The sunlight filtered through the leaded glass windows of Castle Guinevere, dancing among the assembled members of the faery court. The courtiers looked around at each other warily, wondering why their king had summoned them this day.
"I am bored.", King Niall bellowed.
"There is no need to shout dear brother.", Lady Katherine scolded from her place next to him on the dias.
He glanced at her, a frown on his face. She tilted her head towards him, gracing him with one of her disarming smiles.
"We are all bored brother mine, but you do not hear the rest of bellowing like wild boars."
"Am I not King here?", he asked; feigning displeasure.
"That you are, and what care I? Am I not Queen?"
"For now sister dear, for now."
He watched her out of the corner of his eye, smiling at the anger flashing in her eyes. As his blooded sister, she was reigning queen of Shalidar until he married. Not that a marriage was likely to happen anytime soon, he rather enjoyed ruling with Katherine at his side. He trusted her completely, knew she would never betray him. She understood him, understood his moods. But more importantly she understood his nature, so easily sparked to mischief. She was like him, faery to the core.
"Lady Katherine, do not be ill with me. You know that I meant no harm."
"Did you not brother?", she asked him, pinning him with a withering glare.
"No. I am bored, as I said.", he answered, laughing as anger again flashed in her gaze.
"My lord king, that is no excuse for rudeness. But I dare say that I am bored as well. What we need is a challenge, or a quest.", she said, sighing heavily.
"No, we did that only a fortnight ago. We need something different. I tire of sending out fools to slay dragons."
"You know, my lord, that I have long said that it is the shame of all Shalidar that we do not have one single bard, or minstrel, or court musician. All the other great kingdoms have had them. Remember how the halls of Tara used to come alive when their bard spoke."
"Yes, I remember well. Perhaps you are right."
"Yes. I always thought that we needed a troupe of hansdsome gypsy minstrels.", Katherine said, smiling brightly at the thought.
"Ah, but I fear that gypsy minstrels are no more, dear Katherine. They belong to a long forgotten time, just as we do."
"Then we will just have to find a group of modern day gypsies; won't we.", Katherine replied; her mind made up.
The last thing they remembered was a bright flash of light, followed by utter darkness. They had been gathered at the House of Elrond, preparing for a dangerous journey. Now the five men stood in silence, looking around in amazement at their surroundings. The air was tinged with the mingled smells of rain and roses. Flowers grew in riotous abundance in the open meadow around them, a brilliant blaze of color. Butterfiles danced on the gentle breeze, dodging huge bumblebees that sipped the sweet nectar. Around the meadow, the forest edge was thick and dim, hiding all manner of beasts.
"What the hell?", Boromir mumbled, looking at the rest of the group.
"What happened? Where are we?", Pippin asked, looking around the open field.
"Well, I don't think we're in Rivendell anymore.", Legolas said softly.
"I just want to know how we got here, and why.", Aragorn said, somewhat irritated that, for once, he didn't know what was going on.
"You have been summoned.", a soft voice called from behind them.
The five men spun around, their mouths dropping open at the site before them. A young woman stood unmoving, and they were all sure she had not been there a moment before. She had long auburn hair that fell past her waist, and deep green eyes that sparkled like finely faceted emeralds. She wore a long pale pink dress, and a bodice laced so tight it seemed impossible for her to be breathing. That alone would have been enough to convince them that she was far from normal. But, there were also the glimmering gossamer wings that fluttered behind her, their length barely brushing the ground.
She smiled sweetly at them, and then turned to walk away. She took several steps, and then turned to find the group still rooted to the same spot.
"You have been summoned.", she repeated. "Come with me."
"Where?", Merry asked; moving to follow her.
"To Castle Guinevere of course."
"Of course. You do not expect the royal court to come to you. You are not, how do you mortals say it, important here."
"We mortals?", Aragorn asked. "What exactly does that mean?"
She laughed at his question, a soft sound like falling rain.
"Look around you mortal, and tell me that this is your world."
It was obvious, even from the small amount of time that they had been there, that this was not their 'world'. As much as it seemed like a quaint version of Middle Earth, there was an alieness at its core that one felt almost immediately.
"Why are we here?", Merry asked, completely enthralled by the young woman as she led them across the meadow.
"You have been summoned."
"You said that aleady. But you haven't told us why.", Boromir stated.
