Lysande and Gregor sped down innumerable stairs. Lysande was not used to running so fast. Every breath hurt, and she got a stitch. She consoled herself with gallows humor. At least, my legs are awake now.
The king seemed to feel hardly better because he wheezed like a horse with whooping-coughs. In the corridor to the gardens, a young girl whose lilac silk dress had seen better days walked toward them.
The girl embraced Gregor. “Father! It is so nice to be home again.”
Lysande was so surprised to see Prince Victor alive that her heart missed a beat. A giggle that she couldn’t suppress rose inside of her and broke free. She laughed. “The masked ball.” She gasped for air. “The damned masked ball.” Her laughter sounded like a mountain stream that gurgled over stones. It became louder and louder, rang along the corridor and was thrown back by the walls. She pressed her hands on her belly which was sore from running and laughing, but she couldn’t stop. A firm slap in the face ended her fit of laughter.
“Sibyl! Pull yourself together”, the king said.
The prince raised an eyebrow. “This is Aunt Sibyl? Are you quite sure father? I had thought her much younger.”
“My sister is the only person in the whole world that laughs like a unicorn. She must be in disguise.”
“I can hardly believe that you are still alive, Victor.” Lysande whispered. Tears ran over her cheeks. For the first time in her life, she hugged Prince Victor. The king frowned. He put his hand on his son’s arm and said, “go and put on some decent clothing.”
Victor linked arms with Gregor and Lysande, and together they walked to his room. On the way, he told them what had happened since his kidnapping. When he described the total darkness in the dragon’s cave, Lysande understood how she was fooled into believing that Victor was dead. At his description of the flight on the dragon, she felt guilty. When she wanted to apologize for the storm, she was interrupted by Gregor.
“My, my, a vegetarian dragon … how surprising. But where is your rescuer now?”
“She is still with the dragon. She wanted to make sure that the promised food is packed in a way that he can unpack it alone.”
“She seems to be a conscientious person.” The king turned to a servant who had followed them at an appropriate distance. “As soon as the dragon takes off, you will prepare a bath for the young lady. Give her a room and fresh clothes. After that, my son and I expect her for breakfast.”
The servant bowed and disappeared. Lysande followed Victor and his father into the prince’s room.
“You look tired, Aunty”, Prince Victor said. “Make yourself comfortable, please.” He pointed to one of the armchairs in front of the open fireplace. Then, he disappeared in his bathroom to wash and get changed.
Gregor sat opposite his sister and looked at her silently for some time. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand why you lied to me.”
“Without this disguise, you would have doubted my vision, Gregor.”
“We haven’t seen each other in fifteen years. How do you know what I would have believed and what not?”
Lysande bent forward and looked directly into her brother’s eyes. “You have never taken my talent seriously. Not even when I saved you from the runaway horse.”
“We were children, Sibyl. Your visions scared me.” The king shrugged. “Also, you got it wrong often enough.”
“I am Sibyl no more. My name is Lysande now, and I am the Mistress of the Talking Trees.”The king snorted. His voice sounded cold and distant. “Is the name our parents gave to you no longer good enough, Lysande? Probably, we aren’t good enough either.” King Gregor got up and walked to the window. With his back to Lysande he said, “I, for my part, hate being lied to. Leave my castle. I do not want to see you here again.”
Lysande had a lump in her throat that made it difficult to speak. With trembling knees she got up and walked to the door. “Gregor, the army …”
The king jerked round. His voice sounded self-controlled, but Lysande felt the rage behind it. “My army doesn’t concern you at all. I will send the boys home again. We can do without your imaginary threats.”
Lysande knew she had lost. There was nothing more she could do to stop the Black Shadow. She swayed. “Now, war can’t be prevented any more. Pray to the Mother of All Magical Worlds, Gregor. Pray”, she whispered.