East is East, West is West
The gardens of Daventry were resplendent in the late afternoon sun. Butterflies that refused to rest until the stars came out still flitted energetically from blossom to blossom.
The young princess of Daventry walked through the gardens, but barely glanced at the flowers or the ornate shrubs and trees. Her eyes never left the meandering cobblestone path as she lethargically wandered down it, with no direction or destination in mind. It was fortunate that no one else was in the gardens, otherwise she would have walked right into them without knowing.
He is alive. That was the thought that kept circling her mind. He is alive.
Edgar hadn't perished. He had told her himself. So why wasn't she rejoicing, then? Why wasn't she crying with happiness instead of moping about in the gardens? His parents had certainly been relieved to hear that their son was alive; in fact, they had quickly made the journey to Daventry as soon as the news had reached them by ways unknown to Rosella. However, Oberon had grown a bit moody again, asking how Edgar could possibly make it home, which snowballed into another anguished rant about how Edgar was always disappearing from his homeland. He got so distraught that he began muttering how unconventional it was for Edgar to be so infatuated with a human girl, which Rosella became a bit incensed over. Titania finally managed to calm her husband by laying a hand gently on his arm and whispering something that Graham and Valanice hadn't heard, but Rosella's keener ear had understood it perfectly:
"Perhaps it just runs in the family, dear."
Oberon had fallen silent when she said this, and had remained silent until he and Titania said their farewells and returned to their kingdom. Rosella, however, had had little time to contemplate the meaning of the fairy queen's words. She was too busy thinking about Edgar to think of anything else. Why wasn't she happy upon learning that he was alive? Why? Was it because she didn't love him?
She stopped walking abruptly. What was she thinking? She did love Edgar, didn't she? She had granted him permission to court her, hadn't she?
But she barely knew Edgar. She hadn't even known him for a year, and most of his life was still a mystery to her. Why had she so willingly given her heart to a man who was almost a perfect stranger to her?
He did rescue you once.
That was true. He had freed her from imprisonment in his own room in that evil fairy's castle…but surely she could have found a way out of there herself, possibly by making a rope out of the bed sheets or picking the lock on the door…
If it weren't for his intervention, Lolotte would have killed you.
She might have, there was no denying that. That cell that Lolotte had her locked in shortly after their first encounter was inescapable, too. Edgar had certainly helped save her life then.
So what? Rosella thought. Mother was saved by that God of the Hunt, and Father was saved by that girl Cassima. Even if they weren't married to each other, they wouldn't have wed either of those two characters to fully express their gratitude.
She couldn't help but smile a pained smile, as she recalled what she had said to Edgar when she first encountered him while he was in the guise of King Otar and he expressed his intention to marry her:
"…I'm very honored, but I can't marry you! I don't even know you!"
How true those words had been then. If she had known the false king's true identity, would she have phrased them any differently? Edgar was scarcely more familiar to her than the true Troll King was.
And the poor fellow seemed so horribly accident-prone – kidnapped as a baby, changed into a deformed monster and looked after by an evil fairy, then kidnapped again and enslaved by another evil fairy years later. Did she truly love him for what he was…or did she only love him out of pity for his misfortunes?
What about when Malicia was about to attack you in the volcano's control room? He protected you. He bought you time while the device capable of defeating Malicia was powering up.
Okay, now that was something she admired him for. Despite his weaknesses, he was brave. But then he got into yet another scrape, and it was up to Rosella to…
He almost died for you.
Rosella hadn't wanted to remember that. She had heard many maidens say that they desired a man willing to give his life to save their own. Well, Edgar had very nearly done this. He wasn't breathing when Rosella knelt beside him and pressed that glowing orb of life to his chest. If it hadn't been for her, he would have remained dead…dead because of her. Because of his love for her.
Rosella looked up. The path she had been walking along had ended at a little circular grassy clearing. A large oak tree grew in the center of the clearing, and from one of its lower branches hung a worn, frayed, wooden swing. Rosella remembered that swing all too well. Her parents had pushed her on it when she was very small, and when she grew a little older, she would often come out here and swing alone when she couldn't find anyone to play with.
She had loved her little swing, and the memory of it still made her smile. Now, however, it had become an object of unattainable happiness for her. It represented her life before all the horrible events of the last few years, the time before she had been offered as a sacrifice to the three-headed dragon, before her father's terrible illness, before that awful incident with Mordack…and before Edgar.
Rosella walked across the soft, springy grass, towards the ancient oak. Despite a lack of repairs and years of hard weather, the swing appeared quite stable. She tentatively sat down upon it, and was relieved to find that it still supported her. She clutched the ropes and stared wistfully at the clouds soaring through the skies.
It could have been five minutes or an entire hour, but sometime later she heard her mother's voice calling her name.
