I'd feared that she would ask me that sort of question. I had not expected it to take such a personal form. This was, in fact, the first time I'd been acknowledged publicly at court.
"Son of the Queen?" Lycan glanced my way. His voice didn't sound entirely steady.
"One of many," I said with a nod to my mother -- I could think of her that way now that she'd made the acknowledgment, but I would be wise to keep the title of Queen firmly in mind. "And I've lived many years in the human realm. The one thing I can say is that no one else should pack up their people and scurry off to the safety of the humans' world. It is not safe."
"They have no magic," someone said, and it sounded like a scoff against my first official statement as a Prince of the Line.
Typical. I hated court politics.
"They have no control of magic," I agreed. "However, their realm is filled with power everywhere. Anyone trying to push you in that direction has already settled in and has harnessed enough magic to make certain of control. Second, the more of us who arrive there in such large groups, the more likely we are to draw attention."
"We should wipe the humans out."
I tried to find what fool had said those words. The voice had come from the back of the room, and though the statement hadn't surprised me, I did see how my companions reacted. Lycan almost snarled and barely caught himself. Sylph glared, and I feared Lady Snow might transform.
It wasn't that many of them probably had a great love for humans, but they saw the threat to themselves in that blatant bit of bigotry. The fae were strong, and too many of my own thought that meant we should destroy anything that caused us the slightest trouble.
"Lord Suntur," the Queen said, her tone so cold I even took a step back. I hadn't recognized the voice, but I knew the name. "I think, if you cannot be polite and helpful, then this is not the place for you to be at all."
Other fae moved aside and left one tall fae standing alone toward the back of the room. The man looked right and left in dismay but then straightened and gave a slight nod to the Queen.
"The humans," he said and then paused with a shake of his head. "They don't appreciate or utilize what they have. I would not be opposed to sharing, except that they simply cannot be trusted, can they? Better to be rid of them."
Some of the others were starting to whisper in that way you hear at court, which meant they were quiet, but they also made certain Lord Suntur heard them. No one was happy with the man.
Suntour gave a humph of sound and took several long-legged steps until he stood no more than an arm's length behind me. I turned half to face him. My companions turned entirely, and I saw the Queen's eyebrows inch up at the confrontation -- but she did not try to stop it.
Fine then. I had a few things to say.
"They use their world in their own way --" I began.
"You have no say in this, boy. Look at you -- coming to court in human clothing and bringing these ... others with you. Should we listen to one who clearly doesn't even know how to stand among his own people with pride?"
Sylph was the one who made a sound of disgust this time. She moved slightly, her hair twisting for a moment, but then it settled, and she took a deeper breath.
"Be wary of whom you insult, my fine fae lord. I am a member of the Twelve -- the High Council of the Trees. My companion here is one of the four goddesses of Winter. Lycan?"
"Just a humble guard -- one of the Lycan King's own."
I kept silent, and I hoped that the surprise did not show on my own face. Lycan gave me a toothy grin, though.
"Well, no matter," Lord Suntur said as though Councilors, King's Guards, and even wild winter goddesses were nothing to him. ""You are not relevant to the fae people --"
"You are the one unimportant," Lycan said with a slight tilt of his head. "This man does not command the trouble, Great Queen. He is bluster without intelligence, and even the beat of his heart gives a sign of his position. No, not this one. He has talked with others, though. They are the ones you will want to find."
Lord Suntour had flushed with anger, but the Queen nodded agreement. "He likes to talk, but he does not think and rarely listens."
I nodded, but I was bothered by something else. "I fear this makes me believe the heart of all this trouble is here in our own lands."
"You would dare to suggest --" Lord Suntor began.
"Be silent," the Queen ordered. "I want to hear why my son believes this possibility."
To be called son twice in one hour, almost unsettled me. I had the feeling there was far more to this than she knew, though. I even wished for a private audience -- but since she was not suggesting such a thing, she must have wanted the others here to hear the tale.
And to see their reactions?
I glanced and Lycan, but he wasn't going to offer to take up any of this tale. Sylph and Lady Snow both looked to me as well.
"Something has pushed all the others over to the human realm," I said, trying to sort out the strings and make a coherent tale. Lord Suntor started to say something, but the Queen's Guards moved, and he fell silent.
