“Benjamin!” Edward shouted into the white nothing of the forest. Every instinct within him was telling him to run to where he last saw Benjamin fly through the air, but he knew it could very well end with all of them being lost. And they could not all be lost. He gripped the reigns, white-knuckled and heart pounding.
“What am I supposed to do Ottelo? I have to find him.” He pulled on Regal’s bit, forcing the horse to turn and then changed his mind, pulling him the other way. Regal snickered in protest.
“Yes.” He knew all too well how much he had to find Benjamin. It was the same as he needing to find Pitney. And now, he would know the emptiness of it, too. This immediate thought irritated him. Had Edward not proven to be a friend, and yet Ottelo held animosity towards him. He would be glad when they could leave this place and it’s misery.
“The vex…I never saw it…” Edward stared into the mist, seeing nothing. He felt unbalanced and unsure.
“You could not have seen it. Look, even now, it is as mid-day. The mist reflecting glints of gold from the sun that is above it. Your gift, it doesn’t work here, Edward.”
And yet he kept trying to use it. This did not make sense. Why wasn’t it hard to be out from the Spirit of Blessing? Why was his gift so easy to use, and yet so futile? When he really needed it, to protect them, to keep them safe, it was not able to save them and yet, his body constantly kept trying. It was a maddening circle of vain attempts.
“I have to know.” Edward did not wait for Ottelo to follow, he only started Regal on the way to the section of empty mist he refused to move his eyes from. The last place he saw Benjamin as his body flew off his horse. He passed by Tuens and grabbed his reigns, leading him along.
It seemed as if it took them forever, but only thirty or forty feet into the barrier of fog did the image of a man’s body darken the path before them.
“Ben!” Edward hopped off his horse and knelt next to the figure, careful to hold the reigns of both horses. It took him a minute to register that the cloak covering the ground beside it was not the Mirias navy blue. It was Staas grey. “What is this?” Edward turned to see Ottelo had walked to him and was kneeling with him.
He grabbed the body and turned it over, the dark hair a dead giveaway.
“Pitney!” Ottelo cried and pushed Edward out of the way so he could see more clearly for himself. “Pit…Pit…are you alive? Pit?” He grabbed his cheeks with one hand and turned his face from side to side. He put his head on his chest and made out a heartbeat. “Pit, wake up. I will slap you if I have to!” But Pitney did not respond, his body limp in Ottelo’s arms.
“I will slap him, if you cannot.” Ottelo glared at Edward with spite at the suggestion.
As Ottelo continued to talk to Pitney and tried to get him to wake up, Edward wondered how it was that Pitney came to be where his brother should have been. Where was his brother, if not here? How did Pitney get here? And where was Pitney’s mount?
“Here, help me.” Ottelo grabbed Pitney’s body and the two of them heaved it up onto Tuens’ back.
“What will we do when we find Benjamin?” Edward questioned Ottelo.
“I don’t know. We can wonder about that if we actually find him.”
“What do you mean, ‘if’?” Edward stepped closer to Ottelo, puffing his chest just a bit.
Ottelo met his step with one of his own. “Exactly what I said.”
“So now that you have your servant back, my brother is of no use to you?”
“That’s right…your servant. Your lackey, your valet.” And even before Edward could stop himself, the words flew out of his mouth and he was immediately sorry. “Your dog.”
Ottelo’s fist flew through the air and landed squarely on their mark: Edward’s jaw. He stumbled back, but then steadied himself and put up his fists over his face. He did not know why he said what he did, but the look on Ottelo’s face said that he, too, was shocked he hit the Prince of Mirias.
And then Edward couldn’t help himself. He started laughing. Uncontrollably laughing. Soon, Ottelo joined in and they were back slapping and chuckling whole heartedly. It was as if their emotions were not their own, not under their control. Who knows how long they would have stayed like this, but for the sound of a third voice, laughter joining in on their own.
Ottelo looked to Pitney, but Edward caught the subtle difference of the laughter. If only because it reminded him of Lady Kaelah’s laugh. It wasn’t a man. Edward knew it was a woman’s laugh. Taking a chance and hoping he was right, he called out into the mist.
