Coronation

Prompt: The moment the king set the crown on her head, the ancient statue crumbled. Written 21 February 2021

An hour before her coronation, Princess Senka sat cross-legged on the floor, trying to do magic. Eyes closed, she tried to reach out and feel for the magic she knew must be around her.

When her concentration broke, she stood up and reached for the book she kept hidden in her desk. It was old and worn, and many of the pages were written in a language she didn’t recognize. One she could read, however, was labeled as a Spell of Awakening. Sure she could use it to wake some latent magic in her, she sat back down and chanted the spell until a group of servants bustled in to get her dressed.

Her old nanny picked up the book and tutted at her. “My lady, we’ve gone over this. The royal family-“

“Has no gift for magic.” Senka finished. “I know. But it’s still fascinating.”

“You will have far more to focus on once you’re crowned, my lady.” her nanny insisted as the others bustled around them, lacing her dress and pinning her hair.

“Do you not think magic would be a useful tool for a monarch?” she pointed out. “To be able to detect lies, or sense danger.”

“That is what the Mages are for, Princess.” the nanny argued.

“And how do I know I can trust them?” she asked. Before the older woman could retort, she raised a hand, “I know, I know they’ve sworn an oath, but you must see how much simpler it would be to have my own magic.”

“But you don’t have magic, Princess. That’s all I’m saying. You don’t have the time to waste on impossible hypotheticals.”

Senka did not continue the argument. Her nanny was right, of course. She had many duties to focus on once she was crowned, so Senka allowed them to dress her without another word.

When the time came for her coronation, she walked down the halls of the palace, now covered in arrangements of snapdragons and tulips. Music swelled as she was escorted down the aisle, stopping before the enormous stone tree twisting behind the throne.

It happened the moment the crown touched her head. The great statue crumbled, and the roof above went with it. A rush of wind and a chorus of startled yells, and suddenly in front of her stood a great black dragon, snarling at the crowd around him. “Who has done this?” the great beast roared. “Who performed the Awakening?”

Worried murmurs passed through the audience, and Senka inhaled deeply before stepping in front of the dragon. “It was I, Great One. I performed the spell.”

An expression of curiosity came over the dragon. “Why did you do this, little queen?”

Senka fought the urge to lower her head in shame. “I wished to awaken my own magic, Great One. I did not understand the spell.”

The dragon scoffed. “You rule a kingdom infested with magicians and yet you desire more power? Why?”

She stiffened. This great being would not even blink at the arguments she’d raised wit her nanny. “I wish to be a just and capable ruler. To wield magic would be to better understand my subjects who do so.”

“A diplomatic answer.” the dragon replied. “But not, I think, a true one.” The creature raised a claw to its neck and plucked a single, inky scale. “Use this, little queen, and show me what you would do with your magic.”

She took the scale, and the magic took form the moment she thought it. The rubble of the stone tree and palace ceiling flew up and knit itself together into a life sized copy of the dragon, curled above the throne. The hole in the ceiling remained.

The dragon laughed. “Flatterer. I will come to check on your rule. Keep the scale, and use wisely its power. And should you choose to call me again, simply speak to it and I will come.”

As suddenly as it had arrived, the dragon was gone. But the story of the queen who faced a dragon and earned its favor spread like fire and lasted for centuries afterwards.

The Changing of the Season

Prompt: this is not the deal I made. Written 18 February 2021

Twice a year, nature holds its breath as the courts change power. Summer and Winter meet beneath the ancient weeping willow, and they exchange gifts as their people find common ground in music. The rhythm of Winter sings to the twirl of Summer’s feet, until the moon is high in the sky.

Summer bows politely, and offers Winter a pelt. It is a wolf skin, one that Winter can wear as its own, and run with the pack who hunts while others sleep in their dens. “To keep you warm.” Summer says with a wry smile, and Winter accepts the gift.

Winter returns the bow, but has arrived empty handed. Summer narrows his eyes as a cold breeze passes over them. “Forgive me, old friend.” Winter says, peering through the vines at something Summer cannot see. “My gift appears to be late.”

