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Thread: This thread for parallel stories not directly linked to "Disturbing News"

  1. #21

    Default Alton & Velda Part 9 by Dellani Oakes

    In pursuit of Revanth and his kidnappers, the three companions come across a home by the river. The man who lives there claims that his wife and daughters have all committed suicide by drowning themselves in the river.

    Velda took the bow from the man's trembling hands. Alton touched the furrowed brow. The man's face softened, the terror gone. He didn't fall asleep like Astrid, but his pain and fear left him. Alton took his crossbow from Velda, disengaging the firing mechanism.

    "It's taken nearly all my kin."

    "The women," Velda specified.

    He nodded. "My father, sons and brothers have seen our women die—carried off and drowned. This river is a curse—but it's our home. And the one place we feel close to our women. My mother left when I was young. My wife let the river take her right after our daughter was born. My sisters followed shortly after. Then my daughter, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, wandered in the water and drowned."

    "No. She let the river claim its own. What color was your daughter's hair?"

    "So light it was almost pure white. Like the froth of the whitecaps." He pointed to the water.

    "And your wife?"

    "So black it shown blue in the sunlight."

    "And your sisters and mother?"

    "A mixture of the two. Why?"

    "They are naiads," Velda replied. "Spirits of the water. This is a place of growth. The naiads are all women," she explained. "They need to add to their numbers from time to time...."

    "But he says he has sons," Alton interjected.

    "The boys are human. The girls are naiads. It's the only way we can add to our ranks."

    "So what's happening to our women?" the man begged. "Where have my wife, daughter, sisters, and mother gone?"

    "They are part of the river," Velda explained. "The reason you feel them is that they are here with you."

    "Why did they leave us?"

    "It isn't our way to stay long in one place. Like the river, we roam. The water calls us back. If we're forced by the life we choose, and the men we love, to live on land, eventually, we go mad. We have to be part of the water. To live by her birthplace, and never return, would be torture." Velda gazed enviously at the water. A look of pure longing passed over her face.

    Alton took her hand, twining his fingers with hers. "That would never happen to us. Unlike humans, my people understand the need to be near what you love."

    "But we can't go home," she whispered. "I can never go back to my birthplace."

    "Then we make a home somewhere else—together." He squeezed her fingers. "But until we find our friend, that can't happen."

    "I'd completely forgotten Revanth," Velda admitted sadly. "Tell me, sir. Did you see two men and a black horse?"

    The man cleared his throat, the glimmer of a tear in his eyes. "I did. They were in a hurry. They had a skiff tied up at, what's left of, my dock. The horse wouldn't board. He bucked and fought so, I thought they would beat it to death. The skiff came loose on its own, and was crushed on the rocks. The men and horse headed downstream to find the ford. There is no bridge or ford in these parts."

    "Remind me to thank my sisters," Velda said with a smile. "They helped slow them down. Sir, when we have found our friend, we'll return and I'll put things right here. In the meantime, do you have any boat sturdy enough for my friends?"

    "In this water?" He looked skeptical.

    "The lady Astrid can't travel well...." Alton began.

    "Excuse me," Astrid interrupted. "The lady can. My home is in woods much like these. I've grown up hunting and hiking. I'm no wood sprite, but I venture to say I won't hold you back by much."

    Alton examined Astrid with a critical eye. Despite her slight form and slender build, he saw a lithe, athletic body. "Lose the armor," he commanded. "And we'll see."

    Astrid dug deep in her pack, removing the black armor from it wistfully. "It was a gift from Revanth."

    "We'll keep it here, my lady," the man said. "When you return, you can claim it."

    "Thank you." She kissed his cheek. "I don't know your name."

    "Jack Swiftwater—but folks around here call me Stout Jack."

    "Thank you, Stout Jack. I am Astrid, first daughter of King Hels and Queen Sarai of Folds Court. And my friends are—"

    "Velda of Flowing River and Alton of Lyndon Meade," Alton supplied when she faltered.

    The men clasped hands. Stout Jack whistled when he heard where they were from. "You're a long ways from home, sir."

    "We are, indeed. But our friend is in the clutches of evil men. We must go."

    "They've a half day's start, at least, upon you. You'll never catch them up."

    "They have an unhappy stallion with them," Alton replied. "Revanth will not go quietly. We'll catch them."

    They took their leave, walking along the riverbank.

    "As a naiad, can't you dive in and swim?" Astrid asked.

    "I will," Velda responded. "But further downstream. The water here is angry, bitter. Too many naiads have been keeping secrets. If they had told their mates who they were, this wouldn't have happened. But somewhere along the way, tradition of keeping themselves a secret came to be—and with it, madness."

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  2. #22

    Default Alton & Velda Part 10 by Dellani Oakes

    Following Revanth, the three meet Stout Jack, a man whose mother, wife and daughters have all been claimed by the river. Velda assures him they aren't dead, but naiads.

    They traveled several miles below the rapids before Velda handed her pack to Alton. With a kiss, she stepped into the water, calling out a greeting. The waves and ripples circled her, chattering happily. One last smile at Alton, and she dove in.

    "We'll continue on foot," Alton said, gazing at the sky. "We have another hour or two before it gets too dark for you to see."

    "Can you see in the dark?"

    He smiled. "Day or night, light or darkness, I see the same."

    "What else can you do?"

    "Many things. You'd think me bragging if I told you all."

    "How old are you?" she asked unexpectedly.

    "Far older than I look. I was a full grown man before you were born. In fact, before your parents were born."

    "How long have you and Velda been together?"

    "A decade."

    "That's a long time to be without your family," she mused.

    "It is. Though we have one another."

    "Is that enough? Revanth and I have one another, but sometimes—I still long for my family."

    Alton nodded, holding a tree branch out of her way. "I miss mine every day."

    "Even your father?"

    His green eyes darted over his shoulder and he grew tense, as if listening.
    "What makes you think there's anything between me and my father?"

    She laughed lightly, shaking her head. "Because fathers and sons often fight, especially when the son chooses a woman his father doesn't approve of. It was he threw you out, wasn't it? Cut you off?"

    "Yes," was his terse reply.

    "He can't live forever, Alton. One day, you can go back and claim your own."

    "I can't."

    "I don't understand. Why not?"

    "It's complicated." He stopped walking. "The ways of my people aren't for you to understand, or not. I can't go back—ever. I gave up my inheritance, for Velda."

    "Why? There are other women in the world, Alton."

