The next morning came and the queen caught the middle brother by the gate as he went out on the hunt. He did not wish to listen to her, but, as she was the only queen, he could not deny her. Her smile was sweet, yet his men did see it as sinister and shrank from her. “The bear you brought was larger still than I ever imagined,” said she. “Truly you must be a match for Arturus himself.” And then she gave him her wicked smile. Already he felt her foul magics twisting around his heart, but was helpless to stop her. “So I must assume that the snow white stag I have heard of wandering the forest wide must have escaped your bow by pity alone. Though I do hear tell he is larger, even, than the great oxen in the fields and swift as running water.”
“Aye,” the middle brother said. “He shines like the moon and it is said that to be touched by his many pointed antlers is to become more powerful in wealth and happiness than any other man alive.”
“Ah,” said the queen. “And yet those antlers do not hang upon your own walls. I must guess that you simply do not wish to outshine your brothers, for I fail to see how else the great hart could have escaped you.”
And she turned and walked away, her spell already well entrenched. The middle brother rode into the forest, inflamed again to the point of madness. He saw the white stag with its mate, a doe with the deepest, darkest pelt of black and stars in her soft eyes. He shot his first arrow and the stag was so swift, it evaded the arrow easily. The brother gave chase, his pride stinging worse than ever before. Over branch and bush, stream and meadow, the stag flew faster than a bird and the brother followed.Through the day, into the night, until, come the morning, the brother shot another of his arrows and missed again.
On they ran, through the forest the brother knew and into places he had never seen. Always the stag was ahead, guarding his mate from harm, yet never quite getting away. There are those that say he was not really trying to. The sun rose again, and the brother shot at the stag a third time. At last, his arrow struck true, piecing the beast’s fine hide just above his heart. Only, it was no more a stag, but the great huntsman himself, Arturus.
The god was furious. His rage was so plain that the middle brother fell to his knees and, raising his arms to the goddess now behind his lord, the lovely Lafflyn, and begged mercy, for he was at last free of the wicked spell which had driven him. The lady touched her husband’s arm, raised to aim his own bow, and the god did bend to the single finger she used to dissuade him, for always her will was his.
“Do not judge this man yourself, for I see that he is otherwise honorable. There is some wickedness at work, here, and it would not do to let it poison you as it has poisoned him. Call your niece and let her who may always see truth tell you what has gone on here.”
And, because Arturus honored his wife’s intelligence more when his own was tempered with fury, he did at once call for Sira, goddess of death and judgement, though most, including Arturus, did not like to ask for her. She came and Arturus did tell her the tale of the middle brother’s wickedness. Twice he had stuck down those who were not meant to die by any hand but one divine. A third time he rode out and sought to murder his own god, who had often favored him with grand gifts in the past.
Sira saw at once that the middle brother had been bewitched – for nothing may be hidden from Death. Still, she saw that the brother could have broken the enchantment, had he not let his pride overrule his sense. So she said to him, “you’ve let another guide your actions and lead you astray. The harm you have done the forest I might heal, for those souls were not yet meant to come to me.” She opened the doors of the underworld and released Father Pheasant and Mother Bear from her dark domain. “Yet your pride, now woken, I cannot take without also taking your life, which I see would do a great and lasting harm to your race. So you must either take my uncle’s punishment – your bow taken and your house cursed for all time – or you must take the punishment I offer. Your bow will not be yours in either case; you have dishonored it and now the blessings laid upon it by elvish will have turned to darkness. But there is a way to save those you will father. To save your descendants, you must serve my will as I choose.”
“Whatever order you give to me, I will take, that my blameless children will ever be unbroken by my foolishness,” the brother said and Sira saw that he had not entirely lost his honor to she who had cursed him.
“For six months, you will be free. Find a wife and give her a child to carry on your blood. Then, when the Grim Moon rises, you will mount your horse and you will hunt for me those of wicked, willful hearts who disobey the pronouncements of the gods. You will lead them every year in this way until the ending of time. Upon the hour that would have been your mortal death, you will take their lead instead and remain here, doing my will until the very end of time. You will vow to guard my fallen sister, for I see a great misfortune which will come to her. You and the men whose wicked hearts have made them yours will answer to her call alone. Should you ever fail, I will send your souls to the sleepless void and there you shall remain even when all others have been collected and forgiven by me. Succeed in keeping her safe and I will, in that final hour, forgive you all and send you to the lands of the undying.”
The middle brother trembled with terror, for this sentence seemed heavy for the two deaths that she had undone. But, far from the poison tongue of the wicked queen, he had the sense to know that this punishment was not for the evil she had healed, but that which he had not yet committed. And so he bowed to her. “Milady, I am yours to command.”
Sira took the hand of the middle brother and accepted his choice. Thus was he safe from the wicked queen, who had spoiled the Bow of the Righteous, but not the brother, so had only attained half her desires. And Sira, after this, did watch the queen, so you could say that she had gained one victory at the cost of being forever marked by the eyes of Death. This did not save Angboria, but it may have saved the race of humanity from true ruin. There is only one now that could tell that tale, besides Sira herself, and he keeps what he knows to himself.
The wicked queen still reigned a while yet, but when the moon rose, she and all others did lock themselves away, for Elphame, Sira’s beloved youngest sister, would sound her hunting horn and those the middle brother found out wandering did join him in serving his sentence, for he was Master of the Haunt, and her faithful servant. Still they guard her there, the last of the fairy queens, though Angboria fell to ruin and the wood the middle brother loved so well grew dark and full of evil things.