The shaman shook his head sadly and placed his instruments into a worn leather satchel before slowly rising. On the bed beside him, a tiny girl trembled in an uneasy sleep, beads of sweat dotting her pale forehead. The shaman gently tucked the heavy quilt about the child.
"I am sorry Rand," he said, "but Jessicaís fever has grown worse. I fear she is dying, and there is nothing my skills can do."
Randís face was stricken with grief. "You have to be able to help her." He grabbed the old man by his wool shirt. "You have to!"
"I have done what I can," apologized the shaman as he gently pried the young farmerís fingers loose. "Try to keep her warm and comfortable. Iíll return tonight, and check on her again."
Rand collapsed into the chair next to his daughterís bed. The small stool creaked under his weight but held. Jessicaís mother had died in childbirth leaving Rand to raise her alone. He had done his best the past seven years. They were poor, but happy. And Jessica always had plenty of friends from neighboring farms to play with. Such a bright life could not end like this, not from the wasting sickness.
"Perhaps," began the shaman hesitantly.
Rand looked up, tears streaming down his weathered face.
"There are stories, but behind them is a bit of truth."
"What kind of stories?"
The shaman shook his head. "Deep within the great forest south of us live the faerie."
"Faeries? I donít have time for childrenís tales," interrupted Rand angrily. His daughterís life was fading away, and the village shaman spoke nonsense.
"Listen to me," hissed the old man. "I am not talking about simple stories."
Rand leaned back, surprised at the manís harsh tone.
"The faerie are creatures of magic and legend," continued the shaman in a more subdued voice, "but they are real. They hide from human sight wanting nothing to do with us. Iíve also learned that they are in a separate world entirely, but one that touches our own. This forest is one of several places where the worlds coexist. It is there that they can be found most easily, but even then it is difficult."
"How do you know about this?" asked Rand.
The shaman looked down. "Mages have recorded this. They have detailed tomes describing faerie society."
Rand drew in a sharp breath. Like most of the common folk in the realms, he had no liking for those who practiced the dark arts. He preferred shamans who learned the powers of nature Ė herbs and plants and weather. Just the thought of magic that came from nothing made him uncomfortable.
"For all their evil," continued the shaman, seeming to read Randís thoughts, "mages do a good job of recording what they learn. It is from them that I know about the faerie. I studied the magesí writings when I was younger, and when I travel to the cities where they reside, I sometimes am forced to deal with them. If nothing else they like to brag about their wisdom and power." His tone suggested the mages lacked in wisdom at least.
Like most of his neighbors, Rand had never been to a village larger than 50 families, nor had he ever traveled more than 4 days walk from his home. The shaman though was the representative of their small community, and as such he was obligated to make the journey to nearby cities to consult with the lords and deal with administrative matters.
"How can these creatures help me?" asked Rand, hesitantly.
"It is said that the tear of a female faerie given in sorrow can heal any wound or illness. That could save Jessica."
"And you are sure that would help her?"
"IÖ I believe so," replied the old man. "That was one of the things the mages seemed certain about."
Rand scratched at the back of his neck. "How do I find them?"
The shaman was thoughtful for a moment. "I have studied enough of the magesí lore to help you find your way there. But understand this, sorrow and regret are not known among the faerie. They are happy, joyous beings. Worse yet, they kill outsiders who enter their lands without hesitation or remorse. That is why so few even attempt to go there and almost none return."
"Then this is no hope at all," cried Rand.
"There may be a way," the old man continued quickly. "I can give you their appearance Ė an illusion."
"And it would fool them, so they would not kill me on sight?" A small glimmer of hope had appeared in Randís blue eyes.
"Yes, but before I perform the spell I must warn you of some things that are absolutely essential. Time there does not follow the time of our world. If you keep focused on your mission a year there is only a day here, but if you leave your path, let yourself rest, be enthralled by the beauty of that world a day there will be a year here and your daughter will surely die."