Ottelo jerked his head around, trying to see a face in the mist. “You think so?” He asked Edward.
Edward didn’t respond. Instead, he tried using his gift again. He couldn’t tell you why, only that it seemed to make sense to him and so great was the pull that he found he didn’t want to fight it.
The golden flecks in the mist slowly went dark…pitch black surrounded him, Ottelo to his left with the horses, Pitney’s body still precariously tipped onto Tuens’ saddle. The slight chill in the air turned crisper and the ceiling of mist that had shrouded their every move in the forest gave way to glistening stars above them.
“Edward?” Ottelo called again.
“Is it dark to you, Ot?”
“It’s still as light as day…as much as it can be with the fog, anyway. Everything is white and grey. What? Where are you?”
“I’m where it is dark…somehow…my gift is making the light of day as if night…”
Edward could see Ottelo searching for him in the mist. He could see him clearly, but Ottelo could only follow the sound of Edward’s voice.
“It appears, Ottelo, that my gifting is working in…reverse…”
“How is that possible?”
Edward shook his head and was going to respond when a voice broke through.
“Because it is always night in this forest.”
Ottelo swung around, trying to find the owner of this new voice, but Edward knew already.
“Belda,” he said. “Where are you?”
“I am where you cannot see. And I am where you can see.” Edward honed his gift and focused on one section of the night forest where the voice seemed to be originating from. A dark tunnel, with light at the end of it, opened wide towards Edward, a figure in black appearing from the light. Small at first, and then larger. Her gown long, the hem flying up in the small breeze of the night, caught the gentle flickering of the evening’s stars. Her hair, braided and lying across one shoulder fell down her chest to finally stop at her waistband, of which was clad with a yellow sash. She walked towards him, slowly. The years of life she lived defined on her face in a small whisper of lines, giving away her age, but none of her beauty.
“Belda.” Edward nodded at her.
“King of Mirias.” She curtsied back, a smirk on her face revealing a hint of mockery.
“Crown Prince,” he corrected, “I am not king. Not yet, anyway.”
“You will be. Sooner than you expect, I’m afraid.”
“Why…why would you say that?” Edward could feel heat rise to his face.
“Edward?” Ottelo called. He seemed years away from them and Edward couldn’t bring himself to respond back.
“The Great King will give his life for the Princess.”
“What do you mean? You know how to save her?”
“Yes, indeed I do. A young girl named Maurlee is seeing to her. She cares for and tends to the young lady. Tell me…what do you know of her?” Belda circled around him.
“I know nothing of her.” Edward stepped in time to her, never willing to let her out of his sight. “In truth, I have never heard of her.”
Belda was only a few feet from Edward. Her eyes were dark, her hair matched that of the black of her gown, but her skin was as pale as the mist they had been traveling in. She narrowed her eyes at him.
“She means a great deal to me.”
“I assure you, I know naught of her. Tell me…do you know where my brother is?”
“Have you lost him?” She laughed in her throat, a chuckle that he had heard just moments earlier.
“Please, if you know…”
“You needn’t worry too much about him. Vex are vile creatures, but they have their uses. They will not harm your brother. At least, not much more than they need to. Would you like to know how to rid Mirias of them for good? Aren’t you the one to rid your kingdom of them?”
“What do you mean? Why would the vex need to hurt him?” He asked, but Belda brushed the questions off with a wave of her hand.
“Ask me what you came for, Prince. I am losing patience.”
Edward swallowed hard. He had more than one need for answers now. To see the vex gone from their kingdom was tempting. But what of the Great King, ReAnne’s cure, and Benjamin’s whereabouts? They were of equal importance to him. Not long ago, his duty to his kingdom far outweighed that of his love for his siblings. Now, he found he would willingly lay the kingdom aside for the sake of their safety. If only there was a way to get her to talk and answer the questions without him actually asking…if there was a way he could stall…
“Please, can Ottelo come near? I am afraid of getting the answer and then forgetting.”
“Are you such a fool, then, that you cannot keep one bit of information?” She rolled her eyes, but then closed them and took a deep breath. The tunnel expanded and Ottelo, still standing with the horses, came into view. Edward’s gift was no longer needed to see.
