Xandra is about to send my uncle flying through a wall. “What do you mean we must get married first? Tabitha has been kidnapped. We don’t even know if she’s alive,” she says, her temper holding on by the tiniest of threads. I agree with her. No matter how much I want to marry my beautiful Witch Fairy, saving Tabitha should come first.
“The Goblins are not going to hurt her,” Dagda replies.
I understand why he believes this. The Goblins stand knee high and their magic is negligible. Considering Xandra knows nothing about Goblins, though, his words are not going to be reassuring for her. And, since these tiny, almost magic-less beings managed to kidnap a powerful Fairy, she should not be reassured.
“Goblins? Don’t they eat babies or something?” Xandra demands to know.
I really need to work on her magical education. There just never seems to be time between crises. Dagda can barely control his amusement at her ignorance. I have no pity for him now if she throws him through a wall. “How can he be so amused when the woman who raised him has been kidnapped by Goblins?” Xandra mutters under her breath and this wipes the smile right off my uncle’s face. I’m the amused one now.
Irritated, Dagda explains why the Goblins are not likely to harm Tabitha. This is probably true, they are not an aggressive race. Though, there is a much greater danger in their realm. Before I can get my mouth open to explain this to Xandra gently, my uncle is saying, “…the rings the two of you are wearing are shining so brightly you could light the night sky over half of the Dragon realm. The Dragons are far from blind. It would be impossible to sneak past them.”
Xandra’s eyes become saucers. “I’m sorry, I must be hearing things. I thought you said Dragons. Did you mean dragon flies?” I try hard not to chuckle. But she says the funniest things when she is nervous.
After several words back and forth with my uncle, Xandra turns to me. “Is he telling the truth?”
I wish I could deny it. “Unfortunately, he is. He is also correct about our rings.” I am no happier than Xandra for the delay. Sometimes, I wish I could be as rash as she is. Accepting the truth and bowing down to it can be the hardest thing in the world to do. I want nothing more than to take Xandra’s hand and rush off right now to save the woman who is my second grandmother. But, Dagda is right. We cannot. We would only be adding to the danger with our glowing rings.
Finally accepting the reality of the situation, Xandra says to Dagda, “Okay, how fast can you marry us?”
Grandmother is the one to respond. “No. We will send word to the Goblins that negotiations will begin in two days’ time. That will give us today to plan the rescue and tomorrow for a proper hand-fasting.”
A proper hand-fasting? She cannot be serious. A simple ceremony will be enough to stop the magic making our rings glow. I open my mouth to say this when Xandra’s mother beats me to it. “Isla, I appreciate that you want the kids to have a proper hand-fasting. So do I. But it seems time is of the essence here. Why don’t we have a quick ceremony now and the kids could repeat their vows in a proper ceremony after this situation is taken care of?” I am growing quite fond of the Witch spirit.
Xandra is thrilled with her mother’s words. “I’m okay with that. Kallen?”
I hate being in this position. The word ‘yes’ is on my tongue, but I know it does not matter what I say. Grandmother and Dagda will have their way in this. They are looking to the future, not just the moment. They are considering the politics of the situation. I hate politics, but Xandra will be Queen someday. My eyes turn to Grandmother. “What guarantee could we require if we ask for two days?” More importantly, I ask, “And are you certain the Goblins who took her are able to communicate at a reasonable level?”
Nonplussed, Xandra asks, “What do you mean? They wrote a note so they must be able to communicate.”
“Goblin evolution is complicated. Some are more evolved than others,” Grandmother explains.
This still makes no sense to Xandra, which is reasonable. This type of evolution rarely takes place. “How can that be?” she asks.
Call me a coward, but I do not want to be the one to explain this to her. Neither does my uncle. This is obvious when he shakes his head and says, “For god’s sake Isla, just tell her.” This comes out sounding like an edict.
Grandmother glares at him and his cowardice. Her voice harder than titanium, she says, “Of course, your majesty.” She never calls him this. Is that fear trying to rim my uncle’s eyes? He knows he is treading in dangerous territory by ordering her to do anything. “And are you going to restrain her so she does not go running off and try to solve the problems of the entire Dragon realm?”
Dagda pushes away from the wall he’s leaning against and straightens himself up. “Have a little more faith that her maturity has grown at least an iota since she arrived in this realm.”
“My priority is keeping everyone alive and well, not taking chances on what she will or will not do.”
Annoyed, Xandra says, “Um, you guys know I’m standing right here, right?”
She is not the only one annoyed. “Isla, what is it you’re so worried about? Whatever it is, I’m sure Xandra can handle it,” her mother says.
I believe she can handle it. It is how she is going to handle it is the problem. For some reason, Xandra is now glaring at me. What did I do? I have not even said anything in the last several minutes. I raise my brows in question.
