This chapter is told from the perspective of Stefan Nilsson.
I slept in Leila’s bed on the night she was taken. I wouldn’t have slept at all, but fighting the werewolves and chasing after Leila had taken a lot out of me. It was a good thing that I was so exhausted that I passed out as soon as my head hit her pillow, because otherwise I would have laid there, paralyzed by guilt. If I hadn’t insisted on going with her through the secret passages– or if I hadn’t subsequently demanded to he allowed to get my axes– Laila might not have been caught.
Aubré was quick to point out my foolishness. He said I should never have gone into the secret passages, and that if I’d waited and listened to him, I could have stopped Erik from giving the werewolves her clothes to smell. He was also angry that I was the reason Erik had drunk to much from Jean-Marc. Evander and some of the others had tried reassuring me that they probably would have found her no matter what, but I argued that I could have helped him guard her if I’d stayed with them. Besides, what was the point of secret passages if it was so hopeless?
After I woke and dressed, Aubré kept making remarks about how poorly I had handled things the night before. Jean-Marc did what he could do get him to shut up. but he was till weak; not as weak as Maël still was, but enough that it was discussed that they should both stay behind while the rest of us made the journey to rescue Leila
“We’re staying together.” Jean-Marc insisted. “I’ve already made arrangements with my staff to get started on the clean-up and repairs.”
As Jean-Marc explained it, the people of Tierney Ríocht tended to come together to make sure the musicians who protected their world were had safe, comfortable homes. We didn’t know how long we’d be away from the manor-house, but he seemed to think that the repairs would be done around the time we returned. Aubré seemed less hopeful that we would return at all, but that sounded counter-intuitive to the idea that the musicians were not to be harmed.
“You guys really need to stop fighting,” Larsa said when he could get in a word. He’d been filling up on breakfast while waiting for a chance to speak. “Leila wouldn’t like it, and it’s not going to help us find her.”
“You’ve been a lot more help than he’s been,” Aubré told Larsa, gesturing to me.
Larsa’s mouth scrunched to one side as he looked between us. “All I did was throw pebbles. Stefan was the one so nearly took down Xanthus and Erik. But I don’t want to listen to you guys argue anymore, okay? Leila’s probably really scared, and she’d be even more worried if she knew you you were fighting.”
Tobias looked proud to be hearing the way Larsa spoke. “You’re right. young man. Tierney Ríocht needs us to cooperate for the sake of both Leila and Brielle. Pointing the finger at who may be at fault isn’t going to bring them home.”
In our discussions, Jean-Marc and his fellow musicians had explained that Matthias and Erik were both vampires from the same bloodline, meaning they served the same lord, though from different points in that bloodline. Erik had been sired ages ago but their grand-master, making him more powerful and respected. Matthias was much younger, separated by several generations, and had only taken his first fledgling less than ten years ago. That very fledgling was the one at the heart of our problems with Brielle: Ingrid.
It was obvious, then, that if Ingrid’s master had come to take Leila, and that he’d come with Erik, Xanthus, and a good many werewolves, the grand-master had approved of this venture. It was no secret where their castle was, and the journey was perhaps a couple days long, but the vampires had the advantage of being able to travel safely even at night. They would have arrived long before us even if we could have followed that very night.
Jean-Marc diverted some of his staff from cleaning to help us pack and load up the animals and a couple carriages. The decision of where Leila was to begin her journey through Tierney Ríocht had basically been made for her: instead of looking for the person she’d be teaching to play oboe, or the palace she’d be calling home in this world, she would be journeying to Lady Brielle DeChanson. I wouldn’t be letting her be there alone, and the others were on board with being by her side as well.
I would be riding Sleipnir, and Killian and Larsa would be of the moose Evander had brought from his homeland. Argos would take Nikolai, and another centaur would carry Evander, and the others would take seats among the two carriages. We could switch off as we pleased, of course, but Larsa wanted to be out in nature, and I could not be expected to sit still inside a carriage; it was going to be difficult enough not riding ahead.
It was nearly noon by the time we were actually on the road. I had wanted to to leave much earlier than that, but preparations seemed to take forever. They were even bringing their instruments, which made me worry about just how long they planned to be at this vampire’s castle. It felt strange that I didn’t an mine with me, or that Leila didn’t have hers; Once this matter with the vampires was settled, she would have to find a way to get back to Earth to get our oboes, or else we wouldn’t be able to do what we were really needed for.