The shaman continued. "But despite that warning, you must not rush in. You must gain the trust of a faerie, and find a way to gain a tear of sorrow from her. Do not allow them to know who you are. And do not waiver in your quest."
"I understand," said Rand. He did not, not really, but he had to try. His daughter was dying. That was the only thing that mattered no matter the dangers.
The shaman held up his hand. "Let me give you the rest of the lore I possess about the faerie."
Rand nodded impatiently.
"Stay away from their mages. They are worse than the dark ones among us, if that were possible, and they have the ability to see true. They will know what you are if they get a chance to gaze upon you."
"Is that all?" asked Rand when the old man fell silent.
The shaman nodded sadly. "I know little else about them, and I cannot guarantee that my words are totally true, but..." He paused. "I do not wish to see more of your family perish. I risk my soul in sending you to what may be certain death, but I cannot hide the chance of saving Jessica from you."
"I thank you." Rand tried to smile. Leaning down he brushed Jessicaís dark hair aside. He then gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. "Goodbye my love, Iíll return soon, and youíll get better, I promise. " He took a deep breath and turned back to the shaman. "Youíll watch over her?"
The shaman nodded and led him outside. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a slight autumn breeze that seemed to mock Rand in his time of sorrow. But at least he had a chance, albeit a slim one.
"I will make sure she is safe and comfortable until you return," said the shaman.
The old man bent down and took a handful of soil from the ground. Rubbing the earth on Randís face he uttered a prayer to the gods. A shiver ran through Randís body, then a shocking pain. He was knocked to his knees by the agony. He distantly felt the shamanís hands steadying him. Then just as suddenly, the pain vanished.
"Look at yourself," suggested the shaman.
Rand stared at his reflection in a water trough next to the small cabin. The image that stared back was not his own. It was finer with delicate features and large oval eyes that seemed to take up too much of his face.
"What?" He stopped. His voice was different as well. It sounded musical, almost like he was singing.
Rand moved his arms in front of his face. They were slender, and when the afternoon sun struck them he could see a faint hint of green. He grabbed his hair Ė it fell almost to the small of his back. He looked up at the shaman, instead of down like he normally did.
"You have their appearance," explained the shaman. "Go now and do not stray from your quest. As long as you are on the path, you have all the time you require. Take this. Break it and the illusion will end returning you to our world." He handed a small, carved bone to Rand.
"How do I get there?"
"Just enter the forest seeking them. The worlds overlap in that wood. If you seek their realm, you will find it."
"Have you ever been there?"
The shaman was silent for a time. "I attempted to do something like this when I was young and thought myself brave and adventurous, butÖ but I turned back shortly after entering their forest. It is a different world, beautiful but so dangerous." He placed his hand on Randís shoulder. "You have a true and just reason to attempt this. Do not forget that. It will steel you against the fear and unknown. Remember my instructions. Stay away from their mages. Do not forget your purpose or you will lose yourself in their world. And remember that faeries are not human. They do not think or feel as we do. They may understand love, but it is not the same as ours."
Rand uttered a final thanks to the old man and ran toward the forest.
* * *
Standing at the edge of the dark wood, Rand surveyed this place he knew so well. He had come here many times during his childhood to play and explore. Later it had become a haven from the chores of everyday farming and a place to hunt deer for the family table. But it appeared different now. The forest seemed more alive. The sounds of birds, squirrels, and many animals he could not recall having ever heard before seeped from the depths of the forest and the branches far overhead.
He was frightened of what would happen when he entered this place now, but he could delay no longer. Taking a deep breath, Rand walked into the forest. As he entered the woods the sunlight was immediately dimmed by the thick foliage overhead, but what light was lost due to the gnarled, ancient trees was gained back by the multitude of fireflies. It was a beautiful site, thousands of the creatures darting in and out between the trees and branches, glowing bright gold for a few seconds then disappearing in the shadows. It was a beautiful, almost surreal, sight. Rand had seen fireflies in the forest many times before but never in gatherings this large, and not during the day. It was strange, but somehow comforting. He could have stayed and simply gazed at them for hours, but his daughter needed him. Shaking his head, Rand headed deeper in the wood.
