115 Chapter 115 The Elven Barrier
The king opened the door and they followed him inside. It was incredible. Dragons were flying across the ceiling; dwarves, elves and gnomes were standing together on the right; on the left was a huge black flame.
The king said, in a somber voice, "We have had 1 prophet. His visions drove him mad. He lost his ability to speak, so he started to paint. None of the records state that he was capable of controlling even the weakest of magic, so we still don't know how he painted the ceiling."
The king stepped to the side, exposing drawings on the wall behind him. Ruby red eyes stared out of a face with ears longer than Stella's currently were. It was Sylva. Beside her was standing a human prince. He looked exactly like Joseph, only older, like he had pictured himself in the runic realms.
"That is how I looked when I was a child," said Stella softly.
"No, that is how Sylva looked," corrected Joseph.
After a moment, she closed her eyes and nodded.
The king continued, "We've been expecting you. I do appreciate the apology, by the way. I was very hesitant to believe you were the savior, with the attitude you had when you first entered my forest, no matter how much you looked like the drawing. I had never thought you would come in my lifetime."
Joseph sighed, closing his eyes for a moment before gazing back over the highly detailed drawings. "I deserved that."
"You are handling this well."
"Yeah, I've been creeped out ever since I crossed the barrier, but normally I'm not like this."
"If you can solve the problem with the mana in our forest, I will give you full access to the royal library for a month."
"Just a month?"
The king laughed. "Normally, even elven nobles are allowed only one day for anything less than saving the kingdom."
"Oh. Wow. Ok then. Deal. May I ask where the queen is?"
"She is resting deep inside the castle, hoping to bring our child to birth."
"She has miscarried the last three. One was stillborn and the younger brother of our son who was killed by the humans, died in his sleep while only two. I am not sure she will survive the loss of another child. It is heartbreaking."
Stella and Joseph left quietly after that. No words could ease the pain of losing a child.
"What's wrong, Master Joseph? Your face looks haunted."
"Ah. Sorry. It just seems like some things are the same no matter which life I live."
He glanced back at the room of prophecy, where the king remained behind them.
"Some people desperately want children, and can't have them, and some people who shouldn't be allowed to keep fish, are blessed with so many of them."
An elven child, not much taller than Stella, appeared as they walked, and introduced himself as Laeroth. He would be the guide going around the edge of the elven forest looking over the barrier.
They were soon on horses, again, riding towards the edge of the forest.
"Laeroth?" asked Joseph, deep in thought.
"The elves have a princess, right?"
"Yes, princess Alissa."
"Is she not the daughter of queen Vaeri? The king mentioned the death of their son to humans, and the death of another son in his sleep, and then she lost all the other children. Do elves have concubines?"
"Ah. It is a secret that I must ask you not to repeat. Asking others will cause issues as well though. The princess is the daughter of the king's sister and her husband. She told me as a child when we were playmates, but again, please do not repeat that."
"Ah, so what are you, the prime minister's son? You must be something to have been playmates with the princess."
"Yes. We have no prime minister, but my mother is on the council of advisors to the king. With fewer children being born I was helpful as her playmate."
Joseph nodded. The forest was making him feel ill, but he was mostly able to ignore it.
"Stella, are you feeling ok?"
"I do feel somewhat off, Master Joseph. I do not believe it is affecting me as strongly as you though."
"Does it feel like more than just, less mana?"
She thought about that, then shook her head no. "I don't believe so, but I would have no way to really know. The area at the world trees roots, was an area with a vast amount of mana. I have never been in such an area as this before, Master Joseph."
They continued on, with Joseph asking questions and Laeroth answering as best he could. The elf didn't seem to have a problem with either of them, and Joseph really felt as if they could be friends, if the situation were different. Maybe an opportunity would present itself.
When they reached the barrier, Joseph began to study it in depth, and everything around him seemed to disappear. The barrier made up a series of fourteen repeating protection runes, all slightly different. His other mind had spent all week working on PROTECTION, in order to get it to intermediate. It would be his third intermediate rune, and he was looking forward to gaining the title Intermediate Mage. Maybe it would help him fix the problem.
It wasn't until the fourth day that he finally found what was wrong.
"Here's the problem! From where I started, we'll call it rune 1, rune 3 is twisted. Each copy is altered at every point around the forest. I didn't catch it sooner because it is incorporated in the sequence completely. There isn't a spot where that rune varies. Laeroth, what can you tell me about this?"
"The mage who created the barrier gathered the assistance of the gnomes to the east in order to scribe all of the runes."
"He was the brother of the king at that time, and some believed the king was concerned he was trying to usurp his throne."
"Wasn't this cast in the middle of a war?"
"Yes, it was shortly after the wasteland was created and the humans attacked. The races used to be allied and traded amongst each other, but the creation of the wasteland led to a large amount of blame being thrown around, and everyone was convinced the other groups had spies. The mage who created this barrier asked the gnomes for help, before locking all of the non-elves out of the forest."
"How do you know all of this?"
"Um. I read a lot as a child. Most of this is kept in records in my home."
"Not in the royal library?"
"I have never been granted access to the royal library, Joseph."
"Oh. Your magic ability is as strong as mine. Have you ever studied?"
"No. I couldn't stand the thought of magic draining the life out of me. It always seemed wrong."'
Joseph sighed, "Laeroth if I can fix this, I promise to teach you myself, if you want."
"I would be delighted, Joseph!" he exclaimed, obviously thrilled at the idea.
"Stella, look at this rune," he said, pointing at the ground. "Do you notice anything off about it? I hadn't until today."
Stella studied the rune, before shaking her head. "No, it feels the same as the others. I feel a little more uncomfortable around it, maybe?"
"Every rune is the same. Someone systematically overwrote the original rune."
"How can you tell?" asked Laeroth.
"All the other runes are written with a flowing elvish kind of script. This section, right here, has a more jittery kind of feel, like the writer was stretching to cover the same amount of area as the other. Since gnomes are smaller, that makes sense. It could have also been an elven child, but to be this subtle about the change, it was obviously someone quite skilled, so I suspect it wasn't a child.
"I don't recognize the spell directly, but this portion is what ties it to the royal family's life force, and that there is what is protecting the forest from everything, even mana. It has the faintest traces of corruption, like the monster in the north had."
Laeroth thought for a moment. "This all sounds possible. The mage who created the barrier died a few days later."
"Died, or was murdered?"
"He died, but that doesn't mean he wasn't murdered. I never found any account that supported the theory that he was actually trying to usurp the throne in any other records."
Stella asked, "Why do you keep referring to him as, that mage, instead of his name?"
"Oh, his name was erased from the records after his death, by decree of the king."
"Let's go back to the king to report," said Laeroth, fetching the horses.
"We may have to go to the gnomes to see if they know how to undo something like this. I'm sure if it was a gnome that did it that they didn't stop with just this," said Joseph.
"The gnomes have been sealed away under their mountains since almost the same time we sealed our forest," said Laeroth, climbing onto his horse.
Joseph sighed. "Wonderful."
They arrived back at the castle around midnight. Surely the king could wait for them to sleep three hours, before they had to report?