Beware, ye wise, the mirror-glass fae
The trickster vain and cruel
He hides ‘twixt glass and dark and day
To seek and catch the fool
Somewhere in dusk and dying light,
The mirror fae lurks and waits
His smile is bright as stars a-flight
His glass-gaze ne’er abates
Take care that ye not stare too deep
Or at the mirror linger
He there awaits new souls to reap
And wear upon his fingers
Those ringéd fingers, shadow-thin
Would scarcely hesitate
To grasp at ye, rend soul from skin
And bind ye to his fate
Three of the children of Lyhre walked the dusty streets, enjoying their last few moments of freedom before nightfall. Even in the dusk, the town was busy and bright, nestled tightly in the foothills of the mountains.
“Watch yerself, Bronson,” called a wire-haired boy named Will. The gangly child was the oldest of the band, and their self-proclaimed leader.
“What for?” Elyan Bronson asked as he strode down the narrow alley, illuminated by torchlight and the setting sun. He was new to Lyhre, a boy from the countryside who’d come in search of work after his uncle, a farmer, could no longer afford to keep him.
“We’re nearing the mirror keep,” whispered Illen. She had sandy hair and a fiery temper when provoked.
“What’s the mirror keep?”
Will scoffed. “Have ye not listened to the bard songs? It’s the mirror fae’s prison.”
“Where?” Elyan looked around eagerly. In the country, the only gods he knew were the rain and the wind, who were as merciless as they were deaf to petition. He did not believe in the fae, and dismissed the town’s chilling bard songs with an easy smile.
“Up ahead, that building there.” Illen pointed at a plain-looking wooden structure, windows boarded up and door nailed shut.
“Our forefathers rounded up every mirror in Lyhre and locked them inside, to keep the fae from stealing more souls,” Will boasted.
“That’s just a tale.” Elyan glanced at the building, which seemed to pull at the fading daylight in strange ways, twisting pale sunbeams into shadows. “He’s not really in there... is he?”
Illen shrugged. Will pointed at a back window, where the glass was shattered inwards and a few of the boards hung loose, creating an opening just large enough for a boy to slip inside.
“Find out for yerself.”
Illen gasped. “Will, ye can’t be serious? He can’t go in there.”
“Why not? If he’s right, he’ll survive.”
“And if he’s not?” Illen asked darkly.
“I’m not wrong,” Elyan said loudly, eager to prove himself. “There’s no such thing as fae.”
Will stared at him for a moment, sizing up his courage. Reaching into his worn leather bag, Will found a small candle, stolen from some unwitting candlemaker at the market. He handed it to Elyan ceremoniously.
“No,” Illen whispered. The boys ignored her.
Elyan took the candle and lit it at a nearby torch. He set off towards the building without a backward glance, so his friends did not see his conviction waver. They watched him peel another rotted board away from the window and clamber inside, disappearing into the shadows.
“Have ye never wondered, Illen? If it’s all just tales told in the dark?” Will asked.
Illen shook her head fearfully. “The mirror fae took my grandmother’s sister when she was just a child. Ye should not have let him go, his blood is on your hands.”
They call me trickster, dark fae, demon. I drink their curses to the dregs, let the sick sweetness of overripe fear linger on my silver tongue. Let the mortals rage, I care not for the taste of their anger. Let them swear at me, their words mean nothing. I am held here in this realm of glass by a curse much stronger than anything they can muster.
My fingers are long and shadow-thin, adorned with the souls of mortals bound in delicate bands of silver. My teeth are like shards of glass, glinting in the dim light. I have reigned on my mirror-throne longer than any mortal has drawn breath. I will reign even when their world is reduced to shadow and ash.
They think they can forget me, just as you think that you can reduce me to a tale and nothing more.
Ah, the foolishness of mortals.
Elyan could have sworn he heard a whisper as he stood and shook the dust from his sleeves, surveying the room. Inside, mirrors lay along the walls, on the floors, stacked atop each other. Some of them were covered by canvas or cloth, others lay beneath a coat of dust and grime. Still, the glassy surfaces caught the candlelight and cast it about, throwing shadows and flickering figures onto the walls of the dark building.
“There is no such thing as fae,” he muttered to himself, and took another step into the room.
Perhaps you are right.
A shudder ran through Elyan, which he quickly suppressed. It was only his mind playing tricks, or Will and Illen playing a joke. He thought about leaving, but something held him fast.
He walked up to the tallest of the mirrors, which leaned against the far wall, its brass frame peeking out from beneath a black shroud. Elyan’s ears rang with blood and doubt, but he reached up anyway and grasped at the dark satin. He froze, hands shaking. The candlelight danced wildly and his breath came fast and shallow.