    "There are no others like Velda," he murmured. "Could you give up Revanth? Or would you turn your back on all you've ever known, to be with him." He paused. "Oh, wait! You already did that!"

    Astrid nodded, a tear escaped her eye, trickling down her cheek. "You needn't be so mean."

    Alton stopped, turning toward her. He put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I don't intend to be mean, child. For ten years, I've been cut off from my family and home. Yes, I am with the woman I love—"

    "But if you had the choice to make again?"

    "I might not make the same one," he replied softly. "I love her more than my own life, but sometimes I feel as if a part of me died that day." He cast about for a moment, then set his pack on a nearby rock. "This looks as good a place as any to stop for the night. I'll gather firewood. You call for Velda. Just dip your fingers in the water, and call out to her with your mind."

    Astrid nodded. She set her pack down beside Alton's, and walked to the riverbank nearby. She dipped her fingers in the calm, cool water, letting her thoughts drift. There was a splash and tinkle of laughter. Moments later, Velda swam up to the bank, her blue eyes glittering happily. Her dark hair flowed around her like water.

    "Hello, Astrid. I met some of my cousins here. We've had a lovely day."

    Velda slithered onto the bank. Her dress clung to her legs in a silvery, glittering garment that looked like the lower end of a fish. Moments later, Astrid was sure she had imagined the entire thing until Velda shook her hem and Astrid saw her feet. They were fins! Startled, she gasped and backed away. The naiad giggled.

    "What did you think, my dear? That I swim like you by kicking my limbs?" She shook her hair free, the water scattering around her like diamonds. "Lower body of a fish in the water. Lower limbs of a human on land."

    Astrid nodded, wide eyed. "I never thought about it. Until I met you, naiads were mythical creatures."

    "Like wood sprites, dryads and elves?" Velda asked with a laugh.

    "Yes. I never met anyone like you and Alton before."

    "And I never met a man enchanted into horse form," Velda replied. "Let's see what Alton has for dinner. I'm starved! Then I'll tell you what I found out about Revanth."

    "Yes, please!"

    They hurried back to camp. Alton had a fire blazing, surrounded by rocks. It was built in the center of the circle of trees, in a shallow depression that looked like it had, had fires in it before. Alton smiled when Velda approached. Taking her in his arms, he kissed her.

    "I've missed you. Sit. Eat." He handed around a bowl of fruit, followed by mellow cheese and other treats.
    The women ate greedily, as Velda told them what she had found.

    "You must have sensed that they passed this way," Velda said to Alton.

    "Yes. Many hours ago. It wasn't a fun passage for any of them."

    "Is he all right?" Astrid asked.

    "One of them beat him," Alton replied. "But his companion reminded him that he's worth more money if he's not got marks upon him. They are gentler now, but not by much. The one who beat him said that if he got too problematic, he'd kill him, and have done. Revanth is quieter now."

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  3. #23

    Default Alton & Velda Part 11 by Dellani Oakes

    Velda has gathered some information about Revanth. He's with two men, and they are several hours ahead of the companions, heading toward town, in order to sell him. Alton has also sensed their passing.

    "How can you know that?" Astrid asked.

    "My friends, the trees, told me. The three of them stopped here for midday meal. It was here that Revanth was threatened. His connection to me remains, and he was able to leave me a message with the white oak over there," Alton replied.

    Astrid rose, walking over to the tree he indicated. She put her hand on the bark and closed her eyes. She laid her face against the bark, hugging the tree. It felt as if it shifted and she imagined arms around her. When she opened her eyes, instead of a tree, she hugged an old woman with brown skin and dark green eyes. She ought to have been surprised, but somehow the fact that the tree had changed didn't shock her.

    "Hello, child," the old woman said. Her voice was deep and rich like the soil around them. "Your young man is a strong, enterprising soul. He left his message with me. Would you like to hear it?"

    "Yes, please."

    The tree woman shifted slightly, spreading her arms. Her face tilted back toward the waning sun. "Tell Astrid that I love her. Ask her to be strong. I know she and our friends come for me."

    Astrid burst into tears. The old woman folded her into her arms once more.

    "Shh, child. It is well. They have stopped for the night and he is safe. He's tied up securely and can't escape on his own."

    "Are they close?"

    "No. But your naiad friend knows more."

    "May I know your name?" Astrid asked her.

    "You may call me Oak Mother," she replied. "Now, I must leave you. Don't fear. You'll find him."

    "Thank you again, Oak Mother. May the soil around your roots be rich and life-bearing."

    "May you walk in health, little one." She kissed Astrid's brow, before turning back into a tree.

    Alton watched the exchange with puzzled delight. "You have a mixed lineage, my girl. You speak to the river and the trees. Are your people elves?"

    "No. But I live in woods like this, as I said. My father said we must always talk to the trees, water, animals and earth as if they could understand us. It's the way of our people."

    "I'm curious to find out what you are," Velda said. "But first, let's talk about Revanth. They are camping several miles from here like Oak Mother said. They intend to take the ferry across the river tomorrow morning, so are camped close to the ferry's docks. The ferryman won't cross in the dark—wise of him. The naiads in those parts like their quiet. I spoke to them, and they will do their best to slow the passage of the ferry, so we can catch up. Going is easier on the far bank. Much more of it is populated, so there is a road that leads to West Farland."

    "Can we get ahead of them?" Astrid asked.

    "We can't," Velda replied. "He can." She nodded at Alton.

    "Without you, I can move very quickly," Alton replied. "I can go all night without resting. I wasn't going to leave you to travel alone while Velda took to the water."

    "I'm back now, love. The trees will protect us."

    "You'll be all right on your own?"

    "Of course, my love. We're not helpless."

    Alton picked up his pack, slinging it over his shoulder. He handed Velda provisions from his food sack, kissed her and left. He moved so quietly, Astrid wouldn't have known, if she hadn't see him go. He faded into the woods so completely, she couldn't follow his passing.

    "Can he really travel that quickly?" Astrid asked.

    "Like the wind," Velda replied.

    "Will he attack the men, and bring Revanth back?"

    "I don't know his plans. For now, he'll follow them. If the magistrate back there is so corrupt that he allows horse thieves to operate with impunity.... Well, I suspect that Alton has some sort of just desserts in mind for him."

    Bidding one another a fond goodnight, they slept in the grove by the river, curled up near Oak Mother.

    When the women woke the next day, Oak Mother gave them a message from Alton. He bid them rest and stay in the safety of Oak Mother's grove. The women ate their fill, finding the food hadn't depleted at all. Astrid questioned this.