The day was bright, and the forest full of life. Whatever monsters had lurked in there the night before, they were gone now. Evander told me that while there were usually shadow creatures roaming at night, the vampires– especially the older ones– could make the shadows even deeper, and could summon more of the things that thrived in the darkness. They were weak to the sunlight, however, and would retreated to darker places.
There where many paths through the forest– the Croíceol Woods, according to the map I was given– and we passed a few travelers here and there. We were maybe a mile away from the northern exit when we pulled into a clearing for lunch. There wouldn’t be a village for quite a while even after we were out of the woods, and the clearing was a pleasant spot near a wide pond. Brom and the others unbound their horses from the carriages to let them water the clearing to enjoy the grass, herbs, and flowers that grew here are there.
“Larsa,” I heard Killian call as I relaxed on a sloping patch of clover, “I know ye like the moose, lad, but ye’ve got tae rest fer lunch!”
I looked over to see the moose walking away from the rest of the group, right towards the pond. Larsa had been part-away off of it, and he had to scramble to get back on and try to steer it over to the greens that the horses were enjoying.
“Woah, hey Elan, you’re supposed to let me down first,” Larsa told the moose, who walked straight into the pond away. “Oooooh, and I really wanted that sandwich.”
Evander chuckled as he watched them. “Looks like Elan worked up quite an appetite getting you this far,” he told Larsa. “Pond lilies are one of his favorites.”
Larsa sighed and resigned himself to sitting there while the moose ate several lily pads, flowers and all. I offered to try going out there with Sleipnir to rescue him, but he declined.
“We’re gonna check out the island in the middle of the pond!” he called back to me. “I bet that tree has some pretty good fruit on it.”
“Aubré, does that look like a silver-pear tree to you?” I Tobias ask.
Aubré looked up from his meal to gaze across the pond. “Hard to tell from here. It would be quite a find if there was one this far from the fae lands– of course it’s way out on that little island, where not much can get to it. We’ll see what the boy finds if he can get the moose out of the water.”
After a while of letting Larsa try to get Elan moving, Tobias flew out across the pond and landed beside the tree. From what I could tell, it was wide and thick like an oak, but its bark was lighter and had a faint pink hue to it. He stepped under the thick, branching canopy and reached onto the branches to pick one of the fruits. When he stepped back out, he had the largest pear I’d ever seen in his hands, split open and dripping with juice.
Elan sniffed the air, then rushed over to Tobias to take the half-pear from him. Larsa had to duck down low to keep from getting a face-full of leaves. He was close enough to the branches that he could grab hold of one of them and climb up into them.
“Killian, these are amazing!” Larsa yelled after a couple minutes. He couldn’t find a place to stick his head out, so he went with calling as loudly as he could. Larsa passed a few of them down for Tobias to fly over to share with us.
“Silver pears are highly sought-after,” Evander explained and Tobias split the fruits and passed out the halves to anyone who wanted some. “They’re not overly sweet, but their flavor is unforgettable. They’re very good for you, too.”
I nodded as I accepted it from him. The juice was already dripping down my fingers, making he hurry to lick it up, then to suck down some of the extra juice from around the flesh. It reminded my of pears back on Earth, but more bold, like the way pineapples and oranges make their flavors known. It was also a little sticker than Terran pears. The outside shimmered, parts of it rosy, other areas more silver, rather than the dull yellow-green peels we were used to back home. They were almost crystalline on the outside. The flesh was tender, sweet, and juicy; before long, I had eaten down to its core.
“There are plenty of silver-pear trees in the fae forests,” Tobias explained. “We love to fill up on them when their fruit is ripe.”
“Which is most of the year,” Aubré added.
“Do they grow in the elvan forests, too” I asked.
“A few of them,” he replied, “but not nearly as many as in the fae lands. Out here in the human kingdom, they’re incredibly valuable.” The he turned back to Tobias. “Are there enough to harvest?”
The fae man grinned and nodded excitedly. “I’ll get a couple satchels and help Larsa gather them.” And he flew off to do just that.
“Heh… Just be sure Larsa doesn’t eat them all while he’s up there, I commented.”
Aubré looked back to me, the frustration evident in his expression.
“What?” I asked.
“If you knew what he could do, given the right training, you wouldn’t be holding him back so much.”
“What are you talking about?” I scoffed. “Larsa used a magical item–”
“Which he could not have done were there no magic within him,” Aubré told me, his tone making it clear that he didn’t appreciate my lack of faith is my cousin. “You should treasure his abilities more, Stefan. You are all force and muscle, but there are times when the situation is better suited for magic. Let him eat as much as he wants; silver-pears are great for enhancing latent magical abilities.”