'The Spellbound Spindle' ~ first chapters
Part One – The Gem Elves
“The children. Where are the children?” Her deep burgundy tunic swirling about her, Garnet ran to her sister-in-magic, her booted feet sliding on the polished floor.
“Dead. Both dead. We are too late.” On her knees by the motionless couple, Diamond’s blue-white hair enveloped her like a shroud.
It took Garnet a moment to realise Diamond was referring to the couple. She shook her. “The children.”
She stared at Garnet, her gaze unfocussed before she blinked rapidly. “She must have them.”
Crouching, forcing herself to ignore the dead elf lord and his wife, Garnet grasped Diamond’s hands, entwining their fingers. “Help me find them, before the trace disappears.”
Garnet’s burgundy-tinged eyes stared into Diamond’s pale blue ones. The diamond and garnet gems on their respective pendants glowed, as did the gems on the circlets adorning their foreheads.
Snippets from moments before flickered in their minds – of the elf lord, Forel, finding his wife, Linnet… kissing her blue lips, clutching his throat… falling to lie beside her. A skewed sideways vision of a woman in black and grey backing away, dragging a small boy, a bundle clasped against her… turning to run out the small side door.
Snatching her hand away, Garnet leapt to her feet and ran in the same direction.
“Garnet! Not alone–”
“Our sisters are coming. I will delay her.”
As she ran towards the door, still ajar, their sisters-in-magic came rushing through the main doors. They stopped, eyes wide, hands covering their mouths, brought up short by the sight of the lifeless couple.
But one raced on. “Garnet.” Ruby’s blood-red tunic fluttered around her. Catching up to Garnet, slightly breathless, she said, “She has them both?”
Garnet nodded, her gaze fixed straight ahead as they moved swiftly down the narrow corridor, ignoring the doors on either side that stood open.
“I can hear him crying. But the baby–”
“We are close.” Spying their quarry, Garnet shouted, “There.”
“Marlis. Stop.” Ruby grasped her sister’s outstretched hand.
The one called Marlis stumbled to a halt, still holding the weeping child in a rough grip. He tried to turn, but she jerked him back. Slowly, she turned to face the two gem elves. Her sable hair hung askew about her sharp face. Her pallid cheeks were flushed from her exertions, her full lips slightly parted.
“Let them go,” said Ruby. “You are no match for us, you know that.”
Breathing hard, Marlis spoke through gritted teeth. “How did you–?”
“Girasol.” Garnet clenched her free hand, struggling to keep her anger from exploding. “She alerted us.”
Narrowing her eyes, Marlis pressed her lips together before she spat her words out. “I should have known.”
“She’s dead, Marlis,” said Ruby, her voice soft. “She was your sister.”
A muscle in her jaw twitched. “Then she should have shown her loyalty to me.”
They stared at her in silence.
“What do you want with the children?” said Garnet.
Marlis barked a laugh, silencing the trembling boy. “Do not play me for a fool. Their life force will give me the power I crave, to be as powerful as–”
“Life force does no such thing,” said Garnet.
“I know what you will say. Girasol tried to tell me the same thing. But you cannot hide this from me.” She looked hungrily at the baby, lying so still in her grasp.
“Marlis…” Ruby’s voice was low. “Give us the children. They are of no use–”
“No use? I know their life force must be so much stronger. Linnet could have been a gem elf, but she turned from her calling, choosing love instead. The fool.”
Frowning, both gem elves shook their heads. “That is not the way it works,” said Ruby. “The potential power is not passed on, it is only for the one who heeds the calling.”
“You lie, like Girasol lied. You do not want anyone else–”
“Enough.” The gem on Garnet’s circlet flared. “You have already stolen three lives. You will have no more.” She extended her free hand, palm facing Marlis, and slowly bent her fingers, claw-like.
Marlis’s brown eyes bulged. She released the boy to claw at her nose and mouth, held shut by Garnet’s magic. Her other hand came up and the baby fell.
Ruby gestured and the baby floated towards her as did the boy.
Shaking her head, Marlis fought to breathe, clawing and slapping at her face, stumbling to her knees.
“Garnet.” Ruby pulled her hand free. “Garnet, release her. Sister.”
Garnet turned to Ruby, her face tight with anger.
“We do not take life,” she said softly.
“If I were alone, I would make an exception.”
Fragmented darkness descended, half-concealing Marlis as she staggered away. “I know you lie,” she said breathlessly. “You want them for yourself. But you cannot keep them from me forever.”
Garnet’s breath caught as Ruby gasped. They stared at the dark cloud that rose from nowhere to gradually conceal Marlis.
“How…” was all Ruby could manage.
Her sister’s voice seemed to shock Garnet out of her stupor. She started towards Marlis. “No–”
“Garnet. The baby, she is barely breathing.”
Glaring at the retreating dark cloud, Garnet forced her attention away from the burning question of how Marlis knew magic to Ruby who was already rushing back to their sisters.
“We cannot let her die.”
Garnet scooped the silent boy up and hurried after her.
The eight gem elves, the most powerful, the protectors, took the baby and her brother to their gem-encrusted cavern. They stood by the Great Gem, which encompassed the sacred one hundred and eight gems and lesser crystals.
“The wards have been strengthened,” said the acolyte, one of many in the cavern, all dressed in softly flowing many-coloured robes.
“And the wards around the city?” said Diamond.
The acolyte nodded. “Even as we speak, Mistress.”
“It is only a matter of time, then, before she is found,” said Beryl, her hair and robes whiter than Diamond’s.
“Girasol’s essence has joined with her crystal,” said Emerald, reaching up to lay her hand on the grey crystal that continued to swirl as if agitated. “But she remains distressed.”
Diamond moved to her gem-sister’s side and rested her hands on her shoulders. “To have your life taken by your own sister… We can only pray sweet Girasol will find peace soon.”
