Chapter 31

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'Do I want a gift from the Fae?' the priestess asked suspiciously.

'You may ask us for something, a charm to help you on your way, an answer to a question. You have even earned the right to ask to stay amongst us. To become immortal. To become Fae. Should you wish it. Think on it, and think carefully. Ask wrong and you might not like what you are given.

'Rest now while the effects of the enchantment wears off. When you are feeling restored, we will discuss your gift and if you decide you want to return to your world, I'll take you back to the forest.'

'While I try and sleep, will you answer my questions? You said you would.'

Pren nodded.

'When I accused you of trapping me, you said you had done more than that. You had kept them at bay. Of whom do you speak?'

The fey explained. He had been patrolling the boundary when he was first alerted to the priestess' presence. The days of Midsummer are important for the Fae, so they pay close attention to whom the magic guides towards them. But she was not the only one that he could sense. Eleri was being followed, by a group of men and hounds whose homeland was far away from the forest.

'Arwel! The sneaky man. He said I had until dawn before he would come looking for me.'

'You know these men?'

'Duty and honour forced me to marry their king, Arwel of the Riverlands. We were wed on Midsummer's Eve, but I was called away during the festivities to heal a wounded man in the forest. He wasn't happy about my leaving. It seemed he knew not to trust me and either followed me as I left the summer camp, or could not wait and set out earlier.'

Pren had taken an instant dislike to the hunting party. He too had been able to see the black mist swirling around their chief. And, as the magic had selected Eleri, not them, the fey had taken steps to lay a false trail, to lead them away from the priestess and the boundary.

A look of contrition passed over Eleri's face. 'I'm so sorry. You were right to call me ungrateful. I had no idea they had already begun their pursuit. I had no idea they were so close. If they had caught me...' her voice trailed off.

Pren's brow furrowed in consternation. 'I've been wondering over that band of rogues,' he said with a sigh. 'There are many types of magic at work in the forest, Eleri, as I'm sure you're aware. And there is more beyond it. I suspect they have some helping them. It would take more than a pack of hunting dogs for them to have found you so quickly when they don't know the forest.'

'Magic helping Arwel? Where can he have got magic?'

'I don't know but it's the only logical conclusion I came to. And, to complicate matters, he does not have to possess it to be able to use it.'

They fell into silence, each one considering the implications.

'What else might you wish to know?' Pren asked eventually, noting that the priestess was not falling into the restful sleep he had hoped for her.

'Why were you so adamant that I should take on your food and drink?'

A wry smile crossed his lips as he explained this most basic of trials. It was partly as she suspected: those who eat the food and drink of the wine of the Fae were forbidden from rejoining the world of mortals. It was a test of knowledge. However, as the fey had already told her - more than once - it was only magic. The food was not real. The drink was not real. It was an illusion, all of it. The Fae were fond of those who possessed intelligence, but also a strength of will and a determined nature. To repeatedly tell a mortal they were hungry and thirsty and then to put the necessary remedy in front of them showed how a mortal acted under pressure.

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