“Edward…there you-“ Ottelo stopped in his tracks at the sight of Belda. “My lady.” He bowed to her. “Did you bow to me?” She asked incredulously. “You are Prince Ottelo of Staas, are you not?”
“I am.” He went to bow for a second time, but she waved him off. “That’s quite enough of that. Is this your long lost brother, then?” She gestured to Pitney’s limp body.
“No, I’m afraid I have only an elder sister.” Ottelo looked questioningly at Edward.
Belda laughed again, this time the chuckle rising from her chest before it exploded. “Yes, indeed. An elder sister. She’s quite the sight, is she not?”
Ottelo didn’t know what to make of Belda, or of her laughter, but he was sensitive when it came to others speaking of Opia in an ill-manor. “She is not known for her fair looks, I’m afraid. Though she is rather strong willed and capable of running any manor or estate. She has quite the flair for entrepreneurship.”
“Tell me,” Edward interrupted, “How is it you know so much of our kingdoms and the people in it?”
Again, Belda narrowed her eyes at Edward. The darkness of the tunnel making her already dark eyes appear almost black, were it not for the small flecks of stars glinted in them. “Anyone with power can know the secrets of spies, my dear prince. You are in Havarth now, and you would do well to remember that. Did the old man not tell you that not all things are as they seem? For even as you have walked through the misty walls of white you have been delusional of your surroundings. You slept while it was yet day and walked during the dead of night. The mist gave you no adherence of time or space. For almost one whole day of travel, you circled the same trees. When one of you was lost, you walked past each other almost five times. Did you not try to constantly use your gift? The Chimera Forest is cruel to its patrons, I assure you.”
“And yet, you have managed to live here?” Ottelo asked.
Belda swung her face around to the prince of Staas. “You have a heavy burden on your shoulders, Prince. Your dear mother settling the weight of the kingdom upon your broad, but still relatively young shoulders. She is a pitiful thing. Your philandering brute of a father. He created a war between those he said he loved. And now, you’re left in the dark, bound by what you see in the light. Bound to a young lady who will die.”
“Clearly, you do not know anything, woman.” Ottelo stepped towards her, hand on the hilt of his sword. “Your lips speak the words of liars.”
“Do I? Are your eyes so blind?” Belda made no move that might suggest she was afraid of Ottelo.
“My eyes are open to your trickery.”
He drew his sword, but Edward stepped between them.
“I cannot let you do that.” He spoke to Ottelo, but his eyes never left Belda. “There are things we must put up with, perhaps even lies, to possibly gain the truth. She may be the only person who knows how to heal ReAnne and find Benjamin.”
Belda continued to circle around them both, watching with wondrous curiosity.
“Am I to let her speak of my family, my king, in this way? With no retaliation? With no honor?” Ottelo spat the words.
“Saving ReAnne is the highest honor. Ottelo?” Edward nudged the arm still holding his sword until Ottelo dropped it.
“And you would let him speak to you as if you were bound to his honor as king? Providence was always too quick to deny oneself for the sake of another. In Havarth, you will not find the people so willing to listen to such selflessness. Every man must take what is his right, and every woman must take more, or be used. Or is this you, Prince Edward, trying once again to prove your worth? Never quite living up to the standard the Great King has for you. Are you not also bound by the light? For what you think you see clearly, you take great pains to see more in shadow…always believing there is more to see. That your eyes are deceiving you? The Lady Kaelah has a friend who frequents her chambers, does she not? I suspect you regret your Foresight now that you know you cannot overcome your love for her. But has she overcome her love for you, I wonder? I’m told Begrenzen visits often.”
Edward could feel the tension rising in his neck and Ottelo’s hand move towards his sword, once again. He was waiting, Edward knew, for the right inclination from him to draw it.
Instead, Edward thought of what Yavin had said, and used the greatest weapon he had. He invoked his gift again, though he hadn’t needed it once Belda opened the tunnel width to include Ottelo. He focused on the shadow that was closest to him, at the edge of the tunnel, away from the light that pinpointed the distant beginning of it. If Benjamin were here, he could tell Edward if he was right in his assumption. But he had to be willing to take that chance.
Slowly, the flickering shadow began to reveal what was hidden from their sight.