I crept through the still, silent night. I knew my mother would be angry with me if she found out what I was doing.
It was almost midnight. I was running out of time. I finally made it to the center of the city, and climbed up my tree to watch the Pool through the branches.
I was just in time. The Souls descended to the Pool. There were three. Only three. There used to be more. I had noticed fewer had come over the years. When I was young, hundreds would go to the Pool at midnight.
Alimist slipped into the clearing and approached the Pool. The Souls floated to her, curling around her, whispering in her ear. Her expression looked as it usually did, sad and confused. "A little more time." She begged them. "The time is not right. Let us wait until his birthday. Then, he will have until the winter solstice. He is not ready. He is still a child."
She paused as the wisps murmured to her, their voices tinkling like the wind chimes in the palace. "Please I beg of you, let me keep him. I have grown much attached to him. He is mine. Please, do not take him away from me." The Souls spoke again, their voices becoming louder. Alimist nodded as tears filled her eyes. She knelt and bowed low, as the Souls of the Stars began to retreat. "I-I will do as you wish."
I was puzzled by this meeting. There was no peace and coolness and the scent of lavender in the air like there usually was when they met. The air was tense, and Alimist seemed nervous, almost frightened. This meeting chilled me more than the others. I knew they were talking about me.
She reached down to encourage the water in the Pool as she did every night, and I scampered back to the palace, and to my chambers. I dove into my bed, and burrowed under my covers. I heard my mother enter the palace, as I fell asleep.
The next morning, I awoke to Alimist gently shaking my shoulder. I yawned, stretched, and then lazily sat up. "Good morning, mother." I greeted groggily.
"Come, my son." Alimist whispered, "We have much to do."
I slipped out of bed and followed my mother into her study. She sat at her desk, and I sat across from her in a velvet armchair.
"I am not your real mother." She said softly.
"I know that." I replied. I knew that the Soul of a Star had volunteered to fill me so that I could live when I was a baby. Alimist had told me this many times before.
"It has come time for you to retrieve the Guardian."
I was confused. "What? Mother, what do you mean?"
"There is a Constellation that was stolen from the Stars seventy years ago. It is called the Guardian, and it is what protects the Stars from harm. The humans are keeping it at the castle of the Duke of Chastings, which is owned by Lord Terrowin. You must go and retrieve the Guardian by the winter solstice."
My mother gathered up a bundle of scrolls and placed them carefully in a satchel. "These are maps of the country, and writings about the Guardian. You must pack up your things immediately. I will prepare your provisions for you."
She stood and began to bustle about. I did not move, frozen in shock. "M-Mother?" I managed to gasp.
"Yes, my son?" Alimist asked, not stopping from her work.
I tried to speak calmly, but everything poured out at once.
"Why must I do this? I-I don't want to go! Cannot an elf take my place? Or a human? Or even a Star? Mother, please don't make me! I want to stay with you! I don't understand any of this!" I began to sob bitterly.
My mother embraced me, and I wept into her shoulder. "Please." I whispered.
"You must do this. If you do not, the Stars will take you on the winter solstice. You will not die, but become a Star. I will be left with your body, and we will never be able to see each other again. Do you want that, Armoraq?"
"No!" I cried.
"Then take this quest. Please." Alimist looked into my eyes. "And when you return, I will throw a feast in your honor. You will become a hero, my son."
Hero. Somehow, this word pushed me.
"Alright." I whispered.
My mother's face flooded with relief. "Good. Pack your things. You shall leave tonight."
That evening, as I was saddling my horse, Bliss, an elf approached me.
"My lord," she said bowing, but she straightened before I could say "Rise."
"I am coming with you." She searched my face, daring me to rebuke her stubbornness. Yes, I recognized this girl. Kadel, a typical elf. I had only met her once or twice, and was unaware of anything she had done that was astounding or superior. She seemed rather ordinary, and her demanding to accompany me took me off guard. But I needed a companion, and it would have been better to take her than any of my friends, so I did not object.
