Saturday, July 8, 2017

Chapter 19, Flora's Folly

***WARNING!!! My stories often contain strong language, sensitive issues, and, at times, other content that could be construed as offensive. Beliefs and viewpoints of characters are not necessarily the beliefs and viewpoints the Author holds in true life.***

When I announced my decision to deal with Flora that very evening, there were token protests from everyone. Robin argued that I should wait until all my strength returned. Lenora asked if I was certain and said that it could surely wait for at least another day. Mother was silent but looked at each of us with her piercing eyes, Finally, she said, "It's up to you, darling. I believe wholeheartedly in your abilities."

Unabashed pleasure swelled inside me and I couldn't help grinning like a starstruck teenager. To hear Mother say those words to me was a gift of priceless value. "Thank you, Mother. I will not disappoint you." I was determined to be strong and make sure this magic did not fail me this time.

It was strange. I felt wonderful, like I'd been on a rejuvenating retreat for a month. I felt no ill effects from the potion, nor was I in the least bit fatigued. I gave everyone a reassuring smile. "Do not fret about me. I feel fine, I really do. I feel that if we do not take care of this tonight, Flora will get the hop on us and we'll have less of a chance to succeed."

"Ye mean jump, not hop, sweetheart," Liam laughed. "Perhaps ye are right. Best to derail her before she knows she's being derailed."

We had some time before going to battle, which was good because I wanted to do a few things before beginning the preparations. I owed my pen pal Jasper a letter. I smiled as I sat down at my computer. Jasper was such a lovely man, and I was touched that he was so worried for my safety. I wanted to assure him that we were safe and well. Liam was right. Jasper was a great friend and I was terribly fond of him.

I showered and changed, then went to the kitchen to see about preparing everyone a meal. I didn't want anyone being hungry while we would be trapping Flora. However, Lenora was already there taking care of that. "Great minds think alike," she grinned. "Mathilda just got in touch with Carson and Ella and they'll be here shortly." I had never seen a Fae punishment carried out, so this would certainly be an educational experience.

After we ate, I took Mother aside and asked for a private word. Now was as good a time as any to approach her about some sort of life extending spell or potion. For my Robin's sake, I needed to see to that here and now. Ariadne told me Mother was ready to help me with that anyway, so I needed to find out exactly what that meant.

I cleared my throat, feeling a little awkward. "Mother, I beseech thy benevolence. I mean--" I steeled myself and began again. Why did I always lapse into Old English, as Mother called it, when I was nervous or upset? "Mother, I wanted to speak with you about what just happened...and Robin."

"Yes, child. I thought you might," Mother said without hesitation.

"I never want to bring him that kind of pain again, Mother. He was devastated. My poor Robin!" Sudden tears welled in my eyes and I furiously blinked them back.

She nodded and patted my arm. "He adores you, Alina."

"I know, and that is why I need to ask you what I am about to ask you. I know I have no right to, but for my Robin's sake, I must. I know immortality is a most guarded secret with you and I have never had any grand illusions to ever obtain such a thing. Even now, I would never ask for such a thing because it must be earned and is such a rarity. After speaking thus, I am asking for an extension of both mine and Robin's life, for I do not wish for him to watch me die again for a long, long time. I could not bear to see him die either, so..." I shrugged and cast my eyes at my feet before looking back at her.

"Come here, child," Mother said softly, holding her arms out to me. I came into them and she enfolded me in a long, tight hug. "I suppose we should have had this out before. This has been on my mind since after your first death. The fact that we almost lost you brought me up short, Alina. After you and Robin returned, I prepared two vials of the immortality serum. One was for you and the other for Robin. Had you not been under that curse, I would have offered them to you both long before this."

I extricated myself from Mother's embrace to gape at her. "What?"

"It's true, dear. You see, if you had taken the elixir before your curse was lifted, the curse would have been with you forever and you and Robin would never be able to have biological children." She spoke these words while her gaze bored into mine. "Don't you see? You needed to die again to remove the curse as I explained earlier."

