Faeries are curious creatures, inquisitive bystanders and often mistaken for the off cuts of nature – wilting petals, Autumn’s leaves, raindrops. In the Winter Province, faeries hide in flurries of snow or trim the fir trees of the woods. They appear as mere snowflakes to the big folk, rarely morphing into their larger selves, for that takes magic and faerie dust can be so costly nowadays. Of course, there is the occasional exception.
‘What was that?’ Ava whispers, tip-toeing across a branch.
Soft groans float on the wind like the growing pains of a green tree. Ava’s pointy ears prick back. Mornings are usually so quiet in the woods and the only time she can slip away from Silver Moon Castle without alerting the queen’s guards. Even the snowdrops are still sleeping. She springs from the ice glazed bough, her glass-like wings glittering in the first light of the Crystal Star. She follows the sound, feels the vibration echoing through the trees. Owls retreat to their hollows as Windrage Wood awakens, robins chatter in their nests, and a reindeer idly opens her almond eyes to see what the commotion is about. Ava flits between the giant trees, further and further from her own home, slowing only as she nears the clearing. Fear shivers down her pale shimmering arms. It is a place few faeries dare to go, where grisly men camp on their travels to hunt innocent beasts and strike vicious fires. Ava peers through the frosted leaves – no monsters, no blaze, only a young girl curled up against a tree, sobbing beneath ruby red ringlets. Her face is hidden in the palms of her hands, her legs brought up beneath an ashen cape. Ava melts. Compassion draws her out of the foliage and into the light. The girl remains unaware. Ava drifts, closing the space and hovering before her.
‘Why are you crying?’ Ava asks, but the girl cannot hear the small voice over her whimpering. Ava cups her hands around her mouth. ‘Why are you crying!’
Ava glances around, she was going to wake the entire wood if she was not careful. She glides around the imaginary sphere surrounding the girl and takes hold of a red hair with both hands, tugging it.
‘Ouch!’ the girl squeaks, her head flinging upward and her hand instinctively rushing to its aid.
Ava darts away from the gesture before returning to land on the girl’s raw nose. ‘Why are you crying?’
The girl’s round hazel eyes cross and her mouth falls open. She sniffs.
Ava leaps back.
‘I’m sorry,’ the girl says, ‘I did not mean to . . . to frighten you. It’s just, I’ve been crying . . .’
‘Why?’ Ava asks.
‘My name is Charlotte, what’s yours?’
Charlotte frowns. ‘Can’t you speak?’
‘Of course I can, I’m just too small for you to hear me,’ Ava says.
Charlotte’s eyes begin to fill once more. ‘I wish you could . . . I don’t have any friends . . . it would be so nice to have just one friend.’
She buries her face in her hands, her shoulders bobbing with every sob.
Ava reaches for the silken pouch on her belt. No one will know if she uses it just this once, any other faerie would do the same.
‘Well, any other faerie probably wouldn’t have come to the clearing in the first place,’ Ava says to herself, since Charlotte could not hear.
Ava takes a handful of dust, closing her eyes as she tosses it into the air above her. Tingles crawl over her skin, head to toe, and all of a sudden Charlotte’s cries seem quieter than before. Ava’s turquoise eyes flutter open. It seems everything around her has shrunk . . . including Charlotte!
Wait . . .
Ava almost laughs at herself as she places her bare feet on the snow. Standing, she is just taller than Charlotte’s coiled form. She reaches to touch Charlotte’s hair.
‘Why are you crying?’ Ava asks.
Charlotte looks up, bewildered. ‘You’re . . . you’re big . . . ger . . .’
‘That’s my name.’
Charlotte blinks away her tears before gazing at Ava’s cropped wave of sapphire hair, and admiring the gown of silver leaves, cut short before flowing into a layered train.
‘I didn’t think faerie’s got bigger.’
‘Faerie dust. We only use it on special occasions.’
She frowns. ‘Then you’ve wasted it . . . I’m not special.’
Ava pats her hair. ‘Is that why you’re crying?’
Charlotte nods slowly.
‘Then you could not be more wrong, look at your hair, your sparkling eyes. You’re beautiful!’
Charlotte shakes her head. ‘The other girls call me carrot head . . . freckle face . . . they say I’m too ugly to be their friend.’
‘And you believe them!’
Charlotte shrugs. ‘We were playing hide and seek, I thought they wanted to be friends but . . . but . . . they left me out here! And now I don’t know how to get home. So many girls have disappeared lately . . . I thought I was going to be next . . .’
Ava wraps her dainty arms around Charlotte’s neck. ‘Ssshh, it is alright, I will help you find your way home.’
‘Of course, I promise.’
Charlotte snuffles, mumbling a barely audible thank you.
‘Come, I know someone who can help,’ Ava says, ‘but you have to be careful and do exactly as I say. Do you understand?’
‘There’s a good girl.’ Ava pulls away to look at Charlotte’s drenched face. ‘Now how about you show me a smile because I think your freckles make you the prettiest girl I have ever seen.’
