* * *
The borders were thick with trees, lush with rolling hills of grasses and flowers. I had not seen these things in decades, and my eyes tried to watch them, to devour them; I nearly left the lands and did not release the elf I held prisoner.
I let go of him at the edge of what had once been my home, and said, “I don’t know where you call yours — with her, or with your father’s people–”
He cut me off as he said, “My dear mam raised me leagues west of here, in Her path. Those you call my mother, my father… I don’t know a thing of them.”
I nodded, and the tears I shed turned bitter as I moved to turn the steed away.
“You would leave me behind?” he wondered. “Am I not all you have left of your brother?”
“You are nothing of him,” I said quietly. “He would not have let them try to murder me.”
“What makes you think I would have let them try?” he called back. The lilt in his voice was so much like Elias then, when we were younger. Before his mischief had turned to solemnity. Before he put out his eyes.
“Kellis–” I began.
“–and I made a deal, when I arrived at Her court,” the elf called. “He loved the one you call my mother. She did not love him. Not as she had loved my father. His heart had hardened to all things save bitterness. He told me you alone would tell me of my blood without bias, and the true Autumn Queen confirmed it.”
I felt both confusion and rage at his assumption. “She dared–”
“The true Autumn Queen,” he said, and with quick steps, he leapt astride the horse and put one arm around me.
He laid his cheek to mine and put a hand to my chin from behind, turning my head up toward the sky. He made my eyes follow his, and when my gaze landed on the full-round of the moon said, “Her, Elodie. She’s the True Autumn Queen.”
* * *