Written for the Original Fiction Ficathon. A rather episodic story.
Challenge #: 18
Rating: Anything under M
Likes: solid plot, good characterization, general correct mechanics and word usage
7. What you'd hate to see:mary sues, lots of sap, too much description
Dislikes: lots of sap, too much description
Words/phrases to use: eggs, music, and an iceburg
To put it simply, I was a faerie oddity. No, I had the right number of limbs, all of them in their proper places and all very appealing, or so my cousin had informed me with a wink. I did not spout off limericks or other such nonsense on a whim, nor did I claim prophecy or another connection with the Night and Stone. I was no aware of having immunity to iron, nor was I inclined to grab a sword and discover if it were so. I was completely, unmistakably faerie in every way but one.
I was patient.
Impatience was one of the defining traits of our species. Fae and fierce and wild was one of the earliest human descriptions of us, and the one that continued to be echoed throughout their songs and stories. And it was true, for the most part. There were very few faeries that wouldn't gladly join in the Wild Hunt, who didn't know and embrace the sheer power that anger and excitement bring to us, who couldn't run for a day if the moon would be full that night. There were also very few faeries who could play an instrument with any great skill, or craft one, or work the greater magics of our kind, the magics of patience rather than those of impatience. I was one of those few, and thus an oddity.
And, perhaps, there was one other thing that differentiated me from my kin, even from the most patient of fae. Summer.
There was something about the Wild Hunt that completed a faerie, filled a vital part of them and made them real. A blessing of the Night. But were we the patient fae cursed? We did not have the energy and power of most fae, could not run the Wild Hunt even if we had wished to, and so we sought out other outlets for that something that made us faerie. Music was one of the most common, for it had the welcome side-effect of entertaining the bored Court while they recounted stories only slightly younger than the Night itself. Story telling was another, as shift-shirt crafting had been until the tailor's time. And I? Through Summer, I had discovered humans.
I doubted that Summer was her name, but I never asked for her true name, never listened nearby in the hopes of hearing a human call to her. Tam's son, the first Piper, had set the beginnings for any relationship a faerie might have with a human, and he had refused to give his name to Tahrdi, the faerie who had given him the pipe in the first place. And, just as Tahrdi had never named herself to Tam's son, I simply adopted the name Dust whenever I spoke to Summer.
Dust and Summer. Both of us young, though it was a relative term, she just approaching her second decade and I midway through my second century. Both of us loyal, in our way, to our kin and clan. She was of Tam's line, the tailor's line, daughter of a Piper and crafter of shift-shirts. I worked on the greater magics that protected and enclosed my Court, kept the preservation spells on food and instruments and clothing intact, built the systems of eerie sounds and strange movements that terrified humans traveling through faerie forests.
She was of Tam's line, and so I could not spell her to ensure that she came to the meeting-place every few days to tell me of the human doings that fascinated me so, doings that I might have seen myself if my fear of iron had not been so deep rooted. Still, I could and did set a sort of awareness around her that I might know when she came or where she wandered to. I made chants so that I could remember the bizarre process through which humans were married, how they were buried, and their convoluted hierarchy.
Why did Summer continue to return, despite the fact that I never offered any information on the fae beyond what she already knew through the legends of faeries she told me? Hope that I would someday, I suppose. Curiosity. Boredom. Her hands flew through the patterns of shift-shirts and dresses, of gloves and trousers, leaving her mind and mouth free. And I was willing to listen in the hope that the aching need that my inability to run the Wild Hunt had created within me would finally be assuaged.
Standing in the place between sunlight and forest-made dusk, skin reveling in the contrast between sun-warm air and slight breeze, I waited. Dust. A silly, childish name that I had picked on a whim, seeing a small dust-devil spinning behind Summer the first day I'd met her. It held far more connotations for a faerie than a human, though, for dust was rarely found within the forests that were now the faerie strongholds, speaking of the age when the entire world was faerie and humans still an insignificant blot on the landscape. Not that they were any more impressive now, with their ugly stone piles and incredible lack of sanitation, but they were more significant now, by sheer dint of the fact that they dug up iron ore.
