Chapter Six

The safe place Cormack was speaking of turned out to be a cave.

“Don’t worry, there are likely no monsters we’ll have to share it with,” he flashed a smile.

“Monsters don’t frighten me,” I replied with a shrug, finding it to be the truth.

He smiled a little then, giving a slight shake of his head, “You’re a brave one, Freya.”

I glanced away.

Brave.

I was not brave. I did not deserve his compliment. No one had ever said I was brave before. Wild, yes. Peculiar, always. Restless. But never brave. Gavin was the brave one. He was the warrior, who could wield a sword and staff, riding off when he was old enough with my father’s men into small battles to keep our borders safe. Strong, steady, sure.

Gavin, I wanted him here. I wanted his hand in mine. I wanted him to be all right. 

“Now what is it you’re thinking?” Cormack said, startling me out of my thoughts. 

“Do you know,” my voice wavered, “do you know if the witch . . .”

I couldn’t finish my question. Dusk was falling as we entered the mouth of the cave and I turned my back to him where he stood a little further in.

He spoke to my back as I braced myself against his answer.

“I don’t know who you’re asking after,” he said, “but Harfeld still stands.”

“And you’ll help me find the forest path?”

A moment of hesitation, and then, “Yes. Once I know exactly who that was, and that it’s safe for you to head that way, I will. You have my word.”

That, for now, was enough for me. 

Trees edged the cave mouth on a ledge that was overlooking a little meadow filled with summer wildflowers. The wind stirred the leaves on the trees, threading through my hair, tickling my ears. 

Freya . . .

I stood frozen, listening, astonished to hear my name whispered on the wind. I’d heard singing, yes. But never had the fairies called me by name before. My heart raced, feeling the pull to follow.

Freya, come to us tonight. 

“Come where?” I whispered aloud. I turned to look back at Cormack where he knelt rummaging through his pack, brow furrowed as he determinedly looked for something. He hadn’t heard me. 

The wind picked up, the voices were as soft as the breeze, dancing into my ears as the air brushed them. 

Tonight, tonight, we dance under the starlight . . . 

It seemed to be spoken so clearly I was amazed Cormack hadn’t heard anything, for when I turned to glance back at him he was still rummaging through his pack, clearly not having any luck locating whatever it was he was looking for. I sat down at the cave mouth– thinking. I glanced around, trying to ignore the tugging in my heart that nearly propelled me to movement. It was the strongest it had ever been. I broke out in a sweat just trying to resist it.

And then Cormack was there, bow in hand, a quiver of arrows slung across his back. 

“Where are you going?” I was alarmed. If he left, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to stay put. 

“Scouting,” he stated, stepping out of the cave, “I’ll be back a little after nightfall, if not before.”

I shook my head, almost begging him to stay, frightened at what would happen when he left, how quickly I would walk into the forest to the call of the fairies. I wouldn’t be able to resist. Not this time, not so deep in the forest. Not with how frayed at the edges I felt, all at once no longer who I was, but somehow more myself than I’d ever been. My very blood seemed to ache for it. But I said nothing. 

He paused, turning to look at me, his face grave, eyebrows raised, “If you wander,” he said then, nodding ever so slightly, as though he knew already, somehow, that I would, “Take care. Not all things in this forest are friendly like me.”

“I know.” 

“Of course you do,” he said then, his smile wistful and sad before turning and slipping into the trees. 

***

I spent the rest of the day as deep in the cave as I could go. I could barely breathe with the want to venture into the deeper forest. An eyelash of a moon winked down from the periwinkle sky, a few stars began to appear.

And then all too soon, nightfall came. 

I passed the time by watching the stars and drawing pictures in the dirt floor of the cave, day dreaming, and counting the blades of grass that grew on the edge of the cave, anything to keep myself from thinking about what would happen if Cormack didn’t come back soon. When a few hours had passed since nightfall and Cormack still hadn’t appeared, I felt the first prick of worry. 

The shadows deepened, the forest grew still, the chill in the cave caused me to shiver. I stood, scanning the trees across the meadow for any sign of movement. 

Where was he? 

A slight wind rustled in the branches. 

Freya.

My senses sharpened, my body freezing as I heard my name whispered, the voice carried on the wind. 

Freya . . .