“You know the rules.” Summer prods.

“I do.” Winter replies, unconcerned. “Here they come.”

As they watch, a procession passes beneath the vines of the tree, a dozen ice-pale guards surrounding a single veiled figure. Her gown is the green of new sprouts fresh from the first snowmelt. The guards stop and kneel before the rulers, and the veiled woman approaches. She bobs a curtsy to Winter, then turns to Summer and bows low before him.

“Rise.” he tells her, glancing at Winter with suspicion. “Let me see you.” She does not move as Summer lifts her veil. She does not flinch when he recoils. He whirls on Winter, shock apparent on his face. “This was not the deal.” he accuses.

“Is she not to you liking?” his voice is a light snowfall, gentle and unconcerned.

“We agreed on the terms centuries ago.” Summer warns.

“She gives herself willingly.” Winter explains. “She offers her being as a vessel.”

“She is human.”

Winter laughed. “Hardly. She was raised by the forest. Her magic is one wielded by no other, equal to no other. Her humanity is in name alone. I believe my gift to be quite generous. I could have kept her.”

“You could not.” Summer argues. “She belongs to the wind that travels all seasons, the sun that lights all skies. She is no more gift than she is a vessel.” Summer looks at Winter with a hint of fear in his eyes. “You will bring disaster upon us both.”

Winter’s smile did not falter. “Perhaps. And perhaps I desire a change from this dull tradition.”

Summer stops in his tracks. Winter was bored. Of course he was. A meeting such as this was no match to the chaotic clash of power that they used to create. The laws exist to protect. They both knew this. But it bound them both, and now that Winter had addressed their restraints, Summer found himself chafing against them.

“I see.” Summer said, returning Winter’s smile. “She is a vision of beauty.”

Winter held out his hand. “Shall we, brother?”

A Warning

No prompt Written 19 February 2021

There are many tales of the Folk, many of them contradictory. Some say they are honorable, but follow a code separate to the laws of humanity. Others say they are impulsive and cruel. They are impossibly beautiful, or they are unnaturally angular, with too many joints. There are stories of them falling in love, and stories of them enchanting, using, and betraying besotted humans.

There are those who claim this split is between the Seelie and Unseelie, or the Summer and Winter courts. Then there are those who claim they are all cruel in their own ways. The truth is far more complex.

The Folk are born of stories. Stories we tell each other in the dark, stories of loss and love and trickery. The Folk embody those stories which we tell about them, and as these tales evolve, so do they. When their tales become entangled, as they have now, the Folk follow suit.

It would be easy to say that the Folk are what you believe of them. If you expect kindness, you will receive it. This is not true. You cannot simply tell the Fae in front of you “You are kind” and expect them to be so. Your belief does not hold more weight due to your proximity. For they are born and made of stories, but they, like you, have a will of their own.

You can no longer trust the Rules your ancestors have laid to protect you. It was said that the Folk cannot lie, but how many stories have been written in defiance of that? How do they gain power over you? Is it your name? Do they spin glamours of beauty to entice, hiding the corruption beneath? Can they change you with a touch, or deceive your senses with their words? Do they envy humanity’s creation of art, or are we doomed to create pale imitations of their beauty? It is impossible to say.

Will iron burn, will time run strange. Is their world separate from ours or hidden within it. No storytellers can agree, and this affords them a freedom they did not have at their birth. Your safety within the presence of a Fae is entirely up to them, as it has never been before. Lie about your name, carry iron around your neck and salt in your pockets. There is no way to know if it will matter.

This puts you, dear reader, in a precarious position. If the Rules hold no meaning, how are you to protect yourself?

There is no trick. No secret to keep you safe. Spinning your own tales of the Folk will only add to the mountain of conflicting stories. To tell one anew is to do nothing but invite their interest. And one thing that remained consistent through the centuries: you do not want to invite their interest.