The heavy silence was broken by Topaz. “What of the children?” She looked up from where she knelt by the now-sleeping boy’s side. “We cannot keep them here, it is not a place for children.”
“So long as Marlis believes her foolish notion, that their life force is more potent, they are not safe,” said Ruby.
“She is dying.”
They turned to Peridot, stood by the baby who was encased in a cocoon of light.
“Her body is too broken. It cannot sustain her life force. And that, too, is fading.” Pressing her hands against her heart, she closed her eyes.
Her grief, clearly etched on her face, was felt by her gem-sisters. Because elf children were rare, each one was exceptionally precious. To witness a newborn slowly lose her life was too much to bear.
“We put her life force, her essence, in another.” Emerald’s clear voice cut through their sadness. As one, they stared at her. “It has been done before.”
“Not by any of us,” said Garnet. “But it would appear to be our only option. Who would be suitable?”
“It would have to be a young one,” said Topaz.
“And how would we protect that one from Marlis?” said Beryl.
They fell silent once more, the magnitude of what they were contemplating so great.
“Whatever we decide, we must do so quickly,” said Peridot. “Before we lose her.”
“The mortal realm,” said Sapphire. “We choose a young one from the mortal realm.”
“Or…” Topaz got to her feet. “Or a little one yet to be born.”
Diamond started to pace back and forth. “Yes… yes. A woman with child, the earlier the better. That will give the baby’s essence time to grow strong again before she is birthed. The mortal realm is one place Marlis cannot go.”
“And the boy?” Topaz looked back at him.
“We hide him in the mortal realm also,” said Ruby.
Beryl nodded. “We find a suitable family to care for him.”
“He is young,” said Diamond. “Time with a loving family may help him forget the horrors of today. We conceal him with a hiding spell to diminish his essence. Once we have Marlis, we will bring him home.”
“But what if the family grow to love him?” Garnet spread her hands before her. “And he them? Would it not be cruel to separate them?”
They turned to the sleeping child, her words giving them pause.
“We do not have to decide that now,” said Emerald. “We must find a host for the baby, that is of paramount importance.”
The baby’s laboured breathing was slowing. Working fast, they condensed her essence, carefully lifted it from her body and transferred it to the diamond on Diamond’s wand.
Leaving a handful of acolytes to watch over the boy, the gem elves made their way to the Pool of Light, which reflected the Great Gem. Standing in a semi-circle around the pool, they joined hands with Diamond and Beryl on either end, who placed their free hands in the water. The gems on the pendants of the elves – Diamond and Beryl, Ruby and Garnet, Emerald and Peridot, Sapphire and Topaz – gradually brightened, as if lit from within. Silently, they channelled their combined energies into the water, all with the same thought, to be shown a suitable host for the baby.
The still waters rippled, turned cloudy then cleared to reveal a woman, asleep on her back with one arm flung across the man lying on his side next to her.
A loud humming sigh escaped Beryl. Garnet glanced at her. From the frown on her brow, she could tell Beryl was concentrating on checking the woman. Beryl’s humming, her usual precursor to voicing her revelations, always made Garnet smile.
“The woman… this woman, she is only just with child. She-they have tried many times; no success. She is healthy, strong but…” Her frown deepened. “But this new life in her, it is weak…”
Diamond’s ethereal self detached itself from her physical body. Wand in hand, she slipped into the waters. Her sisters could see her ghostly form materialise next to the sleeping woman. Laying her wand against the woman’s lower belly, the diamond on the wand flared.
The woman moaned and shifted in her sleep, her hand moving to cover her belly.
Moments later, Diamond sucked in her breath, back with her sisters. “It is done,” she said, her shoulders slumped from weariness.
“The woman will keep her safe,” said Beryl.
“And now, the boy,” said Sapphire.
The elves went through the same procedure to find a suitable family for the boy.
“He will have to be taken to these people,” said Peridot.
“I will take him.”
“Ruby!” Eyes wide, Garnet jerked her head back.
A soft laugh escaped Ruby. “I will take him and explain his care to the family. How difficult a task can that be?”
Garnet failed to return her smile.
“I would suggest staying with him until we have found and captured Marlis,” said Diamond.
The others agreed, but Garnet remained silent.
“I will ready myself,” said Ruby.
As she walked to her chamber, Garnet caught up with her. “Ruby–”
“I know what you will say, and I tell you there is no cause to worry, sister.”
“I will go.”
Ruby stopped and faced her. “Do you not think me capable?”
“That is not the reason and you know it.”
With a sigh, Ruby lowered her head. “I know. It is because you are older, and you see it as your duty to protect me. But there is no need, Garnet… Armina.” She smiled, laying her hand on Garnet’s. “It is not like before, when I needed my big sister to take care of me. Now, we are both gem elves, both equally strong.”
Garnet leaned forward, resting her forehead against Ruby’s. “I know, I know. But… it is a hard habit to break, I suppose.”
Ruby hugged her sister. “Come. Help me prepare.”
Dressed in her travelling clothes, her dark red hair braided, Ruby could have passed for a commoner except for the gem circlet across her forehead, which, once donned, could never be removed. Her wand and other items hid in a bag hung from her waist.
Cradling the still-sleeping boy in her arms, she faced the gem-encrusted archway, which stood in a pool of water.
“We will inform you when we have found Marlis,” said Diamond.
Ruby nodded. “Before I leave him, I will take the precaution of cloaking him in a concealing spell to ensure his safety.”
Her gem-sisters voiced their approval.
Garnet had to stop herself going to her sister’s side, for Ruby was not only her gem-sister, she was her birth-sister also. Instead, she raised her hand and forced a smile as her sister stepped into the pool and disappeared through the archway.