I raised my eyes to the heavens as I held onto Orein’s head on my lap. The clouds that covered the sun slowly drifted, allowing the sunlight to creep towards us.
Like waking up in a dream, my mind slowly registered what my eyes saw. The way the tree tops framed the sky and how the animal footpath winded underneath the branches pulled at my senses. There was something very familiar with my surroundings. I felt like I’ve been there before. I squinted my eyes and looked around me, my brain desperately grasping at that elusive memory.
“Lady Anya, we should go back soon.”
Shelly’s melodious voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked at her, confusion swirling in my mind. She furrowed her brow, but I didn’t think I had to explain my thoughts to her.
Just as the cloud cleared the way for sunlight to reach us, I looked up towards the tree tops and suddenly a vision hit me. The flash of lightning among the tree tops across the footpath, the loud boom that rang in my ears followed by the sound of a tree falling. Slowly, I lowered my head, focusing on the huge tree right before my very eyes. That’s the exact same tree that supposedly got hit by lightning! My heart began to beat wildly. It stood tall and proud, not a hint of any burnt area was visible.
I looked down at Orein as the truth dawned on me. There was never any storm when I went for a walk. Sure there were clouds in the distance when I left the cabin, but did they look capable of producing a storm? I couldn’t remember. But, the tree was still standing there!
Orein must have somehow created that dream so I would believe him. The dark shadow of betrayal filled my heart as I slowly laid his head on the soft grass. I stood up, my eyes never leaving his unconscious body. I felt the burning in the back of my eyes. My mind was racing, desperately thinking of what I should do next. I looked at Shelly and saw my confusion reflected in her eyes. I had to think smart and quick.
“I’m thinking of how to do this, Shelly.”
“Oh, well, I’m not sure how the magic of the queen’s necklace works. But I think if you close your eyes and imagine yourself back in the Prince’s home, it would take you there.”
I wondered if putting the necklace around Orein’s neck and imagining him and Shelly in his home would take them there, leaving me here. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be trapped in their world once again. And knowing what I know now, it would even be harder to live there. Could I stand being trapped there until I figure another way to come back ?
I could just leave him here, take the necklace with me for protection in case Shelly decides to force me to go with them. But he never really treated me bad, he was always gracious and kind, loving even. The only bad thing he did was take me. I looked at Orein once more, my mind contemplating what to do.
I turned my head towards Shelly, then looked up at the blue sky. The clouds were all gone, and the sun was shining brightly. I slowly lowered my head and focused on the nymph.
“Shelly, you know I don’t belong in your world. I am not fit to be Orein’s wife because I’m human.”
The nymph didn’t reply, she just looked at me with uncertainty.
“I can’t go back with you.”
“But you can’t leave him here to die. The goblins may come back and Serena will surely kill him because she wants to be the queen.”
“What do you mean?”
“Serena is Lady Mara’s sister and with Lord Orein gone, she will stand to inherit the throne. We have to take him back to safety.”
A vision of a dead Orein brought a sharp pain to my chest but I shoved it aside. Indecision whirled in my mind. Could I just let them worry about their plight? Who cared whether Orein or Serena ruled their world? What would the evil Serena do with the power she wields once she sits on the throne? Could I live with the fact that I would be indirectly responsible for Orein’s demise and the destruction of the entire elven kingdom?
I closed my eyes, the pain in my heart palpable, weighing me down with this decision.
I fell on my knees beside Orein. I laid his head on my lap and held his hand in mine as I whispered in his ear.
“I hope you could hear me even in your present state. It hurts to discover the extent of your deceit just to take me to your world without my consent.”
“I like you, Orein, and I was beginning to develop feelings for you. However, your deception is not easy to forgive or forget. I trusted you…and that trust is now gone.”
“I couldn’t go back with you knowing what I know now. We are from different worlds…of different races. Thank you for taking care of me, but I have to stay here. My family needs me and I am sure they are looking for me.
You are a good guy, Orein, and whoever becomes your wife would be a lucky woman. However, I don’t believe that’s me. There are many things I wished I understood and maybe if we met under different circumstances and you gave me the chance to get to know you and decide for myself, things could have turned out differently.”
“Please let me go, Orein, I beg of you, don’t come back to take me.”
Orein’s eyes seemed to flutter, yet I decided to ignore it. Gently, I gave him a kiss on his forehead before slipping the necklace around his neck. When I turned my gaze to Shelly, her eyes were filled with horror, confusion and anxiety.
“Lady Anya…you can’t do this! My lord will be devastated! He loves you!”
“Shelly, I have to do this and I know deep in your heart you understand why.”
“Please take care of him.”
Taking Shelly’s hand in mine, I guided it towards Orein.
“Goodbye, Shelly. I wish you and the rest of your world a wonderful and peaceful life.”
The finality of my decision must have shown on my face because Shelly just nodded before looking at her prince. I laid my hand briefly on Orein’s shoulder and closed my eyes, envisioning him and Shelly at the Prince’s home.
A cold feeling enveloped my entire body and for just a moment a trickle of fear ran through me. I shoved it away.
“Goodbye, Orein,” I whispered, “be well!”
I didn’t open my eyes right away. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see where I was. I moved my forefinger to check if Orein was gone. My brow furrowed because I felt something soft beneath my hand. Did the necklace take me back with them to their world? I could feel panic start to rise within me. I opened my eyes and looked down. My hand was laying on a moss covered trunk of a tree. I smiled to myself.
“I did it! I’m free!”
Joy and excitement filled my heart. I had to hurry home. I was sure my family would be so happy to see me.
The fallen tree was huge and I needed to walk around it to reach the path that led to our cabin. There was a spring in my step as I began to walk, looking at the forest floor to make sure I did not trip on some of the tree’s branches.
The tree must have been laying there for quite some time because some of the branches were starting to rot and the brown pine needles have all fallen to the ground I wondered why it fell and how far I needed to walk to reach its roots.
“Huh!” I gasped.
A feeling of dread replaced my excitement. Somewhere deep inside me I felt remorse and sadness. Tears filled my eyes, blurring the vision before me.
Blackened tips at the end of the tree seemed to mock me from where the tree lay. Slowly I brought my gaze up toward the forest and there right before me stood the bottom half of the tree. The same burnt tips of wood graced it at the top.
My feet felt like jelly as I fell on my knees. All my energy disappearing in an instant.
Tears fell down my face as I stared at the ground before me.
I was wrong…Orein was telling the truth all along. He did save me that day…
The grief that filled me was suffocating and the sobs that racked my body seemed to echo in the forest.
I was so quick to judge. He was nothing but honest towards me and I chose not to believe him. Now he is gone…gone forever.
Something squeezed my heart…
I grabbed my chest…I couldn’t breath.
I gasped…but there was no air to breath in.
Panic was starting to creep in…the edges of my vision were turning black.
I reached out my hand and tried to cry for help but no sound came out…
The darkness was slowly enveloping me…I tried to breathe but there was still no air.
The last thought in my mind was: “Orein…”
I opened my eyes and slowly sat up. I looked around me and was startled. Why was everything in black and white? I rubbed my eyes with my hands and opened them again. Everything was still grey. Did I hit my head when I fell? Was there something wrong with my brain after being unable to breathe?
Something in the back of my mind told me to look down.
The lump of clothing that lay before me looked very familiar. Hair, the same colour as mine, lay scattered at one side of the lump and the shoes on the other side were the same as the ones I put on the day I went out for a walk.
Gingerly, I reached out to touch the lump. There was something inside them. I pulled at the shirt…I gasped! Bones fell on the ground…I flung the shirt away.
Recognition came slowly…
…it was me!