Well, after a few delays here, at last, is episode 4.
To read the series prologue click here.
To read episode 3 click here.
Episode Four: Foolish Pranks
“What a disappointment!” Beritta exclaimed in disgust. “To think we were so excited about going on our first quest, and then it ended up being only herb gathering!”
“But they are rare herbs that the healers couldn’t possibly get for themselves,” said Faralasa sarcastically.
“Now all they have us doing is greeting ambassadors,” added Beritta. “Can you believe this after all that training and the elders’ talk of our amazing abilities? I was so excited when they told me I had been chosen for the quests. They made it seem like they were choosing us for our strength and courage. Anyone can run errands.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” agreed Lasa, “especially since so many good elves weren’t chosen. Did you know that Oakley is working as an animal tender?”
“Yeah, I heard. It makes sense though. Even he admitted he’s good with animals.”
“I still expected him to be chosen. He has amazing abilities for a Wood Elf.”
“Hmm…” muttered Beritta through pinched lips.
They fell silent as they turned a gentle corner in the path and the southern lake came into view. The trees around the Sapphire Lake did not come as close to the water as those of the northern one. Instead, this lake was surrounded by a wide meadow. A herd of deer grazed on the lush grass. Oakley stood in their midst.
“Hi Oakley!” Lasa hailed him as they turned off the path and onto the soft turf. “Is this part of your new job?”
“This pretty much is my new job,” Oakley replied. “I only took it because I want to work as an animal trainer someday. This is good practice.”
“Well I hope that works out for you,” said Lasa.
Beritta stood behind her friend in silence. She and Oakley were still a little awkward around each other and both were glad Lasa was there to make conversation.
“The elders told me to bring the herd down here,” said Oakley indicating the deer. “They thought you could use a couple on your quest.”
“That would be great,” said Lasa.
“We really should get going,” said Beritta.
“You’re right,” Faralasa agreed. “See you later Oakley!”
“I’ll see you,” Oakley replied. “May Light guide you.”
Each girl chose a deer and mounted. The deer bounded uphill, following a path which wound its way among aspens and evergreens. The spicy-sweet scent of pines filled their noses. They slowed a bit when they came to the gap in the southern rock wall; looking anxiously up at the guards, who nodded and watched them pass with mild interest.
Outside the protective hills of the capital, the path sloped down to the rolling plains, where it vanished in tall grass. Wildflowers colored the fields in places, accenting the wide green background like strokes of an artist’s brush. There were only a few trees to cast shade, and without their protection the heat of the sun sank into Beritta and Faralasa’s skin, leaving drops of perspiration in its wake. Small clouds of dust swirled around the hooves of the deer as they leapt off the path and onto the open plains.
Another small cloud of dust was visible in the distance. As it came closer the girls made out a small traveling party of elves. In the center of the group was a stocky white haired woman in a sky blue robe with the silver trim which marked her as an elder. She was an ambassador from a village at the southern end of Wilderah come to join the ranks of representatives from every elvin settlement on Irowasa. These ambassadors gathered in the lake capital once each year so that the elders could inform the elf king of happenings in their parts of the world.
Once the elder and her attendants were in earshot Beritta hailed her.
“Welcome Madame! I am Princess Beritta and my companion is the Lady Faralasa. We have been sent by the elders of the lake country to escort you into the city.”
The elder gave a regal nod and said, “Thank you. Lead the way.”
Beritta and Faralasa turned their mounts and led the group toward the southern gap. As they returned to the path the girls overheard one of the elder’s guards mutter, “I remember when they used to send warriors in full armor to escort ambassadors to the city. Now all they can spare is a couple girls? It is disgraceful!”
“Hold your tongue!” snapped the elder. “The princess herself came to meet me and for that I am honored.”
“Well, she still might have done it with a bit more pomp,” said the guard.
Beritta scowled. Faralasa shot her a warning glance and she attempted to hide her anger.
“Keep quiet and do not insult our hosts again!” the elder commanded.
“Yes, m’lady.” replied the guard.
Several hours later, after the ambassador’s party had been shown to their quarters, Beritta said to Faralasa, “Let’s do something fun and a little dangerous. It will make up for the lack of danger in our recent quests.”
