked up at the throne and was disgusted by the memory of Gwenyth sitting there. I stood and everyone cheered. I held my hand up for silence. “Please make a space in the center.” Everyone moved to the sides. I concentrated and the throne disappeared and a round table of crystal appeared in the center of the throne room. “While I accept the honor of being your queen, to care for all of you, I’ll not rule from a throne, rather, I wish to give power to the people. In this place, at this table, any Fae can come and voice their concern. Any Fae can sway the direction of the kingdom. The world is far too great and the Fae kingdom far too important to reside under the decisions of a single flawed person as myself. Let’s join the feast and eat and drink to our freedom!”

There was a loud cheer and yet I could tell this was frightening for them. The concept of people guiding a kingdom instead of their queen. I shrugged and felt happy. I found Cadie and Weslia and we sent the men on ahead. “Cadie, it’s time for you to either break a heart or get engaged to be married.”

“What do you have in mind?”

***

When we were escorted to the feast I felt amazing. The fear of being killed was gone, there was peace and joy from everyone around me, and I smiled knowing Altarin and Ewen’s hearts would practically give out when they saw Cadie and me. I was dressed in a shimmering silver and gown that gave off iridescent hues as the light reflected off of it. The short skirt length exposed my thighs and long lean legs. As I walked I felt the gentle bounce of my hair and my breasts. I could feel the sway of my hips and the warm night breeze against the skin of my exposed back. Cadie was wearing an exquisite black gown that revealed more than it covered. She looked radiant and dangerous with her bow strapped to her back and dagger on her thigh. I reminded myself I needed to work with her on fighting with a sword and dagger. I opted for just my dagger, but felt I didn’t really need it anymore.

When we entered the city square the people erupted with cheers. Altarin was at my side in seconds and kissed me so deeply and passionately I was almost embarrassed in front of all these people. Almost, but not quite as I melted into his kiss. I looked into his eyes and wished my power to affect time and shorten the three months we had to wait. I ignored the additional cheers that rose from our kiss.

“You sure we can’t break protocol?”

Altarin smiled. “I’ve got infinite willpower, besides, it makes me happy to know you can’t keep your hands off of me.”

“Infinite willpower, huh?” I snuggled into his arms and brushed my lips against his neck and whispered into his ears. “I guess I shouldn’t tell you that this dress doesn’t allow for undergarments then.” Altarin visibly restrained himself. “I thought so. Nice to know I have that effect on you.”

We turned to witness Ewen kissing Cadie in a greeting and obviously was struggling keeping his hands to himself. Cadie looked at me and winked. I told Altarin I’d find him again in a few minutes.

“Estable, there you are.” He grinned as he saw me.

“Radiant as ever, your Majesty.”

I grabbed his arm in mine and led him through the crowd. When we got to where I wanted to go I let go of his arm and he looked at me questioningly. I turned and hugged a pretty dark haired girl. “Emily, so nice to see you tonight.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, my Queen.”

“I’m very proud of you, Emily. You’ve been remarkable. I’d like you to meet Estable. Estable, this is Emily.”

Emily tipped her head towards Estable who stood open mouthed. Emily was very pretty and shy. I hoped the two of them could at the very least be friends. I watched for a moment as the two hesitantly started speaking with each other. I smiled and left them to themselves and went to find Altarin.

“I saw that. Are you trying to play matchmaker?”

“I could be. I thought Emily would be a healthy distraction for your brother as long as he treats her well that is.”

Altarin and I turned back to the crowd and enjoyed the feast and celebrations long into the night.

***

A few weeks later Altarin and I sifted to the first village I arrived at. It was mostly deserted, but a few people had come back and started farming the land and rebuilding their lives. We headed into the forest which had blossomed with fresh new life. Altarin paused and took my hand in his. “Do you think you can keep up with me?” He smiled and transformed into a large golden panther. With a challenging roar, he ran south through the forest. I stood for a moment admiring the way his transformed body moved.

I imagined myself as a hawk and I flew into the air and charged after him. This was the first time I fully transformed and it felt absolutely amazing. I flew just over the tops of the trees and watched as Altarin ran through the forest below me. I swooped down and in front of him, transforming into a panther and running ahead. We stopped at the invisible wall between the realms and transformed again.

“You cheated!” He pulled me into his arms.

“You didn’t say I couldn’t transform. Take my hand.” He did and we walked through the wall into the Mortal realm and into the glade where my life changed for the better. The flowers were still there as was the very decayed body of the Dark Fae. I let go of Altarin’s hand and knelt in the flowers, placing my hand on the ground. I started to cry, thinking about everything that had happened, the lives that were lost over the thousand years, my parents, my life as a slave that seemed so distant now. I felt Altarin’s hand on my shoulder.