After a moment, Xandra says, “Okay, I get that you think I’m going to overreact. I promise I won’t. I’ll sit right here on my stool and I won’t do anything until we all agree on a plan.” I do not believe her. Neither does anyone else in the room.
Regardless, Grandmother sighs and asks, “You promise?”
The suspense already has Xandra squirming on her stool. “Yes already. What??”
“The reason there is such a difference in evolution is because some of the Goblins are bred to be food.” Xandra stills and I brace myself for her reaction. Something or someone is going to go flying. I am already pulling magic to start the reparations.
Surprising all of us, she simply nods her head in acknowledgement of Grandmother’s words. Taking this as a sign it is safe to continue, Grandmother says, “The Dragons are the dominant race in the realm and their main diet is Goblin. As some of the Goblins evolved, they figured out they could breed the…for lack of a better word – stupid ones, and offer them to the Dragons. If they did this, the Dragons would leave the smarter ones alone.” The barbaric situation has gone on for as long as I can remember. Out of fear of the Dragons, no one has chosen to step in.
Again, I prepare myself for Xandra’s reaction. Yet again, she surprises us all when she folds her hands on the counter and takes a moment to ponder her response. Finally, she says, “So, these ‘smart’ Goblins,” she makes an odd gesture with her fingers when she says the word smart, “They somehow get others of their own race to have babies so they can feed them to real live Dragons. Do they at least kill them ahead of time or do they let the Dragons play with their food first.”
No one in the room is stupid enough to answer that question. Reaching out, I place a hand on her shoulder and attempt to comfort her. “Xandra…”
She does not want to hear anything I have to say at the moment. She shakes my hand off and points her ire toward me. “You all know about this and you have never done anything to save them?” Since the only response to this question is ‘yes’, Grandmother, Dagda and I remain silent. In our defense, Xandra knows nothing of the Dragons and their strength. These are not beings who can be forced to do anything.
“My god, how barbaric are you people…Fairies?” Xandra’s father growls. “How can you live with yourselves as you ignore such atrocities?”
Dagda may fear his daughter’s reaction, but he calls her father out on his judgment. “We also know Cowans kill each other at will, sometimes over trivial things such as fossil remnants. “You also perform, and even force each other to do, unspeakable acts. Some of which are perpetrated upon your children. Should we come to your realm and do something to stop all of that?”
This sparks an argument between the two which Grandmother is wise enough to interrupt before my beautiful bride-to-be steps in. “Gentlemen, can we please focus on the topic at hand? Preferably before Xandra throws someone through a wall. I am not in the mood for redecorating.”
Xandra is breathing deeply, trying to avoid doing just that. “Fine, you made your point,” she says to Dagda. She cannot help but add, “But human sacrifices have been out of style in our realm for a long time.”
Dagda crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the wall. “Semantics.”
Again, I place my hand on Xandra’s shoulder in a show of support. She does not shake it off this time. “Moving on,” she snarls.
Attempting to sway away from the explosive conversation, I say, “Grandmother? The negotiations?”
“We simply tell them we will not be available to negotiate until two days from now.”
Xandra is not pleased with Grandmother’s response. At this point, anything less than leaving right this minute to fix the Dragon realm is not going to please her. “If I was a Goblin soon to be Dragon food, I don’t think I’d like that response,” she snipes. Kegan, who has been conspicuously quiet until now, coughs into his hand to cover a snicker. Grandmother gives him a sharp look.
Grandmother looks to me for help in reassuring Xandra. “Do you honestly believe the Goblins are capable of doing harm to Tabitha? At the very most, they have her restrained. It is not in their nature to cause harm.” I thought Grandmother was smarter than this. How could she utter those words and not expect the conversation to take another turn for the worse? Xandra’s hold on her temper is precarious at best. “Um, they feed each other to Dragons so it seems like it is in their nature to cause harm,” Xandra argues. “Apparently it’s also in their nature to kidnap people. Do they do this regularly as well?”
Grandmother is aware of the mistake she made. “It has never happened before,” she says tersely.
As expected, this conversation degenerates quickly. Words are exchanged between Xandra, Dagda and Xandra’s father that come close to violence. Violence on Xandra’s part. It is several anxiety ridden moments before I know if I will need to reconstruct a wall because my uncle has been thrown through it.
“Perhaps we can get back on topic now?” Grandmother finally interjects. After glaring yet again at her biological father, Xandra eventually nods in agreement. “I do not believe the Goblins have become violent. I believe they are simply desperate for help. A couple of days will not make a difference.”
Yet, Xandra is still not convinced. “You don’t think they’re going to hurt Tabitha if we make them wait? I don’t know if I’m willing to take that chance. Starting a marriage with part of the family being held hostage by Goblins seems like a bad omen.”
