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I haven't been in the castle for many months. As I open the door to our room, I call "Surprise, I'm home" but Ben isn't there. I knock softly on Belle's door before opening it but the room is empty. Where is everyone? As I walk down the hallway, I'm run over by blue ghosts. The fall event and castle challenge must be going on. I find Ben, Belle, and Sebastien in the game room. I touch Ben's shoulder and he swoops around, picks me up and twirls me through the air as he kisses me. "Sweetheart, I've missed you so much. How is the dragon queen?" "Hon, she's about the same. I left Cinder with her. I needed to see you so badly that I slipped away for a few days." I wave to a smiling Belle and Sebastien as we leave the room. We grab some food and drinks before heading to our room to catch up.
Ben and I cuddle on the bed. We talk about the big things for a short time and then move to the little day to day things that make us feel like we haven't been separated. Just like Facetime or a Zoom meeting, keeping in touch through our amulets or mirrors just doesn't cut it. Lying in his arms, I feel relaxed and at peace for the first time in forever. I fall asleep and am soon making the sound he calls my purr.
Another day and another season are upon us. The puppies all now have new homes and Buddy and Lady have settled down in our new home. I pray we don’t have more puppies any time soon. I would hate to have to do something about that.
The boys are growing quickly and are getting difficult for me to handle alone. Yes, I said alone. Galen left out of the blue, he just got up, walked outside and kept walking.
“Galen,” I say as I watch him get up from the table after breakfast. My eyes follow him across the kitchen to the back door. “Where are you going?” But he doesn’t answer me so I get up and follow.
”Galen, answer me. Where are you going?”
He is out the door and crossing the yard as I get to the door. I want to follow but I have the boys to consider. I remember the dogs are still inside and how much Buddy adores them so I go after Galen calling his name. He still doesn’t respond and disappears into the trees that surround our backyard. I only go as far as the trees. I need to get someone to watch the boys before searching.
After knocking on a few doors, a young woman with a child of her own agrees to help me. She bundles her daughter up and brings her to the house.
I begin my search but somehow he has left nothing to track him. Hours later I return home. I need to figure out what to do now.
He hasn’t been back since. I reported his disappearance after a couple of days to the sheriff’s office but they can’t seem to find him.
That was a month ago.
Exhausted, I lay down on the couch. Luckily, the boys are napping right now. Wanting to take a minute to rest, my body has other plans and I am soon asleep.
I dream of a mountain cave that runs deep into the mountain to its fiery heart. The path runs past many entrances to other places in the mountain but I don’t explore, I just keep heading along the main path.
I wake from my dream screaming “NO” when someone I don’t recognize just steps off the edge and drops into the lava pool.
Breathing hard, I look around but it takes me a moment to recognize that I am at home. I cry and pray that Galen is coming home.
A horrible rumbling growl wakes me. I jump out of bed looking for the big cat about to attack me. Anabel, Birch, and Ben are the only ones in the room. It must have been a bad dream.
Then I hear it again. Oh boy. It's my stomach. I need to find something to eat. I quietly open the door surprised that I haven't already woken Ben. There's a softly lit lantern on the floor (actually a bright companion) and a fragrant pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Sebastien found a way to use all the morphing pumpkins collected by the ghosts and provided me with a perfect middle of the night snack. I pick up the pie, cream, and lantern which automatically dims a little more when I enter our room and slip into bed with my bounty. I'll worry about the crumbs and spilled cream in the morning.
Ben and I thoroughly clean up all the pie crumbs and cream, practice water conservation and dress for breakfast with Belle and Sebastien. As we pass through the game room, I see many ghosts sporting an avatar with Pegasus. Sebastien makes sunny side up eggs and bacon while we all catch up.
"The Queen isn't doing well. She's missing her mate tremendously and is losing the will to live. I understand her sadness but I don't know how I can help her unless I can find her mate. I have no clue where to begin."
"Hon, don't worry about that now. This break is so you can reconnect with me and your personal needs."
Belle noticed my wistfulness when I entered the kitchen, "Poppet, what is making you slightly disappointed?"
"I missed out on the Pegasus avatar and I love it. It reminds me of your immortal duties and time we've spent caring for your charges."
"Sweetie, the castle challenge is still occurring and we'll help you get caught up. There's a day and a half left."
I jump up from the breakfast table and run to the game room to my computer. I look at the tasks and my shoulders slump. There are a lot of ghost collecting tasks which take so much time. Sebastien walks up behind me and softly says, "I'll make sure Salty knows he needs to lose at dice if he wants Zarknorph to let him keep his liquor license." I beam. Maybe I have a chance.
I hit the first ghost task and yellow ghosts line up to float across my screen; my daily quests are all 3 of 3 different candies; blue, violet, green and azure ghosts all line up to float across my screen. I'm more than 2/3 through the challenge but I've reached the red ghosts and there's not a single one in the castle. Oh no! I need to think of a strategy.
In the Mandrake Kingdom....
Though there have been many meetings on the issue, they have yet to come up with a solution.
”I am their queen, that should be good enough.”