    "Alton has some small magics that he may work. They are particularly strong in sacred groves, such as this. We have made a powerful ally in the blessed Oak Mother," Velda explained. She laid a small offering of fresh fruit in a cleft of branches. "Thank you, great Oak Mother, for your blessings and love."

    The tree shook her branches, reaching for the sky. Sighing, she settled back down. "Your gift is acceptable," she said.

    Alton skirted the muddy, rock strewn edge of the river. It had broadened to a delta, the mouth only a mile or so away. The water seemed slow and sluggish here, but Alton knew beneath the glassy surface, treacherous currents tangled.

    The men and horse had crossed five miles down river. Alton followed them, greeting the river naiads as he crossed, apologizing for disturbing their rest. He picked up the trail of horse and men fairly easily, venturing after them. Reaching out with his energy, Alton contacted Revanth. He kept his message short, the distance making lingering contact difficult.

    "I'm close, brother. I'm coming."

    "Hurry, brother!" Revanth's answer was full of pain.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  4. #24

    Default Alton & Velda Part 12 by Dellani Oakes

    Alton has left the women in Oak Mother's sacred grove. Following Revanth alone, he can make better speed. He crosses the river, sending a mental message to Revanth, to let him know he's coming.

    Revanth had not been well treated in his captivity. He was covered with mud and black fly bites. A stone had lodged in his hoof, so he walked with a limp. The men weren't interested in that, though they did stop and wash him before entering town.

    Horse and men made their slow way to the town. The men decided to look for a buyer before approaching the auction in town. If that didn't pan out, they could still put Revanth on the auction block.

    The first potential buyer was a wealthy merchant from the Southern Continent. He was lavishly dressed in flowing robes in bright colors.

    Revanth did his best to look disconsolate and down trodden. Unfortunately, his noble bearing (as horse or man) couldn't be hidden. He tried to exaggerate his limp, but it wasn't until the man tried to examine his teeth, that his opportunity came. The fellow reached soft, pampered hands to Revanth's mouth. The horse-man bared strong, white teeth. A snarl curled his upper lip, and he snapped.

    The hands approached once more. Revanth opened his jaws, biting firmly, though not as much as he could have. He was still a gentleman, and the merchant hadn't wronged him. Besides, he sensed his captors would beat him senseless, if he seriously injured a potential buyer.

    The merchant hopped back, squawking in panic. "Vicious beast!" He swatted at Revanth.

    A horse's body doesn't lend itself to laughter, but he could snort and twitch his ears. Revanth's attitude certainly conveyed mirth.

    "Get away from me, you brute! How can you ask someone to buy a horse like that?"

    Other attempted sales went much the same way. The thieves decided to stop at a seedy tavern for a cup of cheap ale.

    "If we can't find a wealthy buyer, any will do," the leader growled.

    "Sly, we should take him to the auction."

    "Where the entire city can see how badly he behaves? Are you mad, Grit? If we don't sell him in the next hour, we'll kill him, and cut our loses."

    "I hate doing that, Sly. He's a beautiful beast."

    "Pretty or not, he's a burden. We can't keep him. He's too distinctive. What would a pair of drifters like us be doing with a warhorse?"

    Sly picked up his tankard, draining it. With a click, he set it on the table, signaling for another.

    Alton wandered into view. He spotted the men and Revanth nearby. Swaggering over to the tavern, he ordered a cup of mead. Once it was served, he made a show of examining the crowd. His eyes slowly drifted to where the two thieves sat, heedless of his presence. His eyes narrowed as he plunked down his tankard.

    "That's—my horse!" He pointed to Revanth. "What are you blackguards doing with him? He put his hand on his sword hilt, advancing on the hapless pair.

    The crowd spread quickly, giving him space to approach the men. They froze, cups of ale suspended halfway to gaping mouths.

    "I've been after you bastards for two days. Call the watch!" he bellowed. "Hold them," he commanded.

    The men finally decided it was time to flee. They rose from their seats, turning to run away. Bystanders surrounded them, closing the space between them. Horse theft was a serious crime in these parts. The pair wouldn't get away.

    The city watch arrived moments later. The sergeant quickly ascertained the situation, with a few carefully worded questions of the crowd. He addressed particular individuals, whose word he seemed to consider reliable. When he was done, he granted Alton leave to question the thieves.

    The furious wood sprite advanced on the leader, standing mere inches from Sly. Before he could speak, the man started babbling.

    "We didn't steal him, young master. We found him wandering the road. We brought him here to see if we could find his owner."

    "Then why did you try to sell him to anyone as would look at him?" the tavern wench spoke up. "If you was trying so hard to find his owner?"

    "He were wandering, like," Sly persisted.

    "Liar! My horse is battle trained. He doesn't wander off. He disappeared from the tavern where we stayed two nights hence."

    "Would that be Tom Joyce's tavern?" the sergeant asked.

    "I don't recall his name, but he passes himself off as magistrate there."

    "That's the one," the sergeant said. "Lock them up," the sergeant ordered. "You may get away with theft in Tom Joyce's jurisdiction, but you won't do so here. You're in Baylor Fallow's territory now, and he won't hold with horse theft. Take 'em away."

    He turned to Alton. "Now, sir. Prove to me that's your horse."

    "Gladly." The wood sprite stepped forward. "Revanth, come."

    Revanth snorted, lifting his head. He stepped forward, limping. Alton dashed to his side.
    "See here, he's lame! May I get some aid? Where's the stableman?"

    A sturdy, black bearded man approached, a tool in hand. "I'm stable master here. I'll have a look."

    He warily approached the big, black horse. Alton supported his friend, speaking quietly to him, as the stableman expertly hefted the affected hoof. Revanth stood quietly, shivering slightly as the man removed the stone and cleaned the area, examining the soft tissue with care. Once the stableman had bathed and put a poultice on hoof, he set the hoof down once more.

    The nobleman-steed, sighed with relief. He nudged the big man, nodding his head in thanks.

    "You're welcome, young feller. Glad to help." He patted Revanth on the neck. "He ought not to travel today, milord. I'd like overnight in the poultice. Feed and rest him well, he be good to travel tomorrow."

    "Thank you, good man. Your name?"

    "Bastian," he replied. "Do you have a mind to mate him He's a fine steed."

    Alarm filled Alton's mind. Revanth recoiled from the idea of servicing a mare. His body was that of a horse, but his mind was all man.

    "Not right now, I think. We need to be underway as soon as he's well enough to travel."

    "If you change your mind, I've a mare in season."

