I should have listened to her. Maybe if I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid she would be here. I paced Evelyn’s bedroom. Heat built in my nerves as blood rushed in torrents from my heart. It was either that or guilt that did so furiously pour forth from my undeserving heart. It had been the first time in my life I did not know the whereabouts of my sister. One would think an empress is not someone easily lost. Evelyn, how could you vanish---No! She did not vanish, she was merely kidnapped. I really did wish I could convince myself it was only at the cost of a ransom I could see my sweet sister. Deep inside I knew it was much more difficult than that. Deep from the source of my brotherly guilt , I knew she had vanished like the many Selpians I had so foolishly convinced her to ignore before. She was always concerned about the villagers. She warned me that a time would come when we could no longer ignore the fact that our people were disappearing.
I gazed out of the grand window in her room. Every morning I found her looking out this very window. Her eyes would follow the passerby villagers and she would smile when she caught my glance at the door. Every morning save this one. When Evelyn was left to carry the burden of Selpia, I knew she would make a worthy empress. Her love and generosity always extended farther than her grab. Sometimes it would reach too far. That’s where I come in. I’m her guardian half-brother. The one that knocks common sense into her when she forgets she is in fact the empress. Since her rule, peace in Selpia has been opulent and no apparent problem has risen. That is, none ‘till a month or two ago. We had heard several complaints of peasants that had vanished overnight. The disappearances had no pattern other than their location (they were all happening on the western edge of Selpia). There were more and more as time passed and not much could be done. Since the source was not evident, it was difficult to take any action. Evelyn sent watchmen to guard the villages at night, but even they disappeared. Nobody saw anything and there was no trace of blood or a struggle. It was as if they had been literally plucked from Selpia.
Blame was dropped onto witches and neighboring empires but no evidence can support either. Evelyn sent spies and watchmen and even begged the elves to protect the villagers during the night but nothing was ever seen or heard and nothing helped. I advised Evelyn to stop worrying about it. My reasoning was that it was just some unknown ritual the church had not yet divulged. I was the dupe who told her to ignore the problem. I was the foolish---
Looking about the bedroom coming out of my deep thoughts, I saw a servant at the door.
“Sir, there is a girl inquiring about the offer, the offer involving Empress Evelyn.”
A peasant girl was all my good heavenly Lord could spare me? It would have to do for now. If she did have any news, it should be told to the family.
“Bring her to the common room and call the family. “
I hurried out the door and through the empty halls. As I opened the large double doors to the common room I found Delphi and Titan already sitting at the large semicircular table. I took my place at one end of the curved portion of the table. Delphi, a powerful wizard, was the wiser of the two and the one to keep quiet. Titan, Evelyn’s cousin, was an idiot and being such he was the one who decided to break the awkward silence.
“Where do you think Evelyn is?” inquired Titan with his usual, genuine ignorance and deliberately deceptive innocence.
My eyes bore into his nosy beady eyes. The only reason he lived in the palace was because of his two-faced deceased mother and Evelyn‘s pity of him. Titan was one of the few people that could stuff their faces in the Dinning Hall and never repent or feel guilt when none was left for the villagers. It was hard to believe he was kin of an empress. I’d always thought of Titan as a greedy brat that I would one day get rid of. I couldn’t contain myself at this point.
“Why would you give a thought? You didn’t even bloody know her. Did you ever even truly give a damn?”
Finally I let something more than a hypocritical smile and response out. All this time Evelyn had been stopping me from giving that moocher a piece of my mind, but that would change. A malicious grin formed on my face as Titan stared fearfully back. He would soon realize just how fortunate he was to have Evelyn as a cousin. The doors opened. Adele and Sr. Romar nodded, entered and sat silently only adding to the tense ambiance that had already settled throughout the common room.
Adele is part of the Elven Magisterium. Evelyn was wise to deal with the Elven clan. They trained elves for battle in their underground dwellings for thousands of years. They were Selpia’s ally only because Evelyn had the sense to give them land and separation from our imperial rule in exchange for their protection. The Elven Magisterium was a court as much as it was a ruling system. Elves were very unlike humans. Their immortality gave them wisdom beyond our comprehension. They were currently gathering minds to work on making a hybrid light being. The Light beings were impressive creatures. Elves claim them to be immune to disease, immortal, and were centuries beyond our wildest reveries.
Sr. Romar is the centaur that leads our knight force. His very presence was always menacing, even if he was on our side of the battlefield. Centaurs usually avoided contact with any creature other than their own kind. Unless of course, it served as a means of meat. Romar had some profound reason he concealed to all but Evelyn and a few others. Secretive as he was, I admired his valiance and his knowledge of the battlefield always positioned us in the victorious end of any wars we had to participate in.
Everybody looked once more to the grand double doors as Knata and a girl entered. She seemed a bit flushed and hurried over to the seat next to Delphi. Knata was Delphi’s apprentice. Delphi had chosen to be mortal, as many wizards had before him.
“I apologize, Sr. Fafnir, for the wait. I’m afraid Lady Cinna and Alias will not make it in time. I am informed the meeting is to be continued without their presence.”
Knata motioned the girl to sit next to her. She was wearing seemingly clean but tattered clothes that were two sizes too big. Her dirty blonde hair was neatly combed and her bright blue eyes stood out from her tanned skin. They glanced around the room nervously. As she sat, I stood, sighed and commenced the meeting.
“As we’ve all heard by now, Evelyn has… been missing and we intend to find her.”
My eyes looked over the girl. She didn’t seem like a promising witness but none-the-less she was all I had at the moment.