After several hours of brisk walking he came across a small brook. The clear water shimmered as a stray beam of sunlight managed to sneak past the leaves and branches overhead. Thirsty, Rand sat beside the stream. Using a cupped hand he took several sips of water. It was cool and refreshing. With a sigh, he removed his boots and put his feet in the fast flowing water. It felt good to pause, if only for a moment.
A rustling noise broke the silence. Turning towards the sound Rand saw a figure burst through the underbrush. He immediately jumped to his feet, and then smiled when he saw it was a faerie, a young female. The smile vanished when he noted what she carried in her hands.
The faerie ran straight at him lifting her short spear in preparation of a throw. Rand dove to the side, ending up in the brook with a loud splash. Cold water poured over him, but that was all. The spear did not strike. Heart pounding from the shock, Rand raised his head out of the water and turned to see what was happening. Nearby was a man-sized monster lying on its back with the faerieís spear driven deep into its chest. The thing was horrid looking with a dark, mangy fur and a face reminiscent of a boar complete with curving tusks. Rand could only guess it was an orc, another creature of legend.
"Iím sorry for ruining your fun," said the faerie, "but I couldnít pass up the chance."
"My fun?" asked Rand, confused. He carefully stepped out of the stream and reached for his boots.
Her eyes twinkled merrily. "I know you were playing with him, letting him sneak up on you like that. And you timed your dive perfectly letting my spear zip right through where you were standing." She began to giggle. "And the water! That orc had such a look of surprise on its face. It was wonderful." She sat on the ground, laughing so hard that her next words were totally incomprehensible.
Rand couldnít help but smile himself. Although this woman had just killed with great amusement and fun, her merriment was overwhelming and her words sounded like the melody of some half-forgotten song from his childhood.
Finally she stopped and looked at Rand more carefully. "I donít know you. You are new to this forest?"
"Yes," said Rand. He didnít know what else to say.
The faerie giggled and handed him a muffin that she removed from a belt pouch. "Well then, it is good to meet you. Here have this. Itís tasty." Her smile was full of confidence.
Rand thanked her and took a good look at her while biting into the delicious pastry. She was roughly the same size as himself, maybe five feet in height and very slender. Her skin also had a faint green tint to it, but her long hair was solid white with blue streaks whereas his was jet black. Like him, she was dressed in simple leather trousers and shirt with high laced boots. Her leather though fit tightly showing off her figure.
"Now let me guess where you are from. Grinil?"
Rand shook his head no.
"Yes," said Rand. He had no idea where Theadoen was, but he wanted to get off the topic of his past immediately. He knew nothing of the faeriesí way and discussing it would reveal him.
"What are you doing way up here?" she asked as she cleaned her spear in the water.
"Adventure. I wanted to see the world." He hoped this quick fabrication would work.
She raised an eyebrow, then grinned broadly. "Well you have found the right girl. Have you been to our land before?"
He shook his head.
"Wonderful. Well I donít mean itís wonderful that you havenít been here before, but now I can show you around. It is very beautiful here. And Iíll take you to our city where we are having a celebration soon." She grabbed his arm and led him into the forest. "Oh, my name is Ariel."
"Rand, hmm. You are an interesting fellow Rand, but donít take that the wrong way, I like strange, mysterious men from far off places." She winked at him as she dragged him further into the forest. "And we donít get that many visitors here."
He was surprised by her friendliness to a complete stranger. Her cheerful nature seemed to be contagious, and Rand couldnít help but like her right away. This lighthearted girl might just be the one who could help him.
