Vanessa did not know how long she had spent wandering the wilds. Her eyes were sore and red from the countless hours of tears that spilled down her cheeks. It had been weeks since her last meal. She was hungry and tired and more and more she was angry. She was angry with Julian for breaking her defences and causing her to love him. She was angry with him for leaving, even though she knew he must and she had known it from the start.
Mostly she was angry with herself for falling in love with him in the first place, and even angrier that she wept for his leaving. She had known. It should not hurt as much as this. She sat on the rock that happened to cross her path and stared out into the forest. All she could see were tree trunks and the occasional shrub. She would die here. She decided. It was a good place to die, here on this rock that jutted out from nowhere. It was very dramatic.
Vanessa liked the drama. It was a pity, she thought, that there would be no one to find her, to tell the tale of how her love for a man she could not keep broke her and she died alone of a shattered heart. It would have made a good song.
No sooner had Vanessa laid back on the rock and closed her eyes than she heard it. It was faint and hazy, but it was recognisable. The song, melodic and familiar, the very song that had brought her to Jeremy and Charlotte and thence the Dragon’s Chalice was faintly uttered on the breeze. Vanessa sat upright and listened harder.
It was unmistakable. It was the very same song. She looked about her. There were none of the strange little women made of mist dancing about her head. No. It was only the song that rang clear as a crystal bell and faint upon the light breeze.
Vanessa had no choice. She had to obey. She stood up on her tired, aching legs and slowly followed the sound. The singing grew louder and clearer as she approached. It was not long before she heard the gentle caress of waves upon sand. The song rang bright and beautiful in her ears. Vanessa broke into a run. She had to find them, she had to. She ran stumbling and half-blind through the trees until at last they gave way and Vanessa found herself on a small beach. The song faded on one clear note as Vanessa spied a small boat moored in the sand. She stood and stared in bewildered surprise, unable to move.
Vanessa was woken from her reverie by a sharp cold bade on her throat. She stiffened and looked to her right. A short, broadly built woman stood, her sword drawn and placed against Vanessa’s neck.
“Gwen!” a sharp voice snapped from somewhere beyond Vanessa’s vision.
Both Vanessa and the woman turned towards the sound. Just in front of the forest line stood a cluster of twenty women or so. They all stood respectfully behind the owner of the voice, a woman of average height, a little taller than Vanessa, with thick waves of auburn hair tied loosely back with three gold bands. She was fully armed, and around the top of her right arm was tied a thick strap of pale deer hide from which hung five eagle’s feathers and blue and violet beads.
“Put that sword away, she is unarmed!” the woman said, approaching Vanessa and the burly woman named Gwen. Very reluctantly, Gwen pulled back her weapon and sheathed it. By the time the sword slid with a dry hiss into the sheath the woman had reached the pair.
“What do you think you were doing?” The woman snapped. “I thought I taught you better than to draw a weapon on an unarmed person!” Gwen grunted.
“She could be a spy,” she replied gruffly.
“Yes, a spy standing on a beach in full view of anyone who bothered to look.”
Gwen was silenced by the obvious sarcasm. She said nothing, bowed and marched to the boat. The woman sighed and shook her head. She turned to Vanessa and smiled.
“I’m sorry. Gwen still has much to work through.”
Vanessa nodded dumbly. The woman looked her over with a critical, but kind eye. She seemed to Vanessa the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Her dark hair shone with health and her dark eyes sparkled. Her body was strong and lean from much practice, but was beautifully curved. Vanessa could hear the song again, faint and joyous. The woman smiled and extended her hand.
“My name is Eva.”
Just above Eva’s right shoulder a small wisp of mist danced and played in the form of a perfect, miniature woman. The woman smiled at Vanessa, her large eyes twinkling in the morning sun. She blew Vanessa a kiss, and vanished, dissipating with the breeze, and the song faded once more. Vanessa turned her attention back to the warm, brown eyes of the woman in front of her. Vanessa smiled. She was home.