    Alton paid him for his service. He made arrangements to spend the night in the stable with Revanth. He took a meal in the tavern, finding the food exceptionally good. He tucked the remains of his meal in his bag, adding some fruit for Revanth.

    The stableman, Bastian, saw to it he had a healthy hot mash with nuts, sweetened with cane syrup. He also added some herbs to ease the pain, and help Revanth sleep.

    They bedded down early, both exhausted by their trip. Revanth's hoof ached, but not enough for him to complain. Alton fell into a deep sleep, his head on Revanth's side.

    Alton walked into a dreamscape, which was as real to him as the stable where he slept. It was a forest grove, much like where he had grown up. A stream ran through, pooling in the center, the soft bubble comforting.

    "My love!" Soft hands grasped him from behind. Velda appeared, hands touching his sleeves. She moved closer.

    Alton turned to face her, taking her in his arms. "I miss you, my love," he breathed.

    "Did you find Revanth?"

    "He's here with me. He had a stone in his hoof, but he's not badly injured otherwise. We'll be back tomorrow."

    "Take your time. We miss you."

    "And we miss you."

    "When you return, we will talk about what we must do to lift his curse. It will be very dangerous," Velda continued. "Eleion will not give up easily."

    "It's not something we can solve tonight."

    "Astrid is fairing better in the sacred grove than she did at home, but she weakens. Revanth will too if they remain apart too long."

    "We will get on the road as soon as we're able."

    "You need to rise early and return. So, kiss me, love. Then sleep."

    Alton did as she wished. He felt the dreamscape fade away, replaced by a normal dream.

    The horse and sprite spent a quiet night. They woke when the stableman came in to check on Revanth. He greeted Alton with a smile.

    "How's the foot?" he asked Revanth.

    The horse-man snorted, holding it up for inspection. Bastian unwrapped it, smiling.

    "Excellent. Much better. After a good breakfast, you can be on your way. Take it slow," he cautioned.

    "Oh, aye," Alton replied. "And I'll be walking."

    "Good on you. Not all would."

    Alton clapped Revanth on the neck. "He is my friend," he replied proudly. "And that's far more important than just a horse."

    "Would that more thought as you you, sir. I'd see far fewer injured animals." He gave Revanth his meal, grinning as the big horse ate.

    Alton broke his fast in the tavern with a very respectable meal. Feeling better, they set out from town. When they were a safe distance away, Alton slowed at the foot of a tall, ancient oak. Revanth kept watch as Alton took off his gloves, lovingly touching the bark. Laying his cheek against it, he closed his eyes, reaching out for Velda.

    "We are on the road back to you, my love. We'll take it slowly as Revanth's foot is still a bit sore. Expect us around sunset." He waited a few minutes in case Velda replied. She didn't. However, when they reached the river, three blue heads rose from the glossy surface.

    "Greetings, Lord Alton," the first naiad said. Her hair was midnight blue. "My sisters and I bring word from Velda. She awaits anxiously—and has much to tell you."

    "Thank you, Sister," Alton replied.

    The second, whose hair was blue as sky at midday, spoke next. "And for you, Revanth, your lady sends her love. She begs you return safely."

    The third, and youngest, whose hair was like a storm cloud, finally spoke.

    "You have questions, Alton. You and your brother face a quest."

    "He's not my brother—" Alton's protest was cut short by a flick of her smoky hair.

    It wasn't until that moment he noticed her eyes were the same color as her hair—the entire surface was a pearly gray.

    She's blind!


    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  5. #25

    Default Alton & Velda Part 13 by Dellani Oakes

    Alton finds Revanth and sees to it that the thieves are punished. After a night in the stable, Revanth feels better, and the two make their way back to the women. They meet three naiads at the river. They bring messages from the women. Alton realizes that one of them is blind.

    Why hadn't he noticed before? There were legends of blind naiads—they were said to know the future.

    "He is your spirit brother," she stated. "Revanth and Alton—wood sprite and man-horse, united on their quest."

    "And what is this quest you speak of?" Alton demanded.

    "You think it's to find and kill the witch, Eleion."

    "But you say it isn't."

    "I know it isn't—not entirely. You wish for a home, Alton. A place to live in peace and raise your children."

    "Wood sprites and naiads can't have children together—"

    She raised a finger, halting him once more. "Are you certain?"

    "In the known history of our two races, no one had ever claimed to be the child of a naiad and a wood sprite."

    "Just because no one has claimed it doesn't mean it hasn't happened. But that isn't all your quest either."

    "You speak in riddles, Naiad!"

    "Your true quest, Alton of Lyndon Meade, is to rescue the women you love from the evil that binds them."

    Revanth snorted, raising his head and stomping his feet.

    "As we speak, danger stalks them. Not even Oak Mother can keep them safe."

    "What?" her sisters whirled on her, horrified.

    "Why didn't you warn them?" the eldest cried.

    "I only saw the vision moments ago. They are in grave danger."

    The naiads dove into the water, swimming rapidly up stream. Revanth made to follow, but the water was too deep and swift. Only the ford provided safe crossing.

    Alton ran to the nearest tree. Taking off his gloves, he touched it as he pressed his lips to the bark. "Hear me, Oak Mother. Warn Velda. Trouble nears."

    "What trouble?" was the faint reply.

    "I don't know. Tell Velda—" He felt himself cut off. No matter how he tried to reestablish contact, nothing further came to him.

    Melding himself with the tree, he felt its warmth and heartbeat. Reaching out, he sent a message to all the wood sprites, dryads and tree spirits, calling for help. He briefly touched Oak Mother. Through her, he heard a scream and a cry for help. Silence descended on the forest. Not even a breeze stirred.

    "Velda!" he cried.

    The trees around him called her name. Revanth heard them rustle and shake. He felt his brother's anguish stir the ground beneath his feet.

    Alton searched for Velda, asking the trees to contact one another—all their kin. Wood sprites called to animals, who also joined the search. The answer came back—nothing. Overcome by grief, Alton sank to the ground, his face and hands pressed against the bark. Surrounded by wood sprites and dryads, he gave in to his grief.

    "I've lost her," he moaned. "My Velda! My life!"

    Revanth snorted, shaking his head. He stalked over to Alton , biting him on the arm. Alton could find no anger. Blank eyes rose to meet the horse's fiery glare. Revanth tugged on Alton's sleeve, stomping and blowing. He whinnied loudly as he rose on his hind legs.

    "Of course." Alton rose, shaking off his melancholy. "You're right, Revanth. I'm being a fool. Forgive me." He patted the glossy neck.