Rand kept up with the faerieís fast pace as best he could. Despite their hurried step though, he could not help but stare at her. Ariel was so lovely, not like a human woman for no faerie could ever be confused with one of his kind, but nevertheless there was no denying her beauty. Rand also thought he could smell a slight honey scent permeating from her, and her hand seemed to warm his heart as much as his skin. It felt so good to be close to her. He didnít know why but this place, this woman, almost made him forget why he had come. But Rand knew the danger of that, and he kept the thought of Jessica in his mind at all times.
It wasnít too long before Ariel stopped and motioned him to remain quiet. During the short run, which had followed the brook upstream, he had tried to ask where they were going, but she simply hushed him saying it was a surprise. Rand was concerned, but he tried not to show it.
"Well, since you have not been to Rthutan before, I am sure you want to see the prize of this area," whispered Ariel. "They are such a marvelous creatures."
"What creature is that?"
"Donít be silly, you know. Itís almost nightfall. They should come here for a drink soon."
They sat for a few minutes, Ariel never letting go of his hand. Rand began to feel even more uncomfortable as she continually stared at him, but her smile never seemed to fade. Then again, he had been staring at her as well. He knew it was rude, but he just couldnít help it. Why though wouldnít she stop looking at him? Did she suspect something? From her actions, Rand didnít think so.
There was a low rustling from the brush on the other side of the small clearing. A large, spiral horn appeared, followed by a huge, white head. It was a unicorn. Rand felt his heart skip a beat. Sensing no danger, the magnificent animal stepped into the clearing. A moment later, a smaller unicorn, possibly its mate, came through the trees. They had glimmering eyes and long, flowing manes. After a few playful nudges the pair bent down to drink.
Arielís voice was soft. "They are so beautiful."
"Yes, they are." He was almost speechless. Jessica would love to see this.
She gripped his hand tighter and pulled him towards the unicorns.
"What are you doing?" he whispered.
"Letís go pet them."
"You are joking."
"Donít worry," laughed Ariel, "Theyíll let us."
Rand held back as his new companion just walked up and began to stroke their necks. They seemed to enjoy the attention and even went so far as to lean up against her. Ariel motioned Rand to come over as well. He approached slowly but before he got too close the male snorted and stepped away. It kept sniffing at the air, and Rand went pale with the fear that it would attack him.
Ariel spoke in her musical voice, soothing the animal. "Donít worry, heís a friend. He has just now come to our forest."
This time the unicorn allowed Rand to touch him.
* * *
It had been difficult to leave the unicorns, but eventually they finished drinking and went their own way leaving Ariel and Rand by the brook. Remaining there, the two began to make camp as darkness quickly descended upon the forest. Those individuals who have not experienced it generally have difficulty appreciating the intense blackness of a large, ancient wood at night. Even during the day little sunlight makes it to the forest floor, but when the sun sets the limited light of the moon and stars is completely obstructed. Despite this, Rand seemed to be able to see somewhat Ė much better than he could in human form Ė but far from perfectly.
Ariel was almost finished preparing the fire. She had debated with herself on whether or not to light one, finally deciding that a hot dinner of stew would be preferable to more muffins. Rand was simply happy for the protection a fire would bring them. Most wildlife would avoid it. He paused thinking on the orc they encountered earlier. Would a monster like that stay away? Ariel didnít seem concerned though, and she had killed the first one easily enough. He would just have to trust in her judgment.
"There we go," she said as the fire crackled to life.
"You should have let me help," said Rand.
"Nonsense," she declared. "You are my guest and my new friend." She sat next to him so their shoulders touched. "Now, tell me of your home."
Rand swallowed hard. "I would prefer to hear of this forest. Iím not familiar with it, and I wouldnít want to do anything foolish."
"Well," smiled Ariel, "foolishness can be fun. But Iíll tell you about Rthutan."
That was the second time Ariel used that name. Rand guessed it was what the faeries called their land.
