Sometimes one must lose all hope to find the path to the future...
Princess Morgana strode through the woods, determined to find the elusive path. It had to be here. This was exactly where Mina had told her it would be. She spun around in a circle, finding nothing but aging oak trees.
Her mother, the Queen, had been very specific about the quest. A tear from a Naiad, when the full moon of mid-summer crested over the river. A tear from a Dryad as the last leaf of autumn fell. A tear of a Unicorn on the shortest day of the year. And a tear from the Weeping Willow as spring began its birth.
She and Carrick had spent the year collecting the tears, and only one remained. The Weeping Willow. Except, she couldn't find the path to the tree.
“You know the legend, Princess. One has to have no hope left in order to find the tree.”
She glared at him. “That isn't helping, Carrick.”
“I'm sorry, Princess.” He bowed. “Would you prefer I remind you that you have been as successful as your sisters?”
Hands clenched into fists, she took a deep breath, seeking calm. Three of her sisters had tried the quest and failed. Now, the fate of the Vale lay in her hands, for whoever completed the quest and formed the viewing pool, would be the Queen.
Morgana wasn't sure she wanted to be Queen. The title came with enormous responsibility, but if the gods had chosen her, she would accept her duties, and do all she could for the Seelie Court.
“There must be a way to make the tree appear.”
“There is. You must be at your lowest point, with all hope lost.”
She snorted. “I can't even begin to imagine what my lowest point would be.”
Eyes shimmering with knowledge she didn't have, he looked at her, It frustrated her that he knew so much yet said nothing.
“Fortunately, I know what that is and know how to reach it.” Carrick looked over his shoulder at the setting sun. “But it will have to wait until tomorrow. Meet me at the Aspen Grove at dawn.”
Morgana sighed but nodded. That night, nightmares plagued her relentlessly, drowning her in tears. She rose when the sun painted the sky a brilliant red, apprehension and fear twirling in her stomach as she readied for the day.
Sunlight dappled the path as she made her way to the meeting point. She tipped her face up, the early spring sun warm on her face. Birds twittered in the trees as they flitted about, gathering the makings for their nests. Buds formed on the branches, and Morgana knew by week's end, tiny leaves would unfurl, bathing the woods in a greenish hue.
The grove of Aspens rose before her, their bare branches silent. In the summer, she could lay there for hours listening as the wind blew through the silver leaves. She looked at her favorite place to sit, and her heart stopped.
Her body shaking, she ran over to his crumpled body. The hilt of a blade protruded from his stomach, blood seeping from the wound. His face looked ashen, almost grey, and his chest lay motionless.
She dropped to her knees and pressed her hands to him, sending waves of healing power through his body. But even as she touched him, she knew time had run out. Carrick was gone.
A keening wail rose around her as her grief poured out. She dropped her head to his chest, tears streaming down her face as she told Carrick all the things she'd never said. How much she loved him, the plans she had for them. How lost she would be without him at her side.
Cold wind swirled around her, carrying her name in its icy tendrils. She lifted her head and swiped a hand over her eyes, certain she imagined things. In front of her, bathed in a silver glow, sat the path she sought.
“You must be at your lowest point, with all hope lost.”
Carrick's words echoed in her mind, and she bit back a cry of anguish. Losing Carrick led to her lowest point, and without him she had no hope. Her life would never be the same. And, she would never finish the quest. In order to form the pool, she would need the aid of her Sentinel.
The Fae were too cruel, giving her the path to complete her quest while taking away her love.
Anger burning deep inside, she rose and stalked down the path. She would not let Carrick's death be in vain. She would collect the tear and save it for her sister, so she could complete the quest and become Queen.
Silence filled the Desolate Woods, the grey, leafless trees reaching to the sky like watchful sentinels. It was a land of endless black and white, no colors at all. At the center of the Woods, the trees thinned near a pool of water.
In stark contrast to the depressing woods blue-green water shimmered in the weak sunlight. Before the pool stood the largest tree she had ever seen, its circumference greater than the castle tower. Hundreds of branches curved to the ground, their weight too great to stand straight.