“This is where it all happened?” I nodded. “It’s hard to believe a Mortal could have killed a Dark Fae. This is a special place, one that I will forever cherish.”

I stood silently and looked south. “One day, we’ll visit the Mortal kings and encourage them to release the slaves.”

“It means that much to you? We could live behind the wall in peace and prosperity, never venturing into these realms.”

“We could, but then again, I’d not be able to look myself in the mirror every day.”

He smiled and took me in his arms. “That’s what I love about you. You’re always thinking of others.”

“Not always…” I reached up and cupped his face and kissed him. I took his hand in mine and I strengthened the wall once again before we sifted back to Escalon.

***

I looked at myself in the mirror, the reflection no longer foreign but no less startling. Five months had transpired since I became Shaelan. Every day I considered myself blessed by the gods to have had this happen to me. Not only was I free, but I was alive for the first time in my life. I ran my fingers over the exposed skin of my flat stomach, moving them upwards, tracing the line of my breasts. I imagined what might happen tonight and I was both afraid and excited at the same time. My eyes refocused on my flawless body. In the Fae world, less seems to be more and there was very little fabric covering me. What did cover me was the finest white silk, held together by fine platinum chains. The wisp of fabric that made up my skirt, was very short, sitting would be tricky, but I did have more fabric covering me underneath just in case. My breasts were covered, barely. Fine gossamer white satin fell from my shoulders like a cape with the exception it was secured against my thin waist with more platinum chains.

My eyes were highlighted with blue eyeshadow and flecks of silver, my lips glossy with the red lipstick. A necklace and earrings, probably worth a small fortune and could buy a kingdom in the Mortal realms adorned me. My ears were tipped with platinum and diamond coverings, accentuating their pointed length. Platinum and diamond encrusted bracelets rested on my biceps, wrists, and one ankle. My golden hair was half done up and half down and flowed around my crown. Small white flowers were braided into my hair.

“You look so beautiful, Shaelan.”

Cadie and Weslia stood nearby. I turned to them. “I think I’m more frightened of the four hour ceremony than I am of tonight.”

Cadie smiled and I looked at her ring on her finger. She was married a few weeks earlier to Ewen. “If Altarin is even half as good as Ewen, we might have to move the servants out of the palace so they don’t hear your moans of pleasure.”

“Cadie!”

She blushed brightly and shrugged. “I’m your Maid of Honor so I have to ease your nerves.” She giggled and they both held out their arms.

“You sure I can’t sift over there? It would be so much nicer than to parade myself in front of everyone.”

“And deny the Fae kingdom a chance to see their breathtaking queen? Not a chance.”

I took one last look at my bedroom, soon to be Altarin’s bedroom as well even though tonight Altarin had promised me we wouldn’t be here. Of course my maids just about pitched a fit about that as they would normally decorate the royal bed chamber and considered it a huge honor to do so. I told them they could still decorate for tomorrow night which seemed to appease them greatly.

It was a long walk through the city and ultimately back to the throne room. I was grateful I’d been slowly getting used to wearing revealing clothing as I was rather self-conscious. Of course the Fae lining the streets had no such concerns and the cheering and warm greetings I got from everyone was almost overwhelming. I had an entire retinue around me. Guards in front, Cadie and Weslia, a dozen maids in waiting following behind, and more guards. I recalled seeing kings in the Mortal realms have their parades that might have looked similar.

When we finally arrived back at the palace, the entire city seemed to have come out to watch and spread out behind me. The doors opened and I was led inside. At the far end of the palace stood the elders and Altarin, Estable, Ewen, and Ellena. My heart faltered within my chest as I looked upon Altarin. He was incredibly handsome. His eyes caressed my body sensually and I blushed at his mere look. It was even more embarrassing that tens of thousands of people knew I’d sleep in his bed tonight, or, not sleep.

Darnel took my arm in his as Cadie and Weslia walked ahead of us. “It’s an honor to release you into the hands of your husband to be.”

“Who else would I choose for this? I only wish my parents could be here right now. Of all the magic and power I have, I can’t bring them back or roll back time. It’s frustrating.”

“They would have been very proud of you.”

“I hope so.”

As we walked up the aisle, all eyes were on me. I saw so many people that I had fought with, that had risked their lives for me, and I was honored to call my people. Emily curtsied to me as I passed and I watched her eyes turn to Estable, who looked rather dashing as he stood next to Altarin.