You need to know.
He did need to know. Elyan thought of his parents, whose death was but a vague memory. His uncle always said it was a fever that took them. The other farmers said it was a fae’s curse. Elyan no longer knew what to think. He wanted proof.
Come, see for yourself.
Without another thought, Elyan pulled at the shroud. It fell in a cascade of dust and darkness. He choked as the dust cleared, rubbing the dirt from his watering eyes.
From somewhere in the room came the sound of fingernails on glass.
Heart pounding, Elyan looked into the mirror and leapt back with a start.
He began to laugh. It was only himself, his own reflection: a thin boy with dark hair and skin, coated in dust and laughing with mad relief.
But then, in the reflection behind him, something shifted in the darkness. He heard a voice from the mirror: high, thin, and raspy like the wheeze of a dying man.
Who is this, who comes so boldly into my throne-room?
“Show yerself, Will. Enough games.”
Ah, you think I would trick you so?
“I know ye to be a prankster, Will. Ye won’t fool me.”
And if I say that I am not Will?
Elyan paused. “I won’t believe ye. Not unless I see ye.”
A doubter, then. Very well, if seeing is what you wish, look closer.
Elyan leaned forward towards his reflection, his feet tangled in the black shroud. A figure stood behind him, faint and thin, scarcely darker than the shadows in the room. As he watched, the figure grew clearer and closer, until he could see the glint of its glassy eyes and its long, twig-like fingers hanging loose, adorned with glimmering rings.
Do you believe now?
The boy’s breath refused to come. He looked away, seeking an escape, but could barely move. Beside the mirror, he noticed a small table, broken into pieces. He felt an icy hand brush at his shoulder and dove towards the table, grabbing at a wooden leg with his free hand.
Elyan turned, swinging his weapon. He smashed it into the mirror, watching cracks spread across its surface. The figure was gone.
The boy turned to leave, breathless and clutching at the candle and stick tightly.
You cannot be rid of me so easily, mortal.
In a single gust of wind, the canvases, cloths, and layers of dust covering the remaining mirrors were swept away. The room gleamed in the refracted light of the candle. Elyan saw his reflection a hundred times over: a terrified boy clutching at wood and flame for salvation. And in the mirrors behind him the faint and distant figure loomed.
Elyan glanced around. The discarded canvases and cloths were old and dry, as was the wood of the building. With a wicked smile, he held his candle aloft.
“Let me go, or I’ll burn your throne to ash, fae!”
You cannot possibly destroy all the mirrors with your silly little flame. You would die in the fire.
“Maybe not,” he replied, his mind racing desperately, “but I can smash them all.” He began striking at the nearest mirrors with his stick.
NO! Foolish boy!
Elyan dodged as a long arm reached out for him, just missing the stick. He smashed another mirror for good measure, and the fae howled.
“Ha!” Elyan shouted triumphantly. “Let me go, and I will let the rest of your mirrors be.”
There was a long silence.
Very well. But tell me your name before you leave, that I may remember who it was that outwitted me.
The boy drew himself up proudly. “Remember well, demon, that it was Elyan Bronson who bested ye.”
He turned to leave, but a gust of wind held him in place and ripped the candle from his hands. He swung his stick wildly at the mirrors, smashing as many as he could. Behind him, the satin shroud caught fire.
Foolish mortal. I have your name. I bind you to me, Elyan Bronson, from now until the end of time.
Elyan screamed and tried to run. A slender hand held him fast as the flames ate away at the building. Mirrors shattered, knocked about by the wind and flame, but the fae’s grip did not loosen.
The boy wailed fearfully at a sudden flash of light, and saw nothing more.
The people of Lyhre rose from their dinner-tables at the scent of smoke and set out in search of the blaze. Even a single fire could pose disaster for the town.
As the townspeople gathered at the mirror keep, rumors ate through the crowd like flames. Will and Illen dashed about, begging for someone to help, but the people of Lyhre stood frozen in fear. This was not a place they were willing to save, no matter who was inside.
A gust of wind caught the smoke and tore it upwards, allowing the townspeople to see the building more clearly. From the ruins and the flames, a figure emerged and approached the crowd.
“It’s the fae!” a woman screamed.
“No, wait!” Illen cried. “It’s Elyan!”
The boy staggered forward, away from the burning building, and collapsed. Illen rushed through the crowd towards him and shook him awake, sobbing.
When he came to, she screamed and dragged herself away.
Curious, the townspeople gathered around to get a better glimpse through the smoke. Those who saw him turned away in fear, covering their faces.
The boy stood and stared out into the crowd with unseeing, mirror-like eyes, a thin smile on his face.
At last, I am free.