My blood ran cold and my vision grayed at the edges. My heart began to race and I was having trouble breathing. I felt sick.

Mother drew me to her again and rubbed my back. "It's all right, sweetheart. Just take slow, deep breaths. There now. There's no need to fret." She spoke softly and slowly, her voice finally chipping away at the panic. When my breathing regulated and the room came into sharper focus, Mother patted my back and continued speaking. "I suspected that something was off after you returned and Robin told us of his encounter with Flora. I didn't say anything so as not to alarm you and Robin further. Plus, due to the kind of curse it was, we needed someone like Silvan to confirm it. I decided it was best to keep all of this to myself until the right time revealed itself. I was going to speak with you and Robin before we got down to it but you beat me to it."

I looked at her again and blinked but was unable to form words.

"Anyway, you and Robin should talk this over. This kind of decision is not easy to make and there are consequences. Should you decide to become an immortal, you will lose many people you love because they will eventually die. You'll see many things you will wish not to, but there is also great joy in this kind of existence. You will forever be ageless and never again will you experience illness. There is one more thing." Once again, Mother's gaze locked with mine. "Because you and Robin would be doing this together, this will forever and irrevocably bind you to one another. This means that there is no such thing as divorce. It is the same with Lenora and Tyrone, Carson and Ella, and Liam and me. Do you understand what I am saying?"

I nodded. Thankfully, my tongue took the opportunity to dislodge itself from the roof of my mouth and I was able to speak. "There is no existence, no life without Robin. I wouldn't want to live another moment if I didn't have him." I said these words with strong conviction but hesitated over the next ones, "It's just...I mean...what did I do to earn this privilege? I know it is not something you just hand out because someone asked, not even if the someone who asked is your daughter."

"First of all, dear, you didn't ask. You asked for a life extension but it was I who offered you and Robin immortality." She smiled for the first time since our conversation began but sobered immediately after. "What did you do to earn it? Oh, Alina, do you not know?"

I shook my head, bewildered.

I was shocked to see tears swimming in Mother's eyes. For the third time, she pulled me close and held me as only she could, "My beautiful, brave girl. You earned it many times over because of the courage and bravery you've shown many times over. You were resigned to your possible death when you contracted smallpox. You accepted without question the need to travel through time to come here. You adapted remarkably well to your situation and found a wonderful husband to share your life with. Then, you chose to die a second tine so this vial curse could be lifted. Plus, you are one of the most unselfish and kindhearted people I have ever known. You didn't resent Lenora's place in my life and the two of you became like sisters. Even with this request, you asked for it to spare Robin of grief rather than asking for it for selfish reasons. Not only that, but you have gained great favor with Ariadne, Trust me, Alina, you've earned it many times over. You are an example for other, even me, to live by."

My jaw dropped and all I could do was stare at Mother like an idiot. Mother always said things that astounded me, but this was something entirely different. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect her to say the things she did just now.

"Close you mouth, Alina. You'll catch a fly." Mother tapped my jaw and chuckled. "I meant everything I said, child. Speak with Robin about it, for there isn't much time before you must prepare for your battle."

I was about to reply, but Robin appeared in the archway. "Everything okay, you two?"

"Everything is fine, but we need to talk, Robin," I said.

He surveyed me with a furrowed brow, and I guessed he was looking for signs of lingering illness. I assured him I was fine and brushed my lips against his. I repeated everything Mother told me, Mother confirming it with nods in the right places. When I was finished, Robin whistled. "I guess it never entered my mind that our lives could be extended or even frozen in time, Alina. I just never expected to see you die twice and I'll hope not to see that again until we are both very old. It's a lot to take in."