A face stared out from the trunk, tears streaming from its eyes. The Weeping Willow. The tree that collected all pain and allowed a person to drink from the pool in exchange for the healing comfort of peace.
Slowly, Morgana moved forward, her mind swirling with questions. She had found the last tear, but at what cost? How could she collect this tear, knowing the man she loved had died for her to be here? Why had the Fae teased her this way? Putting the very thing she needed before her while making it useless.
“Welcome, Princess. I've been waiting for you.”
The voice chimed around her from everywhere at once, but Morgana was certain it came from the Willow. She stared at the tree, gathering her scattered thoughts, the pain of her loss still too fresh.
Morgana bit back a sob as she pulled out an empty vial, her mind filled with memories of Carrick. A solitary tear trickled down her cheek and dropped into the pool in front of the tree.
A ghost of a smile played on the Willow's face. “He was right. You will make a wonderful leader.”
“Of whom do you speak?”
“The one you love. He spoke to me,” the tree continued. “And your tear has confirmed what he said and more. You have earned your reward. Drink from the pool, and heal your pain.”
Morgana stepped forward, her gaze focused on the tree's beautiful face. “And if I don't wish to forget my memories of him?”
“You do not wish to be healed?”
“No. I wish to remember all there is about him, good and bad.”
The tree smiled. “He knew you would refuse the comfort.”
“As he would choose with me.”
“Then come, take a tear, and join the one you love.”
Cautious, Morgana took a step back. “Am I to understand that if I collect a tear I will join him in death?”
“No, child. You will not die, at least not today.”
The end of her quest in sight, Morgana moved forward and captured a tear, the single drop glittering with all the colors of the rainbow. As she stepped back, a branch lifted, as if pointing, and a shimmering gold path appeared.
“Follow this back to the Aspen grove, and you will find what you truly seek.”
Morgana stepped onto the path, wondering where it would lead. What she truly sought was Carrick, but she'd never see his smiling face again. So, what did the Willow think she wanted?
The path twisted and turned, but eventually Morgana found herself back at the grove of Aspens. She stared at the sight before her. Certain she imagined things, she closed her eyes and opened them again. The scene hadn't changed. Carrick leaned against the tree, a smile on his face, not a wound anywhere to be found.
“How?” Morgana asked as she slowly walked over, still not believing he lived.
Carrick lifted a shoulder and let it drop, a secret smile playing on his lips. “A simple spell and a discussion with the Weeping Willow.”
“But I thought you could only reach the Willow when you were at your lowest point.”
He shrugged, but mischief shone in his eyes. “You could only reach it then, but I am the Queen’s Sentinel. I can go places, do things, see things, and know things others cannot.” He pointed at the vial she clutched in her hand. “Come, we need to make the pool and reveal your destiny.”
The short walk from the woods to the viewing room felt like it took years. The vials of tears weighed heavy in Morgana's cloak, growing heavier with each step.
Once they reached the viewing room, she pulled two vials out and handed them to Carrick then took the remaining two herself.
The silver chalice gleamed in the exact center of the room, and she stepped up to it, nodding for Carrick to join her on the other side. They held the vials over the empty cup, staring at each other as silence filled the room.
“Are you certain?” Carrick asked.
She smiled, touched that he gave her a choice. But she knew there was none. She'd been chosen.
“Yes.” Her answer rang off the walls of the room.
She gave a slight nod. Each tipped the vials into the cup, watching in awe as the viewing pool was created, declaring for all the realm that Morgana was the Seelie Queen.
This story is most like THE LOVE TALKER'S DAUGHTER, a free read available on Wattpad.
YA author Mary Waibel’s love for fairytales and happy-ever fill the pages of her works. Whether penning stories in a medieval setting or a modern day school, magic and romance weave their way inside every tale. Strong female characters use both brain and brawn to save the day and win the heart of their men. Mary enjoys connecting with her readers through her website: marywaibel.blogspot.com