The garden was devastated. Two tall, young faeries had been bickering, and it had turned physical: not pushes and punches, but flames and funnel clouds. Only the castle wall had withstood the elemental forces.
“This is YOUR fault,” the blue-eyed fae accused, his anger creating hurricane-like winds.
“Not so, Tasman!” the younger brother returned, blasting fire from his fingers.
“Enough!” boomed a voice. Their fury dissipated, and blood drained from the tips of their pointy ears. Shame replaced anger. The King, the most powerful fae in the land, stroked his white beard. “What senseless destruction in my garden! You came to me as strangers, but I welcomed you as sons, and THIS is how you repay me?” Only an ancient oak remained untouched.
“You have until sundown to clean up this mess. You may not use magic. If you can restore its magnificence, I will bestow gifts upon you.”
Gryphin slouched at the impossible task.
“Be warned that the elf Aeron roams near. There are protective charms on the garden to keep him out unless he is invited in. He is cunning, though, and has eluded capture. If he offers help and you accept it, it will cost us all. If you decline, he will attempt to steal something precious anyway. If that fails, he will try to kill you.” In a flash of light, the King disappeared.
The two worked together, picking up fallen trees. By noontime, they had also raked the garden’s burnt ground cover, but there was still much to do.
“Gryphin…” Tasman’s voice quivered, and his brother’s heart sank when he saw why. The brightest of lights which shone from the depths of the spring was no more. The destruction had caused a large tree to cover the source. Though they tried together, they could not move the tree.
They repaired much of the garden, knowing they could not restore the most important aspect. It was back-breaking, and by midafternoon, their cooperation disintegrated.
The King arrived to check on their progress. “You must work together to fix this,” he said. Then he disappeared back into the castle.
“What have we here?” The voice came from an elf, handsome but for the snarl on his lip. Having been warned, the brothers said nothing and continued their labor.
In response, the elf bragged that as an earth elemental and having trained for hundreds of years, he could make the ground bend to his will. “I can leverage the land to move the tree, and once again the light will shine for all who seek it. Just ask. But what will you give me in return?”
Tasman spoke, “I do not know that we have anything to give you, and we were forbidden to use magic.”
“Young fae,” the stranger leaned in and whispered. “You wouldn’t be using magic.”
The older boy asked, “You would help us to move it without magic?”
The elf spat. “That is not what I said, you fool. I said YOU would not use magic. And there is a cost. Gift me the ability to open the veil to the after-realm.”
Gryphin interrupted, angry again, but this time not at Tasman. “No! That magic was entrusted by the King only to the faeries.”
“AND,” the elf continued as if he had heard nothing, “half of the King’s offering to you.” The elf turned, wand pointed menacingly at the older fae. “You’ll ask for my help if you value your lives. Your King is playing you, and you are too stupid to see it.” His laugh was sickening to Gryphin.
The younger fae looked at his brother, and with nothing more said, they tackled Aeron. In seconds, the surprised elf was tied up to the oak at the center of the garden.
Gryphin’s green eyes on fire, he said, “No one goes after my brother but me.”
“And no one speaks ill of our King.” Tasman finished.
A voice came from behind them. “Tasman, Gryphin, you have done well. Aeron, for your attempt to steal the light of the source, you will be punished.”
“That’s why he wanted us to ask for his help!” Tasman exclaimed.
The King nodded and cast his curse. The elf cried out as if hit by great force. As the fae watched, the intruder’s appearance changed from beautiful to disfigured. A scar appeared on his forehead, so others would keep their distance. “You will still love the earth and crave its beauty, but as long as your heart is dark, the earth will not love you back. That which you touch will turn from green to black. You are no longer an elf, but the first of all goblins. Go. As your body has been cursed, so has been your magic.”
The goblin wrapped his cloak about him and spat. “You will regret this!” His black eyes, though, were not on the King, but the brothers. He hurried down the path.
The King turned. “About your progress—”
“We tried — even together, but a heavy tree covers the source!” Gryphin pleaded for leniency.
The King smiled. “Was that the mess you thought I meant? I can clean up my garden with ease.” One wave of his wand returned the garden to its former splendor.
“But—” Tasman started.
“You meant to restore our relationship, didn’t you?” Gryphin was pleased to say it before Tasman could. “You also told us you would bestow gifts.”
“Indeed.” The King lifted two bundles from the spring. Inside Tasman’s was dry parchment bound in a gathering. Inside Gryphin’s was a quill and ink.
“Together the spells you write will be more powerful than those you could create alone. Write wisely.” With that, a light about the King blinded the fae. When they could see again, he was gone. The brothers sat down under the ancient oak to enjoy their royal gifts.
“I get to write first!” Gryphin grabbed the gathering from his brother. Tasman shook his head, sat next to his brother, and smiled.
AJ Benson’s first book hit the shelves in the fall of 2016 with the publication of Quest for the King. She has been writing and editing as an analyst for almost 20 years and is currently a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She has a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from The George Washington University. AJ enjoys the whimsy of young adult fantasy, the depth of myth and lore, and the excitement of magic. She loves the epic struggle between good and evil. She also reads non-fiction books on a range of topics to include Christian devotionals and health-related books. AJ is active in both her church and her sons’ Boy Scout troop. She lives in Maryland with her two sons, three dogs and two cats.