When I stood on the raised platform and Altarin took my hand in his, I knew this was right. My fears vanished. He spoke to me in my mind. “I have no idea what I have done right in this life to deserve to stand in the presence of the most incredibly beautiful creature the gods have ever created.”

“I was wondering the same thing. You look so handsome today. Women’s hearts are breaking around the world right now.”

I watched his smile spread as the ceremony began in earnest.

***

Hours later we mingled with the thousands of people that had come to greet us and wish us well. I was officially Shaelan Camdenoly-Scarletsun, Queen of the newly merged Courts of Light and Dawn. I recently found out that I was in no way secondary to the king, rather I was still preeminent. This had something to do with Court size. I was sort of hoping Altarin would take over all the leadership of everywhere and I could relax in blissful obscurity.

Throughout the long day Altarin stayed at my side, not letting me leave his sight. It was endearing to me. We spent extra time with Cadie and Ewen and all our friends that now numbered in the hundreds. Finally as nightfall came and dinner was complete, the dance was winding down, Altarin and I bid our farewells to everyone. We stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the city and I was sifted away.

I emerged in a beautiful moon-lit forest next to a crystal clear lake. A waterfall cascaded over a cliff face hundreds of feet above the lake. Forest flowers flourished everywhere and their fresh scents filled the air. Altarin took my hand in his and stared into my eyes. “I thought this day would never come. Are you nervous?”

“A little.”

“If ever you want me to stop, just say so.”

I smiled. “I’m nervous I might not be able to go slow.”

He led me to a cottage and opened the door. A fire burned in the fireplace and candles were everywhere. Rose petals littered the floor. A bottle of wine and two glasses stood waiting for us on a small table nearby. I felt myself be lifted off the ground and I rested my head on Altarin’s broad shoulder as he carried me inside. He laid me gently on the bed, my arms around his neck pulling him with me.

“I need you.” My voice was soft. His lips met mine gently at first then our kissing grew in intensity. I felt his strong hands caressing my body. I was a fire that could not be quenched. I paused our kissing long enough to stand by the fire and drop my clothing to the floor. I watched as his eyes devoured me. He was the first person I ever stood naked as a woman before.

“Gods, you’re perfect.” I moved close as he enfolded me into his arms. I practically tore at his shirt and pants. We stood there for a moment gazing at each other’s bodies before our frenzied touching moved us back to the bed. His lips caressed my nipples and I moaned with pleasure. His hands touched me everywhere. When his tongue slipped between my wet vaginal lips I screamed softly and arched my back. His tongue danced along my clitoris until I was writing pleasure. It was then I came more powerfully than anything I’d ever experienced before. Waves of pleasure rocked my entire body. Nothing could have prepared me for this.

When my orgasm subsided Altarin kissed his way back up my body. As my lips met his I tasted myself on them and was surprised at the sweetness and how my excitement increased. There was no denying his excitement as his erect penis pressed against me. I started kissing his neck and whispered into his ear. “I want you inside me.” He needed no additional incentive. I felt pressure against my vagina as his penis pressed in to me. There was some resistance and a little pain, but then noting but immense pleasure as he pushed all the way inside me, filling me completely.

This was truly the ultimate submission of love. To willingly allow a man to penetrate me. I felt my muscles contract around his member and I felt every twitch of him inside me. He started slowly moving in and out of me. I moved my hips to match his strokes. My legs wrapped around his waist pulling him further inside me. My breasts moved with each stroke and increased my pleasure bit by bit. I felt myself building again towards another climax. Altarin’s stroke became faster and I could feel him getting larger and larger inside me. With a final deep push, I orgasmed powerfully. I felt myself clamp down on his penis as he erupted inside of me. It was such a deeply emotional and physical experience I found myself crying.

When the waves of pleasure subsided for us both Altarin gently wiped the tears from my face. “I didn’t hurt you did I?”

“No, my love. I’ve never felt anything so wonderful in my entire life.” He smiled and kissed me.

“Good, because I’m not through with you yet.”

***

We made love all night long, sleeping for brief periods of time before waking, eating a snack and drinking some wine, then making love some more. There was no part of me that felt I was Marcus any longer. I still had his memories, but I was Shaelan Camdenoly-Scarletsun now and forever. We stepped out onto the deck as the first rays of light fell across the lake and onto the cabin. My fingers were entwined with Altarin’s. He pulled me next to him and my body yearned for his touch and warmth. I looked up into his eyes as he caressed my cheek and kissed me.

“What now my beautiful wife?”

“The world can wait another day, but my lips can’t wait another minute. Kiss me again.”

***



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