The idea of being hand-fasted without Tabitha being present is heartbreaking. If she survives, she will be heartbroken, as well. There is no good solution to this this situation. But, the hand-fasting must occur to give us the best possibility for rescuing her. In an effort to make both Xandra and me feel better, I lean over and whisper in her ear, “The entire Fae realm could be held ransom and our hand-fasting will still be perfect.” I kiss her neck just behind her ear to emphasize my words. This elicits a very soft moan from her.
“If you two are done, we can start making plans,” Kegan says sourly.
He could not sound more jealous if he tried. I give him an evil grin before saying to Grandmother, “How shall we communicate our response to the Goblins?”
I cannot believe these words fall from her lips. She has refused to say this Fairy’s name since long before I was born. “I believe Garren would be willing to serve as a go-between. He has spent many years amongst the Goblins and Dragons.” From head to toe, Grandmother’s skin turns a ruby red. She truly wants to ask him for help? She is more concerned for Tabitha’s safety than she has thus far let on.
“Who’s Garren?” Xandra asks. Grandmother’s lips form a perfect, straight line and her eyes fill with deadly poison when she points them at me. At the moment, I am more willing to risk Xandra’s wrath than Grandmother’s so I will not be answering that question right now. I give Xandra a slight shake of my head. I will tell her later. When we are not in Grandmother’s presence.
Understanding thankfully passes over Xandra’s face. She is going to let me off the hook for the time being. “Does he live in the Dragon realm? I could just open a passage to there to give him the message,” she says.
Dagda shakes his head. “No. We want to keep you as a secret weapon for the time being. The Dragons would be far too interested in you if you showed too much power up front.” I had not thought of this, but he is correct. The Dragons are certainly going to see Xandra as a threat when they discover how powerful she is.
“Then what do we do?” Xandra asks, eager to get a plan in place. If she cannot act, she at least needs to plan.
Dagda pushes away from the wall again and walks to the counter. “The Dragon realm is not closed off from us. Fairies are able to enter as they please. Though most of us find very little reason to enter that particular realm. Not everyone aspires to be a Dragonologist.” Only if you are trying to escape the most powerful Fairy in the universe because you hurt her so badly she wants you dead. Garren is much safer in the Dragon realm than in this one.
“I take it this Garren guy is a Dragonologist?” Xandra says, glancing sideways at Grandmother. “Okay, so who is going through to the realm to ask him to give the Goblins a message for us?”
“I will,” I offer. Anything to get this plan in motion.
Dagda shakes his head. “You have a hand-fasting to plan. Kegan, you will bring the message.” I have to help plan the bloody thing? I would groan aloud, but I fear Xandra would steal my stool away with magic.
Kegan has turned an interesting shade of green. “When would you like me to leave?” he asks.
I cannot help but tease him. “Still afraid of Dragons, cousin?”
Kegan glares at me across the counter. “Simply because I am cautious while around fire-breathing beings does not mean I fear them.” Meaning, he is still terrified of them. I send him a simpering grin.
Trying to make him feel better, Xandra says, “Maybe you won’t run into any Dragons.” She is now the victim of his glare.
Concerned for my cousin’s safety and his courage, Dagda says, “I will send two guards with you.”
“Thank you,” Kegan says, embarrassment coursing through him.
Dagda gives him a curt nod. “Be ready to go in an hour.”
With that settled, Grandmother turns to me. “Good, now we can move on to the hand-fasting. Assuming you have not made any more deals with Angels?”
Not amused by the gest, Xandra snarks, “No, I haven’t made any more deals.” Since I clearly remember last night, I am convinced this is true. Though, I should not think too long on last night or my eagerness to relive it will become obvious.
My mind is pulled from its musings by the argument which erupts around me. Dagda insists we marry in the palace and Xandra’s father is furious. The two quickly reach an impasse. Neither Grandmother nor Xandra can get through to either of them.
This is ridiculous. It is not their place to decide. “I believe where the hand-fasting takes place is between Xandra and me.” The tone of my voice has both King and spirit struck dumb. I use this sudden quiet to ask Xandra, “Where would you like the hand-fasting to take place?”
I love her even more when she says, “Um, a quiet ceremony on the beach would be nice.” Perfect.
“A princess does not have a ‘quiet ceremony,’” Dagda growls.
Xandra growls back. “This princess does.”
Grandmother takes a different approach. She goes for guilt and responsibility. Never a winning combination for anyone. “As much as the two of you have grown fond of flouting our customs, this is an instance where you may need to look beyond your own interests. Xandra, you may rule as Queen here one day and your behavior now could affect how loyal your subjects are then.”
In lieu of a response, Xandra jumps off her stool and exclaims, “Brr!” I try not to chuckle when I realize what happened. Her mother put her hand inside her daughter on accident and may have caused frostbite.
