As the last notes of the song died away, the strange breeze stirring the grass faded with it, leaving an odd blue-green glow in the air in its wake.
Ariane opened her eyes, and breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, I couldn’t have asked for a better result. This is perfect.” She scrambled to her feet, lute held tight against her chest, and headed quickly towards the glowing patch of ground.
After a brief moment of indecision Caleb followed her, hanging back a little as they got closer to the source of the glow – while he’d not so far experienced any ill-effects from his half-accidental participation in the spell, he wasn’t about to push his luck.
The twins, on the other hand, seemed to have no such qualms. They’d started towards the glow before Ariane and were crouching just on the edge of it, staring at something on the floor in the middle of the rough circle of magically-enhanced air and whispering to one another in a language Caleb had never heard before.
“What do the two of you make of it?” Ariane asked, kneeling down beside them. She beckoned Caleb closer. “Don’t worry. It looks impressive, but there’s almost no active power present. It’s perfectly safe.”
He wasn’t entirely convinced, but she did know more about this than he did, and it would have been rude to argue. He stepped closer, looked over her shoulder – and gasped as what the three of them had been staring at suddenly became very apparent.
There in front of him, marked in glowing blue embers on a circle of grass scorched jet black, was a pattern of lines which looked at the same time completely alien and yet oddly familiar. “A map?”
“Precisely.” Ariane’s voice practically rang with excitement. “With any luck, the map.”
Alak frowned, reaching forward to poke at one of the glowing blue lines with a forefinger. “I’m not sure, Ari.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” He frowned, poking at the line again. “We reckon you’ve got a map, alright. It just ain’t the one you’re lookin’ for.”
“Stop being cryptic!” Kala interjected, slapping her brother round the back of the head. “What he’s trying to say is this ain’t a normal map – and not just ‘cos it’s magic.”
“Much as I appreciate the help, could you please get to the point?” The mage’s initial excitement was beginning to wear thin, judging by the expression on her face. “What’s wrong with my map?”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with it!” Kala held her hands up, attempting to placate her friend. “It’s a fine map. It’s just…”
“…it’s a map of the Lands Behind The Sky,” Alak finished, sitting back on his heels and sticking his burned finger in his mouth.
“It’s what?” Ariane’s eyes widened, and Caleb started wondering if he’d possibly better start looking for cover.
“Look, I’m as confused as you are as to how you managed that.” The darker-skinned girl was frowning, eyes fixed on the glowing lines of the improbable map. “You ain’t got elven blood in you, have you?”
The mage raised her eyebrows. “Not as far as I know. But… oh, this is even better than I could have hoped!” She jumped to her feet, whirling on a very confused Caleb and pressing the lute into his unresisting arms. “Caleb, would you be a wonderful person and hold my lute for me? If this is what they think it is, I need paper, and pencils – no, inks would be better – and my books, and-”
He took the lute, more out of instinct than anything else, and watched in utter confusion as Ariane sprinted away across the clearing, long black hair streaming out behind her as she ran. He’d heard of the Lands Behind The Sky, of course – everyone had – but when they’d been mentioned, it’d always been in that way that implied they were something far off and far away. Nothing anyone from his little valley would ever need to know more than a few stories about. Certainly nowhere you might ever have a map to.
Kala looked up, smiling a little as she caught sight of his expression. “You alright?”
“I’m fine. I think. Er. What exactly is going on?”
The smile went slightly brittle. “Ari’s made a map to a place she shouldn’t even be able to see, we might all have to go take a fun and excitin’ trip to the land of poncy stick-up-their-arse nobs who want us two to be princes, and we’ve ruined a perfectly good bit of grass. Other than that, everything’s fine. Oh, and the Heart’s probably somewhere that can only be got to by goin’ Behind The Sky, so that’s going to be just wonderful for everyone.”
Caleb blinked. Then, very carefully, he sat down on the grass, put the lute gently down next to him, and put his head in his hands. “I… I’m sorry, but I think I understood about one word in ten of that. Would you mind explaining it again?” He took a deep breath. “Especially the part where you’re elves.”
Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.
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