The Company of Faire Folk
By Saffia Widdershins
Once upon a time … there was a company of folk who set out to find the mysterious cave that lay in the land of Ardessa, and which was reputed to be filled with the most beautiful crystals … long lost in legend.
These travellers were a diverse bunch – some fae, some warriors. Some were small folk, tinies and dinkies … and there was a kitsune, a young dragon … and a bird who flew high overhead and called out paths they could take. They were brave and merry and true. Noble in spirit were they all; some were of high and noble birth while some were of more humble origins. But they knew no rank within the Company where all were held as equals.
The Company had two leaders – although perhaps they would have smiled at the term. One was a fae Lady, wise and serene after her kind; the other was a Bard whose skill in song and music was held to be peerless. As the Lady led them on, the Bard charmed the air around them with his melodious notes.
Sometimes one of the mounted warriors would offer rides to the smaller folk, because little legs tire faster, and at times the grasses grew high in Ardessa. Sometimes the fae members of the Company, who trod lightly over the land, would let the small folk clutch their skirts. And despite the frequent stickiness of those fingers (which had often been busy in the transfer of waffles to small folks’ mouths), the soft pale sheen of the fae dresses remained unmarked as they paced onwards through the lands.
There was a great forest in Ardessa, and also many gardens and clearings in the forest, some easy to find and explore, some half hidden. The Company climbed great mountains, crossed high (and occasionally perilous) bridges, and travelled into deep gorges, where plunging waterfalls made the air cool and moist.
On their journey, they encountered many creatures: raccoons, deer and meercats. They also discovered unicorns, shyly hiding in the great forest, and dragons – some friendly and some fiercely guarding their eggs. Then the young dragon in the company spoke in strange tongues to his kin and – even though suspicious – the fierce dragons let the Company pass in peace.
But there were darker places in Ardessa too … and some of the Company were afraid when they encountered spiders and skulls with glowing eyes, long separated from their bodies to be set on sticks and provide a ghostly light. They found a dark cave … but quickly realized it was not the one they sought … and they journeyed on.
And then at last they came to a beautiful, ancient tree, ancient even in the memories of the fae. And the Lady told them of the tree, for she remembered how it had been planted in the Fairelands when they were yet young. All across the Fairelands you would see these trees, she recalled, and in other lands too, for the beauty of the trees and the enchantments they cast were much-loved.
And (added the Lady, for she was practical too) it meant they were close to their goal.
For so it proved. Together they walked along the beach, close to the shore – and it may be that a few feet became wet in the process. And at the end of the beach, they found the crystal cave.
What is the end of my tale?
Some say that the Company danced and danced till they were tired, and then softly they slipped away, journeying back to their own homes and rest.
But others say that the Company danced on, danced until the Fairelands faded away into the mists and that somewhere in those mists, the Company of Faire Folk are dancing still
by Caledonia Skytower
Her hand emerged from the nearly vertical cavern, and I reached for it immediately, helping her. That bright head popped right up, the natural blonde of her childhood still visible among the gray. Her skin, always Nordic-fair, was a little worn with living but still shone with vitality and energy. She was in her element.
“Isn’t Ardessa terrific? I reminds me of home.”
“Do you get a lot of Asian dragons and Elvin architecture in the Tieton suburbs, Kim?” I replied, unable to resist teasing someone I had known since early childhood – someone I could not remember not knowing. She glowed in the sunlight.
“Pffft!” She dismissed me with a good natured flip of her hand and a brilliant smile. “Not so much, but plenty of wolves, squirrels and other critters.” Her eyes beamed her with enthusiasm, “I saw the most amazing owl! The feathers were … well, it’s hard to describe.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t a dragon?” I asked.
She paused, pondering for a moment, and then laughed, “No!”
“It’s more than enjoying, it’s discovering. There’s so much to find here. I’m on a quest!”
I smiled, replying, “I understand there are a lot of people on the …”
“No, not ‘the’ quest. My quest.”
“Yeah. Come check this out.”
I scrambled to follow her as she swiftly moved past the sign for Fernsbea Hollow, and scampered up the high stone steps, and navigated the archways with the agility of the experienced climber she was. Trying to keep up with her was a challenge, and my ascent was a bit more awkward. But I was eager to see what had Kim so excited.
She beckoned to me from the heart of the hollow, an eerie emerald light coming from somewhere within. The air was thick with ethereal lights and the scent of high magic. The strange light came from a group of statues, ancient Elvin ancestors captured forever in a protective stone ring around a basin where a magical sphere rotated and glowed – the source of the illumination.
“Look at this!”
She had always been shy, as a child, and her choice of profession as a protector and custodian of the wilds had seemed a natural extension of that. I had never seen her so animated – never seen such gregarious enthusiasm. But Kim’s excitement glowed as brightly as the sphere.
“Do you see it?”
“What am I supposed to see?”
“They are there … they are all there. It’s like a miracle.”
I peered into the sphere and saw vague shapes, a crowd of people, seemingly fair but their features indistinct to me.
“Who are they?”
“It’s my family. Don’t you see?”
“I don’t think I see Dennis …”
“No. My real family. The one I was born to. Not the one I was adopted into.”
Her smile had transformed from enthusiastic to contented.
“Come, let’s find a place to chat. I don’t want to overdose on all this enchantment. Too much of a good thing, and all that. The glowing light is a little disquieting after a while”
So we retraced our path, down the high stone steps and through the Elvin archways. We wound our way around more dragon statuary and a wide variety of creatures who seemed to greet Kim like a beloved friend: wolf, bear, rabbit. The air changed from ethereal to pungently piney. We stopped at a rustic gazebo, where we sat in spacious chairs and refreshed ourselves while she entertained the squirrels who were making themselves at home on the table.
I caught my breath and cleared my throat. “I am surprised you were climbing in the caverns here. I’ve heard that there’s an entrance to the caves of Nedra somewhere around here. I would think you’d want to avoid that.”
She shook her head indulgently at me, “I’ve gone up against the Unweaver three times now, and bested him every time.”
I furrowed my brow, pleased but also a little concerned.
“Oh, I don’t kid myself that I’ve won. Someday, the Unweaver will come back and I won’t be so fortunate.” She leaned in, smiling that exuberant smile again, “But not yet, and not now. Do you know what it’s all taught me?”
She leaned back, still smiling.
“It’s taught me to value what’s real: the plants, the animals, the wonders of nature, the people who really matter in my life. It has compelled me to live in the moment, right now, not waste a second. That’s why finding my real family is so fulfilling. It defines my place, and it’s real.”
She paused, playing hide and seek with a nut, much to the consternation of one of the squirrels. Laughing, Kim relented and surrendered the nut to the squirrel who scurried to the opposite end of the table to worry it open.
“When you fight the Unweaver, it’s easy to become isolated, despite the best intentions of everyone around you. Finding my real family means reminding myself that loneliness is just one more of the Unweaver’s illusions. I am not alone. I never was alone. I never will be.”
I reached for an apple from the bowl on the table, cut it down the center with the convenient knife, and handed Kim half.
“Take that, Unweaver!” I said.
We smiled, and we each took a bite.