The Guardian has awakened the trees in the Secret Valley. The magic is felt across the Deep Forest, including in the Caverns

Smoky lamps danced shadows on the rock walls of the cavern deep beneath the Forest of Arneithe.

The queen sat on her stone chair. She absently pushed her beaten metal crown back onto her wispy, grey hair and surveyed her subjects in silence.

Today, as on many days, she had nothing to say to them.

Her subjects had nothing to say either.

The queen took in a sharp breath. Verian walked steadily towards her, slim white arms held out in front. The girl’s deeply green eyes stared, unseeing.

The queen sat, unmoving, on her throne.

‘The Guardian,’ Verian whispered. ‘The Guardian has returned to the Forest.’

The cavern was quiet, everyone listening.

‘…the animals flee, they die … their fear sears her mind … oh …’ Verian brought her hands to her head as if in pain, murmuring, ‘… the market sellers call, a fairytale my lords and ladies, a fairytale …’

She slowly lifted her head, blinking.

‘The Forest suffers. The trees suffer, the creatures suffer.’

The queen heaved an exasperated sigh.

Verian’s eyes crinkled in delight. ‘The Guardian has returned. The trees waken.’

The queen humphed. ‘What business is this of ours?’ She fumbled with her crown, shoving it back in place so hard it nearly fell off the other side. ‘Whoever this Guardian might be, apart from in your fruitful imaginings.’

Verian stepped closer to the stone chair. She clasped her hands before her. ‘I must go to them. They need help.’

‘Go to whom?’

‘The Danae, in the Forest, the trees, the creatures. I must go, with the wolves.’

‘As I thought!’ the queen said, more loudly. ‘You are in league with those Danae spies who dared to come here, seeking to take my throne from me.’

‘No, no,’ Verian said. ‘No one wants to take your throne, Majesty.’

The queen’s voice thundered across the cavern. ‘You contradict what your grandmamma foretold? With her so-called Truthtelling.’

The cave dwellers cringed.

‘And now we know! You have made a traitorous pact with those Danae. You let them escape and now you want to go to them, to rally their soldiers and armies, and take my crown! Your own aunt!’

The queen stepped from her throne, strode to her niece, and shoved her to the floor.

The people gasped. No one moved.

‘Maikin!’ The queen stood over Verian. ‘Take her away, and this time lock her up. Not with her mother, for there she could escape. Lock her up somewhere else. She must not leave the caverns.’

Verian scrambled to her knees. ‘Who will care for Mama if I’m locked away? She’s dying, you know it, I must be there with her!’

‘Alethia will be cared for.’

The queen returned to her stone chair and sat down heavily. She waved her hand at Maikin.

‘Take her away.’ She sighed, with a deep weariness.

Maikin pulled the sobbing Verian up from the cold earth of the floor and prodded her out through the great door

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