Forest Born (part 1)

In the wild corners of the world, home to strange magic and ancient creatures, lie great forests and fields seldom seen by human eyes. And ruling over these lands are those few are brave enough to name. Called the Folk, the Fair Ones, the Good Neighbors, the Fey could almost be mistaken for humans until one is too close for safety. They are known tricksters and troublemakers, prone to flights of fancy and fits of rage in equal measure.

Villages living on the edge of these lands are common prey to these Strangers. Enticing men and women into their territory to enspell them, gifting young children and expectant mothers with curses disguised as blessings. But by far the most complex of their games, and among their favorite, is that of replacing a child. Particularly bored Fey will hide themselves from human eyes and ride the wind into open windows, searching for an unguarded nursery. When one is found they will free the sleeping infant from their cradle, and leave in its place one of their own kind, made to look as exactly like the stolen babe as a reflection in a pond. The forest-born child, now removed from their mother and the magic that cradled them tighter than any parent, will cry an endless sea of tears, and the unfortunate humans will empty their larders in an effort to sate the changeling’s ceaseless appetite.

There are a handful of tricks to preventing such a kidnapping, and many more to convince the fairy thief to return the traded child, but to say which are effective would be as useless as determining how best to convince the wind to change direction. Should the wind even deign to listen is a question itself, and the argument that sways its path one day may be stubbornly ignored the next. The simplest solution, and the one most chose to take, was to stay away from such areas that attracted the attention of the troublesome folk.

Still there sat a village, hidden away and remembered by few, who stubbornly maintained their homes at the borders of the wildlands. When a child was taken, the parents would bundle up the offending replacement, roll up their sleeves and trudge their way into the forest to make the trade themselves. This was their way with their dangerous neighbors, to the amusement or annoyance of the forest people, one could not know.

So it happened that on one such occasion, when a child that was human was replaced by one that was distinctly not, the parents simply lifted the child from its bed and sang a lullaby to soothe him. It was with this wisdom that the parents handled every challenge they faced. When he ate his fill and still complained of hunger, his father went as deep into the forest as he dared to find the copper-colored berries none in the village dared pick. When he woke in the night, inconsolable, his mother sang to him of falling leaves and twisting vines.

They were, of course, asked by their human neighbors why they had not made the journey to retrieve their human offspring, but the pair provided no satisfactory answer. Once, his father said that a fair trade was made, and it was all the elder women spoke about for weeks. Later, his mother simply said that the child was hers, regardless of how he came to sleep in her crib, and would say no more when pressed.

Chosen Bride

In the palace of the emperor lives an honored group of maidens, known for their beauty and prodigious skill. Families of every background can send their daughters to court in hopes of joining them and eventually finding a husband. Men of the court took pride in affording the many services these women offer, among them singing, dancing, and magic, but their true worth was in their knowledge. Called the Dala, their most important skill is the trading of secrets and advising those wise enough to ask. It is for this reason that Prince Nerin sought to choose his bride form among their ranks.

Prince Nerin knew his duties well, and sought to use his rule to bring about an age of great prosperity for his father’s empire. He was well studied, and believed it more important to stabilize his territory rather than expand it, as his predecessors had chosen. In this vein, he had announced that he would not choose a foreign queen, and instead wed one of the Dala.

Many of the Dala threw themselves into their craft and wardrobes in their effort to catch the Prince’s attention. The least subtle among them would find themselves taking strolls along a path that would lead them past his highness. From the time of the announcement, the dining hall of the Dala buzzed with excitement as they shared their strategies for catching the eye of the prince.

Dala Mavka, however, made only a passive effort. She had heard firsthand the stories surrounding the previous consorts, and had decided that no amount of power or wealth could convince her to live under such scrutiny. She did not confide this opinion to the other Dala, or in fact any other living soul, and merely tried to pass her lack of effort as humility or shyness. When her friend Sema, a guard assigned to the Dala quarters, asked why she wasn’t trying as much as the others, she merely told him, “There are far more worthy women to receive the title of consort than I. Why waste my effort?”

Prince Nerin met with each of the Dala in turn, and when Mavka’s turn came, she resolved to be as plainly polite as she could. Surely the other Dala had already told him all the information he could want, and she was not so proud as to think that her talents were outstanding enough to need to downplay them. She entered his chamber carrying a hand woven robe she had beaded with hundreds of tiny gray pearls. Keeping her head down, she presented the garment to the prince, who politely complimented her workmanship.

“If it pleases your highness,” she said, “I have been asked to perform for you.”