"Yes, I know." I was still reeling that Mother was willing to extend this to us. "I never told you this before but sometimes I worry about you because of your work. My blood ran cold the other day when I read in the newspaper about a constable being shot upon stopping someone for a traffic ticket. I should not like to get a phone call one day telling me you're lying in the morgue." I shuddered and buried my face in his chest.

Robin pulled me close and stroked my hair. He spoke my name on a long exhale. "Forgive me, love. I should have been sensitive to your worries. I cast a spell of protection on myself before a potentially dangerous situation, but I guess you just never know."

I made a mewling noise and tightened my arms around him. "Please...don't..."

He gently lifted my face to look into my eyes and wiped a tear from my cheek. "I think we have our answer, sweetheart. It would be foolish of us to look a gift horse in the mouth. Is this what you want, Alina? Are you certain?"

I nodded and caressed his cheek "To spend forever with you would be the greatest joy of my life."

Wordlessly, Mother handed both Robin and me a vial. We drank the contents and Mother waved a lazy hand over us. "It is done," she said simply. A weight was lifted from my heart, for neither Robin nor I would ever again have to face watching the other die.

There were magical preparations to make before all of this was to commence. As I weaved the spells, little nymphs began doing acrobatics in my stomach. I was determined to be brave and strong, but this was a major event as Robin was apt to say. If the slightest thing went wrong, it could all explode in our faces. I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. I couldn't allow myself to entertain such thoughts. It would succeed. My magic would not fail me and I would make Robin and my mother proud.

Carson and Ella arrived as the sun was setting. Before I could even address her as "Your Majesty," Ella hugged me as though we were long lost friends. "It's so good to finally meet you, Alina, I've heard so much about you and can't thank you enough for helping us with this."

I smiled shyly and felt heat rise to my cheeks. I had always wanted to meet a queen but never expected one to be so nice and personable. "I'm so glad, Your Highness. I--"

"It's Ella," she interrupted me, smiling. "We're going to be family, after all."

I stole a peak at Carson, who was smiling despite the situation. I was so happy for him, and it was plain to see how much in love he and Ella were. He would become King of the Fae as soon as he and Ella were married. If anyone deserved it, it certainly was Carson.

"I-I'm so glad, Ella. I just don't want Flora hurting anyone else," I stammered, turning my attention back to her.

"Amen to that," Robin said. "What do you plan to do with her once we compel her to come?" he asked Ella.

Ella and Carson exchanged a look before Ella spoke. "As it was you and Alina she hurt the most, you get first crack at her. At the end, Carson and I will carry out the sentence we've decided she will face."

Ella handed me a picture and explained it was of Flora. Robin had seen her but I hadn't, and I needed to know what she looked like before I could summon her. I studied the picture from every angle while Robin, once again, told me of his encounter with her. Again, I was appalled at the levels she would sink to. If all went well, her antics would be at an end.

I studied the picture again and took a deep breath. I would have only one shot at this. I focused my mind and felt drops of perspiration erupt on my forehead. "Bring!" I said in a clear, strong voice. A bright flash of blue light nearly blinded me, and the next instant, an elderly fairy with black wings stood before us.

She looked around warily. "What is the meaning of this?" she demanded.

"What's with the wings?" Robin whispered. "They were white when I saw her."

"Disguise," Ella replied. "What you see now is her true wing color, which completely matches the black aura that surrounds her."

I saw Aurora make a disgusted face and Silvan slipped an arm around her. "That's one aura I wish I couldn't see," she said.

"What is the meaning of this? I demand to know why I am here," the old woman said icily. She looked haughtily at all of us and I began to seethe.

"You are here because I brought you." The iciness in my own voice even surprised me. "You're going to explain to me why you cursed an innocent woman and in a place where that kind of thing doesn't belong."

Flora studied me through narrowed eyes, "Oh, I am, am I? We'll just see about that." Her slippery tone added to my desire for blood.