    "We will listen to the earth and wind," one of the dryads told him. "Go, my friend. Find your lover. Know that the land and trees are with you.

    "And the water," a lilting voice behind him added. It was the eldest naiad. "I have called my sisters, aunts and cousins. We'll find them."

    "A message from Oak Mother's grove," the dryad, from the tree Alton had used, spoke up. "They were taken in a dark, swirling cloud. They saw the cloud appear in her sacred grove, but were powerless to stop it. Her dryads and sprites have tried, but can't find them."

    "Who took them?" Alton asked.

    The dryad shuddered. "A puka."

    Revanth snorted, screaming his frustration.

    "Find, Eleion," the dryad spoke Oak Mother's message. "Revanth needs his true form to help you defeat whatever holds the women."

    "Can we do it alone?" Alton asked.

    "You won't be alone," the dryad said. "See what friends you have?"

    Alton nodded, speaking quietly and rapidly to the forest people, getting all the information about Eleion that he could.

    Revanth paced off his agitation. To calm him, the dryads brought delicacies from their forest larder. They heaped fruits, roots, mushrooms and berries before him. He refused to eat until a child picked up a berry and held it to him. She was a mere toddling babe. Her skin was pale green like the inner rings of a very young sapling. Her hair was the color of new birch bark. Smiling and laughing, she opened Revanth's mouth, unmindful of the powerful jaws.

    Revanth took the berry delicately between his teeth. His tongue tasted the berry. With a toss of his head, he caught it in his mouth, chewing. His snort could only be interpreted as a laugh.

    "Thank you, little one," Alton translated for his brother.

    The child grabbed Revanth's mane, climbing nimbly up his neck. Perched on his back, she laughed, clapping her hands.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  6. #26

    Default Alton & Velda Part 14 by Dellani Oakes

    Revanth and Alton find out that Astrid and Velda have been kidnapped. Distraught, they aren't sure what to do. The people of the river and forest promise to help in whatever way they can. A small dryad climbs on Revanth's back, laughing and clapping.

    "She wants to go with you," a tree sprite said. "But you can't, little one," she intoned softly. "Too long from your tree, and you will die, precious one."

    The child pouted.

    "We can't leave our grove unprotected," a wood sprite said. "But we can travel with you to the end of our territory. From there, new friends will meet you."

    "We don't know where to go," Alton said sadly.

    "We'll help you," the naiad said. "Wherever water runs, my sisters and I can travel. Even now, the search is on for Eleion. We'll find her."

    "Meanwhile," the oak dryad said. "Let me tell you what Oak Mother said."


    Velda woke slowly, holding her head. The walls around her whirled and dipped, making her cry out. Grasping her head to stop the spinning, she found herself in chains. Her wrists were bound, though her ankles were free.

    "You're awake," Astrid spoke softly, not far away. "Be still a moment. It passes."

    "Where—?"

    "Are we?" Astrid shrugged. "Could be worse. At least it's clean."

    Velda chanced a look around. The room appeared to be dense stone, like marble. The walls and floor were smooth and free of cracks. There were no windows, though there was light from somewhere.

    Astrid sat on a stone ledge, big enough to lie on. Velda saw she was on one too. A rough woven blanket covered her lower limbs.

    "Not a dungeon, but still a cell," she mused. "No roots, dirt or water. They know something of our kind, then."

    "I think we're above ground," Astrid said. "I thought I heard the wind before, whirling about like it did around our tower—at home."

    Velda nodded. That made sense. Her kind, and Alton's, were weakest in the air. Roots couldn't penetrate this stone and there was no moisture present. For a prison, it was ideal.

    "Not even a mote of dust," Astrid frowned. "What is this place?"

    "I don't know, but I think it was built especially for us."

    "Do you remember anything?" Astrid pulled her knees to her chin, folding her arms around them.

    "Darkness—whirling—and the smell—"

    "Yes, it smelled like dead things." Astrid shuddered.

    "I think it was a puka, an evil spirit which can be sent to do its master's bidding," Velda explained."

    "Why would anyone want us?"

    "I don't know. Perhaps they'll introduce themselves."

    As if on cue, a rattling at the door heralded a visitor. Velda stood, shoulders and head defiant, too angry to be afraid.

    Astrid did her best to emulate Velda. Though not as confident as her friend appeared to be, there was no fear in the wide eyes. Her copper hair hung around her in a wild tangle. She touched Velda's hand briefly before the door opened.


    Alton and Revanth were well provisioned by their new friends. They insisted on filling his bag nearly to bursting. Once on their way, they traveled to Oak Mother's grove, the wood sprites in tow.

    Devastation met their eyes. The trees were slashed and uprooted. Oak Mother's lower limbs lay in the tangle at her base. She was alive, but barely. Those of her wood sprites and dryads who were still able bodied, did their best to keep her alive.

    The new arrivals sprang to action, Alton at their head. Revanth stood well out of the way. His horse's body didn't lend itself to rescue missions. As the flurry of activity surrounding Oak's Mother increased, he looked about for clues of the events. As a man, he was a warrior and hunter. As a horse, he could sniff out even more than he could see. Something evil had passed here, not long ago. The very land reeked of it. Activity at the other side of the grove increased. Revanth barely noticed. He bent low, moving brush and debris aside with his nose and breath. He smelled Astrid and caught Velda's scent. Both women had been close together when trouble came. There were signs of a struggle. The women had tried to fight, but whatever had taken them, was a superior force.

    The odor was so strong in one spot, he knew the beast had stopped there. From that point, he no longer sensed the women. The scent of the beast disappeared a few steps away—and the lingering smell of ozone replaced it. What he found was beyond his ken. Revanth would have to wait for Alton to interpret his findings. At the moment, the wood sprite was engaged in a life and death struggle, with Oak Mother's survival in the balance. He could only hope she would survive.

    "Revanth!" Alton bellowed.

    The horse-man responded without question. A sense of urgency filled him. He trotted across the grove.

    "Here," Alton commanded. "Just a touch," he said, indicating the damaged trunk.

    Revanth pressed his nose against the bark. To his alarm, it felt warm and pliant, like living flesh. He recoiled slightly, but didn't pull away. He did his best to share comfort and strength with Oak Mother, imbuing his thoughts with love, projecting them to her. She shuddered and sighed, relaxing. The wood sprites worked quickly, healing and binding her wounds. Her severed limbs were planted in a ring around her. The dryads of her grove chanted over them. They took root, the leaves unfurling with renewed vigor.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  7. #27

    Default Alton & Velda Part 15 by Dellani Oakes

    The men return to Oak Mother's grove to find her severely injured. While Alton and the forest people work to heal her, Revanth searches for signs of the women and their abductor. They are able to save Oak Mother, planting her severed limbs in the soil around her.