"Weíve lived here for many generations, and weíve made the forest a wonderful place. We all take some time now and then to walk about making sure it remains beautiful and isnít defiled by orcs." Arielís voice was full of pride as she talked about her home. "I spend most of my time doing that. Itís more fun."
"Are the orcs a problem?"
She laughed. "Of course not. They sometimes leave their homes in the mountains and come here to cause trouble, but they never last long. They are barely even an annoyance."
They spoke deep into the night. It proved fairly easy to keep Ariel off the topic of his past, although Rand had been forced to describe his parents to her. He mainly focused on his mother whose greatest joy had been her flower garden. Ariel seemed to respect that, especially when he spoke of the climbing roses she had grown.
Ariel was a good listener and pleasant company. Rand was enjoying the time they spent together, but he always kept his mind on his daughter. That was the one thing he could not forget. And he thought he understood more of the danger of this place. If not for Jessica, it would indeed be easy to lose himself in the wondrous world.
* * *
For the next two days Ariel showed Rand the splendor of her forest home. He learned a great deal in that short period of time. Ariel was young by faerie standards and had spent most of her time training to be a scout among the faerie warriors. The faerie did not fight wars as humans did, since there were no enemies who could truly threaten them, but one never knew when trained warriors would come in handy. And her people did enjoy antagonizing the orcs with raids of their own.
Despite mentioning the city several times, Ariel had not taken them anywhere near it. She had repeatedly said she wanted to wait for the start of their festival, which was this very night. For his part Rand was concerned. What if faerie mages were in the city? That would end his quest and doom his daughter. Also, Ariel had shown no signs of sorrow. In fact she had shown only unending joy. How was she to shed a tear when she was always happy?
During their time exploring the forest, they had encountered no other faeries. That seemed unusual to Rand, but as he had no idea how many of them lived in this place, he could not be sure. Maybe Ariel was just trying to keep him to herself. That didnít seem likely, but they were getting along wonderfully. And she was the first woman Rand had been able to speak to, truly speak to, since his wife had died seven years ago.
Finally though, Ariel had said it was time to go the faerie city. They arrived near dusk, and once again Rand found himself staring in amazement at this wonderful world. The buildings were small, well-crafted structures that sat in hollows between the great trees. Others rested high above nestled safely among the web of branches. All were joyously decorated. And everywhere he looked were magical balls, the lights within dimming and brightening in a swirl of rainbow colors. It was very surreal, but beautiful.
As they headed into the city center hundreds of faeries came forward to greet them. They seemed to flock around Rand with cheerful smiles, always leaving the impression that if he needed anything he only had to ask. The faeries all appeared exotic and wonderful, but in Randís mind none compared in beauty and charm to his Ariel.
The festivities were already in full swing. Everyone was drinking and eating and having immense fun, except for Rand. He realized now that he had erred gravely. He should not be here. There would be no tears of sorrow in this place, not tonight, and there had to be mages about. Even the most studious, evil sorcerer would have to come and see this event, if only for a short time. But how could he get away. Ariel was keeping a firm grip on his hand, and if he did pull away, what would happen to Jessica.
Next to a small pond were a mass of tables heaped with food and drink, but none of the faeries served themselves. Instead they selected something and gave it to another, seemingly randomly. Rand was handed a piece of cake and a glass of mead, but the moment he finished, someone else pushed a slice of venison toward him. And everything seemed to be going to his head. The mead was quite strong, and he thought the food might have some alcohol baked into it as well. It was not long before Randís head began spinning.
Wanting to dance, Ariel swung Rand onto one of the many dancing circles. Unsurprisingly, Ariel was a graceful dancer, even considering the fact that she had consumed as much drink as himself. She twirled and moved almost magically, making Rand feel awkward by comparison, but she smiled and held him tight paying little attention to the actual dance.
After a few minutes the music suddenly transformed into a slow, artful melody. Arielís smile grew even bigger, and she pulled Rand closer. "I was thinking, why donít you stay awhile longer, I have plenty of more adventures we can go on." There was a hopeful look in her eyes.
