Cedmé was special, even among elves. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, but more importantly, beauty filled her heart. No wonder she stole mine.
She was an adventurer, often leaving Syeldell in the pursuit of discoveries. And I always eagerly awaited her return. Luckily for me, she felt the same way. She would say I was the reason she looked forward to returning home.
One day, she came back surrounded by sprites. Nobody could believe it.
The sprites had been fabled to once have lived with the elves in a symbiotic relationship, even rumoured to have given us our magic in the first place. But those times were long gone, stories grandmothers would tell.
Fickle in their affections, erratic, forgetful. So forgetful they’d forgotten the elves altogether. And yet that day, Cedmé was in their midst.
I asked her where she found them, bewildered. My surprise grew when she revealed she encountered them on the edge of a small human village by the name of Gibbs Hill.
If the sprites had long abandoned us elves, their own, why would they seek out humans?
“There’s more to humans than you think,” she told me with that bright smile of hers. “Over our long years, we have grown predictable. But humans, they are fascinating creatures with complex souls. No wonder the sprites have taken a liking to them. I think I have too.”
It was then when she told me of her intention to leave Syeldell, to go live in that human village. She said if the sprites made it their home, it meant it was where the true magic worth pursuing could be found.
I wasn’t sure I shared her outlook on humans, but I could not lose her. Nothing else mattered. So I agreed. I would have followed Cedmé to the edge of the world.
As expected, my older brother Faerandil was not pleased. He claimed the spare should remain in Syeldell.
But the crown had always been his, what did it matter if I was there or not? I was not as crucial to the place as he was, and he never really needed my input to rule anyways. Syeldell would be in good hands when I left, as it always had been.
He did not really understand, but we parted on good terms. He wished us well, and I was excited to start a new life with my love.
Of course, the very humans Cedmé thought so highly of disappointed us. She would say it was because they feared what they didn’t understand, but did it really matter?
We ended up outcasts, living just outside of the village, in the place she first found the sprites.
We had a good life for a while regardless, even a child on the way. We would carve a path of our own. Or so we thought in our naïve youth.
But in the end, nobody could save her. The humans with their medicine, the sprites with their ancient powers, all of Cedmé’s strong magic, none of it made a difference. I lost her in childbirth.
Even her final wishes were with the humans she loved so much. She told me to bring her to the old castle ruins, to this very spot. The well in the old courtyard was so similar to the one we had in Syeldell. I thought perhaps it was because she sought home after all, in her final moments. But my small mind could not have anticipated her real reasoning.
True to her nature even with her dying breath, she amazed me yet again. I laid her body down, and while life left her, her magic absorbed into the well.
It was her one parting gift to those who lacked magic, a well granting each person’s innermost wish.
It was beautiful, and yet, the well could not grant the one thing I myself yearned for, to have her back with me, even for just a moment.
The sprites mourned her almost as much as I did, but life had to go on.
As our son Denillian grew, I saw her in him, her eyes, the same kind mischievous smile. No wonder the sprites adored him the same way they had adored her.
Oddly, not many humans took advantage of the wishing well’s powers. Humans have a way of dismissing magic, dismissing true beauty, dismissing what is important. But I digress.
I will never forget the day she showed up.
Perhaps it was her red hair, perhaps it was my grief, but something about her reminded me of my Cedmé. But of course, she was nothing like her.
She didn’t even look like her, really. A human girl with amber eyes. What was it about her?
“Not many of your kind come to our clearing.” I greeted her.
I expected her to question what we were, or fear our magic, but she didn’t. “My kind? You mean the people in the village? I wouldn’t call them my kind, exactly. They’re definitely not fond of me.”
So much like humans to shun their own, I thought.
“You are welcome here any time,” I told her. “I’m Silveril of Syeldell. And this is my son Denillian.”
“Syeldell? Sounds far from here.”
Perhaps Cedmé’s trust in humans rubbed off on me after all. But what followed was a fault of my own, not hers.
“Not as far as you might think. An elven castle nestled in the trees, you would reach it easily within seven days if you follow the river in the direction of sunrise. As long as you know what you are looking for, of course.”
Old elven magic, that. Most elven settlements were protected by a charm of some kind, much like the magic realm itself. In case of Syeldell, it was a simple one, the charm of the word. I should have known better than to share it.
“Sounds like a fairy tale,” the girl smiled. “I’m Annaliese. Annaliese Blackwell.”
“Black well?” I never understand the ways humans came up with their last names.
“The townsfolk claim I rose from a well, wrapped in black mist as dark as my soul.” Annaliese laughed. “Would you believe that?”
Cedmé’s wishing well.
“What would you say if I told you there is an actual magical well in the castle ruins right above us?” I asked her.
She tilted her head. “If the well is real, does that mean you believe my soul is dark too? Or whatever nonsense the townsfolk spew?”
Cedmé’s voice was clear in my head. “Of course not. Humans fear what they don’t understand. Why don’t you stay with us, Annaliese?”
I could not have been more wrong. Turned out occasionally, humans could be right. But I did not see it coming. All I saw was the humans not deserving the gift of Cedmé’s wishing well, shunning the girl who was born from it, from one of their own wishes. Unless, of course, the wish had been mine, the one I begged for the day Cedmé was taken from me. I clung onto the idea.
And so I conjured a magical lock to seal the well to most, unbreakable unless they possessed magic themselves. I even took the precaution of having two keys for it, one I kept, and one I gave to Annaliese.
“A key to my heart,” I called it when I gave it to her. I was a fool.
I convinced myself that she was a reincarnation of my Cedmé, sent to me from the well. Reborn as one of those humans she once sought. Or close to humans at least. Annaliese didn’t seem to age, at least, certainly not the way humans did.
I assumed it was just another part of Cedmé in her. But there was nothing of Cedmé’s likeness in Annaliese. By the time I realised, it was too late.
She was curious, asked many questions about elven magic, about the sprites and their ancient powers. And I told her all I knew, the fool I was. I didn’t understand what was in front of my eyes, when she watched my son play with the sprites.
When she said she wished to be loved by the sprites as he was, I thought nothing of it. I brought her to the well, so that she could cast her wish, as Cedmé would have wanted.
And when Annaliese’s eyes turned the same bright purple colour the sprites had, I saw it as another sign that Annaliese was Cedmé new form.
But her eyes were a lie. All she craved was power, the old elven magic she as a human could not possess. It was not affection that she watched my son with, not even curiosity. It was jealousy.
I am not sure when I finally woke up to the truth. But once I saw the coldness of her eyes, I could not unsee it. I tried to convince myself I was imagining it, but I knew precautions were wise.
I sent Denillian back to Syeldell, for my brother to watch over him for a while, along with my key. Just until I could clear my suspicions, prove them to be a product of my imagination.
Unfortunately, that never happened. The sprites mourned Denillian’s absence, and their blessings lessened, infuriating Annaliese. And when she learned she could not reach the well to make more wishes with her key alone, she promised me revenge, to track down the other key by any means necessary.
For all her former claims about the townsfolk avoiding her, she had somehow managed to create a small following. She called them the Order of Enchantment, a cult that worshiped the sprites. Their rituals forced me out of the clearing. All I could do was transportalate to the well to protect it, should they reach it. They could not be permitted to abuse its powers, even if it meant I had to stay by it for good.
I’m not certain how she enchanted them. Probably the same way she had done with me when she first arrived. False promises, I can imagine, promises that eventually caught up with her.
I sent a letter of warning to my brother, but it did not reach him in time, or if it did, it did not make a difference.
The entirety of Syeldell was woven into trees, and once those caught on fire, the elven magic was powerless to stop the speed of the spread. Annaliese and her cult burned Syeldell to the ground. There were no survivors.
But they never did find the second key in the ruins, so I had hope. Hope that my son somehow made it out of Syeldell. That the sprites still favoured him and sought him out. That in spite of their forgetful ways, they would one day bring him back to me.
The courtyard fell silent. The elf had finished telling his tale, and the way he stared at Dandelion made it clear he expected him to say something in return.
Hawthorne looked at her friend. Dandelion’s ordinarily expressive face was blank, he did not respond in any way. Must be in shock, Hawthorne decided. Not that she could blame him.
She cleared her throat. It was all incredibly uncomfortable, but she had to know more. “What happened with Annaliese, in the end? Did you get revenge for what she did?”
Silveril shook his head. “Cedmé would not have wanted that. She would not have wanted me to stoop to their level.”
Insane, Hawthorne thought. If somebody burned her world to the ground, she would make them pay tenfold.
“I didn’t have to, regardless.” The man continued. “Annaliese never understood the nature of the sprites, that their good graces come as quickly as they go. But what she understood even less was the nature of humans. They too like to forget their own past.”
“As years went by, the members of the cult came and went, quickly jumping to whoever the sprites favoured at the time as their leader. Eventually, the cult’s early days were all forgotten. Humans are eager to forget their past sins that way. Annaliese was the only one who remained unchanged, but the world changed around her. She lost her influence. And eventually, she lost everything.”
“What do you mean?” Hawthorne asked. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer.
“Annaliese had a daughter, decades after the original cult members marched on Syeldell. The child found her way to the clearing one night when the cult was gathering. It was then when the sprites finally defied Annaliese’s will entirely, in spite of her wish to the well. They rebelled.”
“Perhaps they wished to free the child of Annaliese’s influence. Perhaps they themselves chose to take revenge for the lives she took in Syeldell. Perhaps both. Either way, they made sure Annaliese was no more.”
Hawthorne felt sick. “And Annaliese’s daughter?”
“I have no knowledge of what she went on to do. It does not matter.” He elf sounded annoyed. He turned away from Hawthorne, back to Dandelion. “What matters is that you are here, Denillian. So much time we have to make up for.”
“I… I need to go.” And with that, Dandelion bolted for the door.
“Dandy!” Hawthorne yelled after him, but to no avail.
She looked at Silveril, who just stood there in shock, now his turn to be uncapable of speaking another word. Hawthorne had to say something… anything.
“I’ll bring him back. He is processing it all. I think.”
Hawthorne ran after Dandelion. He had to speak to Silveril. If she focused on that, on finding him, on reuniting him with his dad, then she could distract herself from how her family fit into all this.
She found him by the river. He seemed a million miles away.
“She was right.” He said, though Hawthorne wasn’t sure if it was really her he was speaking to.
“Who was?” Hawthorne asked, sitting down beside him.
“Lulu. She said I was better off not knowing.” The pain in his voice was hurting her.
Hathorne touched his hand lightly. “Fuck her. She was not right. What does she really know, anyway? That’s your dad. Do you really think it would be better for you to never meet him?”
Dandelion looked away from her. “I don’t know. I didn’t know what I lost. Now that I do… nothing’s changed, but at the same time, everything has.”
She nodded. “I know what you mean. I… I’m sorry. About what she did.”
She couldn’t bring herself to refer to the woman as her grandmother. How could she be related her? Hawthorne wanted to throw the necklace into the river. But at the same time, the necklace was what allowed them to reach Silveril in the first place.
“Mum’s going to flip when she finds out.” She realised.
“No.” Dandelion’s voice was surprisingly stern. “She will not, because she won’t find out. There’s no need for her to know.”
Hawthorne stared at him in shock. “Dandy, no. This isn’t you.”
“It isn’t me?” He repeated. “Who even am I, anyway? I don’t know anymore.”
“Well, I do! You’re honest, brave and kind. Selfless to a fault… and you don’t keep secrets from people. Everyone else hides behind their masks, but not you, you don’t do that…”
“Maybe it’s about time I start.” His eyes trailed down to the water’s surface. “She’d just blame herself, but it’s not her fault. And it’s not yours, either.”
Hawthorne didn’t want to think about that. A part of her felt oddly relieved though; he was still the same Dandelion she knew, trying to protect everyone but himself. But she had to put a stop to that.
“So what, you’ll just carry it all on your shoulders?” She wished she didn’t sound so angry, but she didn’t know how else to get through to him. “That’s dumb. And unfair. And I won’t let you.”
“Hawthorne-” His voice broke up mid-sentence. “I don’t know what to do with any of this.”