    A collective sigh filled the grove. The level of activity subsided. Alton slid to the ground, his back to Oak Mother. His eyes closed. Revanth settled on the ground, resting his head at Oak Mother's roots. She felt stronger, content, her pain ebbing away. The severed limbs shivered, their branches arching toward their Mother.

    "What did you find, my friend?" Alton's voice was barely above a whisper. He touched Revanth and froze. "It's worse than I thought," he said quietly. "But I fear I haven't the strength to deal with it at present."

    Revanth assured Alton that he would keep watch and wake him if there was need. He might be useless for some tasks, but he was good at watching and guarding. As he kept an eye on their surroundings, protecting his friend, Revanth mulled over what he had discovered. A plan, of sorts, began to form.

    During the night, tree sprites and dryads kept him company. Like Alton, they were able to communicate with Revanth. He went over his plans with them and they helped him with details, calling on their friends and family far away. By the time that Alton woke, Revanth knew what they must do, and where they must go. Only with his human body back, could they attempt to free their lady loves. It meant confronting Eleion without Velda. As much as it terrified him, he knew it had to be done. He would need Alton's help. Even now, his strength ebbed, though not as quickly as it had at home. He felt invigorated by Oak Mother's grove.
    Convincing the wood sprite to abandon his search for Velda, would not be easy. If he made a strong case, Revanth knew the other man would listen to him. Wishing he had a voice, he appealed to the dryads and sprites, asking for them to help convince Alton.

    "We will help you," Oak Mother whispered. "My children and I shall make my son see reason."

    Revanth touched her bark with his nose, doing his best to kiss her. She was a true friend and a strong ally. He thanked her with his mind, as he waited for Alton to wake.

    At dawn, Alton stretched and groaned. Waking slowly, his nose caught the warm, welcoming scent of his favorite tea and hot scones, as well as strawberries and fresh cream. Smiling, his eyes fluttered open. Dryads and wood sprits had used his bag to prepare a meal fit for kings.

    Revanth had sweet grass and mixed grains to eat. The dryads dribbled liquid on the ground at Oak Mother's base. She and her saplings fed off it, their leaves turning to the rising sun.

    Alton ate his fill, carefully replacing the leftovers in the bag. After a quick dip in the river, which was disconcerting with the naiads about, he and Revanth sat down to talk about their plans.

    "We must pursue the women at once," Alton began.

    Revanth snorted, shaking his head. He projected his objections as clearly as he could, but his distress, and sense of urgency, clouded his thoughts. Alton received a jumble of images, nothing more. Frustrated, they argued for several minutes, until an elder wood nymph entered the grove. She sat near Alton, taking his hands as she gazed into his eyes.

    "Child," she whispered. "Listen to your brother. He has a plan he's trying to share."

    "But the women!"

    "Are alive and well. More than that, I don't know. But even now, the plants, animals and elements search for them. We will find them. Meanwhile, you must confront Eleion. She has been located in a swamp nearly two days travel from here."

    "We can't go there first!" Alton sprang to his feet.

    Her hand grasped his wrist in an unyielding grip. "Your brother is a warrior. Though you're a hunter, you don't have his skills. Listen to his plan. You can't rescue them, with him in his current form. This meeting with Eleion is something you must do together—without the women. They have their own battle to fight."

    Grudgingly, Alton settled on the ground. Sighing heavily, he closed his eyes and cleared his mind. Revanth touched Alton's forehead with his nose. His thoughts melded with the wood sprite's, filling Alton's mind with pictures of what they must do.

    Nodding his understanding, Alton's eyes opened. "All right, brother. If this is what we must do—this is what we shall do."

    The wood nymphs, sprites and naiads who wished to accompany the friends, gathered around them as they walked from Oak Mother's grove. A few miles from the river, they bid farewell. The elderly wood nymph took Alton's hands, holding them between hers.

    "I have a gift to give you, young man. You have many skills that you don't even know you possess. You will need them all to conquer Eleion. The gift I give you is sight."

    "Respectfully, Mother, I can see."

    She tapped his forehead impatiently. "Inner sight," she replied, tapping his head twice more. "Listen to your friend, and pay attention to that voice inside when it tells you something. And when the time comes—" she handed him a small leather pouch. "Use this. You'll know what to do."

    Puzzled and frustrated by her words, Alton thanked her. He might not understand, but he'd never been so impetuous as to ignore good advice. She wouldn't let him open the bag. It smelled slightly of damp earth and leaves, and rattled like stones on wood.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

    (Sorry for the delay in sharing this, I forgot)

  8. #28

    Default Alton & Velda Part 16 by Dellani Oakes

    Alton and Revanth know they must break his curse, before they can go after the women. An elderly dryad gives them advice and gifts to help in their quest.


    Turning to Revanth, she took his face in her hands. Leaning her forehead against his, she breathed into his nostrils. "May the courage of all of us fill you, horse-man, for you will need it all. Watch after your impetuous brother, and keep him safe."

    Revanth snorted, nodding.

    "My gift to you—is love. And this." She braided a charm made from bits of glass and metal, into his mane. "Your brother is of the wood and earth. You are of the moon and sky. Remember that, for you will need it." She kissed them both and headed back to the grove.

    The others bid farewell. By this time, the residents of the next territory had joined them and been introduced. They took over showing Revanth and Alton the way. This handing off was done three more times before the two came to the place where they would sleep for the night.

    Alton was all for forging ahead, but Revanth dug in his heels, refusing to go another step. He was tired, but he also knew that traveling all night was foolish. His protests were met with resistance on Alton's part, until one of the dryads spoke. She was a pretty thing, with pale golden hair and moss green eyes. Her tree was an ash.

    "Your brother is right," she told Alton. "You can't travel all night and arrive tired. You'll need your strength to outwit Eleion."

    "Do you mean fight her?"

    The dryad said nothing more. She set out food and drink for the two and showed them to a stream where they could bathe. The naiads here laughed and dove as Alton bathed, making comments about his attributes. Revanth chuckled as he splashed around in the river. The naiads climbed on him, weaving twigs and bits of glass into his mane.

    As they ate, the sprites and fairies sang to them. Nymphs and dryads built beds for them from grass, moss and heather. They fell asleep with music winding around them.