Charlotte giggles. ‘Really?’
‘Truly,’ Ava says, holding out her hand, ‘come on.’
Charlotte took Ava’s hand, her feet rolling into a skip, a full head of curls bouncing along.
‘I wish I could fly,’ she says whimsically.
‘You are lovely just as you are, Charlotte.’
Her giggles like a babbling brook bubble out of her again.
The Crystal Star rises higher above the woods as Ava leads Charlotte to Silver Moon Castle. Snowdrops open their petals to embrace the warm light, while the fir trees’ yawn drifts on the wind to wake the late risers.
‘This is as far as I can take you, just wait over . . .’ Ava pauses as a tingling sensation disperses through her fingers. Her hands begin to shrink.
Charlotte gasps. ‘What’s happening?’
‘The faerie dust is wearing off,’ Ava says quickly, ‘it’s the magic of the faeries. Quickly, go hide behind that tree . . .’
‘I can’t hear you.’
Ava darts up to Charlotte’s ear, stepping inside the pink cavern of coiled tissue. ‘I will find you, I promise.’
Silver Moon Castle thrives inside an ancient challa tree, deep rooted and strong with white bark and silver leaves. Ava flies around the perimeter of the tree, toward the secret entrance few faeries know exists. In fact, there are only two. As she ducks into the leaf veiled hollow, she feels someone grasp her wrist.
‘Let me go,’ she whispers, struggling against them.
‘Not a chance!’ he says, dragging her through the dark tunnel.
Ava can only see black, though she knows her captor all too well. ‘Leverett, I mean it!’
‘So do I.’
Leverett allows Ava to snatch back her arm.
‘You hurt me,’ she says, glancing at the challa-bark armor lining the walls. She usually doesn’t linger in the armory but merely uses it as a means to escape.
He laughs. ‘No I didn’t. What are you, a princess or something?’
‘You are most amusing.’
‘Well, certainly if you were, you would not be running about at all hours of the morning.’ He sighs. ‘Really, Ava, you should be more careful.’
She crosses her arms. ‘It is Princess Ava, to you.’ She watches Leverett stiffen, such a strong, broad shouldered sort of faerie and yet she could still ruffle him up. ‘Do not be mad at me, I have a good reason this time.’
Leverett relaxes, brushing his fingers through his fair wisp of hair. ‘Very well, tell me or I shall take you straight to your mother.’
‘A little girl was lost in the clearing. I promised to help her.’
‘Ava . . .’
‘And now you must help me! I do not know the way to the man village.’
Leverett exhales hard. ‘You are asking me to disobey my queen? I am part of her guard . . .’
‘Mother? Oh, she wouldn’t mind. Besides, I need your help. I shall be scared on my own.’
Ava’s brow furrows. ‘Yes’.
‘You haven’t been scared of anything in your life.’
‘I was today,’ she says defiantly. ‘I have never been inside the clearing but then I saw Charlotte . . . I couldn’t just leave her there. You must understand. I do not mean to be so troublesome but . . . really, Leverett, could you leave a little girl all on her own in the woods?’
He stares at her, knowing all too well Ava’s heart is in the right. He knows it almost as well as he knows his own. ‘Alright Ava.’
‘Thank you!’ She beams, flitting to peck his cheek. ‘There is one more thing . . .’
His face creases. ‘Yes?’
‘We will need some faerie dust, I used all of mine.’
He rolls his eyes. ‘Oh, Ava . . .’
Meanwhile, Charlotte is waiting behind the tree, absentmindedly twirling a ruby ringlet around her finger.
‘She will find me,’ Charlotte whispers, ‘she promised’
‘She’s taking forever . . .’
Forever, in this case, is a quarter of an hour. After which time, two glimmering figures dart around the tree.
Charlotte scrambles to her feet. ‘You found me!’
‘Of course, we did,’ Ava says, ‘Now close your eyes . . .’
A cloud of shimmering dust comes at Charlotte. She squints against it, coughing.
Leverett gives Ava a sideways glance. ‘She can’t hear you.’
Ava scowls at him . . . for being right, naturally.
Charlotte’s skin tingles, head to toe, and she coughs again. Her eyes flutter open. She is in a world fit for giants with trees that reach into the sky and are as wide as all the cottages in the village put together. Even the snowdrops tower over her, she thinks they would make quite nice umbrellas.
She looks up to see a man with wings floating toward her. ‘Are you Ava’s friend?’
‘Yes, most days. My name is Leverett. Shall we get you home?’
Ava smiles, watching as Leverett cradles the miniature girl in his arms. He shoots Ava a sly glance before darting into the air.
Windrage Wood passes by at a leisurely pace, its atmosphere warming as the Crystal Star reaches its peak and descends into the afternoon. Icicles fall from the ledges of the trees like the melody of a music box, tinkling down the trunk and ending their note on the exposed roots. Tranquility then settles over the wood and all is quiet. Too quiet. Daylight begins to wilt, smearing warmth across the skies while a dust storm brews in the east.