Rand wanted to say yes. He had not been this happy, this content, in a very long time. He could picture himself living here, with Ariel. But these feelings were quickly pushed aside with thoughts of Jessica. He would never abandon her. He had to get a tear of sorrow and return, and he had to leave this city soon. He couldnít remain. It was too dangerous.
"I donít know. I may have to return to my home soon, at least for a while."
"Please, at least think about it," said Ariel as she stared into his blue eyes.
Rand just nodded.
The slow song finally faded and the upbeat music began again with the help of a chorus of flutes. Rand held Ariel in his arms. As they flowed with the music he wondered what to do next. Soon though, the drink and dancing began to overtake his senses, and the night quickly became a blur.
* * *
Rand called out to his daughter. "Iím back sweetheart."
He was smiling as he opened the door to his small house. It was dark and cold inside. The fire was out, and only silence greeted him. Rand frowned and stumbled to the table where he lit the lantern. A shriek of terror left his lips when the light revealed the contents of the room. Still laying on the bed was Jessica. But she was long dead, and little but bone and tattered clothing remained. Cobwebs lay thick about the room, and a small beetle scurried across her skull.
Rand fell to the foot of the bed and screamed.
* * *
Waking in a cold sweat, Rand sat upright and tried to get his bearing. He sighed with relief when he saw he was still in the faerie city. It had only been a dream. His daughter was still alive. She had to be. He had kept focused on his quest, or had the dance taken him too far off track. No, Jessica was alive. He would not even consider anything else.
Rand shook his head trying to clear it. The celebration had been almost too much, but they werenít the only faeries who had gone to sleep in the middle of the park. He looked down at Ariel who was lying beside him in the soft grass. Even while resting, she appeared content and happy. Rand groaned in desperation. How was he going to save Jessica?
"Whatís wrong?" asked Ariel. She blinked a few times before staring at him with her bright eyes.
"I didnít mean to wake you," said Rand.
"Thatís okay," she yawned. "I should be getting up anyway."
"Do you trust me?" asked Rand hesitantly.
"Of course," Ariel said, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Good, I need to show you something."
"Okay, but after breakfast. Iím starving."
"Now?" For the first time her smile disappeared, turning into a look of confusion. "Arenít you hungry?" Her grin suddenly came back as if by magic. "You know breakfast is important, otherwise you wonít have enough energy to make it through the day."
"I need your help, and it needs to be now."
She got up and nodded. "If it is that important to you, of course Iíll help. Where are we going?"
"Iíll show you."
He quickly rose and helped her climb to her feet. Most of the faeries were still asleep, so they tried to be quiet as they made their way out of the city.
They traveled quickly, with Ariel chatting away merrily the entire time, and it didnít take them long to reach the edge of the forest. Here Ariel seemed to hesitate, as if she was unsure of what was going to happen.
"Do you mean to leave the wood?" she asked.
"Yes," replied Rand.
"It is not as safe outside our forest," Ariel said.
"Sometimes you have to take a risk," remarked Rand.
"Risks increase the chance of fun," she agreed.
Rand nodded and quickly led her to his house. The area seemed shadowy and insubstantial in this world of the faerie, but they were close enough to union of worlds in the forest that they were able to arrive at his home. A human voice could be heard briefly coming from the house, but it was a whisper that was quickly carried away by the wind.
"This is a human settlement," said Ariel. "We should not be here. It is forbidden."
"Have you ever cried?" Rand asked her.
"What kind of question is that?"
"Please answer the question Ariel. It is important that I know."
"No, I have not."
"Has any faerie cried?" His voice was tinged with desperation and despair.
Ariel looked at him funny. "No, well one time I saw a mother cry. Her son died in an accident, but that was a long time ago."
Rand nodded and started to pace back and forth.