I sat up, my eyes scanning the surrounding trees for any sign of movement. None I could see, save that which the wind was causing. The leaves rippled, the branches swayed in their woodland dance. 

Come, Freya. Come . . .

“Where are you?” I whispered aloud.  

Freya.

That time the whisper was more easily heard and I was certain that this was not something produced from too little sleep. 

Come dance, Freya . . .

I stood, and closed my eyes, listening. The wind brushed across my cheeks, like a slight touch of gentle finger, cool and light. I looked over my shoulder at the cave and then glanced in the direction of the wind, it would lead me deeper into the trees, to the left of the meadow.

If you wander, take care. Not all things in this forest are friendly . . .

Cormack’s warning echoed in my mind, but I knew that it was impossible to stay put. And for a moment I stood there, frozen with indecision. As quiet as a whisper a half-remembered story wove its way through my thoughts. 

“Those who hear the call of the Fey should heed it lest they die with longing . . .”

Heeding the call of the Fey came with consequences – for good or ill. My mother had told me that. My pulse thrummed in my ears as I took one step forward. 

Sometimes a wish is granted, or a wrong righted or one is changed for the worse . . .

I shuddered, remembering the tales of men cursed into trees or women being lured in only to return half-mad.

But sometimes, those called are Fey-called – with magic in their bones, singing in their souls and imprinted on their hearts. A magic that must be realized for the longing to be undone . . .

I ached, and took another involuntary step forward. 

Come dance, Freya . . .

A sudden movement, and I blinked. A little ball of light was hovering in front of my face, so bright for a moment I couldn’t see properly. It took a moment for my vision to adjust before I saw clearly and my breath was stolen from me at the wonder of what I saw.

Parchment-white skin, delicate little face set with wide blue eyes, quick beating wings. I’d never seen a Will-o-the-wisp so close before.

It darted forward with an impish grin, and I started at the whisper in my ear. 

Come dance . . .

I nodded and smiled back, for suddenly I was that little girl at the edge of the forest again, brave and unafraid, marching into the trees, forgetting all sense and Cormack’s warning. I walked quietly, following the stirring of the wind and the little light that seemed to be my guide. As I walked, I caught traces of music. On the wind I heard echoes of light laughter, laughter so merry I found myself walking faster and faster through the trees until I happened upon a small clearing lit with moonlight. The sky back by the cave held an eyelash of a moon, a sliver of silver light. Here, in the clearing of the fairies, the moon was impossibly bright and full.

I blinked and couldn’t believe it. Little flits darted here and there, some balls of silver light, some gold, others blue. It was so beautiful to watch them dancing to the wild music that was more easily heard here. It was music that seemed to come from within the trees themselves, emanating from the bark, the leaves, the very roots of the trees, the tree spirits that I had glimpsed before with their petals and leaves for hair, moved with the music. Beings taller and thinner than humans were dancing gracefully in the center of the clearing, seeming to be guided by the wind, like swirling leaves.

Fairies. The Fey. The beings from which my nickname came. A few wisps darted toward me, one catching my finger, another tugging my hair. 

Come Freya, come dance.

And as I stepped into the clearing a hush seemed to fall and the fairies ceased their dance, all turning bright eyes on me. Some were dark haired, others fair. The women all had wildflowers threaded in their hair. Some had pale skin that shone in the moonlight, others with skin the color of rich mahogany, faces so beautiful I wondered how in the world anyone could mistake me for being Fey-called. 

“What brings you to dance at last?” a woman asked. She was, if possible, the most beautiful of all with deep blue eyes and raven black hair, a gown like shimmering starlight falling to her bare feet in a graceful sweep.

I looked at her, puzzled. She asked as if they’d called me thousands of times before. 

“I had to come,” I stammered, uncertain of how to answer, but it was the truth. 

“No,” she titled her head to the side, her wild black hair waving in the slight breeze, “you’ve learned to listen and forget your fear.”

And then the lady beckoned me and I went to her, the wisps were still flitting around me, whispering things to me so softly I couldn’t understand them. 

I wondered what she could possibly want with me, but curious enough to stand before her, despite all the eyes on me. 

“Fey,” she said, regarding me carefully, “that’s what they call you.”

“Yes,” I said, my voice coming out in a breathless sort of whisper, she was so tall I had to tilt my neck back a fair bit just to look her in the eyes. Changing eyes, it seemed. For one moment they looked the deepest blue, and the next the brightest green. 

