"Branor, I don't like the feeling I'm getting from this forest. I feel as if we’re being . . . watched by someone or something evil," whispered Albion, as he and his friend rode deeper into the dark woods. Their horses sidestepped nervously as they edged farther and farther from the trodden path, their light armor clanging.
"I must agree with you, Albion. I do believe someone or something is watching us from the forest itself. I hope that it isn't . . . Chapalu,” Branor replied, peering anxiously over his shoulder.
“They say that he lives in these woods. Maybe we should get out of here while we can?” Albion tried to calm his own nerves, as well as those of his horse.
“No one in the forest, neither creature nor those who live away from the Forest of Magic likes that dragon very much. I did say to you that we shouldn't take this path," replied Branor as he looked at the young man.
"As always . . . you're intuition was amicable." moaned Albion as he again tried to calm his horse. "I should have listened to you. If only I hadn't chosen this path, then we would have surely made it to the Castle of Morganova by now."
"Yes, that's right, Albion; and I would prefer, if you don't mind. . . to leave this forest right now," said Branor, as he encouraged his brown stallion to enter into a full gallop.
As the horses galloped away, venturing deeper into the dark forest, a pair of green glowing eyes watched, slowly following the two riders; then as if they had never been there at all, the eyes suddenly vanished.
Suddenly, they heard a large beast crashing through the brush. Both men reined their horses to a skidding stop, and then drew their swords with a flash of steel, urging their frightened horses cautiously forward.
"Come out, vile dragon! We know you are standing in the road somewhere!" challenged Albion, peering through the fog.
As thundering steps approached, the horses backed, their frightened whinnies echoing through the gloomy woods. And then the beast appeared, an enormous, black-scaled, two-horned vision of horror—the dreaded Chapalu.
"You call me a vile dragon, little man?” roared the monster, snorting flames. “You call me vile, you whose people slaughter my family and friends?" he screamed, flaring his wings and thrashing his tail.
Both horses reared in alarm, throwing their struggling riders to the ground.
Albion, oh please don’t have died, Branor quickly prayed, but aloud he barked, “Have a taste of cold steel, dragon!" and he charged at Chapalu.
Branor, intent on battle, didn’t see the cloaked figure sneak out of the forest and pull the downed rider behind a tree. Nor did he see the auburn locks that tumbled from the rescuer’s pushed-back hood.
Branor fought fiercely and was about to thrust his sword into the dragon’s scaly neck when Chapalu, with a thunderous slash of his tail, batted his sword away.
"Chapalu!" cried the cloaked figure, a bright light emitting from gloved hands.
"Who dares?!" snapped Chapalu, flailing in the direction of the cloaked figure.
Branor, realizing that his protector was a sorcerer dashed behind him. "I thank you, wizard, for your timely entrance," he panted.
"You are most welcome, knight,” a soft, lilting voice responded. “Your friend is over by that tree. Stay with him while I vanquish my foe."
"But you're . . . just a lady?!" said Branor, stunned.
"Not ‘just a lady,’ scion of a fairy. I am a sorceress,” she replied regally. “Now go!"
Obediently, Branor raced toward his friend.
"Albion, come on. You must awaken," pleaded Branor, shaking his friend as he watched the sorceress fight the dragon with magical blasts. I wonder why she thought I was born of a fairy, Branor puzzled.
“You've finally come to meet your death by my hands, Talihah,” Chapalu snarled. “Your sorcery once couldn't beat me, even if I did give you an advantage," he sneered.
"I will not die by your hands, dragon, for I am your better,” Talihah cried, both hands glowing a vibrant green. “I am the Guardian of the Forest of Magic, and I shall not let you remain free to harass its people. Za'qua-nary'ta Kou'furina-ib-die-Chapalu!"
Chapalu, frozen in his steps, slowly vanished from sight.
"You truly are the Guardian of the Forest of Magic, sorceress,” marveled Branor. “Did you kill the dragon Chapalu?"
"No, for he is one with the magic that surrounds this forest. I can only restrain him from coming back for a few months, but then he will return. Chapalu’s magic may be strong, but mine is stronger. And he lacks experience. He didn't realize that I was drawing off his magic during this fight. But by the next battle—if there is another—it will be that much more difficult to vanish him to the Realm of Magic from which all magic comes . . . even mine.” Turning to the two horses, she whistled, “Viitt! Come here, lads. It's time to get this young lord to my shelter so his wounds can heal in a proper place." The mounts trotted eagerly to Talihah’s side, as if called by a dear and trusted friend.
Branor, mesmerized, watched as Talihah deftly lifted the groggy Albion onto his obedient horse’s back, and then secured his legs together with one of the reins, to prevent his falling over. "Sorceress, may I be so bold as to ask your name?"
"My name is Taty . . . Talihah, the sorceress,” she replied as she led them down the road. “Do not fear for your life; I am not that kind of sorceress, Branor. As the Guardian of the Forest of Magic, I protect all members of the forest—even those who are hybrid of two races." She smiled reassuringly as they approached a nice two-story thatch house.
"I am glad,” sighed Branor. “But my friend . . . do you know how badly he is injured?" he asked as together they carried the young man into the house. Branor was glad to see a small fire cheerily glowing. They propped the semiconscious Albion in a wooden chair beside the fireplace.