I cannot help you, reader. I cannot protect you. The information I give serves as little more than a warning. You can do nothing besides be careful.

In the Water

Prompt: she stood on the end of the pier, took a deep breath, and jumped into the freezing ocean. She was going to get answers, no matter what it took. Written 6 February 2021 (character inspired by Disney’s Ursula)

It was a gray and oppressive sky that hung over her as she walked up the pier, unhurried. To the passing eye, there was nothing extraordinary about her. Her usually pale hair was darkened by the mist around her, her travel clothes unremarkable. She was, in fact, so easy to overlook that no one even noticed as she leapt off the pier and into the freezing water below.

She dove straight down for far longer than any human could withstand. As the weak light of the surface faded, her body changed. Her legs fused together into a slick black eel’s tail, her hair darkened to match, and her pupils expanded to encase her eyes. She inhaled deeply and made her way past the reef and into the kelp forest beyond. She made no sound as she entered, and did not pause when she heard the drums she could recognize from any corner of the ocean.

The vibrations of the instrument could be felt nearly a hundred miles away, and she followed their sound for a long while, under the kelp forest and into a dark tunnel, whose shadow seemed to reach out for her.

When the tunnel opened up, it revealed what could only be called a laboratory. Her laboratory. Yet someone else was here, sounding her drum until he saw her.

“Land witch.” he greeted. “Spellweaver. I require something from you.”

“You break into my home and sound my drum,” she snarled. “And now you make demands? My magic has a price for those who seek it. You know this.”

If she was an eel, he was a shark, pale gray and strong, made for tearing things apart with his teeth. He was at least twice her size and, she noted, far less flexible. It was clear he saw her as no threat, and was not pleased at her aggressiveness.

“I am not here to exchange pleasantries. I am here for a spell.”

Her veins crackled with magic. “I am not here for you. You will wait, and when the time comes, you will pay a fair price.” she snapped, turning her back to him as she examined her stores.

He fumed at the perceived slight. “I do not wait, witch. And I do not pay. I take.”

She whipped around as he charged her, raised her hands and clenched them into fists. He stopped short, bubbles gurgling from his open mouth. “Do you feel that? That is air in your lungs. I breathe that as well as I breathe the water around us. I can make you do the same. I can rip your tail in half and make you less than human. I can close your gills forever.” she stated calmly. “And I can assure you, you will not make it to the surface from this far down. Now,” she released her hold, and he struggled to expel the air inside him. “You will wait, or you will leave.”

He backed his way to the corner, arms crossed. He said nothing as she returned to her work. Silently, she cursed him for his interruption. Once he left, news of her return would spread, and slow her search. She felt his eyes following her as she prepared the tracking spell. She sang a high trill, then closed the magic in a glass jar to steep. Unhurriedly, she turned back to him. “Now.” she said. “What can I do for you?”

The River’s Monster

Prompt: Don’t believe the words of a water spirit. They can never be trusted. written 5 February 2021

In a particular forest, on a particular morning, wanders a man who once had a purpose. Long ago, when the green of his cloak was still as bright as the leaves around him, he had a quest that he has since forgotten. Now, he searches for nothing.

When he reaches the edge of the forest, he will come across a river, and more importantly, a spirit within. He has learned a long time ago not to trust water spirits. They spout lies more often than not. But even so, he could usually learn from them.

Her voice rose over the sound of the water, drawing him in even though he knew better. Warily, he approached, telling himself to look for and focus on her webbed hands and feet. She was, simply put, an ethereal beauty. Her pale hair flowed down her back like the river, her skin a nearly-scaled sunlit blue. He dared not look in her eyes, knowing their beauty would rob him of his caution.

Her song changed to words so fluidly it was impossible to tell the exact point where one stopped and the other started “Won’t you sit with me, traveler, and rest your weary feet in my waters?” she crooned

“You are kind, spirit, but I cannot join you. I must be moving on.” he replied, keeping his feet away from the rocky banks.

“Are you on a quest, dear traveler? Might I aid you?” she leaned forward from where she sat.

