Do you know a place that seems like Heaven on Earth? Every person has a different answer, ranging from their homes to amazing destinations traveled to in the past. Aurora never knew such a place, until Lothlorien took her to the heart of the forest. They came into a large clearing about the size of her castle, with tall oak trees lining its edges. The clearing itself was a meadow full of long, voluptuous green grass with colorful wildflowers dotted everywhere. A cool blue light was cast over the clearing from the crescent moon above, and about thirty to forty Guardians milled around grazing on the grass or talking amongst themselves in pairs.
In the center of the clearing stood a small cottage that looked to be made of thousands of trees and twigs. Giant tree trunks covered in green moss made up the main support beams every few feet along the walls, while twigs and branches were arranged in between in patterns of squares and triangles that looked like an organic mosaic. The door was made of one giant slab of wood, with geometric patterns carved lightly throughout. The only part of the cottage that wasn’t made of wood were two green stained glass windows on either side of the door. It’s roof was a fluffy collection of dried brush and more twigs, with white smoke billowing from a hollowed-out tree trunk for a chimney. A little stream cut through the meadow and ran just in front of the cottage, with a little wood bridge that lead up to the massive door. It’s trickling sounds gave the ambience of peaceful serenity.
These things alone would make anyone gaze in wonder, but Aurora’s mouth dropped open when she looked up at the tree branches lining the clearing. Little orbs of yellow light no bigger than your palm floated lazily among the tree branches in clusters. Some even floated freely through the open air among the Guardians and the flowers. Aurora gasped when one flew up to her, and she reached out to touch it, but it darted away just before they made contact.
Lothlorien started to walk through the clearing, and Aurora could feel her hooves sink into the spongy softness of the grass. Every Guardian looked up at the pair when they were a little ways across, and simultaneously bowed low to them as a sign of respect. Aurora felt scared to breathe; it was as if time stopped for them in the quiet courtesy.
A creaking sound coming from the cottage broke the silence, and Aurora turned her attention to see a middle-aged man emerge from the open doorway. He was tall, with a slightly stocky frame that was all muscle. Even from a distance, Aurora could tell that he spent most of his time outside in the sun. His skin was a light tan, and his face was riddled in wrinkles from squinting in the warm summer sun. If it weren’t for the sun damage to his skin, he would have looked like a youthful boy. As Aurora drew closer, she could see that he had blue eyes set in a circular face with a softened chin. His hair was a nice chocolate brown with streaks of lighter brown throughout, and it fell in curly tufts just past his ears. As for his clothes, baggy brown trousers were tucked into his short brown boots that were covered in dirt and scuff marks. A long tunic that looked to be white at some point stretched just to his thighs, and a brown fabric belt was tied at his waist that seemed to be holding both his pants up and his tunic in place. The fabric of his clothes were well-worn, but looked comfortable nonetheless. He walked over the bridge and gave them a low bow when they approached.
“Greetings, Aurora,” said the man. “And thank you, Lothlorien, for bringing her to us safely.” Lothlorien nickered and nodded her head. “My name is Lucio. Magician of Light, and keeper of the Guardians in this forest.” He gestured at the Guardians gathered in the clearing.
“You’re Lothlorien’s master?” said Aurora. Lucio chuckled and nodded.
“I don’t like to call myself that. The Guardians here can do whatever they please! But they are so thankful for the protection I’ve provided, that they insist on calling me their master.” He held up his palms toward her. “You must have so many questions, my dear. But first, you need to rest. You have been through so much these past few hours.” Aurora nodded while Lothlorien bent down for her to dismount. Lucio came over and offered his hand to help her off. It was a large, strong hand that was full of calluses. Aurora took it and slowly slid off of Lothlorien’s back. The motion was too much for her though, and she immediately felt light-headed and dizzy when her feet touched the ground.
“I…I need to sit down,” she said while she stumbled into a sitting position on the grass.
“You need a good amount of healing, my dear,” he said as he sat opposite her. “Where does it hurt most?”
“My head,” she reached back to feel a large lump developing at the base of her skull. “A door pushed me back into a stone wall, and I was thrown against a tree and knocked out.”
