The priestesses made it back to the Inn with plenty of time to sleep. In the morning, they packed their gear and went to the stables to retrieve their pegasi.
Wolfgang and Heidi were waiting for them. His chest had been heavily bandaged and he was moving with a slow, measured stride, but he looked like he’d recover.
“Here you are, Dearies,” Heidi said. “Do come back and see us on your way back.”
“We will,” Inés said. “Unless we take some weird route back.”
“Thank you,” Sylvie said. “And I’m sorry for doubting your family.”
“No need to make a fuss about that,” Wolfgang said. “You doubted. You saw your error. Nothing more needs saying.”
The three resumed their trek towards Drahaven while Wolfgang and Heidi waved goodbye.
Hildegard came from the Inn and approached her parents. “Mum, Dad,” she said. “I’ve thought about it a lot and I want to be one of Athena’s priestesses.”
Wolfgang and Heidi looked at each other.
“You’re certain?” Heidi asked.
“I am!” Hilde declared.
“Then we’d better pack your things,” Wolfgang said. “The great temple is far.”
“You’ll allow it?” Hilde asked, her tail wagging.
“If that is your path, then it’s right that you follow it,” Wolfgang said.
“As much as we would have liked you to inherit the Inn, we won’t stop you from following your dream,” Heidi added. “Come along, I’ll pack you as much preserved food as you can carry.”
“Mum, I can hunt,” Hilde protested.
“But it won’t be the same as a hearty home-made meal,” Heidi said
“Let’s see,” Sylvie muttered. If we head up through Het Wald we can travel north past Ghuji into the desert, stop at Malachi and then go over the mountains into Drahaven.”
“I think we should head out of Malachi to Frinma and charter a ship,” Inés said.
“You just want to swim around,” Sylvie said.
“True,” Inés said. “But it’s also faster.”
“And how, pray tell, will we afford to charter a ship?” Sylvie inquired.
“Maybe they’ll take us for free since we’re priestesses,” Serena suggested.
“Not a chance,” Sylvie said.
“Yeah,” Inés agreed. “Too far and too expensive for them.”
“Sorry,” Serena said. “I didn’t know.”
“It’s fine,” Inés reassured her. “You’re still inexperienced.”
“You do need to learn not to rely on meeting the right people,” Sylvie stated. “A good warrior priestess graciously accepts help when offered, but can always find her own way.”
“Always,” Inés agreed. “And that’s why I’ll get the coin together to charter that ship.”
“Then I’ll make you a deal,” Sylvie said. “If you find a way to pay for us to charter a boat, without breaking any of your vows, we’ll take the sea route. Otherwise, we go with my plan.”
“Deal,” Inés said. She mounted Blitz and took to the air. Serena and Dusk quickly followed.
Sylvie gently pat Demure’s side. “It’s all right. You’ll be able to fly with them soon.”
It wasn’t long before they reached the forest. The woods were thick. Inés and Serena had to land and let their pegasi trot on the ground.
“What’s that?” Serena asked, gesturing towards a small opening in a massive tree.
“A lookout post,” Sylvie answered. “The elves have them stationed throughout the area”
“Well spotted,” Inés praised her.
“So, the tree is a fake?” Serena asked. She looked back at it. “It looks so real.”
“It is real,” Sylvie stated. “The elves make their homes in living trees, carefully shaping them to their needs without harming them.”
The three rode on, eventually reaching a spot where two huge trees stood close together with vines running between them.
“It looks like a gate,” Serena observed.
“I’ll bet that’s exactly what it is,” Sylvie agreed.
Inés turned, hearing very light footfalls behind them. A dark-haired elf nearly 188 centimetres tall approached them from the side.
“And what business do three of Athena’s priestesses have in elven land?” he asked. “And how did they acquire such magnificent beasts?”
“Well met,” Sylvie said, bowing her head. “We are on a pilgrimage to Drahaven. It is our intent to pass through your great city and make our way to the desert. We will cause no trouble.”
“Won’t you?” he wondered.”Excuse me. I must have some reassurance on your character.” He knelt down beside Demure and made a series of horse-like whinnies, groans and neighs.
Inés glanced around the trees, trying to spot just how many elves were up in the branches, watching them. She caught glimpses of five, but was certain that she had missed some.
Demure looked back at Dusk and Blitz for reassurance before answering him in kind.
“Well well,” he said. “It seems I underestimated you. When I noticed this lady’s wing I…” He bowed. “Do forgive my rudeness. I am the captain of this outpost, Linton Eldell. We will allow you to pass.”
He moved over to the vines and did a quick chant. They retracted, opening the path.
“One piece of advice, Miss Priestess,” Linton said, looking at Sylvie. “I would humbly suggest that you seek out our temple of Demeter. They may have the clerical magic to help your companion’s wing.”
“I’ll do that, thank you,” Sylvie said. The three continued on their journey. He waited for them to leave before repeating the chant, the vines moving back into place.