“No quest, lovely spirit.” he answered. “Just travel.”

She flashed a pointed smile. “Have you no home to return to? No lover or parent or child?”

A chill ran up his spine, long-forgotten memories struggling to return to him. They did not succeed. “I did not say that.”

“Then why do you deny my hospitality?” she fretted. “Will you not at least give me your name?”

He nearly laughed at her carefully placed trick. How many times had he been asked to give up his name? How long was it until he had forgotten the word these creatures so longed to know? “I have no name to give you, I am afraid. I can only offer you a fair trade: the news I carry from afar for the story you will tell to make me stay.”

She frowned, her lips the color of damp stones. “You seem confident you know my motivation. What if my story is spun to send you far away?”

he bowed politely. “My apologies, beauty. Your offer of hospitality merely informed my estimation.

She preened as she pretended to sulk. “Tell me your news, traveler, and we will have a deal.”

He told her of the war in the western kingdoms, of the scholars’ discoveries on the mainland. He spoke of treaties between man and fae and scuffles between fae and spirit. His news spanned the world, and he spoke until the sun was high in the sky and his voice grew hoarse. When he was done, he sat down cross-legged in the grass. “It is your turn, graceful spirit.”

She rose with a smile, and lifted her hands. “In the great forest at your back, sleeps a great beast of fur and tooth and claw.” Water followed her gestures, painting a mesmerizing picture of all she said. “He wakes but once a year, on a warm summer night, when the sky is clear and open. When all the creatures of day are asleep, the stars will wink out, and those who sleep in sunlight will heed the warning and follow my river out of the cover of the trees.”

He had been right. She spun a tale to inspire fear of the forest, her waters a beacon of hope.

“But the beast is ancient.” she continued, and he sat up, surprised. “It knows the pattern and it will creep through the tall grass to my river bank. It is dark, and the beast is dark, and not even I can see him. I can feel him, though, when he steps his foot in my waters. Some years, he persuades me to allow him to hide in my domain. Some years, I try to drown him.”

The water she manipulated splashed violently, thrashing against a vague, massive thing that hunched like a bear, but seemed to have the mane of a lion. He did not move, hardly dared breathe.

“Regardless of my actions, the beast begins his hunt, and by the time the stars return, my domain runs red with spilled blood.” her hands fell, and the water returned to its place.

He did not speak for a long moment. “Tell me, clever spirit. Do you wish to drown me?”

For the third time she smiled, this time a vicious, primal grin. “Is my tale a woven trinket or a warning? Make your choice carefully, wise traveler.”

He returned the smile as he met her eyes, rose, and left

A Guide to the Stone People

Prompt: The stone people were not very pretty, but they would help a stranger in need. Written 3 February 2021

Half a day’s ride from any border town, there lies a cave in the side of a hill. To find the right hill, you must look for the one that is always in shadow, no matter where the sun is in the sky. By the time you have found it, they will have come to give you aid. If you are in a hurry, you may risk calling them by name.

However you find yourself in their presence, you must brace yourself for the sight of them. As kind as the stone people are, they are no great beauties. They will hold no offense if you gasp or even scream at their gray and cracking skin, and they will not chase you should you run from their eyeless faces and strange teeth. But if you are desperate enough to seek their help, it will save you precious time to push down your shock and ask your favor.

And it is a favor. Be it healing a friend or blessing a loved on, you are binding yourself to the stone people. And the more you take from them, the more you must give in return. Do not worry too much, though. These people are not Fae. They will not ask for your life or voice or firstborn. But if you ask of them something you cannot repay with song or prayer or magic, they will ask you to repay your debt by joining them.

Should you find yourself in this situation, there are things you must know. First is that they will not risk your family. You will not have to abandon them permanently, and while you are gone, they will be taken care of.

The second is that you will return changed. To dwell with the stone people is to become of them, and it is a transformation that you cannot hide. If you do not stay with them, you will not become the same as them, but the change will be unmistakable. Your skin will grow tough, and your features will drain of color until you are fully and only gray. Any magic you possess will morph to reflect theirs. Their gentleness is infectious, and so is their magic.

