"Hey, wait up!" Matthias called to the fleeing figure. It was his responsibility as one of King Thaddeus' huntsman to patrol his forests for poachers. He had originally spotted the young woman getting a drink from the stream. She had long blonde hair, a yellow tunic that complemented her lithe form, and she carried a bow. When she had spotted him, she had fled. True he had approached her with his bow drawn, but he couldn’t be too cautious. A pretty girl was a pretty girl, but a poacher was a poacher.
He knew these forests like the back of his hand. Meanwhile, she appeared to be running confused. She must be new to the trade, or desperate. It had been a difficult winter and the fields were only just being plowed. He initially made great gains as they weaved through his favorite terrain, but the deeper they went the less those gains were.
Then up ahead he could see the forest floor turning blue. The bluebells were in bloom, meaning that they were nearing the Ancient Woods. It was the setting of old myths about elves and faeries and other magical creatures, of wars and the heroes of old. Catwal the Brave, Andulan the Builder, Thaddeus I the Lawgiver. Bards still sung of those tales.
Whether for these myths or not, there were strict laws about entering the Woods’ boundaries. He himself had only entered a handful of times because of the reverence of the place, and never without first informing the king and going through the rituals.
Yet she flew past the boundary without hesitation. Now she had broken more laws than just poaching. Matthias continued to pursue her, his oath to protect the land overcoming his hesitance. Each step deeper she ran with more confidence, and each step made him angrier. For a poacher to make a haven in such a place, that both kings and priests declared sacred, was appalling.
The chase continued for some time. Matthias was young and known for his endurance, but she was keeping a pace that had started to tax him. He could try to draw his bow and stop her with an arrow, but the idea just felt wrong somehow. His anger was still there, but Matthias had to admit that she was starting to impress him.
In the distance he began to hear the sound of falling water. She was heading right for it. The bluebells were growing scattered now as new flowers took their place. Matthias took a quick glance at them. They were yellow like her tunic and tipped with a pretty pink color. He had never seen these before.
When he looked up from the flowers, the young woman had changed her course, ducking behind a hedge that had just appeared. Matthias hurried to the hedge and rounded it. He was greeted by a pool of still water, a stream flowing from one end and a waterfall ten feet tall on the other. It puzzled him how the water could be still with such features. He just stared at it for a few moments, thinking of how it reminded him of the old bard tales. Then he shook his head. Where has she gone?
There was no longer any sight of his quarry. That was frustrating, but not disheartening. He was one of the king’s hunters. The chase may have ended, but the hunt was now afoot. His eyes glanced to the ground. Sure enough he could easily find her footsteps, though they were not as prominent as he would have expected. She was exceedingly light on her feet. He followed the footsteps to the side of the waterfall, the terrain switching from flowered grass to muddy shore and finally to bare rock. If not for the mud he may have lost her trail.
Then it just simply vanished.
Before him was a solid wall of stone beside the waterfall. No sign of handholds, no muddy prints, nothing. He surveyed either side of the trail. Nothing.
Where did she go?!
Matthias knew that she couldn’t have just vanished. He strained his eyes to find any clues. He backtracked her trail to see if anything seemed out of the ordinary. Still nothing.
Now he was bewildered. That was the only word Matthias could think of. Yet there had to be an answer, and it had to be related to the wall. He turned and followed the trail again.
When the stone wall was before him again, he decided not to just survey everything. Whatever she had done, it had to have been done quickly with how close he had been. His eyes still down, he looked to the young woman’s last steps. They were side by side. He looked back along the trail. The distance had closed as she got closer and she had never wavered in her heading.
Sure now that this spot held significance, Matthias studied the wall. There was still nothing that stood out to him, but he knew that the clue was staring back at him. In the back of his mind he worried about how far ahead the young woman had to be. It was a worry that would cloud his judgement if he focused on it, so he ignored it as best he could.
Thinking of her did give him a new idea though. He set his feet over her footsteps, then lowered himself to roughly her height. His eyes danced slowly across the surface, until at long last a set of shadows caught his eye. There were five small dimples in the stone low to his left, irregularly spaced but close enough to each other that his fingers could touch them all at once.
He almost touched the dimples, but at the last moment he hesitated. Something was about to happen. He wasn’t entirely sure what, but in his mind it was a certainty. He drew his hunting knife and held it firmly in his right hand, then he gingerly touched the wall.
In front of him the stone suddenly filled with golden carvings. Matthias gasped in shock, then a second later he felt like he was falling. Around him a mist filled with every color swirled.
Then it ended.
He was standing at the mouth of a cave. In front of him were the backs of six knights, their green armor patterned like leaves. Behind them was a grey haired man with a golden crown. Next to him was the blonde hair of his quarry.
Her gaze turned to him. For a moment their eyes held, then she took her bow from her shoulder and an arrow from her quiver.