"All will be revealed. See, the castle is just there.", she said, ponting to a large castle that suddenly rose up out of the mist.
"What's your name?"
"My name is not important.", she answered softly, smiling at Merry.
They walked the rest of the way in silence, their minds flooded with questions and thoughts. How did they come to be there, why were they there, and just where exactly were they. The strange young woman had promised that all would be revealed, but none of them felt overly certain of that. A shiver ran up Legolas' spine as they entered the large gate, armed gaurds posted on either side. They smiled and bowed to the young woman as she passed, but never spoke a word.
Aragorn had the feeling that they were in way over their heads, and only getting deeper. He looked at the others, and they all seemed as concerned as he was. Well, all except Merry, who seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they were god only knew where. His mind seemed preoccupied with the young woman leading them, not that Aragorn was surprised by that; not in the least.
Once inside the castle, they were led down several long hallways, until they were certain that they would never find their way back out again. Soon, they approached a set of carved oaken doors. Another pair of guards stood outside, well armed to say the least. They could hear laughter from inside, and the muffled sounds of conversation. The guards swung open the doors, and Castle Guinevere's Great Hall lay before them. The room was filled with people, all strangely dressed, all with long, flowing wings. The room fell silent as they entered, all eyes upon them.
"Well met, Rahne. I see that you have indeed found our guests."
"Yes my lord.", the young woman answered; bowing before the king.
"Come, allow us to gaze upon you.", the king ordered, gesturing for the men to step up to the dias.
They walked forward, unsure how close they should get to this man. The young woman, Rahne, held out her arm; stopping them at the base of the dias steps. The king set on a gilded throne, a look of disapproval on his face. Beside him sat the most beautiful woman that Legolas had ever seen. She had long silvery white hair that flowed in loose ringlets down her back. Her eyes, which were focused directly on him, where a pale, glittering silver; full of mischief. He assumed that she was the queen, and felt a momentary pang of regret. She smiled at him, looking him up and down.
"I see that you approve?", the king asked her, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"They will do."
The men looked at each other, wondering what they had gotten into. After a moment, Boromir spoke.
"If you don't mind me asking, just what the hell is it that you want?"
"Impudent, aren't they?", the king said; and it was evident that he was not speaking to them.
"Call it what you want, but I think we deserve some answers.", Boromir shot back.
"That mouth will get you in trouble, I fear. But, you are unwise to the ways of court no doubt; so I will forgive you this, for now. And I suppose that answers are in order. Allow me to explain."
"Yes, well. I am King Niall, ruler of the Kingdom of Shalidar. Shalidar is one of the last remaining faery kingdoms, a lone sanctuary in an ever changing world. This is Lady Katherine", he said, gesturing toward the woman on his left. "She is Lady of Shalidar, queen by virtue of being my blooded sister."
"And we're here because...?", Boromir prodded.
"You would do wise to hold your tongue gypsy.", Lady Katherine warned, her soft voice tinged with concern.
"Gypsy? What does that mean?"
"My sister is quite smitten with gypsies, I am afraid. And you, mortal, are the closest thing your world has. That is why you are here. My sister brought it to my attention that we were in need of court musicians."
"Gypsy Minstrels, that is what I said brother dear."
"Yes, I know.", he sighed. "But gypsy minstrels are hard to come by, I am afraid. At any rate, we have devised a contest; to find suitable entertainment for ourselves. And you, mortals, will be Lady Katherine's champions in this endeavor. You will have three days to prepare. At sunset, three days hence, the competition shall begin. The winners will be offered a place here, in court. The losers will be dealt with accordingly."
A soft gasp went up from the faery court, and whispers began to circulate around the room.
"Accordingly?", Legolas asked. "What does that mean?"
"That is up to me, and greatly depends on my mood.", the king answered.
"Brother dear, refrain from tormenting our guests. They have much to learn in three days time.", Katherine scolded; rising from her place and descending the steps of the dias. She took Legolas' arm in hers, and turned from the king.
"Where are you going Lady Katherine?", the king asked, somewhat amused.
"As I said my lord, they have much to learn."
"You know that is against the rules of the game, Milady."
"Oh but there are rules and rules brother dear. And I intend to win this game."
With a smile and bow to her brother, she gestured for the five men to follow her, her arm still looped gently with Legolas'.
| Next Story |
| Index |