And in that silence, as everyone listened, I heard something that made me know we had no time left.
Thursday, December 31, 2020
I'd feared that she would ask me that sort of question. I had not expected it to take such a personal form. This was, in fact, the first time I'd been acknowledged publicly at court.
Friday, December 18, 2020
And I kept walking anyway.
I brushed at my clothing -- human-made and hardly appropriate for where we were heading. I supposed, under the circumstances, I would be forgiven.
I also came with an unusual array of guests, some of whom might look more like guards. Well, all of them looked that way, in fact. Even King Pixie could be dangerous in the right, or wrong, situation. He flew ahead of me for a little while and kept looking back as though he expected me to turn aside.
Oh yes, he knew where we were going.
The Queen's castle came into view at the top of the next hill, the turrets flying her bright silver pennant. The building had never sat so close to the human lands before. I had not even brought us through a portal that should have been close, and that meant only one thing. The Queen wanted us in her presence, so she moved -- castle and all -- to where we could reach her quickly. She didn't have time for us to wander around the Faelands and probably getting into more trouble.
I could sense trouble in the air, a literal feel of magic darting everywhere in a frantic race of powers. Someone was making a move here, and from the energy pouring out of the castle, I thought the Queen was not happy at all.
"That is the castle of the Queen of the Fae," Lycan finally said.
"It shouldn't be here," he added and gave me another quick glance.
"No, it should not," I agreed and didn't slow. "Something is going on -- but then we expected it, didn't we? This is why we headed here, and honestly, I would rather she came to us than we went looking for her."
"You intended to go to the Queen of the Fae from the start?" Sylph asked with a tilt of her head.
"No," I said, and she nodded, having figured that out already. "But she's here, and that means something."
"Dire," King Pixie added and came to land on my shoulder. "It means something dire, Fae. She should not be here, castle, court, and all, so near to the human realm. She cannot mean to take it all across, can she?"
"I wouldn't think so," I replied and tried hard not to shiver. We were starting down the hillside, moving slowly over the uneven ground. Then a path appeared and led straight to the great castle gatehouse. "But the Queen clearly wants to see us as soon as possible. I wish we had something helpful to tell her."
We reached the gate quickly, all of us nearly breathless, except for King Pixie, who just held on. I thought he might be cursing, though he kept his words very quiet.
The guards at the castle only waved open the great portcullis and sent us hurrying through the narrow passage beyond. Lady Snow was in her human form again, but even so, we made an interesting group and drew attention the moment we came back into the light.
The Queen's Own army had camped within the walls.
Many of them were injured.
That sight slowed me and sent a chill I'd been trying to avoid until now. These people had not only seen battle, but it had been severe enough that they came away without enough magic left to heal those who had taken wounds. Lycan and Sylph both made sounds of worry, and King Pixie moved from my shoulder to my pocket again.
People moved out of our way and made an easy path to the castle itself. That by itself sent a chill through me since I had never been anyone of such importance before. My lack of status was why I could be so easily shuffled off into the human world.
Things had changed, and I'd had no hint of it until I followed those pixies down into the subway. I'd been intrigued then, but now I was working far past worried and on to panicked. Not the least of my worries was that someone -- someone important -- might expect me to have answers.
Lycan had picked up that panicked heartbeat the way predators did, and I saw the way his eyes started to get a narrow focus. All of the weak and injured did not help keep him calm. Since he came with me, it was my responsibility --
I took a quick breath, forced calm through my body, and looked into his narrow-eyed stare. The corners of his fangs were starting to show.
"I didn't expect to come back to this," I said as we paused at the bottom of the stairs. I was not going to take Lycan inside the castle in this state, but I didn't dare leave him behind, either. The only hope I had was to make certain Lycan understood that my worry was my own. "I don't like that I have no answers at all at a time when we need them."
"It may be that we will find some of the answers here," Sylph said and came up on the other side of Lycan. "Be calm, companion. This is not a place to fight, not with our allies already in such condition."
"Yes," Lycan said, though the word still sounded too much like a growl. "The trouble is not here, but I think it might not be too far away."
Not what I wanted to hear. I started up the steps, the others falling in behind me. I hope they kept Lady Snow in order. She seemed more likely to be a problem than Lycan, and he was trouble enough.
