A small girl stands at the edge of a great forest with trees as black as the shadows that dance inside, just out of sight.
She is far too young to wander to so near such a place alone, but here she is unafraid. Mostly. There is a little fear, but even that begins to fade as she takes one step closer to the edge of the trees, feeling the incredible hum of something in the air.
It has to be, the way the air sings strangely in her ears, tastes sweet on the tip of her tongue as she breathes in deep. Her heart aches, then. Feeling drawn in to the forest, to that magic, a sudden longing pulls her a step closer, and then another.
Soon, the world falls silent as she steps under the canopy of the trees, the nighttime sounds that accompany the quiet disappear.
The wood isn’t as dark as it appears from the outside. It is lit by blue flits of light that dart like dragonflies, restless. Her eyes open wide in wonder, reaching out a small hand, hoping to touch the balls of light as they dance, leading her deeper into the forest. The shadows don’t seem so scary now, she thinks, the longing tugging her further and further in.
A wind blows, stirring the dark canopy of leaves, scattering the flitting lights.
She freezes, suddenly cold, the world suddenly not so peaceful, but the sort of quiet that happens when a monster is lurking just out of sight.
And then the shadows move.
Nightmares have a way of lingering in the mind long after the eyes have opened.
Not so with dreams. Dreams have a way of slipping far and fast like the breath of a wind, fading like the sweet first blooms of spring. There for a flashing, beautiful moment then gone. So swiftly parting it’s almost as if it never happened at all.
But nightmares are entirely different. They stay, stuck, in the dark hushed places of the heart and mind, oft remembered but determinedly forgotten.
Especially when those nightmarish things occur in the waking hours of the day.
I never forgot what happened when I slipped beneath the towering boughs of Blackwood Forest, not the cold, nor the burning red eyes of the shadows that moved. Nor did I ever speak of it, not to anyone, until it was too late, for I knew I wasn’t supposed to go into the forest.
“The fey dwell in the shadows of Blackwood,” my nurse Thilda would tell me often enough, “they have dominion over the wood, but like any kingdom, they have to fight to keep it. Their enemies are the fallen fey. The shadow dwellers. The creatures made of smoke and mist.”
I listened, wide-eyed, remembering the things I had seen within the trees, this story was different now, less mystery and more frightening. It’s different when the monsters in the stories become real.
“Few see them and live.” Thilda gave me a glance heavy with knowing. I swallowed and shrugged, moving away from her stare. It was no secret, then. But few things, if any, were able to be kept secret from Thilda. She knew things. Things other people shouldn’t, couldn’t, know.
Her stories were a small legend within the castle where I lived, in the Kingdom of Harfeld. Though, no story Thilda could tell stuck in my mind like the story of my beginning. A story I pieced together as I grew up, hearing snatches spoken of and whispered by those who were brave enough to mention it. A story that began to frighten me, as I remembered the longing I fell stretch out of my heart at the edge of the forest, like a spool of thread that had spilled, forever linking me to that place of magic.
My father was the son of kings born of a warring people, he was a great leader and warrior, the eldest of two brothers. My mother a beautiful woman from the far western kingdom near the sea, who was desired above all. Even war. Love at first sight, it was. Or so they say. My father took one look at my mother and swore if he could have her, his war against her people would end.
And it was so.
Their marriage ended the quest for conquering the western kingdom, and it would seem all other kingdoms as well. The Harfeldans until that point were known to the rest of the world as the warring people, a hardened kingdom of dark warriors. They knew war like others knew magic or song, it was as much a part of their everyday as baking bread. Such a change could not happen without consequences, whether good or ill. To make my father become something different, there were whispers that my mother was an enchantress. By bewitching my father she had saved her people, she had stopped their conquering by blood with marriage.
It seems a fine story, does it not? Love conquers all. But that is not how this story ends.
My father was already betrothed. And while many whispered that my mother was an enchantress, the woman my father broke with was, in fact, a witch.
Many were frightened at what would happen, and pleaded with my father to see reason. Even more were outraged. But none so much as my father’s younger brother. He was the most outspoken of all. It is said that one day they quarreled so fiercely that they drew swords against one another.
After that, my father’s brother declared his allegiance to the old alliance and he was never seen again.
On the night of my parent’s wedding the witch arrived at our castle demanding entrance to claim what had been promised to her. Of course she was denied. And so, she saw fit to speak words at the gates of the castle that would curse me for the rest of my life.
The child born of their union would be consumed by magic within or without, to be claimed by the fey or die with longing for them.
And the spell was spoken.
One summer night two years later, on the last day of the middle month, the wind howled with a voice of its own, as if announcing something so important it demanded all the world stop and listen. The trees swayed and moaned under the force of the wind’s wordless declaration. Creatures fled into their secret places. All of nature was in a stir. On that most peculiar of nights, it was fated I was to be born.
Many saw this as an omen that I was indeed a cursed child. What child comes into the world to such a storm at an unholy hour when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest? A question that lingered, when no more children came.
I was given the name Freya, but I would come to answer to a very different one. No one ever quite forgot the night of my birth the way my father seemed to. And I grew to be a strange child, with bright green eyes, a gift for stillness, fair freckled skin and honey colored hair. The Harfeldans are a dark people. My fairer coloring branded me an outsider.
The night of my birth stuck forever in the people’s memory. A night of unrest, supernatural storms, the memory of a curse spoken like a spell. It was well-known my mother’s line carried fey-blood. That’s why many thought my mother was so beautiful and one of the many reasons they mistrusted her and in time, mistrusted me. Fey blessed, the villagers said of me, watching me grow up half-wild, running barefoot through the orchards, climbing the tallest trees, and then sometimes sitting so still one wondered if I had turned to stone, that child is touched by the faeries. Peculiar. Different. But just whether I was blessed or cursed only time would tell.
And so, I was called Fey.
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