… Eyes like radiant stars looked down on her. Her heart skipped a beat before resuming its insane pace. Though they could be found at any moment, it was not fear she was feeling. It was his hands on the bare skin of her shoulders, where his fingers slipped under her dress to touch her. Her back was pressed against the stone wall, but she didn’t feel the cold. The burning trace of kisses he left on her throat kept her warm. Sighing, she let her head fall back, covering her hands in liquid light…
Dry leaves rustled under the Girls feet. Golden and orange leaves, last remnants of the summer greenery danced with the wind between the now empty branches. For some time Alana was not quite sure if she had crossed the border, left the veil behind her. The lady of the Unseelie Court loved autumn and its colours. So in her realm, the autumn was as eternal as the spring in her sister’s land. Only the wild hunt brought the snow with it, as for they hunted only in winter. And what season it was in the mortal world she could not know.
It was a sharp gust of wind that confirmed her return as she found herself shivering. Nobody was cold in the otherworld. The faeries danced barefoot in the snow, which was one of the reasons why it was so dangerous for humans. For a faerie blooded like her it didn’t hold so many threads but still it was dangerous enough. Mostly though, she couldn’t ever tell how much time had passed.
Soon, a little waterhole was in sight.
Last time she had been here standing at the little Pond in the woods belonging to her Grandfathers estate, it had been late in May. And for her return she had dressed in the same clothes as she had worn on her departure. Then, she had been used to the rigid corset which made breathing a challenge now and the imported light green silk had seemed a fine garment as any. Now it was only caging, dull and too cold for the weather.
The sudden cold sort of wakened her from a long, but not always happy dream. The otherworld with its two courts was not a place of faerie tales. A place of harsh truths, hidden behind magic words. Cruelty veiled in unreal beauty. The eyes could not be trusted. Watching her reflexion in the water, she thought of the kelpie. Beautiful horses that would be the treasure of any stable but wild. Waiting for travellers near large body’s of waters, the waited for the gullible to touch or even mount them to carry them across. And then… They would drown them….
Alana shook her head, trying to collect her wandering thoughts.
Here, everything looked pretty much the same, as if she had just been away for a few weeks. Time did run differently in the two worlds, everyone knew that. There time didn’t matter and if she had been there 100 years. Nobody aged in the otherworld. Grow up, yes, for the faeries sometimes – rarely – had children. Here, a season, a year or several could have passed. Her Grandfather would soon tell her, but she didn’t think it was too long, not with the lady having plans with her.
Finally Alana realized that she had been standing frozen near the lake, watching one golden leaf on the water in the dwindling sunlight. Again it was the cold bringing her to her senses. She drew the knitted shawl tighter around her shoulders. There was still almost a mile to go between her and Fethersten Manor.
The air bore a promise of snow. Not long, maybe a week, maybe two and a thick, white blanket would cover the world. Her green skirts flew around her as she set back in motion. It didn’t take long to get her panting, feeling caged in her dress. How was that possible? She was in much better shape than before her departure, as a strong body could control slightly more magic and the fae loved to dance as she loved it. So dancing had been a vital part of her daily routine.
Her waist was slender, so a tightly laced up corset normally didn’t bother her. But after such a long time in the faerie world, this attire felt strange as well, not just the mortal world. The faeries didn’t lace themselves up and surely they didn’t understand why she did. She was very pretty for a mortal, wasn’t she?
The sound of hooves on the forest soil then made her turn. Before she knew the man on the mounts back, she knew the dapple grey Andalusian was her Stallion Castor. The rider – it had to be one of her Grandfathers grooms –, poor man, had to walk home from here. Amazingly enough, castor had accepted him as a rider. But the fiery stallion would not do so in her presence. Already now she could see him struggle as he knew her scent. The servant fought to keep him reined in as he approached.
“Greetings noble Lady…” The servant dismounted. She never before had seen him and he did not recognize her as well. “Can I be of any assistance? In case you have lost your way, you are on Lord Fethersten’s Land.” His eyes lingered on her thick auburn hair that in the light of the late day glowed in a deep red and fell longer than just to her hips. Yes, good girls had their hair always up and hadn’t he been her families servant, she would have blushed. Though as it was, she should have been able to dance naked before him and he should not have stared like this. Slight anger rose in her chest, as he stared not only at her face but looked down to her naked feet. Just now, she realized, she had forgotten her shoes on the other side.