“Your head must be throbbing!” said Lucio. “Would you mind healing her, Lothlorien?”
“Not at all,” said the Guardian while she got up to walk behind Aurora. “Can you move your hair please, Aurora? My horn heals best when it comes in direct contact with the wound.” Aurora grabbed her braid and held it over her right shoulder.
“It will take some time for you to heal completely,” said Lothlorien. “And since it has to do with your head, you may fall asleep for the healing to take full effect. But don’t worry, Lucio and I will take care of you.” Lucio nodded in agreement.
“Alright then, I trust you,” Aurora looked up at Lucio. “Both of you,” she said. The Magician of Light smiled. His blue eyes looked so comforting. Lothlorien prodded the lump at Aurora’s skull, and the girl winced for only a second before she began to feel a soft tingling inside her head. The base of her skull grew warm, and she could feel her vision starting to blur while the light radiating from Lothlorien’s horn penetrated her peripheral vision. The last thing she remembered was the feeling of falling forward and Lucio’s arms wrapping around her.
Aurora woke to the feeling of blankets and a soft mattress. She stretched and let out a heavy sigh of content. Her head didn’t hurt anymore, and the lump was gone. In fact, her mind felt clearer than ever. She slowly opened her eyes to find herself in a small room with an open doorway just to her left. The bed was made of oak, and was pushed up into a corner, where there was another window with green stained glass to her right. Propping herself up on her elbows, she looked out to see a green vision of Guardians grazing in the meadow with those strange balls of light floating around. Seeing them brought back all the pain of that night, but she quickly stomped down her emotions for another time. How long had she been asleep? She sat up in the bed and looked around. From the amount of light coming in the room, it was most definitely daytime. The room was clearly Lucio’s bedroom, with a few extra clothes lying on shelves opposite her, and a small table with open manuscripts and maps next to the bed. It was a fairly simple room otherwise, with the twigs and branches making up the sturdy walls.
She rose from the bed and looked herself over. There seemed to be no other cuts or bruises, but her hair and clothes were a complete mess. She sighed and looked around the room again for anything that could help. She checked the shelves with Lucio’s few extra clothes one more time, and nearly squealed with delight when she spotted her satchel bag on one of them. Inside she had packed a comb and an extra dress, along with a few other necessities. She changed into her brown dress and combed and re-braided her hair.
“Perhaps I can wash my face in that stream,” she thought. She walked out into the next room, which was a mess of more maps and books strewn across a circular table in the middle. The walls had shelves haphazardly stacked with globes and jars of strange liquids. A stone fireplace dominated one of the walls, with a small kettle in a corner next to it. Aurora could have examined the various knick-knacks all day, but she wanted to find Lucio and Lothlorien. She came to the large wooden door and cracked it open with some effort. She didn’t want to waste her energy, so she wriggled through the opening and stepped out into the sunlight.
It seemed to be late afternoon, and the sun was beginning to dip low in the sky. The sounds of the laughing stream a few feet away filled her ears. Aurora scanned the clearing, but didn’t see any signs of Lothlorien, let alone Lucio. She moved her gaze to the right side of the cottage, and spotted the Magician standing next to Lothlorien about fifty feet from the cottage. There were no other Guardians nearby, but the strange lights floated around them, and the early sunset caste a brilliant glow over them.
Lucio was stroking Lothlorien’s flank while she stood with her eyes closed and her head hung low. She could see his lips moving, and his face looked sincere. After a minute of this, Lothlorien shook her head and brought her long face in front of the Magician’s. He ran his hand down her face while he continued speaking, his face growing so somber that Aurora thought he was crying. He tangled his rough hands in her mane and pushed his fingers down to the ends while he walked in front of her. Cupping her chin with his right hand, he held her muzzle up to his chest while he continued to stroke her face with his left. He continued to speak to her, until he leaned forward to kiss the Guardian’s forehead. Lothlorien nickered and moved her head over his right shoulder while Lucio wrapped his arms around her neck. His arm barely poked out from under her immaculate white mane.