“You’re marked, Fey, by more than just the Fairy blood that runs in your veins,” she said, “there is a darkness on your path that is not of your choosing, a darkness that must be defeated for more than just your sake.”

“I know,” I said then, very quietly, “the Great Prince said as much. Thilda did too.”

“The words of Our Prince will always come to pass, as will the Wise One,” she pursed her lips then and took my chin in her hand, her eyes boring into mine, “the question is, are you brave enough to be the one to carry them out?”

She did not have to look far to see my exhaustion, fear and pain. Though she could not know my heart. Her gaze fell to my cheek, the one that was marred with the cut from the bramble. She closed her eyes and I felt a warmth course through my body at her touch on my chin, for a moment I felt as if she was holding fire to my face and then it stopped. Her eyes opened, and her gaze turned calculating then, her hand falling away from my chin. My hand when to my cheek. The cut was gone.

“You know not who you are or what you are capable of. A restlessness grips your heart that cannot be satisfied,” she tilted her head thoughtfully, “It is time, Freya,” the lady said, “for until the war within yourself is decided you cannot fight the one you face and hope to win.” 

Whatever I had imagined I’d hear, it had not been that. I stared at her in silence, the weight of her words pressing on my ears. The wisps were flitting overhead and threading through the trees, creating trails of glittering dust that lingered in the air like miniature stars.

“Cursed. That is what you believe you are. Incapable of ruling. Wild. Good for nothing but chasing fancies beneath the stars,” the lady’s voice was thoughtful, “You scorn being called Princess, though that is what you are and flinch when you are called Fey, ashamed of the call on your blood that sets you apart, though you feel Freya does not fit you either.”

My cheeks burned to hear my thoughts spoken aloud. 

Her words weighed heavily on me, like crushing stones, pressure on my ears. I did not want to believe them but I could not refute them, I knew they were true. And it was true. All of it. There was no use denying that was what my heart had believed for most of my life.

“Soon you will feel it,” she said then, “the magic within you is awake now. It’s strong in you, coming from both sides. It will seek to leave. Since you do not know how to use it, this will aid you in guiding it, in holding it within your mortal skin. Otherwise it will consume you.”

Otherwise it will consume you. Those words, of anything she said, startled me the most. My chest felt tight, remembering the words of witch’s curse. To be consumed by magic within or without, to be claimed by the Fey or die with longing for them. It was coming true. I stood rooted in place, the truth of what was happening washing over me. All I could do was blink and breathe, looking at the Fey Lady and saying nothing.

Extending her hand, I saw there was a simple wooden charm on a string that looked like twine. So small and simple. 

“Made from the wood of a tree in Blackwood Forest,” she said then, “it will help you.”

I took it and slipped it over my head and tucked it into my shirt. It rested between my breasts, laying cool against my skin. I nodded my thanks and the Fey Lady nodded back, a small smile on her lips.

 And then, the music began to fade, and the fairies with it. 

“You are welcome with us, daughter—but seek us carefully,” the Fey Lady said, “the more you claim the fey that is in you, the harder it will become to remain in the mortal world. Those who came before you know this all too well.”

“I did not ask for this,” my voice came out gravelly. 

Her eyes flashed dangerously even as she smiled, “None do.”

And then she was gone. I stood alone in the middle of a clearing that was too far from the cave, where I was supposed to have stayed. 

“Foolish girl, indeed,” I said aloud, stunned at my own stupidity. I shook my head and tried to recall exactly where I’d come from. Surely I hadn’t wandered in too far . . .

There was a rustling behind me. I whirled, fists clenched. 

“Who’s there?” I practically shouted. 

Not all things in this forest are friendly . . .

The shadows shifted, materializing into beings that seemed insubstantial black mist, cloaked in swirling fog. Shadow-dwellers. My heart rate increased even as the warmth seemed stolen from my blood, my throat tightening, their presence pressing against me like a weight. 

“Heavens,” I moved to step backward, but my legs seemed frozen, held in place by the will and the magic of these creatures. The shadow-dwellers circled me, their eyes the only thing not dark, but burned like coals in the heat of a fire. 