Her elegantly curved red lips smiled softly, but not really pleasant. The smile didn’t reach her eyes. Instead of an answer, Alana extended her gloved hand and touched the dapple greys silky-soft spot between his nostrils. Had the man with the greying hair not kept him in a firm grip, he would already have been with her, probably rubbing his nose in her hair.
His eyes widened in disbelief. Castor bit people before, but never her. But he couldn’t know, could he?
“Thank you for taking care of my horse. You haven’t yet worked for my grandfather when I left, but I am impressed. Not many of our grooms dare to ride him.” Her voice still had an airy touch to it. Had that really sounded as surreal and unworldly as she had heard? If she already started talking like a real faerie she surely had been gone for too long. Now, she didn’t care anymore that he had to walk back.
“If you would help me onto castors back? I’m not dressed for the weather.”
It was obvious that he had not been employed in her family’s service for too long. He didn’t seem to know about their connections to the faerie-world, finding her here was strange to him.
“Miss?” He sounded unsure. No, he was unsure. She felt his feeling, inside her. That was an emotion faeries hardly felt. A strange reminder of humanity.
However, she didn’t need his help. Castor was taller than she was and getting help was more ladylike by far, but if he continued to stand there dumbfounded, she would get on the stallions back herself.
It took only a few steps to glide round him to the horses flank. “Would you help me or not? I assure you, now that I’m back, he will run for nobody but me.”
She saw him turn, reluctantly, but he didn’t argue further and folded his hands so she could step on. When her bare foot was securely in his grip he lifted her, she pulled herself up the saddle and turned so she could sit on the saddle. It was a men’s saddle, of course and her skirt didn’t allow her to use it properly but she had done this before. As awkward and uncomfortable as it was, she managed to sit gracefully, one leg over the knob. He held her foot longer than necessary, his fingers barely moving, but still she felt him tracing the skin. The touch of a human… Strange, but not… entirely unpleasant. Upon her look, he looked away quickly and let go. The young woman then covered the foot with the dress. Who knew how many other new servants she would shock otherwise?
Alana then stretched her hand out for the reins, even if the man was not happy to give it to her. As she was used to, Castor felt into trot after the slightest nudge. The feeling of Castor under her filled her with joy. He was one of the many things she had dearly missed, along with her best friend and her dogs. Yes, she had missed her boys a lot.
She didn’t look back if the groom kept up with her.
Only moonlight lit her path, when she made her way back to the little pond in the wood with her hair unbound as it had been in Lady Morganas lands. It was very late and all good girls already slept in their beds. But on Alana’s windowsill had been a hazelnut, when she brushed her hair before going to bed. Also good girls did not ignore summons by the lady, so she had slipped past the servants into the cold night. Mist surrounded her and let her feel the other world really close.
Not far in the trees a willow of wisps waited for her. With dreaming steps the girl followed it deeper in the woods, never sure in which world she treaded. Between the worlds was where the wisp leads her. Alone she would never have made her way.
The pond looked somehow exactly the same as when she had left it at sunset and somehow… it was like walking in a dream again. She sat by the lake, waiting. Water and mirror could be windows.
In the moonlight the water began to ripple and Alana looked closer. A pale, almost translucent hand reached out of the surface. The hand gently touched her neck, pulling her close enough that she almost kissed the surface. The water spirit, in its form a beautiful woman, hair flowing around her like a crown, closed the distance between her lips, breathed a cold kiss on Alana’s lips, before whispering into her ear.
“The sword was stolen from the mistress of the lake. The wheel of the year will turn and the when the veil is thinnest, the sword will be revealed. Don’t suffer unworthy hands to wield it…” it whispered, trailing the wet, blue lips along Alana’s throat. A jolt of heat shot through the young woman’s belly. Slightly panting, she turned her head, hoping to catch another light kiss, but the spirit only smiled and caressed her cheek, before it sank back into the black depths…