"He seems to be in shock,” Talihah replied, “maybe because of Chapalu's appearance. That dragon does look frightening. But I can help that easily. Now, where is that jug....?” she muttered, reaching to a high shelf and rummaging among a collection of dusty jugs and jars. “If I can find it, I can use it on him." Triumphantly she plucked the small jug from behind one of the bigger jars and returned to the small fire.
Soon, she went to his side and using a spoon gave the young man some of the drink, who quickly made a face once it entered his mouth as his eyes flickered open for a few seconds before closing them again. She; then handed the cup to Branor the rest of the drink. She spoke, "Drink it."
He lifted the cup up to his nose and made an unfavorable look on his face. Branor looked towards the sorceress and then down to the cup with its reddish-green water.
"Drink it all down. It will help you too. It may smell bad but it doesn't taste that bad, Branor," spoke Talihah, turning to look at him as he wondered if he should drink it or not.
"All right," spoke Branor, as he sipped it down and then made a bitter face as he went to the water jug and drained the jug of the taste within his mouth. He cried out, "Yuck! That was disgusting! What was in it to make it taste so horrible?"
"Oh, I added a pinch of citron, pepper, sandalwood, wintergreen, saffron, and a whole leaf of yerba santa...to a cauldron of water...boil and then add two pinches of mugwort at the very end, Branor. Then, I place wild strawberry juice into the mixture for a hint of bitterness. That is what's in it....I call it my healing drink," replied Talihah, looking at him as she removed her cloak revealing a short length blue and tan dress.
"Where may I sleep at, Talihah?"
"There is a bed over there that you may use for tonight. For tomorrow, he will be feeling much better as will you. Now...sleep the sleep of babies," spoke Talihah, as Branor went to the bed and collapsed right on it and fell sleep without getting under the covers.
"Just as I thought, he has no talent to block my powers of sleep. He'll sleep till dawn and so will the young man, he was with," She went over to him and pulled up the covers over him before going to her room and falling fast asleep in her own bed.
* * *
The next morning, found all three people up and about within the two story house. Albion had wondered how he came to be in a house unless Branor had managed to get him to a house nearby as he walked down the hallway from the room he stayed in. He turned a corner and stopped at the end of the stairs when he saw the young lady bending over logs, trying to get lighted. She's beautiful, I wonder who she is, he thought to himself.
"Good morning," spoke Albion, looking at her.
"I didn't hear you come down the stairs, young sir," spoke the young lady, standing up and giving him a short curtsy.
"Trying to light that stubborn fire, milady?" asked Albion, as he went to her side as she bent over the logs once more.
"Yes and having most trouble with it. I think we shall have cold beef broth instead of warm food this morning...I'm afraid, my lord. I could also pick some ripe strawberries from the field nearby if you so wish it?" asked Talihah, as she went to the cupboard and brought out three cups. She had just turned away from him and the fire for only a few minutes when she heard him speak to her.
"No, it's seems that this fire didn't give me any trouble, dear lady," spoke Albion, smiling towards her.
"Bu...that fire? You do know how to start a stubborn fire, my friend," replied Talihah, as she placed the cauldron over the fire.
"So you're finally up and about, friend. I believe we can leave this magic filled forest for our home now after we see you-know-who," spoke Branor, walking into the room with an armful of wood. He carried them to the wood pile and placed them down.
"I could have done the wood, Branor," said Talihah, looking at him as she picked up three pieces of wood and placing them within the now lighted fire.
"For what you did to Chapalu and allowing us the use of your beds...it is as much as I could do to repay your kindness to us," replied Branor, turning to look at her gently.
"Branor, if you would be so kind as in introducing me to the lady of this house? I would prefer to speak her name....if I happen to know her name," spoke Albion, looking at his friend and then to Talihah.
"Oh . . . how silly of me . . . I want you to meet Talihah the kind lady of this house, I think I'm not needed anymore," replied Branor, looking towards Talihah and Albion. He forgot to tell her his friend's name when he introduced him to her. Once, both of their eyes met it was like they knew that they were meant to be soulmates. Branor knew by just watching them; he knew he wasn't needed there anymore.
They walked outside, strolling through the rose garden hand in hand. They strolled through the garden stopping only to allow her to pick some roses from the rose bushes.
"This is like a dream I had last night," spoke Albion.
"Tell me your dream for I might be able to translate the message that is within the dream itself?" asked Talihah.
"I dreamt that I was walking through a garden much like this one with a woman with shiny reddish-brown hair who was my wife. But she gave me a red rose that was that held great magic within. Tell me what the message is, Talihah?" requested Albion, as he looked at her gently.
"I can only say that you will fall in love with the woman who gives you a red budding rose," spoke Talihah, as he bent closer to her shiny red lips.
Branor had led both their horses from the barn towards the garden; he hated to break up this sweet scene, but they needed to get back to the castle or they would be sending knights out in search of them.
"We must be leaving now. We have people who do not like to be waiting for too long," spoke Branor, looking at them just as they were about to kiss. In his hands were the reins to both their mounts.
"I'm sorry, but he is right. We must leave as we have to meet with some very important people today," whispered Albion, turning back to her.
"I understand. You must go," replied Talihah, as she plucked a single red rose from her garden and handed it to him. She spoke, "Whenever you look at this rose think of me for I will be always thinking of you."
"I shall," whispered Albion, as he mounted his chestnut stallion, then turning to his friend he nodded and turning their horses, they galloped away from the house of the woman called Talihah. Albion stopped his horse momentarily, gazing back toward the home of the sorceress to find her watching them leave and as she turned away from them to enter her home, Albion smiled and continued after his friend.