”Majesty, please try to remember that for thousands of years they did not have a queen.” Lord Septen says.
”But they did have the lower ranked royals. What happened to them? Did they abandon the people?” Antheia asks as she realizes that she is speaking to a few of those lords.
”We did not abandon the people. Instead, we watched over them and let them rule themselves. Might I suggest we take a more democratic move and let the people decide who they want to rule over them?” Lord Gineran says.
”Why would we do that?”
”It might placate the people and put these protests to bed.” Lord Septen answers.
Much bickering ensues among her council as Antheia sits back to listen to what is said and contemplate the idea of an election.
The sound of the twins crying wakes me out of my depression long enough to remember that they still need me. I take care of their needs then pack them up to go to the store.
The walk takes a bit longer as the fall ghosts are back and I have to dodge and duck the houses. We get what we need then stop by the sheriff’s office for an update.
”Sorry Ma’am, but there hasn’t been any sign of Galen. Perhaps it is time to contact the guardians.” He turns and walks away.
Despondent, I take the twins home.
After putting away the groceries, I send a note to Lucius and Gray Nightwalker.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, no one was stirring not even the dogs. The boys were all snuggled in their crib with care, who knows what stirred in their heads. Missing Galen, I settled down for my winters nap. I in my flannel pajamas and warm woolen socks had just closed my eyes when there came a clutter.
I got up and opened the shutter and what did my eyes see? 9 different reindeer ghosts playing with a sleigh in the yard. They pushed and pulled and tried to make it fly. It brought a smile and a need to laugh I hadn’t felt in a long while.
I went back to bed but wasn’t there long when there came growls from the living room. Up once again, I went to see what the dogs had cornered only to see an overgrown elf. All dressed in red with white trim, he quietly tried to shush the dogs while he laid gifts under my little tree. Just when I thought he was done, he pulled two more out; bones for the dogs which he gave to them.
Then he turned and spotted me there. He gave me wink and then disappeared. As I headed back to bed, I could swear that I heard “ Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
l know that I am a little late with this, but it didn’t come to me sooner.
I’ve been dreaming about Galen again; weird and dark dreams that I can’t put into words. It is like his body is alive somewhere but his soul is in a dark, cold place. I feel his presence in the dreams and can hear him call out; yet it is too dark to see him. As I move through this cold, dark place, the cold goes through me like ice in a drink and I hear other voices; Galen isn’t alone. When I wake I feel the cold as though I have been outside in the snow: naked. It takes turning up the heater and a pile of blankets to warm me.
The notes asking for assistance have gone unanswered and I wonder if they reached their intended recipients. I certainly hope they have.
A silver dragon lands in the back yard and takes the form of an older male elf. He walks around to the front of the house and knocks on the door. He looks around as he waits and makes mental notes to himself about the neighborhood. He can hear th dogs barking inside. When he hears the door unlock, he turns back towards it.
I hear the knock at the door while I am taking a moment to relax. Buddy had cuddled up to me on the couch and was nearly asleep. Now the dogs are barking but not running toward the door. I get up and go to the door. When I look outside, I don’t recognize the male but open the door anyway, “ Hello”.
”Hello. Are you Myelle? “ he asks.
”Yes. Who are you and what do you want?”
”My name is Ronan and I am here to help. The gods have heard your pleas for help and they sent me. May I come in?”
I take a few seconds to consider before moving aside and opening the door further. “Yes” and I move aside. Ronan enters and the dogs come to greet him and check out the new person. He kneels down and pets them as if they are old friends and stays there until Buddy and Lady have had enough attention. “Their names are Buddy and Lady” I say.
“They are nice dogs.” He sees the boys napping in the playpen and studies them for a moment before looking at me. “Your sons are beautiful. They are going to grow up and be heart breakers until they find their fated mates. May I?” He asks indicating the couch.
”Certainly” I answer. “Would you like something to eat or drink?”
”Tea would be nice.”
I nod and go into the kitchen. I put the kettle on to heat, put a couple of mugs, spoons and teabags on a tray with sugar, honey and milk. I add a plate of cookies. When the water is hot, I pour and add the teabags to the cups before bringing them out. I put the tray on the coffee table. I serve him a cup “there is milk and sweetener” and l hand him a spoon.
Ronan takes the cup and spoon, “thank you”.
I sit down with mine in the chair. “You are welcome. Now, what are you really here for? You are welcome to the cookies if you want any.”
He fixes his tea, studies the cookies then sits back on the couch while I wait. “Tell me, what do you know of Galen’s happenings before he disappeared?”
”Not much. He was being good father but I could tell something was wrong. He wouldn’t talk about it though. Something happened before we moved back into this house. What did the gods tell you?”
”Only that he is a protector and needs help. What happened when he vanished?”
“He didn’t exactly vanish,” I say. “He got this blank look on his face, dropped the fork he was holding, got up, walked out the door and headed for the forest. I haven’t seen him since. I searched but failed.” A tear falls from each eye and I have to look away.
Ronan sits quietly while I compose myself before speaking. Thunder rolls across the sky and we both look up.