"Yes, we certainly will." Before she could bat even one eyelash, I opened my fist and shot her full in the chest with a truth spell while Robin added his own magic to seal off any escape route Flora might try to use. I wanted answers and I was determined to get them. When the spell took full effect, I simply said, "Explain."

Flora spoke in a dazed monotone, her eyes glazing over. "It was a plot to get revenge on Mathilda because I was jealous. It wasn't right that a non-fairy should gain immortality and remain ageless. Fairies are above everyone else and should be the immortal gods and goddesses. I knew I could not take away Mathilda's powers or status but could, instead, permit her line from continuing. She has but one blood daughter, Alina, and by preventing her from bearing children, Mathilda cannot spread her contamination."

I had never heard anything so disgusting. When I stole a glance at Robin, I could see he felt much the same. His eyes flashed daggers at Flora but his next words were directed to Mother. "There's just one problem with that. You and Lian could have kids if you wanted to, right Mathilda?"

"That would be highly unlikely," Flora said flatly. "Mathilda is too vain and selfish to endure another pregnancy."

"You assume a lot, Flora, and you know what they say about assuming. It makes an ass of you and me," Mother said, looking down her aristocratic nose at Flora. She turned to Robin and smiled. "Liam and I have all the tine in all the universes to have children and perhaps we will one day."

"The bottom line as I see it is that you were too big a coward to try anything on Mathilda, so you went after Alina instead, thinking to make Mathilda suffer." The cold matter-of-fact note in Robin's voice sent shivers down my spine. I would hate to be a suspect in the interrogation room once my Robin got hold of them. "You've got no business talking about what fairies ought to be since you broke the Fae code of honor."

"There are always mitigating circumstances," Flora replied.

"Not in this instance." It was the first time Ella spoke and now, she looked every bit the part of how I imagined a queen could be. "There is no excuse for your actions, Flora. You sought power and people who do so by less than honorable means rarely receive it." She turned and cast a grim look at me. "As I said, you have first crack at her before Carson and I carry out sentence. What would you like to do?"

More than anything, I wanted to see Flora dead for what she did. As I started to think of ways to see that done, another thought came to me. Death was too good for her. Plus, if I did anything to harm her, I would be no better than she was. I sighed in resignation. "As much as I want to see her dance while being the target of an electrical charge, I cannot let myself stoop to her level. What if she was made to lose her wings and fairy powers and live the remainder of her life in a Fae prison?" I looked directly at Flora as I spoke.

Carson and Ella exchanged another look and Mother nodded and smiled. "That is very wise and noble, Alina. This happens to be the sentence Carson and I came up with for her. As much as an eye for an eye sounds appealing, it rarely brings the satisfaction one hopes to get."

As Mother locked gazes with me, the air around me stirred and the hair on the back of my neck stood up, "You have passed your test, Alina. I will talk with you directly," came the disembodied voice of Ariadne.

As quickly as the feeling came, it was gone What in the world had that been about? However, I didn't have tine to think about it further because Carson's voice brought me back to attention. "Flora Goodfellow, you have heard the sentence spoken aloud. By the power bestowed upon me by the benevolent Queen Ella of the Fae, I now will carry out said sentence." Carson waved his hand and a split second later, Flora's wings were gone.

She screamed in what sounded like both terror and disbelief, "Unfair! This is a miscarriage of justice!"

"Look who's crying unfair," Aurora said scornfully. "It's not fun having the shoe on the other foot."

"Your tine will soon be up, Missy. You won't be wearing that smug smile for long, Instead, you'll be wishing to die soon enough," Fora spat.

"That'll be the day," Aurora said, tossing her head in a lofty manner,

"Carson and I will gladly take this," Ella jabbed her thumb at Flora, "off your hands. You can relax now. It's over."

Ella and Carson disappeared before our eyes with Flora between them. I looked at Robin and fell into his arms. "It's over," I whispered. "It's finally over." A sob escaped me, and Robin held me as I wailed and blubbered for what seemed an eternity.