I waited. I waited sun-high to dusk-beginning, but with no sign of Summer. I frowned, irritated. I was certainly not going to share a faerie story with her next time, I thought, before grinning. I never did. Why would I? Even she, remarkably intelligent for a human, had a hard time grasping the concept of immortality. No tragic lovers in our tales, no deaths by disease or starvation. We were fae: We are born, we live, and until the end of time or the day a fatal bit of iron is finally lodged in us, we will continue to live. Terribly unromantic, she'd told me once, to which my reply had simply been, Terribly practical.
Summer was not here, and yet it was the day after the Hunt, the day on which she had always come. I had been away for a time, true enough, but what of it? It had only been for half a year; surely human memory was not so bad.
No. Perhaps another human, like Summer's mate, could forget that quickly, but she was Tam's kin. Something, then, was wrong. The tension that had been building in my gut all day sharpened focused on that idea. Yes. Something was wrong, to have her disappear without cause. I nodded sharply, tucked the anger aside for later, when I might need it. I would go to her home and find her Queen, or her lesser Queen, or whichever of the countless human leaders it was that cared for that part of the court, and find out why she was not there.
It was not a long walk to her home—I had followed her before, studying the ruts made in the road by the carts, the ditches dug to allow rainwater to flow away, the way the houses went from being well-spaced to tightly crowded—and I was there well before dusk-ending. As I stood at the edge of the village, I looked about, wondering how I would find her in this place. All the houses looked alike, and I could not distinguish any one scent in the crowded air.
Pipers… What was it that made them different? They did not fear the fae. Which meant that she would have no need for iron in her home, just as the shift-shirt makers did not. Pleased with myself for remembering that, I set off once more, calling up the glamour of patience I had built long ago. Perhaps my limbs were a little long for a human's, or my features still a little sharp—it was hard to make out their blurred features, as though I saw them from too far away—but I thought it worked well enough. None protested my presence, or drew iron, and so I was free to pass through the village in my search for a house without iron.
After a time, I came to it. There were lights within, and voices, yet none matched Summer's, nor did a quick glance in an open window reveal her face. I sniffed the air, wondering if she had gone to another house to fetch some trivial human thing, and let out a low snarl as the anger I had shoved aside began to build again. Summer's scent was there, old and almost washed out, tinged with fury and blood.
Staring at the door, I inhaled slowly, testing the fragile hold I had on my rage. Thin, fragile, like Summer's thread before it was woven—and to weave it, oh! How deadly strong it would be then. I pushed the door open and stepped in quietly, reminding the instincts that screamed against this invasion that Summer had told me I could enter once before. With permission, I was free to do as I wished.
"What do you think you're doing?" a male voice demanded. It sounded as though it came from a faraway place, not quite right, and I knew that it was not the voice of one of Tam's kin, or of a shift-shirt maker. None of them were.
"Where is she?" I asked softly.
"The one who lived here before. The one who made the shirts."
The man stared blankly. "How should I know? They were taken away months ago—we only just moved here."
Struggling to contain the fury that raged within me, I asked a final question. "Where did they take them?"
"Away. I don't know. You'd need to ask one of the Ironborn—they organized this."
Ironborn. Those who were chosen by the Iron Gods, those who wielded iron against the fae—they had taken Summer away. I nodded once, slowly, tested the anger inside me once more, surprised that it continued to grow, and then put my hand upon the wooden counter and called upon the magic of patience.
Patience was not very fae, but magic was an inextricable part of our being. To be born with patience was odd; to be born without magic was to die of the stone-sickness. I reminded the wood of what it had been, how patiently it had grown, how obedient to the seasons it had been, and then I gave it my fury, to direct at those who had killed its memories and made its work for naught. And as the branches shot out from all the wooden objects in the house, twisting and twining around limbs, necks, stabbing soft flesh, I smiled.
Perhaps there was some good to patience.
So it was with patience that I crafted a spell of silence, to keep any others from coming to their aid, and with patience that I watched them die. It was with patience that I found the few iron objects in the house and, using a ladle to protect myself, dumped them into a chamber pot. It was with patience that I eased myself out and contemplated the homes around me.
None of the others had taken Summer's home, forced me to come and search. But they might know who had.
I smiled once more, sharp and fae and wild, and set out once more.