"Whatís wrong Rand?"
He stopped and put his hands on her shoulders.
"I need your help Ariel. I need it more than anything else."
"Of course Rand, I would do anything for you." She smiled reassuringly, although she did not understand what was happening.
Rand nodded. "There is a little girl who lives in this house. She needs our help."
Ariel took a step back and put her hands on her hips. "A human?"
"I will not help a human. We are supposed to stay away from them no matter what and kill any that happen to come near us. You are going to get into a lot of trouble. We need to leave."
He tried to smile. "Think of it as an adventure."
"Helping thoseÖ those parasites is not an adventure, and itís more of a risk than I am willing to take. Iím going back."
"Please." Rand grabbed her arm and swung her around. This was not going well. "There is this little girl who is dying. I heard her crying before, when I was journeying to your forest, and looked in. She will not last much longer."
"What does this have to do with me?"
"Your tears can heal her."
Ariel sighed. "Maybe. A womanís tears can heal almost anything. But how I am to cry for someone I donít care about."
"You must help!"
She gave him a kiss. "You have a big heart Rand, and it is very kind that you want to do this for a child, even if it is a human. But we are strictly forbidden to have any contact with them. Besides, I donít think anyone has placed a tear on a human before. It might not even work." Ariel didnít notice Randís stricken look as she pondered the issue.
Ariel turned and started to walk back toward the forest. "I am sorry Rand, you ask too much of me, and I would do almost anything for you."
"But you wonít do this," he said flatly.
She stopped. "I wish I could help you. I really do Rand. But you must leave the human problems to the humans. We donít interfere in their lives, and we donít allow them to interfere in ours. It is the best way for both of us."
"Is it the best way," he asked, "or the only way youíve been taught? Please, she is dying as we speak."
Ariel crouched down and ran her fingers across the earth. "Let me think on it Rand. I donít understand why you should care for a simple human child you passed by one night on your travels, but you are aÖ a wonderful person. Just give me some time to think it over. Adventure or not, it goes against all our customs and laws. I donít want to get into that much trouble, and I definitely donít want to see you get in any trouble at all." She gave him one of her more charming smiles.
Rand nodded earning a tight hug from Ariel, and together they slowly walked back in silence. Rand wanted to press his case, but now was not the time. He didnít want to upset Ariel further or have his pressuring make her refuse him. He had to let Ariel think about it for a while. Then he would try again. He was certain she would help him in the end. He had to believe that.
They were not even a hundred feet within the forest when a pair of faerie warriors burst from their hiding places and leapt toward Rand. They moved fast, and the surprised man didnít even have time to react before his arms were securely held behind him. After a moment of shock, Ariel regained her senses and moved to stop them, but a voice called out to her.
"Do not interfere child."
"What is going on?" demanded Ariel.
The faerie stepped out from beside the large tree where he had been standing. He was clad in the long, flowing robes mages seemed to favor. Randís heart sank. He had hoped heíd made it through the city without being seen. It seemed he was wrong. It was over now. Jessica would die.
"Observe," said the mage.
He sprinkled some red dust on Randís head and the illusion melted away. Suddenly the two faerie warriors were holding a human much larger than themselves, but Rand did not struggle. Despair had completely overtaken him.
Ariel was speechless. Rand was a human! How could he have fooled her so? It was not possible. This must be a trick of some sort. Rand did not have a humanís soul.
"Kill him," ordered the mage.
The warriors threw Rand to the ground. He was now crying.
"Yes human," mocked the faerie mage. "Cry for mercy as if it will do any good."
"Ariel, I am sorry I lied to you, but I had no choice. The girl in the house is my daughter. You have to help her. She will die without your help. Please, help her." He broke down, his body shaking.
"What is he speaking of?" asked one of the warriors.
"Donít know. Donít care," replied the other. He drew his sword and began sharpening the blade. He didnít want to botch the beheading in front of an important mage, especially one that was in a nasty mood.