At the top of the stairs stood four of the Queen's guards, weapons in hand. I stood straighter, prepared to argue -- though not fight -- my way through.
They opened the door without comment and even bowed their heads as we went inside.
Yes, this was getting really scary...
Friday, December 11, 2020
I hadn't returned to the Faelands in many years. My heartbeat faster as I opened the way, and I saw Lycan give me a quick frown. He could sense heartbeats, but I didn't think he'd understand my feelings as I stepped through and into the world I'd longed to see again for years.
Have you ever gone home, walked into your house, and simply felt that something was wrong, even though you couldn't put your finger on it right away?
I was already waving the others to step back. That almost got me killed since I should have been paying better attention to the area around me rather than worrying about my companions.
"Down!" King Pixie shouted in my ear.
I did as he said, just as something large bounded over me. Sylph and Lycan leapt aside, but Lady Snow simply changed and went from being a large woman to a substantial polar bear again.
The troll couldn't stop in time.
I scrambled out of the way with King Pixies still holding tight to my shoulder. By the time I got back to my feet, one troll had died, and several others were running as fast as they could.
"She's big," King Pixie whispered.
I hadn't clearly seen the troll until I turned, and by then, it was already in pieces. Lady Snow was kicking those aside with such ferocity that the head itself disappeared over a low mound several yards away.
"We have to leave!" I shouted. "Someone has a watch for others entering the Faelands. That guard arrived too quickly, and others are going to follow."
"Or they plan to slow us down some other way," Sylph said. She lifted her head into a sudden breeze, and that dangerous hair of hers swept around so quickly that I threw myself back down on the ground. "Snow is coming."
"Let it come!" Lady Snow shouted into the growing wind. She dropped with her belly in the snow. "Climb up. Hold on."
That seemed like a wise idea because the wind already held ice that hit like pellets of stone. Cold pellets.
"King Pixie, into my vest pocket," I said. I wanted to be more polite, but my teeth were chattering. Besides, he lost his hold, and I barely caught him before he fell to the ground, his wings already coated in ice.
I put him in my pocket as carefully as I could, feeling a cold spot on my chest -- but then he moved a little and relieved me of some of my worries. Lycan began scrambling up to Lady Snow's back, and Sylph followed. Then she reached down with an elongated arm and pulled me up to sit between her and Lycan. I was glad not to be behind her and worry about that hair -- well, not until the wind changed.
Lady Snow began moving, and she did head straight into the wind running for the heart of the storm. And yes, she could run well. We held on, but I mostly feared the cold and wind more than her movement. She was, after all, magical and had no trouble moving through the worsening weather. Her fur was warm and plush, and if I hadn't worried so much about our lives, I would have closed my eyes and napped for a little bit.
I tried to get some idea of where we might be headed. I was fae, after all, and this was my homeland. The storm, though, seemed to blur all links with the land. I could feel little beyond the ice and magic-infused storm.
Which meant that I had no choice but to let Lady Snow take us straight toward the enemy. Maybe even the surprise of it would help us. I was certainly surprised -- and I wondered if Lady Snow even realized what she was doing now. She had stopped to gather us up, but after that action, I think her mind turned entirely toward the enemy, and she just let herself go.
I might have tried to stop or slow her, but I wasn't sure the four of us would survive the encounter.
I tried to think of something else helpful -- but suddenly, we were out of time.
We were also out of the storm.
It was like stepping through a wall from a freezer into spring. The shock alone got a violent tremble from my body, but Sylph held me in place while Lady Snow made a swift stop and turn that almost unsettled all of us.
I looked back to see the wall of snow -- and someone in a long robe and hooded robe with hands lifted. The hands suddenly dropped, and the storm began to die away.
"Well, damn," the woman said with barely a glance at us.
And then she disappeared.
I had been ready for an attack and held the magic in my hands for a moment longer. The storm had all but died already, leaving only a line of demarcation with melting white on one side and bright green grass on the other.
Lady Snow turned back to human and then sat on the ground, panting. "Where did she go?" she demanded.
"Why did she go?" Sylph asked, which was a question I was more willing to try to answer.
"I don't think she expected us," I said. I sat down by Lady Snow and leaned back on an elbow, trying to calm myself and my companions. "That storm wasn't intended as an attack against us."