Choosing to ignore Xandra’s rightful outburst, her mother says to her father, “Isla is right. Xandra is a Princess and should act like it.” The betrayal on her husband’s face is hard to look at. He has been forced to put his own feelings aside quite a bit since I met him. This may be the final straw before he spirals over the edge of crazy.
Xandra does her best to appease everyone. “Fine. But only if Dad can walk me down the aisle.” An excellent compromise on her part. Considering Dagda will be performing the ceremony, he is able to readily acquiesce to her terms. After this, Xandra’s father is forced to do the same or look like a petulant child.
Pleased, Grandmother says, “Then it is time to start planning.”
“I will leave that to you while I put together a team to escort Kegan,” Dagda says as he and Kegan make for the door. What I would give to be going with them. What do I know about planning a hand-fasting?
Xandra, it seems, is also at a loss. “What do we do?” she asks.
I make one last attempt to get out of this. “Perhaps I should go with Kegan,” I say, rising to my feet.
My beautiful bride-to-be grabs my arm. “Uh uh. If I have to help plan, then so do you.”
The previous was not my last attempt. I try just one more time. “It is tradition for the bride to plan.”
Xandra snorts indelicately. “Then lucky for you I’m not traditional.” In my peripheral vision, I can see Grandmother and Xandra’s mother trying not to laugh at me.
I know when I am beaten. With a sigh, I sit back down. Sounding even to my own ears like someone planning a funeral instead of a hand-fasting, I ask, “What must I do?”
Xandra gives me a sour look, not at all pleased with my lack of interest in the details of our hand-fasting. “You must find a new bride if you’re going to be that enthusiastic about marrying this one.”
With a grin, I ask, “Would that get me out of planning?” I forgot how hard the kitchen tile is. Why do I insist upon teasing Xandra until she gets angry enough to make my stool disappear? Precisely what Grandmother and Xandra’s mother are discussing at the moment. I do not appreciate their humor. I try to convey this with my expression while I put my chair to rights.
As the conversation moves to decorations and flowers, I find myself daydreaming about the wedding night. I am completely oblivious to what is being said until Xandra exclaims, “What? What guest list? I thought we’d just have a quiet ceremony with friends.” She and Grandmother begin to argue the importance of having esteemed members of society present.
How ridiculous. I cannot hold my tongue. “Grandmother, I agree with Xandra. It is bad enough that our hand-fasting will fall under the shadow of Tabitha’s kidnapping. I do not think expecting us to entertain guests is a reasonable request.” I will not budge on this point and neither will Xandra.
It is Grandmother who gives in this time. She agrees to invite only a handful of high ranking Fairies. Changing the topic, she begins to discuss food to be served after the ceremony. Here, my attention wans again. Food will not be what is on my mind after the hand-fasting is complete.
Trying to drag me back into the conversation, Xandra asks me, “Do you have any ideas?”
I try to imagine a banquet prepared by someone other than Tabitha. I cannot. “There are several dishes I would prefer but they are Tabitha’s recipes. It would not be the same to serve them without her present.”
Sensing how difficult this topic is for me, Grandmother hurries to say, “Then I will instruct Dagda’s kitchen staff to prepare standard hand-fasting fare.” She lists off several dishes that sound less than thrilling but still edible. Moving on, she says, “Now we should talk about the dress.”
“I would like to design my own dress,” Xandra says quickly.
This does not seem wise. Especially in her agitated state. “As beautiful as I am sure you will look in your creation, I prefer not to be wearing the same thing.”
Rolling her eyes at me, Xandra snarks, “I didn’t mean I’d make it. I just want to design it.” Thank god.
“Alright,” Grandmother says in relief. “You provide me with a drawing and I will do my best to create it.”
Mindful of the minutes ticking by with Tabitha gone, Xandra asks, “Can we have the ceremony as early as possible so we can get to the Dragon realm tomorrow night?” she asks.
Slightly taken aback at the lack of protocol, Grandmother says, “There are appearances to consider.”
Appearances be damned. As if reading my mind, Xandra says, “Wouldn’t the appearance of a Princess who is willing to give up her wedding day in favor of rescuing a loved one be a better appearance than partying all day and night like I don’t have anything else to worry about?” God, I love her.
“Again Grandmother, I must agree with Xandra. As happy as I am the hand-fasting will take place tomorrow, my mind will still be focused on how to rescue Tabitha and how soon we can get to it.” There may be one or two other things on my mind, but they will need to wait unfortunately.
Even Xandra’s parents speak their agreement with this. Once again, it is Grandmother who must give in. “Then we will hold the ceremony at eleven. We can serve lunch instead of dinner and excuse the guests by two. That will give us time to prepare and be on our way before dinner.”
“Sounds good to me,” Xandra says. She looks up at me to get my opinion.
“Perfect,” I say, smiling.