If you are in need of the stone people, but are find yourself in a city far from the hills in which they dwell, you need only look for a Gray Healer, those who returned to humanity after their time in the caves. There are many, should you know how to find them.

Gray Healers will not ask the same favors as the stone people. They will not teach you their magic. They will ask for small payments. Stories, loaves of bread, green cloaks. Some of these things are for their own livelihoods, but many are for the protection of others who seek their help. Do not ask about these things unless you need to.

Remain wary of the caves, however. The stone people are not the only occupants, merely the gentlest. To search for their aid is an act of true desperation, and a risk you should only take when no other option is available to you.

Burning

Prompt: Never trust the sun. It will always burn you written 7 February 2021

He approached the gleaming palace slowly, squinting as the setting sun reflected on its golden roof. He loathed having to return here. The place held memories of nothing but shame.

To his great humiliation, the guards recognized him and let him in without a word. Head lowered, he made his way down the halls, passing first the throne room, then the dining room, then the library, until he reached the study.

He did not knock as he entered the private study of Theros, King of Sun. And Theros, clever as he was, showed no surprise at the arrival.

The deity merely lifted his head and smiled. “Martell, what a pleasant surprise! Welcome home!” Theros exclaimed, spreading his arms wide. “Shall I have your chambers made ready?”

“I will not spend a moment here that I don’t have to.” he replied softly.

The king’s arms fell. His smile remained, though his eyes blazed with heat. “I see. No need for a bed, then. But surely you would not deny yourself a meal, or at least something to drink?”

“No.”

“I am not an ungracious host, Martell. You must know this. Is there any way for me to make you feel welcome?”

Tear it down, he thought. Reduce this place to rubble and then curl up and die with it. He’d told them, insisted that no meaningful treaty could be made with Theros. The King of Sunlight knew nothing but how to burn.

Martell swallowed his rage and looked the tyrant in the eyes. “I come on behalf of the people of Kavan. We wish to bargain for your alliance.”

“You come as an emissary, then.” The king replied.

“Not an emissary.” he corrected. “A messenger. If you would be so gracious as to send a delegation to the outskirts of Kavan, we would be honored to meet with you and discuss your terms.”

Theros stood and crossed the room to stand before Martell. He was just close enough that he could feel the heat radiating from him. “And if I ask for my dignitary’s return, will it be granted?”

The heat was clouding his thoughts. He was sweating. He was shaking. The question held a threat that none in Kavan would see. He took a steadying breath and replied, “Such terms would be discussed between delegations. I do not have the authority to agree to anything.”

Theros grabbed his arm, the smell of burning flesh released at the same time as a cry of pain. There was no humor left in his eyes, only a white-hot rage. Martell tried and failed to break his grip. “Remember your place, whelp. You are mine to command, and you will return to me.” When he let go, a blackened handprint wrapped around his wrist. At the sight of this his good mood returned. “Tell the people of Kavan that I will meet with them personally, but only if you are a member of their delegation.” Theros returned to his seat and paused a moment before adding, “You may go.”

Birthright

Prompt: They painted her in shades of crimson for the ceremony, until every inch of skin blazed like a dying ember written 25 January 2021

She didn’t understand why they painted her skin with such tenderness. She was about to burn, and the paint would neither protect her nor survive the flame. One look from her mother kept the thought to herself. It was an honor, they said. Her birthright. She believed it, but she couldn’t get past the idea of so much pain.

Her family paraded her to the temple, singing prayers for her future and praise for the bravery she had not yet accomplished. The priestess spoke no spells over her, only more prayers, and led the procession to the courtyard, covered in snow but glowing orange from the line of torches surrounding it.

Dressed in a single layer of coal-black linen, she fought down a shiver and shouted her lines at the sky, calling down the dragon she had never seen.