He motioned for her to begin with disinterest, but she was pleased to note that by the end of the dance the prince was enraptured. She kept her motions light and elegant as she served their meal and waited for him to speak.

“You are a gifted dancer.” he admitted as she sat. “But what can you tell me of the empire?”

“Many things, your highness, though perhaps few of them of use to you.” she replied simply. “I could recite many moments in history that your highness has certainly heard before. I could sing the poems written of your father’s bravery in battle. And I could inform you of every scrap of gossip that is whispered throughout this palace. But none of these things would make you a better ruler.”

She felt his gaze on her as he studied her and asked, “Then what could you tell me that would make me a better ruler?”

“Nothing, your highness.” she said.

“Nothing?” he repeated. “Are you so quick to admit your own uselessness?”

“Yes, your highness.” she stated, wondering if this was some sort of test she was failing. She pressed on. “There is nothing I could possibly say that would change the type of ruler you will become. I can only give you my own knowledge and opinion. What you do with such knowledge is entirely your own choice.” she waited to see his reaction, wondering if she had offended him.

His posture seemed thoughtful, though, and when she lifted her gaze to his face, she found her vision clouded. She could not even determine what he looked like, much less gauge his expression. She wondered why he had chosen to put on such a spell.

Finally he spoke. “You are wise, Dala Mavka, and honest. I thank you for your insight.” There was a hint of amusement in his voice.

Hesitantly she asked, “Are you mocking me, your highness?”

“Not at all. Merely reflecting on your efforts to disinterest me.” he said.

A hint of panic lodged in her throat. “I am doing no such thing!” she insisted. “Every Dala has put in much effort to impress your highness. It would be arrogant and ungrateful of me to hide my talents.”

He seemed to be smiling. “I do not mean to insult your abilities, Dala. Your craftmanship is exquisite. But I refer to your conversation, and lack of flattery. You wish to disinterest me and offend me just enough that I will look elsewhere for my consort. Why?”

She stumbled for words, trying to understand how he had seen through her so clearly. “The others are far more deserving of your attention, your highness.” she stuttered. “Your consort must be one who will support you in all things-“

He raised a hand to stop her rambling. “Do you think so? Should I not have a wife who is willing to challenge me in the event that I might make a mistake? Should I surround myself with those who merely echo my own thoughts back at me?” he pressed.

“I meant no offense, your highness.” she blurted.

“Of course not.” he said. “And I am not offended. I merely wish for you to understand. May I be frank with you?”

She felt like she was floundering, stumbling through the conversation with the grace of a newborn pup. “Of course, your highness.”

“The Dala that I have met previously have done nothing but flatter and preen. Even the most intelligent and impressive among them fell over themselves in their attempts to impress me. I desire a bride who can be honest without being rude, wise without being proud. You are the only one thus far to meet these expectations.” he explained.

She stared at him outright now. “Surely my lord does not think so highly of me after a single meeting?”

He laughed, and the sound was one that was inexplicably familiar. “Do you not recognize me, Mavka? Perhaps I should remove the spell.”

At his words he passed his hand over his face, and his features came into clear relief. She looked at his crooked nose and solid chin, the glint of glee in his bright green eyes. As if to confirm what she was seeing, he removed his elegant outer robe to reveal a guard’s uniform. She had never before met the prince, but this man was familiar.

“Sema?” she asked, bewildered. “Is this a trick?”

“Of a sort.” he said, his voice changed to the one she recognized. “More like the reveal of one. I do apologize for lying to you, all this time.”

She leaned back, unable to comprehend what this meant. She had spoken to Sema that morning. He had helped to calm her nerves about this meeting. He had been her first friend to make upon her arrival at the palace mere months ago. The guard whom she had confided in the most was the heir to the throne and future ruler of the empire. Her first instinct was to shove him, as she had so often done when Sema had played a trick on her. Her second was to kneel down and beg forgiveness for all the times she’d shoved the prince.

“You… Pretended to be a guard in your own court.” she said numbly.

“I did.” he admitted. “It was the best way to stop all the preening.”

“You told me the prince was an arrogant prick.” she added.

“Something I have been told on many occasions.” he agreed.

“You told me this morning that I had nothing to worry about!” she accused.

He stifled a laugh as she glared at him. “You didn’t though, did you? You were afraid of meeting a stuffy, vain stranger.”

“And instead I have the privilege of meeting a stuffy, vain acquaintance.” she said before she had the chance to regret it. She clapped her hands over her mouth in horror, but the prince was laughing again. “This isn’t funny!” she said. “Do you know what people would say if they heard me speak to you like that?”