"Fine." I stated, "Ready your horse. I am leaving in an hour."
Kadel nodded, her silver eyes shining. She spun around on her heel and all but ran to her home.
My mother came up to me and began filling Bliss' saddlebags. "I have packed you a sufficient amount of food for your journey, along with the parchments. Have you packed?"
I shouldered my pack. It did not hold much, only a few sets of clothes and my royal signet that proved I was a prince. I knew it would not mean anything to the humans, but it would remind me that I was royalty.
Alimist acknowledged my pack and nodded. "Good." She said simply, but her voice quivered. I knew it was unbearable for her to see me off like this. I had not been outside the elfish city since Crimson died bringing me there. The thought frightened me, but I was certain it frightened my mother just as much.
She kissed both my cheeks and helped me mount Bliss. "Are you going to take someone with you?" she asked.
"Kadel." I replied.
Alimist looked at me for a while, and then said, "You would not wish to have one of you closer friends? Kadel, she is the daughter of the fletcher. She knows arrows, not astronomy. She probably does not even know our relationship with the Stars."
"She will be excellent in archery." I argued. "She has a spirit I admire, and the courage that I lack. I want her with me, mother."
Alimist sighed. "I suppose you must have her, then. When will she be ready?"
"I gave her an hour."
My mother shook her head. "I am going to speak to her father, then." She spun on her heel, and walked off to Kadel's home.
Such fear gripped me then that I began to feel ill. I clutched my stomach and squeezed my eyes shut. I wanted more than anything to close my eyes, and when I opened them, find that I had been dreaming. I even tried this a few times, but I never awoke in my bed to Lavinia calling for me to prepare for the day's lessons. I was on the verge of sobbing.
To keep myself from breaking down in tears, I had Bliss walk around the city. I was worried that this would be the last time I would ever be in here.
I found myself on Bliss in front of the Pool where Alimist had stood the night before. I glared down at the glowing water, and then up at the sky. "Why?" I whispered, "I did not ask to be saved by you. I could have died, and gone without the close relationships I have now. It would not have been so hard for me to say goodbye. But now, I'm being sent off to what I'm sure is death. I do not even know what I am supposed to accomplish. Retrieve a Constellation? I did not even know that Constellations were things I could feel. I am worried that I will fail. I am worried that I will die."
I bowed my head and stroked Bliss' neck. The silence that followed was almost eerie.
"You will die either way, then." Alimist's voice called, and I flinched, almost thinking that her voice was the Stars.
"What do you mean?" I asked; even more dread forming a lump in the pit of my stomach.
"If you decide to stay, you will die on the winter solstice. If you go, and are convinced you will die, you will probably perish."
"Then how can I survive this, mother?" I whimpered as tears finally began to stream down my cheeks. "What must I do?"
"You must go, and be confident that you will return alive and successful. I believe in you, Armoraq. The Stars believe in you. Go, and return with honor!"
I sniffled, and managed to nod.
Soon, the time had come. I met Kadel at the front of the city; she was on her horse, saddlebags packed and a bow and quiver slung over her shoulder. "I have bid my family farewell." She stated. "I am ready to accompany you on your quest, my lord."
I managed a curt nod and turned on Bliss to my mother.
"Here," she handed me a beautiful scabbard, "A sword of your own. I forged it myself. Now you won't have to practice with Lavinia's weapons."
"Thank you, mother." I replied, unsheathing the sword. The sword glowed softly, casting a blue light on its surroundings, and had a hilt of gold.
"It was blessed by Moon." Mother told me.
"I will treasure it always." I responded.
"Take care." Alimist whispered. "May the wind be on your wings and the Stars watch over you?" She touched two of her fingers on her right hand to her right elfish tipped ear, her heart, and then held them out to me. I copied her motions back. This was an elfish symbol for goodbye.
I then turned to Kadel. "Are you ready?" I asked.
"Only if you are, my lord." She responded, not a bit of sorrow or alarm in her voice.
I nodded, and urged Bliss onward.
And so the Quest for the Guardian began.