    His eyes fell shut and Alton stepped into the dream world. He was in the grove, but the colors were more vivid, the scents and sounds more pronounced. A man with black hair and dark eyes was standing beside him. Smiling, the fellow held open his arms, greeting Alton.

    "Revanth?"

    "Yes, brother. Apparently, this grove makes it possible for me to join you. It feels good to be a man again! I wish it could last." His eyes turned sad and he fell silent.

    Alton hugged him, clapping his friend on the back. "Soon enough, brother."

    "Do you know the agony I've felt all these months? What if I never change back? Am I destined to love a woman I can't have? Will I revert to an animal? Even now, the human traits and thoughts fade from my mind. Every day, I become more horse and less man."

    "With the help of these good people, we'll save you, my brother."

    "While we have this time, we should talk about our plan."

    "Agreed. Tell me what I need to do."

    They sat down together, talking long into the night. Near dawn, they woke, rested and refreshed. A quick breakfast, and they were on their way. After half a day's travel, they came to a very different environment. The trees were gnarled and twisted. Thick moss covered the trunks. Tendrils of hanging plants and vines dangled from their branches. No friendly dryads or sprites came to greet them.

    Before stepping into this strange and unpleasant looking land, Alton stopped. He raised his head, sniffing and listening. "I don't like this place," he murmured.

    Revanth snorted, nodding adamantly before nudging the wood sprite with his head.

    "I know," Alton snapped. "Do you know how this feels? Imagine walking into a room full of spider webs, and not knowing where the spiders are."

    Shuddering, he and Revanth advanced. The ground was spongy underfoot, oozing with each step. Puddles of stagnant, scum covered water dotted the landscape. Footing became treacherous, especially for the horse. Alton went first, searching for the best path. Their progress slowed as they struggled through the quagmire. Only the croaking of frogs, buzz of biting insects and slither of snakes accompanied them.

    Late in the afternoon, they came across cultivated lands. Stands of barley dotted the marshy land. Neatly maintained shrubs and squat trees formed a ring around a clearing. The smell of decay and damp was slightly less here. It took a few moments to realize that there was a low hut not far from them, in the center of the clearing. Smoke struggled from the chimney, dribbling toward the ground, as if unable to rise in the moist air.

    "Do we dare approach?" Alton whispered.

    Revanth sniffed, raising his head. He turned slightly, inhaling deeply. With a snort and horsey chuckle, he led Alton forward, picking his way delicately between the paddies. Alton followed, the path not wide enough for two.

    The door to the hut opened when they arrived. An old man, as dark and gnarled as the trees, stood in the doorway. He smoked a long, narrow pipe made of muddy clay. The smoke from the bowl dripped and wriggled downward like snakes hanging from trees. A toothless smile split his weathered, dark brown face.

    "So, you're here at last, eh? I've been expecting you all day. Well, don't just stand there. Come in!" He gestured to the hut.

    It hardly looked large enough for Revanth, but that didn't stop the old man from inviting them in. Somehow, the horse fit through the opening, though Alton couldn't have said how. It was as if the doorway stretched to accommodate the horse.

    Inside, the hut was clean and cozy. A peat fire burned in the hearth and a savory stew bubbled in a cast iron pot. A pile of hay and bin of oats stood on the side of the hut furthest from the fire. A table, laid for two, took up most of the space in the floor. The old man gestured to Alton.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

  9. #29

    Default Alton & Velda Part 17 by Dellani Oakes

    The men finally reach the swamp. It takes a long time, but they finally get through the swamp, and find cultivated lands. An old man greets them, welcoming them into his home.

    "Have a seat, lad. And you, sir, enjoy the oats and hay. There might even be an apple or two nearby, if you look a bit."

    Revanth bowed his head, front legs bending, showing his thanks. The old man chuckled. "You're welcome, young fella."

    Alton sat and the old man ladled the stew into their bowls. A loaf of crusty black bread thunked on the table and the old man sawed off huge chunks for both of them. He slurped a sip off his spoon and dipped the bread in it. Alton joined him in his meal.

    "I've been waiting for you all day. Must have approached me from the south. Worst way to come in. Of course, they're none of them good." He winked a merry eye.

    "How did you know we were coming?" Alton asked.

    The man put his finger on the side of his nose. "Old Jon knows all," he said with a chuckle. "But I've not introduced myself properly. I can see you boys haven't a clue who I am."

    "No, sir," Alton replied. "We thought the swamp was unoccupied, save for—"

    "The witch, Eleion."

    "Yes. Is she nearby?"

    "Not if she's smart. She and I don't see life the same way. She's nearly killed my swamp. Sucking the life out of the trees so the dryads left or died. Scared off the fairies and the wood nymphs and killed the sprites."

    Alton's eyes grew wide. The more he heard of Eleion's crimes, the angrier he became. "Tell me where I can find her, so I can kill her," he demanded. He stood, throwing his napkin to the table.

    "Sit down and eat, young man," Old Jon said. "You can't kill someone like Eleion. She's too powerful, even for me. If I can't take her, a young sapling like you can't. Besides, you'll need her knowledge to fight what's taken your women."

    "You know that, too?" Alton was shocked.

    "Word travels fast around these parts. Nothing else to do. I know all about it. They were taken by a puka."
    "Where are they? Do you know? Have you seen them? Can you help us?"

    Old Jon settled back, relighting his pipe. The smoke smelled like burning mud. Revanth wrinkled his nose. Alton angled himself so the smoke went past him.

    "They're far from here. I know more or less where. No and yes."

    Alton blinked, puzzled for a moment. Revanth snorted, shaking his head. Alton laughed as realization struck. The old man had answered his questions, with no real explanation, but in order.

    "All that can wait. We need to concentrate on the witch."

    "I thought she was a naiad," Alton said with a frown.

    "Can't she be both? You're a wood sprite and a hunter. Your friend is a man and a horse. Just because she's one thing doesn't mean she can't be the other. Some of the most powerful witches are naiads—among the nastiest too. They can take the life force of the land around them, and use it to make themselves stronger. Eleion has been here a long time. This used to be a lush river and forest. You see it now. That's because she's sucked most of the life from it. But it still feeds her."

    "How do we overcome a creature that strong?" Alton sighed.

    "You don't. Most you can do is trap her. Or you might persuade her to help."

    "By making another deal like the one that trapped Revanth?"

    Old Jon held up a gnarled hand. "To be fair, your friends miss-worded their request. Had they asked properly, not given the old hag any room for interpretation, there wouldn't have been a war, and your friend wouldn't be a horse."

