“Oracle!” they cried, flying ahead and whirling about the old woman.
She smiled as she greeted each by name: “Acorn. Ivy. Bluebell. Honeysuckle.” Her face was lined with great age, but there no sense of weakness in her slender frame. Though she held a staff, she did not lean on it, and she strode between the trees with a relaxed confidence and a steady pace, her brightly coloured dress fluttering about her.
“Tell us our futures!” the fairies cried over and over.
The Oracle smiled kindly at Lisa as she passed, and with a nod of her head beckoned her to follow. The huge, fist-sized eyeball at the top of her staff studied Lisa for a moment, then looked away.
“You will find love, of course,” she said. “All of you. Of one sort or another. Bluebell will have twins before the end of the year, and Honeysuckle’s heart will have been broken three times. Ivy will finally cast a spell that doesn’t go wrong, and Acorn…”
Acorn flew closer. “Yes?”
“You will make a dream come true.”
“How wonderful! And I know! I know!” She flew off into the trees and was quickly lost to sight. The others danced about the Oracle for a bit before apparently losing interest in her and flying up into the trees, leaving Lisa alone with the old woman.
Not once had her pace slackened. “Rika’s mother wrote that the Oracle’s Glare was a fixed point,” Lisa said, “but you don’t seem very fixed to me.”
“You would say that trees do not move,” the Oracle responded, “that rivers hold their course and mountains are eternal, but I see differently. My Glare, young lady, is not me but my destination.”
That, of course, was not what Lisa truly wished to ask. She had so many questions she feared she would be judged impolite. “Tell me, Oracle, if you please, what happened to my brothers?”
“Captured by the same Bnekissi that nearly killed you. They are being taken to the slave auction.”
“No,” she whispered, her other questions seeming suddenly unimportant. She couldn’t afford to run around in the forest while her brothers were in dire peril. The urge to drop everything, to retrace her steps as best she could, to escape the forest…
To deny the reality of magic, and the possibility of a cure for her princess, and even the dream that there could be more than mere friendship between Rika and herself…
“Oracle, I’m sorry, I have so many questions. Where is Rika? Where is her mother? Where is the Silver Queen?”
“These are not questions that I can answer,” she said, “but I have always known that you would ask them.” They had come to the bank of a river, and the Oracle paused briefly to drink before turning to follow it. “By Midsummer your princess will be restored to full health, and your brothers will be celebrated heroes. Rejoice, Dragon Slayer!”
“Your words bring me hope, but give me no direction.”
Lisa halted in amazement as two women burst from the river. One crawled up out of the water like a drowned rat, but the other emerged like a radiant goddess, bright golden curls cascading about a face of divine beauty and eyes that fastened unwaveringly on Lisa. She was naked and unashamed of her perfection, and her lips when they pressed against Lisa’s were soft, warm and demanding, as hungry as Lisa’s for this divine intimacy.
She screeched as she was pulled by the hair, away out of Lisa’s grasp. “She’s mine,” the other woman said, and the goddess pouted as she withdrew, her passionate gaze never once leaving Lisa. “Snap out of it!” the other woman said, slapping Lisa’s cheek.
With difficulty, Lisa shifted her focus. “Rika?” Lisa’s chest tightened with panic. How had she been so obsessed with the blonde stranger that she hadn’t even recognised her friend? She felt her face burning with shame.
“Try not to look at her,” Rika said with obvious amusement. “She’s irresistible and will not take no for an answer.”
Even as she said this, the gold-haired beauty coiled her arms about Rika’s waist from behind. “You don’t have to fight over me,” she said. “I always say that two lovers are better than one.”
Rika laughed and twisted in her arms. “Exquisite temptress,” she said, and kissed her. “Begone!”
The goddess sighed theatrically and retreated, blowing a kiss to Lisa before diving into the river. Her departure was like when a cloud passes in front of the sun, the world suddenly colder but clearer.
Rika grinned at Lisa. “It’s impossible to be angry with her. She did bring me back to you.” She caught Lisa in a fierce embrace. “I missed you.”
Their reunion was interrupted by Acorn’s return. With one hand she held an apple by the stalk, freshly plucked by the look of it and ripe for eating. How the fairy managed to fly while carrying it, Lisa had no idea. “This apple is rich with fairy magic,” she said, presenting it reverently to Lisa. “It has the power to make dreams come true.”
Lisa accepted it with equal reverence. “You have been very kind to me, Acorn. I thank you.”
“It’s the least we could do for the Dragon Slayer.”
Acorn’s eyes widened suddenly at the sight of someone behind Lisa, and she squealed with excitement. “Your Majesty!”
Lisa turned to see a woman with skin as dark as night, and long, lustrous hair like a moonlit waterfall. “Hello, Acorn,” the stranger said with a smile, but she only had eyes for Rika.