I knew I should run. But I couldn’t. The fog swirled around my legs, anchoring them in place, up to my throat, squeezing. I gasped. I couldn’t breathe. And I was terrified, but no scream could be forced past my lips. There were many of them, and they were closer than before, emanating oppressiveness that seemed to want to press the life from me. 

“Great Prince, fey lady,” I whispered, “help me.”

You do not need help, Freya. 

I don’t know who or what said those words to me, but for a moment it struck me that perhaps, perhaps they were right. I was fey-called, after all. Perhaps that meant something.

“If that’s true,” I managed to gasp aloud, “then I have no reason to be afraid of you.”

They gave a nasty hiss at that, shrinking back from me. The pressure on my throat tightened, they curled tighter around my legs. The atmosphere turned hostile, more oppressive than before. 

My heart thudded in my chest as I fought against their hold. I gasped, my muscles twitching from the effort it took to free my legs from their hold, “Go away!”

At my shout, an explosion of light erupted and their hold released, and I could breathe freely watching them hiss and shrink back into their shadowed places, disappearing from sight.  

I stood blinking, as the understanding that the light, the magic that had caused the shadow-dwellers to retreat had come from me. I felt the depletion of my energy in the sweat coating my skin and the trembling in my limbs, the understanding that I had magic, and the realization that I was what they’d always said I was made me feel as though I’d entered into a dream I couldn’t wake up from.  

My hands came up to cover my mouth, to keep from crying out. I do not know how long I stood there for, but suddenly someone was calling my name. I did not turn around, not sure that if I moved my legs would hold me. 

“Freya?” 

Cormack of course. He was angry but the breath he released at the end of my name sounded relieved. I said nothing, did not move. 

“What is it?” he demanded, “what happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

And then I was laughing. Hysterical, harsh laughter that shook my frame and wouldn’t stop. I gasped for breath, and felt tears running down my cheeks. Hysterical mirthful tears that quickly turned to me sobbing into my hands, the rest of my body shaking. There was the sound of a sword being sheathed and then an arm went around my shoulders gently, hesitantly, unsure of how I would react. 

As it was, my reaction surprised us both. 

My face still in my hands, I turned into his chest, not caring about propriety or that I just met him. I didn’t care that I was supposed to be brave, or that I’d just faced down creatures not many lived to tell about seeing. I was just a silly girl who’d gotten thrown on a path that seemed too big for her feet. A girl who was exactly what she had feared to be all her life. Different. Peculiar. Fey-called.

After a moment of shock, his arms came around me. 

He said nothing as I cried and cried, trying to gain some semblance of composure. He did not crack a joke or tell me I was being silly. He didn’t say, “Come, now. Can’t be as bad as all that” or “Hush, now child.” 

When I took a breath and the last of my tears were spent, it was then Cormack spoke. 

“Let’s go,” was all he said. He stepped away from me, threading my arm through his, leading me away from the clearing and through the trees. We were back at the cave soon enough. 

“Those blankets are yours,” he said, “try and get some sleep.”

I remained standing as he went about setting up his own bed, closer to the mouth of the cave, ignoring that comment. I wouldn’t explain to him what happened. He didn’t tell me all his secrets. I wouldn’t tell him mine. 

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly after a moment, feeling ashamed. 

Cormack stopped and turned to look at me. His cinnamon eyes glinted, like pale gold, in the moonlight streaming into the cave as he regarded me for a long moment. 

I looked back, waiting for him to scold me as most would have done or shake his head and call me foolish. 

“Tell me, Freya,” he said at last, “what exactly are you apologizing for?”

I blinked. I wasn’t sure. It was a reflex. Apologizing for myself and who I was, for the decisions that I made. And I wasn’t even really sorry. I was mostly struggling to come to terms with the truth about who I was. The truth I had tried to outrun and hide from for my entire life. Not sure how to say all that, I stared back at him boldly and said, “Nothing, I suppose.” 

He laughed, “Good.”

Whatever I had been expecting him to say or do, it was not that. 

And then I said the only thing that seemed to express the strange sense of astonished relief I felt at his words. 

“Thank you.”

Cormack flashed his wicked grin and winked at me.

And for the first time, I smiled back.

One thought on “Chapter Six

  1. Rachel Diaz says:

    Chapter 6 is read. Love it! Imagine a million little fairies 🧚‍♀️ that glow like miniature stars – I see glitter!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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