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 . . .
I knew as my bare feet padded against the cool moss, and carpet of leaves that I was breaking a rule. But I couldn’t keep myself from wandering in. And I was too young to understand the pull I felt. All I knew was to never go back, and that it frightened me.
The forest was a forbidden place. A Fey Haunt. A place haunted and claimed by fairies. They have magic, and they are powerful, and do not take kindly to the trespassing of mortals on places claimed within their realm.
My home, the kingdom of Harfeld, lay just on the other side of the thick stone wall with no gate. A boundary put up by men in my grandfather’s day to mark exactly where the fairies realm began and the mortals realm ended.
It was a boundary that was respected, because the fairies and their magic were feared, hated even. It was a mistrust that had been passed down in Harfeld for three generations.
And the deepest sort of mistrust and hatred always springs from the death-blood of love denied.
My grandfather fell in love with a fey girl and married her. Their union forged peace with the fairies of Blackwood Forest that had not existed until then. Though my grandmother did not belong in the world of men, the magic in her blood was thick and wild, for a time she stayed for love of the king she had married.
They had two sons. A union blessed with children was seen as a good omen by my people. But that goodwill was quickly forgotten. Before my father reached young manhood, the fairies sang their song of whispering magic, calling my grandmother home, to the world where she belonged. One midsummer night she disappeared, never to be seen again.
After that, only a tenuous, uneasy peace remained between my people and the fairies. Though royal Harfeldan blood was now mixed with that of the fey, we all seemed to forget that. My father was perfectly ordinary and he was the king.
I never forgot what happened when I climbed over the stone wall and 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, for I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there. What happened became a nightmare and a secret. I could not forget the longing I felt deep in the pit of my stomach for what I heard at the edge of the forest. Longing like a spool of thread that had spilled, forever linking me to that haunting place of magic.
“The fey dwell in the shadows of Blackwood,” my childhood nurse Thilda was the first to give me a name to the creatures I had seen when I asked why the forest was so dangerous, “they have dominion over the wood, but like any kingdom, they have to fight to keep it. Their enemies are the mortals and 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.
“Few see them and live.”
But I lived. The thought rang like a shout through my mind. Thilda glanced at me, as if I’d spoken aloud and somehow, I knew that she knew what I had done. What I had seen. And what I had felt. I did not ask the questions I desperately wanted to when I should have. I was too afraid. But I was just a girl then. All I knew about magic was from a tale that I was never supposed to know, but learned anyway. Children, though often overlooked, have an uncanny way of learning the secrets that their parents try to protect them from. In this case, it was not a secret so much as a story.
A story that begins with a warrior, a princess and a witch and ends with a curse—the story of my beginning.