“This child claims to have news of Evelyn. Introduce yourself and tell us all you know, child. “
I sat and everybody’s gaze and attention returned to the child. The girl stood from her seat and seemed to, at the moment, release her fear and grasped from an unknown source confidence.
“I’m Eileen. Uh-well, yesterday night Papa told me to come inside because I was playing outside and it was getting dark and he didn’t want the Night-nabbers to nab me. But I wanted to see the stars, so I told Papa I’d come inside in a sec-- so I climbed this tree and waited awhile, when all of a sudden I heard some footsteps. I thought it was the Night-nabbers so I tried to keep quiet, I was real scared. But when I looked down I saw somebody running. I didn’t see her face but I know it was Evelyn. I saw her long white braided hair, that’s how I know. She had a lot a furs on too. I tried to climb down and follow her but by the time I got down she was already running into the field. I ran real fast but when I couldn’t see her I ran back and told Papa. Papa didn’t believe me because he said Evelyn wouldn’t be running around at night, especially with the Night-nabbers. But when it was morning and everybody was looking for Evelyn I knew it was her I saw last night!”
The girl’s voice became more urgent as she got to the end of her story. Everyone looked at me and I stared back at them dumbfounded. If this little girl had really seen her last night, what did it mean? Was Evelyn running from something? Was she running to something?
“Could it be she was running away from something?”
I looked around for the lady that had spoken.
“I mean she couldn’t have run away…is that even plausible?”
It had been Knata, who’d heard the story before us, and had time to digest it. Everybody chipped in an idea of why but neither seemed to make much sense. Adele suggested Evelyn took it in her own hands, this business of the “Night-nabbers” as the girl had called them. It would be like Evelyn to go out and do the dirty work, but then she must’ve known something we didn’t because where would she begin looking for them. Plus, that still didn’t explain the running. Or perhaps she just didn’t want us to stop her. I asked the girl if she’d seen anything running behind Evelyn. The girl denied having seen anything chasing her. The trouble was, even if she did just run off to look for these “creatures” or whatever it is they were, wouldn’t she be back before we’d notice?
If this girl had done anything in the past minutes, it was confuse the situation even more than it was. Knata led her out of the room and we all sat in deep thought. Adele looked at Delphi and ahis thoughts. Delphi hadn’t said a word since I’d entered the room. Truthfully, I’d always thought he knew more than he told. One would fear maybe even hate a person like him. Knowing he was an oracle and wizard, I guessed and hoped his reasons for keeping to himself were more to protect us than to plan against us. Every once in a while I wondered if I could ever get more out of him but Evelyn warned me to respect the old man’s reasons, none of which he ever did give anyhow.
Delphi’s pale eyes looked wearily at Adele and then turned to me. I felt his cold, knowing gaze pass the very membrane of my skull. If he did attempt to skim my mind he would find nothing more than genuine sorrow and guilt. Feelings that would situate themselves in me until Evelyn was found. Worry gnawed at the walls of my stomach. As if on cue, Delphi spoke.
“Do not fret Fafnir. Evelyn is safe, now. She is currently safer than any of us, though far from home. “
He knew where she was and he wasn’t even going to tell us. How do I even know this old fool didn’t nab her himself? He was after all on the list of suspects and could be “Night-nabber”! My nostrils flared, and that was the only sign I gave off to the rest of them of the burning anger that raged within me. It was as if the guilt had now a blame to feel anger for.
“Relax Fafnir. Yes, I know where she is, but I cannot tell any of you. It is not time for it. Trust me. Have I led you to chaos yet?” he rhetorically questioned all of us.
I stood and wanted to argue but realized he’d told more than he usually does anyways. I decided to take the time in asking him about Evelyn’s whereabouts and the situation.
“Can you at least tell us what is going on? Was she taken? Did she escape? What’s happening old man that you aren’t telling us?”
Delphi showed no emotion. How could he not have any emotion? I’ve heard before that those who have seen the past and future see so much and pass through so much emotion they eventually lose it (either on purpose, to cease the pain or as a form of nature’s own healing). I looked into his eyes more solemnly and pleaded to have that power and open his mind.
“I can tell you Fafnir that she went with her own will. I can tell you she went for a greater good, as you might expect. I cannot tell you where she is, because it is not your place to stop her, to follow her or to be with her right now. One day I will tell you. A day too far from now to count. Be patient and have faith in your sister and my words.”
Delphi held his staff and pulled his scrawny self up from his seat. He towered over us and seemed to float towards the double-doors. Knata opened them from the other side and stopped abruptly when she saw him.
“We shall now make our leave.” He nodded to everyone in the room, and lastly to me. “Keep your calm Fafnir. These next weeks won’t be easy but you must keep busy and take Evelyn’s place for the time being. She will come back sooner than the eternity it will seem to you.”
Knata looked at me solemnly. Even though she was young, I could see her eyes had aged much since I’d seen her a year ago when she was initiated as Delphi’s apprentice. She too knew more than she said, but she still had her emotion. I hated to see that such youth had already knowledge beyond what one her age should. Wizards and oracles sacrificed their lives. They put general life before their own. I felt a sudden guilt for the heat I let out on Delphi. My chest was empty and I felt as though I was eroding from the inside out.
The rest left the table, said their farewells and filed out of the room. All except for Adele.
“You have nothing to feel guilty for. You heard Delphi, she’ll be back. “ she assured me, despite my incurable pain.
“I have a bad feeling about all of this. I mean look around. Her absence seems to tear apart everything. Father put her in charge for a reason.”
“And she put you in charge in the case of her absence for a reason too.”