“They already have.” he noted. “There were many times you did so quite loudly.”

She thought back to all the times she had scolded him in front of the other Dala and their guards. “Those soldiers…?” she asked.

“Knew my true identity and were tasked with protecting me. My father’s idea, really. It would have been better if they hadn’t known, either.”

Mavka was mortified. That meant that half the palace guards knew how she had spoken to the prince. “And the others?” she asked. “Have you revealed your trickery to them?”

“The others took no notice of Sema.” he replied. “I didn’t even have to enchant my features for them.”

She sighed. “So I was the only fool among them.”

The prince’s manner softened. “No, Mavka. You were the only one to take notice of the people around you. None of the others could call a single guard by name. They are too busy gossiping about the noblemen. You’re not a fool.” he assured her.

“And how shall I address you now? Sema? My lord?” she asked.

“Nerin, if you don’t mind.” he said.

“I couldn’t possibly!” she argued. “You are far too highly ranked above me.”

“It is no more ridiculous a request as when you called me Sema. That was, after all, my childhood nickname.”

Mavka left the meal furious at her friend, but comforted by the thought that with all she had said and done with Sema, there was no chance of Prince Nerin choosing her as his bride. He had simply been teasing her when he had called her wise. The other Dala were not so vain as all that, after all.

Unfortunately, this train of thinking was interrupted as she entered the Dala’s quarters to find them all sitting before their mirrors, discussing how best to attract his highness’ attention.

To the Wolves

Written 8 November 2017

One night, in an act of desperation and extreme sorrow, I literally threw myself to the wolves. Just after midnight, I ran, leaving my shoes and cloak behind. I continued deep into the forest until I was exhausted and my toes were numb. Lost, tired, and melancholy I curled up against a stump and watched for the glint if yellow-green eyes.

When they finally arrived, my eyelids were heavy and I was shivering. The first to approach me was black as the night around me. As such, the only part of him I could see clearly was his eyes. We looked at each other for what felt like an eternity, and eventually he walked up and lay himself down next to me. At that, the rest of the pack followed suit, and I fell asleep in the midst of a living blanket.

This was only the first surprise, for when I woke, I discovered not only did they have no wish to end my life, but they could speak. I discovered this shortly after waking, as the night-colored wolf asked me if I was warm enough.

After my initial shock wore off, I told the pack my story, and they accepted me as one of them. For the wolves were all once like me, and the dark one who approached me was the first, a sorcerer who’d wanted true separation from mankind. They taught me how to change form and I have been running with them ever since.

One night, I threw myself to the wolves, only to learn of their gentleness.

Into Battle

Prompt: “My sword is bright. My arm is strong. My grip is sure.” Written 11 November 2017

I stepped quietly into the tent, adjusting my armguard and watched as the soldier knelt, eyes closed with his sword in his hands.

“My sword is bright” he chanted. “My arm is strong. My grip is sure.” I leaned on a post and sighed loudly.

“And my patience with these pre-battle affirmations is wearing thin. Are we going to battle or not? The enemy does not wait.” I informed him.

“Are you so eager to ride into bloodshed?” he asked.

“Ride? I do not ride. I run headfirst, screaming and cursing, like a true mercenary.” he glared.

“Good men die on the battlefield, you blasphemous woman.” he growled.

“Good men die off the battlefield, you lumbering oaf. Daily.” I replied. “Now get ready to go, husband. I meant it when I said our dear friend will not wait.”

“The dear friend who wants to kill us, you mean.”

I grinned. “Yes, him. Now hurry up.”


Written 11 September 2017.

We looked at ourselves in the full-length mirror, thinking the same thing: our bodies emulated our positions better than our robes. My many braids sparkled with the gold beads threaded in them, shining out of the black. The sun painted on my forehead stood out on my gray-tinted skin. My role was seen as the embodiment of life and power, but I hated it. It was my prison.

Conversely, his wavy blond hair that shone like sunbeams were broken with several raven’s feathers, and the silver crescent painted on his collarbone shimmered against his olive skin. His power was death, a reminder of mortality and of things lost. But he was a way to reconnect with passed loved ones, and I yearned for the peace in his ocean-colored eyes.

I envied him, but I did not begrudge him his happiness and, given the choice, I would not switch roles. I was given the power to channel the divines because I could handle it, and I was placed with him because he could make me happier. We complimented each other, and sat beside one another at the foot of the throne. We were equally powerful, and equally vulnerable.

I was surprised by the realization that here was a man I could share myself with. One who would neither worship nor fear my power. We understood each other. I met his eyes, and saw he had come to the same conclusion.


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