“Okay,” said Lasa. “What did you have in mind?”
“Let’s climb that tree,” said Beritta, pointing. “We’ll walk out as far on one of the branches as we can. Then we’ll jump to a branch on the next tree, and so on. Let’s see if we can get across the entire city on tree branches.”
“That sounds fun!” Lasa agreed. “Let’s go!”
They ran to the tree and scrambled up it. Beritta bounced on a long branch then jumped, falling to the branch of the next tree. She gasped as she sailed past the branch, but had enough sense to grab it at the last minute, stopping her fall. With an effort she swung herself into the tree and put a hand against the trunk. As she stood like this, Beritta noticed that Faralasa was already several trees ahead of her. She ran along another branch to continue the game. The second jump slammed Beritta into the center of a pine. She slid down it a few feet, scratching her arms and getting bits of bark caught under her nails, before a prickly shoot stopped her. Her game was harder than she expected! She was grateful for the challenge, though. Then she noticed how easy Faralasa made it look. Lasa walked further out on the limbs than Beritta could. Also no matter how small her jump was, Lasa always made it to the next branch.
Near the northern end of the city Beritta happened to glance down and notice someone passing below her.
“Lasa!” she hissed. When her friend turned she pointed and continued, “It’s that ambassador’s guard. The rude one.”
“You mean the one who thinks we were not a proper escort?” said Lasa rolling her eyes.
“That’s the one. I’m going to teach him a lesson!”
Beritta moved to a nearby tree which was closer to were the guard was now standing. Bending, she grasped a couple branches and shook them, showering the man with pine cones. He yelled and covered his head with his hands. Stifling giggles the girls bounded into the branches of a tree a safe distance from the angry guard before climbing back to earth. They laughed and went to wash.
“Today’s ambassador was the last representative to arrive in the city, wasn’t she?” asked Faralasa.
“Yes, but don’t remind me,” groaned Beritta. “Starting tomorrow my father is going to make me sit through all the boring meetings while stuffy ambassadors update him on the state of Wilderlah.”
“I don’t envy you,” Lasa repied. “Come find me once the meetings are over for the day. I’ll see if I can cheer you up.”
The following morning found Princess Beritta seated at a long table comprised of a series of stumps which had mysteriously melded together. A canopy of short leafy trees shading this area swayed in a cool breeze off the lakes. The shadows cast a pattern of polka-dots over a group of elders and ambassadors seated on chairs of exposed twisting roots. At the head of the table, to Beritta’s right, sat the elf king himself. He was a tall regal man dressed in robes of spring green trimmed in gold. A circlet of silver vines held back his short strawberry blond hair. The king gestured at a female elder to his right. She stood and spoke.
Beritta lifted her hand to cover another yawn and slouched in her seat as the woman droned on about problems termites were causing in her forest. Her father glared at her with bright blue eyes very much like her own. Beritta sat straighter and tried to fake interest. Most of the issues seemed very dull. She found her mind wandering so often that half the time she lost track of what was being discussed.
After a few more hours of boredom, the king said, “Let’s take a break so we can come back to these issues with fresh minds.”
Beritta tried not to dash from the table in relief. She found Faralasa and proposed an idea on how they could entertain themselves.
“Remember that trick the elders taught us, the one that makes flame hover above the ground without burning it?”
“Yeah,” replied Lasa. “What about it?”
“Well,” said Beritta, “I was thinking we could use it for a practical joke.”
A few minutes later a fire sprang up between two huts. Elves cried out in alarm and ran to put it out. As soon as they came near, however, it went out on its own. While they were still staring in confusion at the place where the fire had been, a new fire sprang up in a different area. This fire also went out as soon as someone came near it. This happened a third time making the elves more irritated than afraid. Beritta and Faralasa, who were hidden in the cover of the nearby trees, found they could contain their laughter no longer. They put out the last of the hovering fires and ran up the hillside, giggling. Glancing over her shoulder as she ran, Beritta noticed Oakley near the location of her last illusionary fire. Their eyes locked for a split second. Then Beritta turned and increased her speed to catch up with Faralasa.
After a good long laugh they made their way back into the heart of the city only to be met by a couple guards who announced, “The elders wish to speak with the two of you.”
