She thought she was in a cave, or a house, or a tree; really it was a strange combination of all three. The walls were earth and stone, the roof a twisted mass of tree roots. A small hole between two of these roots let out the last wisps of smoke from the glowing remains of a fire. The 'room' was roughly rounded, the ceiling low, but not too much. Steps formed from roots led up to a shadowed green painted door, and a round passage opposite it was the source of the metallic sound. She was tucked into a small alcove, and a cloth across it was tied back over her head. Raven eased the blankets aside, and stood.
Her heavy shoes were gone, and the cool earth of the floor felt good against her feet. Her torn apron was gone as well, and her hair had untwisted itself, the loose braid now lying against her neck. She pushed a few clinging strands back from her face, and looked around. There was no one else in the room, but a white dress lay folded at her feet. She hesitated, then quickly stripped her tattered clothes off and put it on. It was soft cotton, far better to have against her skin than the rough gowns she had worn before. Raven combed her hair with her fingers and braided it, but decided not to bind it up. This done, she padded barefoot across the room to the passage, peering into the darkness.
She really couldn't see anything in the gloom, but the walls were smooth to the touch and she stepped carefully, feeling her way. There was a turn, and then before her was the glow from fires in a miniature smithy. Raven was familiar with blacksmith's tools from doing Cook's errands, but these were all smaller, in proportion with the little man - tree gnome - who used them. She stood watching as he bent the metal over the anvil, fascinated. His brown face was full of concentration, and she noticed now that his beard was singed on the ends. He looked up suddenly, and grinned a broad grin at her.
"So, you've woken at last, eh little dark haired one?"
Raven nodded shyly.
"Then come here, little one," and he took her hand and led her down another passage, that twisted around huge roots and sloped steadily upwards.
Raven clung to his roughly callused hand trustingly- she did come to his chin, where it was hidden beneath the twiggy beard. He smelled of the heat from the fire, and very strongly of earth. The smell made Raven feel safe, safer than she had ever felt in the farm yard, where the people and animals shouted and squawked and bayed. She liked the cool quiet of the tunnels here.
They came to an end of the tunnel, in a little round room. Copper pots hung on one side of the wall, and a fat black stove took up the space beneath them. There was a little square table, of oak, and three mismatched chairs. They were all different heights and shapes, but all were beautifully carved, one with leaves, one with animals, and one with moon and stars. Thistle Oakleigh told her to sit in the one of animals, and when she did she found that is was just right for her. Then he gave her a plate of bread that had honey filling the inside, and a little carved wooden tumbler of thick milk. When she said thank you, he chuckled and wink.
"You eat all of that, little dark haired one, and I'll be back." Then he left.
Raven did eat all of it, and then she sat swinging her legs under the chair, looking around her. The sconces in the walls, holding short, fat candles, were black metal, cleverly worked to look like braids, vines, ropes, tree limbs, animals- one looked like a round cheeked man, staring in surprise at the candle wax dripping down his nose. The walls themselves were stone, smooth surfaced but unshaped, fitted together seamlessly, opening for the door to the tunnel, and for the chimney of the stove. A thick woven rug of sunset shades covered part of the floor.
"So, this is the little runaway."
She twisted around at the sound of the voice, afraid again for the first time since meeting the little man- tree gnome. He stood in the doorway, and beside him was a tall- compared to Thistle- slender man. His skin was a pale lavender, and his hair was dark purple. So were his eyes. His clothes were green, shining like silky leaves, and no edge was completely straight. She shrank against the chair, the back of a cat pressing comfortingly into her spine. Thistle Oakleigh saw it.
"It's all right, dark haired one. This is Laven, one of the fae."
"Why is he here?"
"To meet you, Raven," said the young man. "Master Oakleigh cannot keep you forever, though he would like too..."
"Are you going to send me back to the farm?" She didn't want to go back, ever, but that's what she expected.
His face darkened. "No," he said emphatically. "No one will ever take you back to that place. We would have you stay in the forest, among the fae creatures."
Thistle looked at her. "Do you wish to stay?"
"Then come, to the fae glade. The rest are already assembled."
"For me? Why?"
"One will adopt you to care for," Thistle said. "Would that I could, little one, but it is not to be so. Come."