    "Can you help us with that?"

    "I can."

    "Will you?"

    Old Jon chuckled. "You're learning, Sapling."

    Alton tried not to be offended by that nickname, but it rankled. He was hardly a child. Among his own kind, he was still a young man. By human standards, he was probably of an age with Old Jon.

    "Don't like that, do you, youngun'?" The old man winked. "Think you're old as me?" He shook his grizzled head. "Sapling, I was merely old when the world was young. When you were a lad, I was ancient. Truth is, I don't know my age anymore. But trust me, even Oak Mother is a spry twig in comparison to Old Jon."

    His glance moved to Revanth. The horse stood, head bowed, knees bent in supplication. "That's the first sensible thing anyone's said today—besides me, of course." He winked. "Your friend thinks you need to put aside your petty annoyance, and have a listen. He didn't say it quite that way, of course."

    "He's right," Alton said, somewhat chagrined. "My apologizes, sir. I guess I'm used to being the old man of the bunch."

    Old Jon laughed heartily. "No offense taken, lad. You and I will get along splendidly."

    "How do we go about this, Old Jon? We can't take her on head to head, as we'd planned. Do we sneak up on her?"

    "There's no sneaking with Eleion. She knows you're here, and she knows your intentions. She's got ears to the ground and the wind. The animals and plants are all her slaves. She's as close to a god as it's possible to be without divinity. I'm old and strong, but I don't drain the life around me dry. As long as she's got her feet in the mud, she can call upon everything to aid her."

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

    (Sorry this is late, I had a lot to do yesterday)

  10. #30

    Default Alton & Velda Part 18 by Dellani Oakes

    Alton and Revanth have a chat with Old Jon about Eleion.

    "Then, perhaps, our goal is to take her feet from the mud," Alton said quietly. He sat in silence, thinking.

    Old Jon and Revanth watched him for a few minutes, then carried on their own silent conversation. The old man could see Alton's mind working. He knew the direction of his thinking, and prodded him in the right direction, guiding him to his own decision and plan. He was far more capable than he let on, knowing it was important for the men to do this themselves, without relying on him. Only with that confidence, could they defeat the being that held their women. Eleion was a challenge, but with the right persuasion, she would aid them.

    He nodded, smiling as he watched the last pieces of Alton's plan click into place. "Yes," he said softly. "That just might work."

    Revanth and Alton settled for the night. Each had a fragrant palette to sleep on. The peat fire was banked and glowed in the darkness. Old Jon sat in front of it, long legs crossed in front of him, staring into the fire, smoking. From time to time, his fingers flickered. Nodding, eyebrows dancing up and down, he watched something that only he could see.

    Night passed into morning. When Revanth and Alton woke, Old Jon wasn't around, but there was a pot of porridge bubbling over the fire. It smelled delicious. Not sure whether they should serve themselves or not, they waited. When it became apparent that Old Jon wasn't around—a quick check by Alton confirmed this, they ate. Feeling fortified by their meal, they prepared to leave. Alton took a container from his food bag and put some of the porridge in it to save for another meal. Having nothing else to leave as thanks, he enchanted a packet of tobacco, so it would always be full, and left it on the table.

    Standing in the center of the clearing, Alton cast out, searching for Eleion. He sensed darkness near the heart of the swamp. It wasn't evil—exactly—more of a chaotic flow of natural energy. He communicated his plan to Revanth, and the two of them set off for Eleion's home.

    Astrid woke, stretching. Each muscle sang out in protest from lying on the stone bench. Across from her, Velda lay, huddled against the hard surface, her head cradled on her arms. Her eyes flickered with dreams. A frown crossed her face. With a gasp, she woke. Her gaze met Astrid's and she relaxed slightly.

    "Only a dream after all," she whispered. "I can't even touch his mind from here." Her voice was full of sorrow.

    "Nor can I sense Revanth. I worry that he'll lose strength without me. I can feel an emptiness inside me, and I'm growing weaker—albeit, not as rapidly as before. I think being with you and Alton has strengthened us."

    Velda smiled. "True friends can do that. With Alton by his side, Revanth will be fine. They will find us, and bring us home."

    "I wish I shared your confidence. I know they will find us, but do any of us truly have a home to return to?"

    Velda sat beside her friend, her arms around her. They sat together, in silent misery until a rattling at the door caught their attention. Their captor had thought of everything, it seemed. They were not given liquid to drink, but juicy fruits and succulent meats sat on a tray. Though she would have liked to shun the food, Velda knew better than to do so. Their captor hadn't mistreated them, and it didn't seem as if he intended to do so. She had the impression that they were being used as bait, but for what purpose, she didn't know.

    A glazed jar appeared in the corner. Both women used it and it disappeared as soon as they were through. Velda frowned. She could have used their waste water to work some magic. Their captor was no fool. Given nothing else to do, the women talked quietly about themselves and their lives.

    "How did you meet Alton?" Astrid queried.

    Velda smiled, remembering. "He dove into the pool where my mother, sisters and I lived. We had never seen a male wood sprite before. Of us all, only our mother had seen a man, or been with one. I was the eldest, and near the Time of Leaving."

    "What's that?"

    "As I told you, naiads are all female. We must mate with humans, or other compatible species, in order to have children. Any male children we have, are of their father's race, with a strong affinity for the sea. Many of the great sailors, though they don't know it, had naiad mothers. Our daughters, when they mature, leave home and find mates, returning to the water when they tire of life on land. Usually, we bring our daughters with us, and live secluded lives. Our pond was deep in a forest, far from Alton's home. He was exploring, finding us by chance."

    She sighed, remembering. "I loved him the moment I saw him. Completely naked, his body that lush, dark brown—such a fine specimen. I couldn't take my eyes off him. My mother discouraged me, telling me that a man like Alton couldn't give me the children I would want one day . Children of the Earth and those of Water cannot create life together."

    "I'm so sorry," Astrid said. "It must be horrible for you."

    "I love him more than my own life," Velda said. "He is my heart, my soul. Even if we will never have a child, I will never leave him. That night, I left my mother's underwater grotto, and presented myself to him. We made love under the stars. It was beautiful. Each time with him feels magical, like that first time."

    "You are so very lucky," Astrid said. "Revanth and I never had our first time. He became a horse in my bed!" Burying her face in Velda's shoulder, she wept.

    © 2019 Dellani Oakes

    (Again, many apologies for posting this late. There's a lot going on these days, quarantine or not. I may be late with other posts, for which I apologize in advance.)

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