"Rosella? Where are you? Oh, here you are."
Queen Valanice approached her daughter from behind, laying a hand on her small shoulder.
"What is it, dear?" she asked gently. "Is it Edgar?"
"Yes," Rosella replied monotonously, not even turning her head to face her mother. Valanice sighed sympathetically.
"You shouldn't worry, Rosella. Have faith that he will come back and he just might."
"Yeah. Might," Rosella said dully.
Valanice stroked her daughter's shoulder gently, then touched one of the frayed ropes.
"Isn't this the swing you used to love when you were a child?"
"Yes," Rosella sighed. "I wish I still was. I wish…I wish I never met Edgar."
She had blurted the last six words out almost angrily, but the confusion and sadness in her voice came all too clearly to Valanice's ears.
"Oh, Rosella…" the queen said sadly, putting a comforting arm around her daughter's waist and wishing there was something she could do to help her.
As the low sun was starting to turn the Land of the Green Isles gold and red, King Alexander was hunched over his desk, one hand on his forehead, staring at a small piece of paper. On it, in his own hand, were the words, "If you truly love me, why did you have to leave?"
He stared at it for several minutes before snatching it up and crumpling it into a compact lump, then tossing it to the floor, where many other balled-up pieces of paper lay, having met a similar fate.
"Oh, what's the use?!" he growled to himself. "How am I supposed to find Cassima by writing letters?"
Frustrated, he rose from his chair and walked out of his room, down the hall, and finally through the thick door that led to the castle library. It was a large room, but the sheer volume of books and bookshelves took up most of the space in the place. The shelves – which were crammed with books, some new and crisp, others old and almost moldy – nearly touched the ceiling. Stacks of books punctuated the rather threadbare carpet of the room like tree stumps and golden light shone through the library's oblong windows, catching minute particles of dust that danced in the air.
Cassima's parents had told him that this library was one of the largest depositories of ancient texts besides Ali's Bookshop. It was rumored that there were even one or two books on magic that the last unfortunate sorcerer of the Land of the Green Isles had left behind somewhere in this library.
Alexander was determined to scour the library from top to bottom in the hopes of locating any book on magic. Over the years, magic had become less of a hobby with him and more of a way of dealing with problems, and he certainly had a problem on his hands now. His wife had vanished and was now hunting down a man of dubious origins and appearance, the only certain thing about him being that he tried to have her killed once before. Not only that, but with that man's fellow evildoer Abdul Alhazred exiled and his plans foiled, that man would probably attempt murder again, only this time his target wouldn't be limited to Cassima alone.
Alexander had only told Caliphim and Allaria that Cassima had left on a journey that she felt was worth going on, saying nothing of Shadrack. He was lying and keeping the truth from his in-laws, but he didn't want to make his grief and worry any greater than it already was by spreading such horrid news around. The former king and queen were worried enough about their daughter's sudden disappearance without knowing that she had gone off in search of an evil sorcerer in league with the man who had murdered them…well, now that Alexander had aided in their resurrection, that was a moot point, and a little silly, now that he thought about it. Exiling Alhazred for the killing of two people who were alive and well at the time of his sentencing would probably be laughed at heartily by someone who didn't know the full story.
He had heard from his own family recently. A few hours earlier, Shamir had announced that he sensed that something joyous had happened in Daventry, and whether or not Alexander wished him to see just what it was. Alexander gave the genie his consent, whereupon the ethereal being vanished, then reappeared a few minutes later to tell Alexander that Edgar, the man that was courting Rosella, had vanished before her eyes that very morning, but he had just contacted the princess to inform her that he was alive and well. The only catch was that he was in another land, although when Shamir visited that land, he could find no trace of Rosella's beloved, much to the genie's bewilderment.
It had been a while since Alexander had heard from Rosella. He had met their parents a month or two ago, when Rosella related her adventures in the realms of Eldritch and Etheria and her reunion with Edgar. Rosella's predicament seemed eerily similar to his own – the person she loved disappearing into thin air…was Cassima in another land, too? Would she contact him somehow? There wasn't much point in such casual speculation. Alexander wasn't going to idly wait for news of her to turn up and let his worry eat away at him. Somewhere, in one of these centuries-old books, he was going to find a way to reach her as well as a way to stop Shadrack…provided a way for either even existed, of course.
Alexander pulled a ratty volume from one of the sagging bookshelves that lined the library. Its cover had started crumbling at the corners, and it had a title so worn that he couldn't even read it. He opened the book with an audible crack, sending rivulets of dust cascading from its aged frame. It turned out to be a biography of a nobleman Alexander had never heard of. He closed and replaced the crusty volume and pulled another from the shelf. This was definitely going to take a while.
But will I find a way to find her and Shadrack in all this? He thought to himself. I have to. There has to be a way…
Choose your path: