When Luella opened her eyes, the world around her was dark. The sky looked nothing like it did in Syeldell at night, though. Was it even night-time? She couldn’t tell.
Dandelion had stopped crying, but kept clinging on to her. Luella knew they couldn’t stay still. They had to find Simeon Silversweater. Whoever he was. A sage, her father had said. Luella wasn’t sure what that meant, and she didn’t want to think about her father.
She took Dandelion’s hand, and the two of them headed towards the large building before them.
Luella found herself feeling lost in the large hall they entered. There were no rooms this massive in Syeldell. And yet, the hall felt strangely claustrophobic. It had barely any windows, and the few windows around the place were made out of stained glass.
The princess was not used to any glass on windows, let alone glass you can’t see through. She longed for the openness of the tree castle. Even the throne room she always considered stiff had breeze coming in, and a view of the sea glistening under the golden sunlight. But it was gone now. The throne room, the tree castle, all of Syeldell…
The girl had no time to dwell on that, though. They were no longer alone in the hall. Three adults entered through an archway directly opposite them.
A man and two women. They all looked scary – though somehow, the women seemed scarier. Then again, her father did say it was a woman that caused Syeldell’s fate… One of Luella’s hands shot to the key on her chest, the other clutched on to Dandelion. Neither of the women had a key like hers, she reminded herself. She had to stay calm, for her cousin’s sake.
“What brings you two dearies here?” One of the women spoke. Her hair was tied up into two buns and covered with ornate decorations.
Her tone seemed sweet, but Luella didn’t like it. She reminded her of children’s stories about witches that lure children far away from their families and eat them.
Then again, the other woman looked like someone who could turn people to stone just by looking at them, which was not a whole lot better. And yet, she had no choice but to talk to these people, did she?
“We’re looking for Simeon Silversweater.” Luella told them, her voice a little shaky.
“Is that so?” The man asked. “Why would you be looking for the sage of practical magic? The magic realm headquarters is no place for children.”
He sounded less friendly than the woman who spoke first, and far more serious. But for some reason, Luella preferred that. It seemed more honest, perhaps. And her father was serious most of the time too, after all.
“My father sent us. Faerandil, the king of Syeldell. He said Simeon Silversweater would help us, because Syeldell…” She wasn’t sure how to finish her sentence. Because Syeldell was gone? Luella didn’t want to say those words out loud.
“Looks like we have a princess on our hands,” the woman who first greeted them grinned.
Luella nodded. “I’m princess Luella. And-“
“And I’m Simeon Silversweater.” The man interrupted her. “Will you accompany me for a walk, princess?”
“A royal visit in HQ, and you monopolise them?” The woman in blue pulled a face.
“The princess did come to see me, Haruka.” Simeon told her. He gestured towards the entrance. “After you, princess.”
Luella took a moment to evaluate the situation. So this was Simeon? His sweater was not even made out of silver…
She wasn’t sure she wanted to go anywhere with him. But she wanted to stay even less.
“I’m not going without Dandelion.” She pulled her cousin closer to her.
Simeon nodded. “Of course. If you could both please come with me.”
Luella felt the green-haired women’s eyes on her as they made their way out of the hall. It occurred to her this second woman hadn’t said a single word the entire time. So why was she watching them with such intrigue? Maybe Luella had been right about her being able to turn people into stone with her gaze alone.
Luckily, they made it out of the building as elves still, not as stone statues. The princess felt a surge of relief, in spite of everything everything around them being strange and unknown.
Simeon ushered them towards a large archway with some misty goo in the middle. Luella examined it cautiously. Did he really want them to walk through that? She didn’t particularly want to. But her father said she could trust Simeon. She had to.
She took a deep breath, and stepped ahead.
The sun rays greeted her on the other side. And flowers. A bubbling river stream. Felt much more like home.
“Where are we?” She asked Simeon.
“This is Glimmerbrook,” the sage told her. “A small village, inhabited mainly by spellcasters. But we aren’t stopping here. Please, follow me.”
“Has my father ever been here?” Luella wondered out loud. She had so many questions.
“To Glimmerbrook? No, but he has been to the magic realm.” Simeon replied. Was that why her father knew the sage, Luella wondered? Come to think of it, did her father even know Simeon?
“How did you meet my father?” She asked.
“He is my godfather.” The sage’s words surprised her. Simeon did look younger than Faerandil, but surely her father would not have been that much older…
He seemed to have guessed her thoughts. “Believe it or not, I was born the same year as you, princess Luella.”
“But you’re a grown up!” She exclaimed. The man smiled – first time she had seen his expression soften.
“You see, princess, humans grow much faster than elves do. Reach adulthood a lot sooner.”
How odd, Luella thought. “So you’re a human?”
“Not quite. My grandmother is an elf, but she married a human. You could say I’m a bit of both.”
He is part elf, Luella remembered her father’s words. “Your grandmother was from Syeldell,” she realised. “That’s why you knew father.”
He glanced at her, a hint of surprise in his face. “You are very clever, princess. Quite right. I can’t say I know your father well, but my grandmother did.”
“Why did she leave Syeldell?” The princess wondered out loud.
“She came here to better her spellcasting. And that she did. She was the sage of practical magic before me.” Simeon sounded proud.
Luella wasn’t sure what this practical magic he kept mentioning was. But she longed to see someone from home, in spite of never having met this woman.
“Is she still in the magic realm?”
Simeon shook his head. “She retired, left the realm and Glimmerbrook.”
Did she return to Syeldell? Luella hoped not. “Why?”
The sage sighed. “She did not want to stay after my grandfather passed away. Like I said, humans age much faster than elves do.”
“She did leave something behind.” Simeon gave her a soft smile. “A retreat of sorts, somewhere for her family could seek refuge. And we’re almost there.”
He stopped in front of a colourful tree. “Do you see the passage in the tree, princess?”
Luella looked at him, puzzled. “Yes. But I’m not your grandmother’s family. I don’t understand.”
“You may not be her family, but you are kin, and the daughter of her king. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you going in.”
Was this yet another portal? They have already travelled so much… But Dandelion did not share Luella’s hesitation. He ran straight to the tree. And so the princess followed.
The meadow the tree passage brought them to was the exact opposite of the magic realm headquarters. Bright. Glowing. Beautiful.
“Welcome to Sylvan Glade, princess.” Simeon said.
“It’s so pretty!”
“Yes,” he agreed. “More importantly, it’s safe. We can talk freely here. So tell me, princess, what happened in Syeldell, and why did your father send you to seek me out?”
Luella took a while to answer, taking a moment to watch Dandelion instead.
He curled up in the grass, falling asleep. He looked so content. He did not understand what had happened, what they escaped. Luella wished she could be the same. But unlike her cousin, she would never forget this day.
“Everything caught fire.” She managed eventually. “I’m not sure how. Father said it was because of some woman. Do you know who would do such a thing?”
“I’m afraid not.” Simeon looked solemn. “Was it only you and the boy who escaped?”
Luella nodded. “Father gave me a Glimmerstone. I took Dandelion. We… I… I think everyone else is…”
“You needn’t say any more, princess.” The sage stopped her.
He paused for a moment. “You and your little companion will be needing a new home.” He said finally.
“Are we going to live in the magic realm with you?” Luella asked, unsure how to feel about that. She could still feel the suffocating feeling within the walls of the hall. The woman that sounded like she was hiding something behind her smile. The other woman, with the cold eyes…
“No. It’s not been long since I ascended to my position, and I’m not sure how much the other sages can be trusted yet.”
The two women, Luella gathered. Seemed like Simeon shared her feelings about them, then.
“You’ll be safer here.” Simeon continued. “Only the pure of heart can see the tree passage to Sylvan Glade.”
“What does that mean?” It seemed everyone was determined to give Luella riddles today.
“It means that those who wish to harm another can’t reach you here. There is no place more secure, at least not one I know of. My grandmother’s magic was powerful. She did not become a sage for nothing, after all. Now, you will need a home, of course…”
He uttered some kind of spell, and a house appeared in front of them. A tree house.
“I have never been to Syeldell, so I’m not sure I got this quite right, but I hope it is to your liking.” Simeon smiled at her.
“How did you do that?”
“Practical magic, of course. I will teach you, over time. For instance, there is a spell that allows you to conjure meals. We should focus on that one first, to make sure you two get fed. Until you master the spell, there is a garden within the glade, with magical fruit that-“
“Actually, I think I know that spell.” She jumped in, feeling a little bit proud of herself. “Well, sort of. I know how to conjure pancakes.”
She couldn’t tell if the sage was impressed or amused. “Why don’t you show me?” He prompted her.
“Not bad,” Simeon acknowledged once the plate appeared on the ground. “I suppose I should get a wand for you.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I’ll explain some other time. You should get some rest now.” He was leaving, Luella realised. “I will visit you as much as I can.”
He was about to set off, but stopped. He cast another spell, and suddenly, he was holding a violin.
“I know you are in pain, princess.” Simeon said quietly. “Music has always helped me when I felt sad. It might help soothe the little one, too.” He gestured towards Dandelion.
“But I don’t know how to play.” Luella felt helpless. There were so many things she didn’t know how to do. She was not ready for all this. But she had to be. Dandelion didn’t have anyone. And neither did she.
“You will learn.” Simeon told her. “I will be back soon. I promise.”
And then he was gone. All the distractions were gone. The meadow fell quiet.
It was unbearable.
The sound of her violin playing woke Dandelion up. He started crying. So much for soothing him. She had to get better at this. She had to get better at everything, fast.
“Shh, it will be ok, little sprout.” She tried to console him. “Sylvan Glade is beautiful, and we have a tree house of our own, that is fun, isn’t it?”
He looked into her eyes. It was working.
“We will be fine, you know. More than fine! There are no grown ups to tell us what to do. We can have pancakes for dinner… every day, if we want to! We’ll have such a good time…”
She lay down next to him, holding his tiny hand until his breathing became deep and slow. He fell asleep again.
It was only then that she allowed herself to weep.