Adela left the castle early the next morning well before it began to stir. She flew to the clearing, stretching her wings before she would have to hide them for a long time. She landed and breathed deep of the morning air. A bird began its song in the branches of a tree nearby and she could hear a badger trundling by in the undergrowth.
A few minutes later she felt another faery approaching and Damian appeared. A red squirrel sat on his shoulder cracking a nut and putting the shell flakes in his hair. Adela laughed as she helped him brush them out. The squirrel’s nose twitched as he took in her scent and then solemnly offered her the nut.
“Thank you,” she said. Damian laughed and took another nut out of the pocket of his tunic and gave it to the squirrel.
“Are you ready?” he asked. She nodded and he offered to take her bag. They slowly set off through the forest at first keeping no conversation.
“Have you told anyone else?” Damian asked.
“No, I said that the king and queen sent me to help with a famine,” Adela said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
‘What happens if they find out?” Damian asked.
“I don’t know,” Adela said. “I don’t even know what I’m going to do once I get there. I can’t kill him.”
“Take as long as possible. We’ll figure something out,” Damian said. Adela let that reassure her for the moment.
“I didn’t know you had a pet squirrel,” she said.
“Yes, his name is Annoying,” Damian joked. “He was lost in a blizzard one winter, so I took care of him and he never left. So I’m stuck with him now.” He handed the squirrel another nut as it tapped his shoulder. Adela smiled and they began to talk more easily about the life in the forest.
All too soon they reached the edge. A word from Damian sent the squirrel scampering back into the trees. Both faeries hid their wings and slightly altered their appearance so that the mortals would not immediately suspect them of being faeries.
Adela took one last longing look at the forest and then Damian led her on.
Count Stefan’s lands began nearly seven miles from the forest’s edge. After two hours they reached the border.
“This is it,” Adela said. Damian nodded.
“I don’t want to leave you alone,” he said.
“You have to,” she replied. “Marek will be trying to find me. I can’t let him know that you’re here with me.” She said.
“Surely we can break the rule this once…” Damian said.
“No,” Adela said. “Like you said, we’ll find a way.” She squeezed his hand, surprised at the familiarity already between them. He looked down at her.
“Be careful,” he said.
“Good bye,” she said, then turned quickly and walked away. She couldn’t drag it out any longer or her heart would break.
Damian watched her go. Then he changed himself into a barn owl and flew north over Marek’s lands. He could tell that the ground was fertile but despite the life of the soil there was a darkness over the lands. The people lived in misery and fear. He could sense a looming presence further north and flew towards it. A black castle ruled over the cowering land.
Damian hovered over the castle. It was filled with soldiers and he sensed an even greater power. The witch lurked within the walls. He wished he could do something but he was not strong enough by himself. Angrily, he turned back to the forest, returning to his form once he was inside the trees. He could feel Adela’s bond through the bracelet. She was traveling down the long dusty road. Alone.