Her birthright, they called it. A wish granted by some godlike thing claiming to be her ancestor. A wish, in exchange for burning.

Her doubt held only until the dragon appeared in the sky, floating weightless despite his great size. She was on her knees even before he landed, blocking her view of all else and revealing the cold earth below the snow.

“Great One.” she recited. “I call you here to claim my birthright.”

“What is your name, girl?” his breath felt hot against her back.

“Jyn, daughter of Roshani, Great One.” she replied.

“And what birthright do you claim, Jyn, cowering in the snow before your pyre? My wealth? My domain? My claws?”

A strange anger ignited in her. This dragon who claimed familial ties, who scarred each member of her family for a single wish, dared to call her a coward. And not only that, he sounded bored. She stood up in a jerky motion, raising her head to meet his golden gaze.

“It is customary, Great One, to introduce oneself before raising judgement.” she spat, hands curled into fists at her sides. She heard her mother gasp in horror. Jyn braced herself to be bitten in half, or burned to ash, but as the dragon opened his mouth it was not a growl that rung through the air.

It was laughter. Identifiable, human laughter. “Finally!” the dragon cried. “Progeny who has inherited my spine!”

“Jyn’s anger died in the wake of her confusion. She stared, open mouthed at the grinning beast before her.

“Did you all think I hated my human spawn so much that I would insult them as they burned? Did you think I reveled in your pain?” he asked, and as he spoke, his form shrank, until he was just a man, in robes no finer than Jyn’s simple linen. His eyes sparkled, still golden, but his grin now showed teeth no sharper than her own. He held out his arms wide, as if inviting them all for a hug. No one moved.

He returned his attention to the girl in front of him. “I will make you a deal, Jyn. If you can make a wish I have not yet bestowed upon your family, I will spare you the pain of the flame.”

Jyn lifted her chin stubbornly. “Your name.” she replied, then added sweetly, “Great One.”

He grinned, and bowed with a flourish. “I am Rion, son of Ach. How do you claim your birthright?”

Finally, she smiled back at him. “I ask for neither your gold nor land nor even your great wisdom. The only thing I desire, great Rion, is your scales.” she announced.

His expression became harder to read as his grin faded. “I will grant your wish, and hold my bargain that you will not burn on the pyre. But I am afraid it will spare you no pain.” he warned. “If you scream, you will be consumed by far more than flame. Do you accept this?”

She nodded, jaw set. He held out his hand and she stepped forward. In two fluid movements, he clasped one hand around her wrist, and cupped the other on her cheek. Where he touched, lightning followed, and scales bloomed from her skin.

And when Jyn opened her mouth, it was not to scream. It was to sing.

Fallen Stars

Prompt: the old man stares hard at you, seeming to see into your soul. “I will tell you your future.” he says, “but first you must tell me mine.” written 7 January 2021

The night market was alive with music and magic. Dancers in silk skirts twirled between stalls selling amulets, potions, and all manner of enchanted objects. Among the bright colors and bouncing music, a small, hooded figure maneuvered clumsily through the crowd.

Pulling her hood farther down, she searched the stalls until she found the one draped in purple gauze and advertising a fortune teller. Stepping through the curtain, the noise of the night market was dulled to a murmur. The tent was lit by a single oil lamp hanging in the far corner. Sitting on a cushion was a frail looking man swathed in as many layers of gauze as his stall. A short table sat between them, scattered with a variety of items she knew he would not need. For the first time that night, she put her hood down, revealing eyes the silver of pure moonlight. Eyes that matched his exactly.

The man smiled, and said in a language no one else in the market would understand, “I will tell you your future, but first you must tell me mine.”

She sat cross-legged on the empty cushion and replied, “Do you want pretty lies or vague truths?”

He laughed. “How did you find yourself in the land of mortals?”

“Same as you. I fell.” she shifted uncomfortably. “How do I go back?”

“It’s not that simple, child. You have to live out a full human lifetime and make human connections.” he said.

She scoffed. “And you make human connections by conning them?”