"No?" Lycan asked. Then he nodded. "That was a lowland troll. "A storm like that would have frozen and killed him -- but we killed him first."
"Then why did she run?" Sylph asked with an annoyed twitch of her shoulders. She and Lady Snow still wanted a battle.
"My guess is that she didn't want trouble with us," I said. "But I know where she went. We don't have far to go."
Thursday, December 03, 2020
The bigger problem was that the others had started to look at me for answers. I saw it in their eyes and the way they waited as they expected me to speak.
This was not, I realized because I held a title back in the Fae lands. Most of them -- maybe all of them -- had no idea whom I might be. Some who did know might think I was a disgraced fae and should be without powers -- but it was clear I had magic.
More than anything, I think they turned to me right now because I looked and acted more human than any of them.
"As much as I think we need to find the crowns and other missing things," I began, letting my voice take on some magic so that everyone could hear it, "I think our first problem is to find a safe way to remain hidden from the humans. We do not want to draw them into our problems."
That drew a quick murmur of agreement from the crowd. Good so far, though I hadn't actually asked them to do anything.
"You cannot remain here for too long. This much magic will draw notice even of the humans. I don't think that would be safe for any of us."
"But they are less safe spread out in small groups," Sylph replied. "Most of these beings have never been on this side of the veil. They don't know how to behave in ways that will not draw attention."
And with those words, she gave a quick glance at Lady Snow, reinforcing those words. She was right, too.
"If they can't go, then I guess we'll just have to work faster to find the answer to what is going on," I said. I kept from shoving both hands through my hair out of pure frustration. I had no idea at all where to start.
"I can help," a small voice said by my ear, and I looked to see a pixie land on my shoulder. I saw the little crown on his head and bowed my own as best I could in the awkward position. "I think you need something to lure the enemy out."
He put his tiny fingers to his crown.
"This would be dangerous, King Pixie," I said, but softly. I did not want to call his bravery into question. "Both for you and for the rest of us if they got your crown."
"It is only time before they try again," he said. Steadier than most pixies. He looked into my face, and I had the feeling I knew why he was the Pixie King -- and why they did better these days than they used to do. "I do not want to send my pixies against some force that it appears even the bigs are having trouble with this time. We will all do better if we can work together. If something still wants my crown, I don't see why any of us would want to make it easier for this enemy."
"You are right," Sylph said and bowed her head.
Then she looked at me.
"I have no more idea of what is going on than the rest of you," I said. I didn't like to admit to it, but the others only nodded. "I think the one thing I can do is try to get to the Faeland and find out what the fae themselves know. There is a reason why they are not here, and that may lead to the answers that we need."
"You do not go alone," Lycan said and then lifted his hand when I started to protest. "No."
I saw that Lady Snow and Sylph nodded agreement. Even King Pixie gave a quick nod, but I thought that might be his worry about having to face the enemy. He had to know, though, that we were bound to face something dangerous as well.
But at least he wouldn't be facing it alone.
"I will return as soon as I can with an answer," I said to the others, letting my voice drift out across the strange crowd. "Try to keep magic to a minimum. If humans come, don't fight them unless you must. You might defeat them, but that just means more will come the next time -- or they will come up with something that might be as dangerous to them as it would be to you. They do not give up."
I had to trust that some of these people had dealt with humans before and knew the truth of what I was saying. I looked at my companions and wanted to ask them to stay behind -- but they'd just argue with me. And I would lose.
We went back out the way we had entered. It grew progressively colder, and I thought that was as much my state of mind as the colder area away from so many people.
"This is a mess," I said and looked to Lycan. King Pixie still sat on my shoulder and nodded in agreement. I stopped worrying about what he might or might not understand. He had one hand to his crown, though, as though he intended to hold on to it no matter what anyone else wanted.
We had to get to a spot away from this area to where I could open a portal to Faeland. I could do it here, but the mass of unintentional magic the others had created here would have made that dangerous.
Besides, I didn't want to give away their hiding place, even to my own people. Who knew what else might be lurking on the other side, waiting for someone to zip through. I said so to the others.
"Only one way to find out," Lycan said. He had his hand on his sword. "And at least it would be a quick answer."
I agreed. "Get ready," I said.
I opened the portal, and we stepped into -- yeah, more trouble.