Ariel turned her back on Rand and took a step toward the city. How could she have been so foolish as to care for this man? She did not know. She did not care. It had all been a mistake. Then she hesitated, as the sound of his cries seemed to call her. Rand had been so nice, so kind, so funny. How could he be human? It didnít make sense. Neither did her feelings. She looked back at him once more.
"This is wrong," she declared timidly, trying unsuccessfully to gain control of her emotions.
"What is wrong?" asked the mage. He looked about. "Am I missing something? There arenít more of them, are there?"
"We cannot kill this man," explained Ariel, gaining strength as she chose her course of action, and becoming strangely furious at the confused look on the mageís face.
"Of course we can little girl. Heís human. Thatís what we do to them. Now step back please. You donít want blood on you. Itís hard to wash out."
"No!" screamed Ariel as she lunged at the callous, uncaring mage.
She was immediately bound in an invisible web that prevented her from moving or speaking. Despite all her strength and determination, she could do nothing. Her expression though was one of fury and hatred, all directed at the faerie before her.
"Umm, sir?" asked one of the warriors. This was unexpected, and they didnít like what was happening. Faeries werenít supposed to fight among themselves.
"Oh, she is just upset about the whole matter of being tricked and not thinking straight. This one used magic of some sort. He might have cast a spell on her. Hmm, yes, he must have to make her act this way. Well, it will vanish upon his death. That is the nature of such magic. Kill him. We canít have anyone enchanting our people."
"Iím sorry," muttered Rand as the warriors dragged him up making him kneel before them. The one with the sword lifted his weapon high.
Ariel looked at the sword. It appeared to be moving so slowly.
Rand twisted his head to look at Ariel. His face was haggard and streaked with tears. His blue eyes, the same eyes that Ariel first gazed upon when she met him, reflected the torment deep within his heart. He mouthed one final message to her.
The sword came down.
* * *
A storm raged outside the small house. Wind and rain slammed against the walls as if trying to gain entrance, but they managed to stand firm against the onslaught. The shaman tried to ignore the weather as he sat beside the dying girl doing his best to keep her comfortable. It had been hours since Rand left, and he was getting concerned. This strange storm that arose from nowhere seemed to lend credence to his worries.
Over the howling wind the shaman heard a quick rap at the door. He ignored it thinking it a branch blown against the wood. No one would be out in this weather. Then there was another knock. Frowning, the shaman got up. Who could be there? Perhaps Rand had returned? Hurrying, the old man pulled the door open. The stormís full fury struck at him, and he was forced back a step. He tried to get it closed again, but someone pushed past him.
The figure slammed the door shut. Wiping the water from his eyes, the shaman was shocked to see a beautiful faerie woman standing before him. Despite the stormís fury, she seemed dry and unperturbed.
"Rand?" he asked as she pushed past him. The shaman was sure she was here to carry out the faeriesí vengeance on them all.
Ariel shook her head solemnly and turned away from the old man.
Gliding over to the bed, she looked down on Jessica. The little girl was pale and barely breathing. The bed sheets were damp with her sweat, and Ariel could feel the life leaving the child. She leaned over the sick girl. Then a powerful emotion filled Ariel, one she had never before felt. The sadness and sorrow of the day overwhelmed her, and for the first time in her entire life, Ariel cried. She cried for Rand. She cried for Jessica. She cried for herself. And Ariel cried for the last words Rand gave her, "I love you."
The tears drifted down her cheeks. Like tiny crystal gems they glittered in the lamplight and landed on Jessicaís face. The tears washed away the sweat, cooling her, relaxing her. The little girlís breathing seemed to ease, and her color began to return. Then, for the first time in almost two weeks, Jessica fell into a restful sleep. But Arielís heart-wrenching sobs did not cease.
Bio: Kyle Vorwerk and Joshua J. Scott have previous been published in Outer Rim and Dark Moon Rising
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