“I have loved and lost already.” he spat. “Now I wait for my body to fail me so I can return to the sky.”

Her face twisted in anger and disdain. “Why should I lower myself to such a pitiful existence? Why would I make connections only to lose them?”

The old man smiled sadly at her. “To remember to be human, child. Without it, our light fades.”

He was right, she knew, and she slumped, her energy gone. “It’s not an easy thing to do on purpose.” she complained. He reached over and gently took her hand.

“I know, child. You must do your best to live without focusing on the weight of your past. Humanity is not easy, and neither is love. Such is our curse.”

The girl hung her head, despaired. As tears fell, she felt his arms wrap around her and she began to sob. He held her as she cried, mourning her fall, her curse, and her own humanity. When she was done, he quietly helped her clean her face and gather herself. They embraced, and she pulled her hood back over her eyes before returning to the bustle of the night market.

The Witch’s River

Prompt: I should have drowned, but the river took pity on me and carried me home written 4 January 2020

I don’t remember what I’d been running from. All I remember is that I didn’t hesitate to fling myself off that cliff to get away from it.

I should have drowned. More than that, I should have crashed into the rocks and been crushed below the waves. This I remember clearly. The river rose up to meet me as I fell, slowing my descent and carrying me safely downstream.

I don’t know how long it carried me, but when it set me down I was in a forest I didn’t recognize. At first, I was hesitant to stray too far from the banks, but something in the trees beckoned me further. I had never before felt so safe, surrounded by trees, the ground covered in moss that was soft on my bare feet.

I hadn’t walked far when I found a stone path curving through the trees. The same thing that called me into the forest drew me onto the path, and soon I was approaching a cottage that sat in front of an immense weeping willow. I walked to the door cautiously. After a moment’s hesitation, I knocked.

The door was answered by an unkempt man with a cane. He gave me a warm smile when he saw me. “Ah. From the river, I see. Please, come in. I was just about to eat.”

The inside of the cottage was lined with bookshelves that spilled over with books and journals. There was a table by the fireplace that was just as cluttered, and a set of four plush chairs on the far side of the room.

“How did you know the river brought me here?” I asked as he closed the door behind me.

He smiled. “The river is an old friend. It brought me here, too. Every few years it finds a lost soul and brings it here. Not everyone stays, of course, but some of us find ourselves more at home here than anywhere else.” As he spoke, he spooned stew from a pot on the stove. He passed me a bowl and sat down in one of the chairs, gesturing for me to sit. I picked the softest looking chair and took a spoonful of the stew. It warmed me from the inside out and I sighed, trying not to down the whole thing at once.

“It’s delicious.” I said.

“Thank you. I’m afraid I can’t take credit for the recipe. I found it in one of the journals of the previous residents.” he said. “You can read any of them, if you’d like.”

I thanked him, and we ate in comfortable silence before the crackling fire. He refilled my bowl twice before he offered me a fresh set of clothes and pointed me towards a spare bedroom.

The days that followed were the most peaceful days of my life. The man’s name was Kalon, and he taught me all about the forest and the spirits in it. Eventually he told me about the cottage, and the witch who had built it. The oldest of the journals were her notes, and everyone who stayed took up her work, helping anyone who came to the cottage for spells or shelter.

Then, late one night as we set out bowls to collect rainwater, he asked me if I would stay.

“If I do, what happens to you?” I asked. He smiled.

“I will stay to teach you until you’re ready. Then I will leave.” he answered, setting out the next bowl.

“You told me this place was your home.” I reminded him. “Why would you leave it?”

“There is an entire world beyond this forest. I made two copies of all my notes so I could take them with me. I want to share the knowledge I found in my time here.” he helped me stand once I set out the last bowl. “I’ll be fine.”

I pulled Kalon into a tight hug. “I’ll miss you.” I said. “Come visit if you’re ever in the area, ok?”

He laughed as he returned the embrace. “I’m not leaving yet, my dear.” he rest his chin on my shoulder and whispered, “I’ll miss you too.”