The girls exchanged a look but followed the guards to a low stone hut where a few city elders had gathered.
“What is the meaning of this?” the elders demanded at the sight of them.
“The meaning of what?” asked Beritta more to confirm the reason for the summons than out of true confusion.
“The fires were quite a clever illusion,” said one of the elders. “We know that you made them. You were seen running up the hill laughing after the fires went out. In addition an ambassador’s guard had pine cones dropped on his head yesterday evening. You were seen near the location of that incident as well.”
“Who told you these things?” asked Beritta, suspicions rising in her mind.
“It makes no difference,” the elder replied. “Can you deny it?”
The girls fell silent.
“Is there a reason you play pranks?”
Before Beritta could say anything Lasa jumped in, “We only play pranks because we’re bored. If you sent us on more important quests we wouldn’t play them anymore.”
“We must see that you’re responsible enough to handle important quests,” said the elder. “You don’t show responsibility by playing pranks. Once we’re sure we can trust you we will assign you harder missions. Now I don’t want to hear about you playing anymore pranks. If I do I shall be forced to tell your father, Beritta, and he will not be pleased. I would rather not have to do that. As ruler of Wilderlah he has enough other problems to deal with. Now, go home and do not disturb the other elves with your pranks anymore.”
Once they were out of the elders’ ear shot Beritta burst out, “It was Oakley!”
“What?” asked Lasa.
“Oakley saw us laughing and told the elders,” Beritta explained.
“You don’t know that!” Lasa argued. “The elders wouldn’t say who it was.”
“It was him all the same.”
“What difference does it make? We should listen to the elders and just go home. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she added starting in the direction of her house.
“See you,” said Beritta, but she didn’t return home.
Oakley was walking home after nightfall, weary from a long day tending animals, when he heard footsteps behind him. When he turned to see who it was, a vine shot out of the darkness. It wrapped itself around his legs, tripping him. He tried desperately to remember how to stop it as more vines wrapped around the rest of his body. It was not until they had pinned his limbs in place that he heard his captor’s voice.
“Why did you tell them?”
“Princess Beritta?!” he cried in amazement.
“Of course it is!” she snapped. “Why did you tell them?”
“Tell who what?” asked Oakley, too distracted by the fact that she had nearly mummified him in vines to think clearly.
“The elders,” said Beritta, sounding irritated. “Why did you tell the elders about our pranks?”
“I was worried about you,” Oakley confessed. “You are wasting your talents on pranks rather than putting them to good use.”
Beritta glared at him, and caused the vines around him to tighten a little.
“Ouch, take it easy!” Oakley yelped.
“How did you think telling the elders would help?” asked Beritta.
“I doubted I would have any success talking to you myself. I thought maybe you’d listen to the elders.”
“Thank you, genius, now the elders will watch my every move in case I slip up again!” Beritta shouted and the vines tightened even more.
“Beritta stop!” Oakley gasped. Then he had an idea. “Forget about the pranks for a minute,” he cried. “I’ve got something else to tell you.”
“Go ahead,” she replied without loosening his bonds, “I’m listening.”
“We need more winged horses for the city,” Oakley began. “There aren’t enough here to transport all the elves.”
“So?” snapped Beritta.
“So the elders will be sending some elves into the mountains for a round-up.”
“How fortunate for you,” she commented sarcastically.
“Not just for me,” Oakley protested. “The elders will probably send you and Lasa as questers so long as they’re not still angry with you.”
“You’re just saying that so I’ll let you go,” said Beritta, but Oakley felt the vines loosen and realized that she was considering what he had said.
“Well, you are one of the strongest elves in the city. It would only make sense that they would send you.”
Now the vines were definitely loosening.
“You had better be right, Oakley,” said Beritta, “or I’ll make you regret you said anything about the round-up!”
The vines around Oakley unwound themselves and slithered away like snakes. He sat up, rubbing his arms.
“Ouch, you could have killed me with those things!”
“I wouldn’t kill you!” said Beritta, helping him to his feet. “Hey, Oakley,” she added, “can we keep what just happened between ourselves?”
He gave her a half smile. “I promise I won’t tell anyone,” he said.
Continue to episode 5.