‘Something isn’t right,’ Leverett says, ‘here, take Charlotte . . .’
Clouds of amber waft toward them, lingering a few feet away before spreading and encircling them. Ghostly figures gradually take the form of three-legged spherical creatures.
‘Dusk mites,’ Leverett says, drawing his sword from its sheath.
Charlotte gasps. ‘What in the world are they?’
Ava’s arms tighten around her. ‘Just don’t let go of me.’
The dusk mites open the slits of their eyes to reveal fluorescent globes, bobbling inside their translucent forms. Their rasping voices chatter eerily in a foreign tongue before the presumed ring leader steps forward.
‘Give us the child and you go in peace.’
‘No,’ Leverett replies.
They chatter again, louder this time. The leader waves his legs about, silencing the crowd.
‘Give us the child and you go in peace!’
Leverett braces himself, holding his sword with both hands. ‘Why?’
‘Our business is our own.’
‘She’s not your business.’
‘Oh, fire haired beauty, come with us!’ the rest chime. ‘You are the fairest of all!’
Charlotte’s eyes grow round. ‘What did they say?’
‘Come with us,’ the leader repeats, holding out one leg. ‘You will make the most exquisite of sacrifices. The Crystal Star shall shine brighter with your energy.’
The others call out, ‘Oh, beautiful one, do come! Fire haired beauty . . .’
Charlotte looks up at Ava, her face stricken with panic. ‘They want my hair?’
Ava shakes her head slowly. ‘They want you . . . as a sacrifice . . . they worship the Crystal Star.’
Charlotte swallows hard.
‘You will have to go through me!’ Leverett shouts.
The dusk mites collide and their smoke charges through Leverett to cocoon Ava and Charlotte, dragging them toward the ground. Leverett’s sword wavers with uncertainty. Surely no blade could pierce these phantoms of dusk and if he strikes, he risks Ava and Charlotte. He sheaths his sword before lunging toward Ava, shielding Charlotte from the tormenting dusk mites. Ava clings to him with Charlotte curled between. Ava and Leverett’s wings beat against the smoke coiling around them, threatening to drown them. Smoke entwines Charlotte’s legs. She screams. Sweat drips from Leverett’s brow as his wings move in a violent rage, desperate to protect. Shrieks of irritation resound. as the snow faeries fight against the ghostly creatures and rise upward. They soar into the sky. The creatures dissolve as the Crystal Star sinks behind the mountains, the warm hues of dusk fading with them. Twilight’s serenity falls upon the wood and all is peaceful once more.
‘I don’t understand,’ Charlotte says quietly.
Leverett’s arms remain around them as they float amongst a seamless expanse of indigo clouds high above the snow-capped treetops.
‘It’s my fault,’ he says, ‘I should have . . .’
‘You could not have known,’ Ava says, gazing into his face.
‘It is so strange,’ Charlotte whispers, ‘only the pretty girls were taken . . . they thought . . . well, I suppose perhaps I could be pretty after all. Though, I do not think it a good thing now.’
‘I believe they called you the fairest,’ Ava reminds her.
Charlotte giggles. ‘Fire haired . . . did you hear it?’
Leverett’s face breaks into a smile. ‘Come, let’s get you home.’
It did not take them long to find the quaint village of stone cottages lying on the outskirts of the wood, its windows alight with the glow of log fires.
‘What if the dusk mites come back?’ Charlotte asks, standing by her front gate.
‘We will always be here to protect you,’ Ava says. ‘Even if you cannot see us, we will be here.’
Charlotte takes a breath and pushes her shoulders back. ‘This isn’t goodbye.’
She slides between the pickets of the gate and as she steps into the garden, her body shivers and stretches toward the sky. She glances back at the almost unnoticeable glowing figures for a moment before walking up the icy path and tentatively knocking on the wooden door.
‘Charlotte!’ a woman squeals, squeezing her and petting the ringlets identical to her own. ‘Oh what happened – are you alright – I thought you had disappeared too – let me look at you – you’ve been crying – we had search parties out – Gustav!’
Her papa’s face is strained with exhaustion as he reaches the door. ‘Charlotte . . .’
‘I am alright, the faeries helped me.’
‘Faeries?’ Mama says. ‘In these parts? Oh hush child, you must have hit your head. Now come inside, come and get warm. I’ve cooked stew for dinner – I knew she would look sick – Gustav, didn’t I say she would look sick!’
Gustav ignores his wife, ruffling Charlotte’s hair as she is swept inside. He then lingers at the doorway, gazing into the white beyond the gate.
‘Thank you,’ he says quietly before turning into the homey glow.
‘Do you think he saw us?’ Ava asks.
Leverett gazes into her eyes. ‘I think he wanted to . . .’
So the next time you leap into a heap of leaves or catch snowflakes on your tongue; the next time you splash in puddles of rain or pluck petals playing, ‘I love you, I love you not’: remember, faeries are curious creatures and one may just be curious about you.
photo cred: https://lryiu.deviantart.com/art/Snow-Fairy-39420369