The tender moment made Aurora miss the affection of Christopher and MoonStone, and tears flowed down her face in swift rivers before she could think to stope them. She let out the grief without reserve, and broke down on her knees in a loud sob with her hands covering her face. She felt the warm breath and velvet texture of Lothlorien’s muzzle on her head, and she looked up at the Guardian’s sad black eyes. Lucio was standing next to her with his hand on her side.
“I miss them too,” said Lothlorien. This made Aurora break down all over again, and Lothlorien laid down on her side so the girl could lay back and cry into her soft white hide. Lucio sat next to her with his hand on her shoulder and stared straight ahead.
“Do you know how my twin brother and I can do magic?” he asked. Aurora looked up from Lothlorien’s side and shook her head.
“You have a twin brother?”
“Oh yes, unfortunately I do,” he chuckled softly to himself. “He calls himself Atricio, The Dark Magician. He and I were abandoned by our mother in the forest, but the wildlife took pity on us. My mother, may she rest in peace, was a lovely brown bear that raised me with three other cubs. Atricio was raised by a beautiful black puma, but when he outgrew her, he killed her and used her hide to keep warm at night.” He shook his head and sighed when he said this. “We found we could perform magic by learning the Universal Language used by every animal on this Earth. We humans have been singled out, and we have our own way of speaking. But if a human speaks the Universal Language of animals, amazing things can happen! We can create things, we can destroy things, we can make things better or worse. As we grew up and learned this language, we were given a choice. We could use our power for others, or for our own benefit. While I do enjoy using magic for myself every now and then, I have dedicated my life to helping Guardians and every living thing in this forest. Atricio, however, uses magic strictly for himself. He thought I was a fool for helping others, and wanted me to join him, but I refused. Now he only sees me as a nuisance and an obstacle to getting whatever he wants. He sits alone in his stone cottage, only inviting in those who could be of use to him. Your father must have been one of them.” Aurora sat up and turned to Lucio.
“What happened to my father? What did he do to Christopher and MoonStone?”
“I can’t say for sure,” Lucio said while staring off into space. “What I do know is that Atricio must have given him that knife, and that’s what gave him his power. Your father and his minions are beings without a soul; shadows of what they once were. That’s why they turned into black smoke if anyone tried to hurt them. Because of this, they are next to impossible to detect in this forest. If I had been able to sense them, I would have come out myself to protect you. But I wasn’t made aware of how dangerous the situation was until Lothlorien told me. And for that, I am greatly sorry for what my brother has caused you and your family.” He bowed his head let his hand slide from her shoulder, but Aurora caught it about halfway down her arm.
“The fault is not all yours,” she said. “It’s not due to one person. My father probably sought our Atricio himself, and there’s nothing to be done about that.” She put down their hands and sighed. “I do miss them, though.”
“I can help with that, if you wish,” said Lucio. “Guardians can’t mend the injuries of the heart, but I can. What you saw Lothlorien and I doing earlier was me healing her own grief for MoonStone. If I speak the universal language to you like I’m speaking to you now, the words will help steady your emotions and bring you closure.”
“It’s true,” said Lothlorien. “I already feel so much more at peace.” She swished her tail while she spoke.
“It only works if you let it, though,” said Lucio. “You have to be willing to let go of the grief.” Aurora thought about it for a moment.
“I’m not sure how well it will work, but I’m willing to try,” she said.
“Good,” said Lucio. He put his hand back on her shoulder and took a short breath.
“Sum inde Fordêman béon éaðe. Bearm friþ bæcern nú.” Lucio continued to say phrases similar to this for a few minutes, until Aurora could feel the grief slipping out of her body. Her eyes grew heavy with the happiness that was slowly replacing the grief, and entered a meditative state. She saw Christopher and MoonStone standing in the clearing where they always met, their faces lit up with happiness. She ran up to them sobbing happy tears, and they each gave her their own embrace. There were so many things she wanted to tell them, but they turned to face the sunlight coming through the branches. They slowly began to disappear, until Aurora realized what was going on.
“No! Not yet! Don’t leave me, please!” She ran toward the vanishing image and jolted awake. Lothlorien and Lucio were looking at her, waiting for a response.
“I’m sorry,” she said while she wiped more tears from her face. “I couldn’t do it, not yet.” She drooped her head in shame.
“It’s alright,” said Lothlorien. “I couldn’t do it either. It just takes time. Do you feel at least a little bit better?”
“Yes, I think I do,” said Aurora with a sigh. One of the floating orbs of light darted up to Aurora and hovered in front of her face for a moment. She tried to touch it again, but it shot back up to the trees and vanished into the other orbs swarming the branches.
“What are those things?” asked Aurora.
“Those are called The Orbs of Feor,” said Lothlorien. “But we call them Feors for short. They’re a wonderful creation of Lucio’s.”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it that,” said Lucio. “I didn’t create them, but I did help them. Every orb you see is the soul of anyone or anything that was wrongly killed for man’s benefit. If I can see them in my mind’s eye, I’m able to cast a spell on them that will make their bodies disappear so man can’t reap their selfish benefits. As a result, their souls turn into the Orbs of Feor, and spend the rest of their days here with us in peaceful happiness. Most of these orbs were once animals, with the occasional human, and now, a Guardian. MoonStone was the first Guardian to become an Orb, and judging from what you saw the night he died, he’s floating around watching us right now, along with Christopher.” Aurora looked up at the branches covered in the little orbs.
“They’re watching us right now?” said Aurora.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind,” said Lucio.
A Guardian came trotting up to the trio and gave them a low bow.
“Any news?” asked Lucio.
“The birds have told us that the girl’s land was taken over by a manservant that was a spy. He had been staying at the castle for several months.” Lucio nodded and scratched his cheek.
“Oh no,” said Aurora. “I think I knew that man! It was Wolsey! He was going to marry me!” She felt her heart race while all the puzzle pieces began to fall into place. He only got engaged to her to buy more time. He only wanted to take over the estate!
“Peace, child,” said Lothlorien. “You never have to go back there. It’s all in the past now.” Aurora hugged her knees to her chest while her mind ran though what could have been if she stayed at the castle.
“How many casualties are there?” she asked the Guardian. “Do you know that?”
“Not many, I believe. When it was clear that the battle was won, many of the villagers managed to escape to a safer land. The birds say it was a man who made their food, another who worked with metal, and another man who ran a house full of broken wood-”
“Eric!” shouted Aurora. “He’s alright! Oh, thank you!” The Guardian looked taken aback, but he smiled nonetheless.
“Any news of my brother?” asked Lucio.
“He hasn’t moved,” said the Guardian. “But the girl’s father and his minions are slowly making themselves known for their healing abilities with MoonStone’s horn. They are creating a small fortune for themselves, and call themselves The Atrumnus, in honor of your brother, I’m sure.” Lucio shook his head.
“What a way to gain false favor!” he said. He thanked the Guardian, who trotted a ways off to graze in the meadow.
“It seems there is nothing left for you at your estate, Aurora,” he said. “Although, I doubt you would want to return even if none of this had happened.” The girl nodded.
“Yes, I was never truly happy or accepted there,” she said.
“Well, you are welcome to go wherever you wish, but I would like to offer my home to you.” Aurora drew back from him in shock. “No no! Not in marriage! Just in simple friendship.” His face blushed with embarrassment when he realized what his offer sounded like. “You are welcome to stay here as long as you like, even if it means forever. It is the least I can do after what happened. You can have my bed in my cottage, and I can sleep out here with the Guardians, at least for the summer months. In the meantime, I can build a separate room, or even a separate cottage if you wish.”
“I could never turn you out of your own cottage!” said Aurora.
“Nonsense! I rarely use that bed anyway. The grass and open air is much more comfortable. At least consider the offer while you recover here.” Aurora relaxed and stared at the grass.
“I’ll consider it,” she said softly. What was there to consider? Where else was she to go? What else could she do?
One task popped into her head that she knew she must accomplish, to give herself more of a chance at finding peace.
“There is one thing I must do, preferably with your help,” she said to Lucio.
“Of course, what is it?” he asked. She drew in a deep breath and tried to figure how to say it, because she had no clue how to do it.
“Help me save Christopher’s family from his father, and find them a new place to live.”