“Wait!” Matthias exclaimed, holding up his hands to show he wasn’t a threat. She drew back the bow and held it on him, the six knights with her leveling their own weapons at him. Sweat beaded up on his brow. He let go of the dagger to further show his surrender, but his eyes never left hers.
“Stay your hands.” the crowned man commanded. Immediately the six stood to attention, though the young woman continued to aim at his heart. He could see the emotions in her eyes. Anger was prominent, but it was lined with intrigue. That, or he was imprinting his own feelings from the chase earlier upon her in the hope that she would spare him.
“Prim.” the man commanded again. She held for a moment longer, then she lowered her bow, gave a sigh, then a slight smile turned the corner of her lips.
What is she thinking? Matthias wondered as he lowered his hands. His focus then turned to the man.
“What is your name, human?” the man asked.
“Human?” Mattias replied, then his eyes finally caught the pointed ears and sparkles of light shimmering through nearly transparent wings. “You’re faeries?”
“How observant.” the young woman, Prim, said flippantly.
“I’m surprised that I didn’t notice your wings by the stream.” Matthias said, not really believing it. The wings hardly had anything to them, unlike in the stories he had grown up with.
“What stream was this?” the man asked, both to Matthias and to Prim.
Matthias turned his gaze back to her, and she was worried now. Matthias drew a conclusion and replied, “The one that waters the fields of Redstone, sir.”
The man turned fully to Prim. She averted her gaze in shame. “What were you doing beyond our lands? You know of the old pact.” His response was measured, but his voice betrayed disappointment. When she refused to reply, he asked, “You lost track of your prey, didn’t you?”
Prim nodded in reply. “Yes, my king.”
The king gave a frustrated sigh, then he turned to Matthias. “You still haven’t given me your name, human.”
Matthias stood to attention, as he would before King Thaddeus. “Matthias of Moonvale, sir.”
“You should not address a king as ‘sir’.” he replied, a little warmth ringing in his voice.
“Then what may I call you?”
“I am King Cian, and you may refer to me as ‘your grace’ if you choose not to use my title. Now, how did you find the entrance to my realm? My daughter told me that she had lost your pursuit.”
“Indeed she had, your grace.” Matthais replied, “but I am among King Thaddeus’s favourite huntsmen. I was barely able to follow her trail to the stone wall, and from there to here.”
“Her trail?” asked one of the knights.
“You took a human appearance, didn’t you?” King Cian rebuked.
Prim bit her lip, then nodded. “I was trying to not draw suspicion if I should run into anyone.”
“And by the human’s presence, your plan failed.” another knight said angrily.
“Do not blame her for that.” Matthias remarked sternly. “I patrol the forests to catch poachers and she is carrying a bow. I have never seen her before today and approached her as if she were preparing to hunt my king’s game. Anyone else would have reacted to her differently.”
The faeries were quiet for a few seconds as they took in what he said. Matthias had first stared down the second knight, then turned to Prim. She was tense from the rebukes, and for good reason, but she was looking at him now with thanks in her eyes.
Matthias chose to break the silence. “What were you chasing?”
Prim dropped her gaze, then said, “I had followed a white hart beyond the bluebells. When I loosed my arrow after it, it transformed into an imp and fled. It was right after that that you drew your bow on me.”
“Enough.” King Cian interrupted. “You will have plenty of time to discuss this later.”
Matthias tensed. “What do you mean by that, your grace?”
“There are laws which must be followed. My daughter has violated a sacred law, and so have you by entering our realm.”
“If I may, your grace,” Matthias spoke in measured words so as to hide his nerves, “but I am only here because I believed her to break our own sacred laws and I have no knowledge of your laws.” He did note that Prim didn’t try to counter her sentence.
“It doesn’t matter.” King Cian said. “Take them to the Cellar.”
Matthias knew better than to fight and surrendered his bow to the knight that approached him. The knight took it, then turned back to the king. “How will he get there?”
“You will have to carry him.” King Cian replied as he took to the skies. He was followed by his daughter, who was surrounded by four of the knights.
The remaining two took Matthias under each arm and rose into the air. It was not nearly as graceful as the others, but Matthias just looked around in wonder. It was surreal to just fly through the air. His eyes immediately fixated on the faerie city they were headed towards, lost in the distance while he had been confronted earlier. It rose like a golden plant in a green vale.
Then he looked down. This was a mistake, as the sudden realization of how high up he was caused his stomach to grow faint and his head to spin. His eyes rolled back, and he fell into darkness.
When Matthias awoke from the dream, he realized that it wasn’t one. He sat up quietly on the down mattress. He was in a lavish room with no windows and a single door. Evidently this was the Cellar the king had mentioned.
Makes sense, he thought. Faeries can just fly out of a tower.
He looked to the other corner of the room. Prim was seated on her bed with her head down, her wings wrapped along her arms and down past her thighs. The wings were more noticeable now for some reason.
Prim tilted her head up and saw that he had awoken. “Good morning.” she said in a whisper.
“Is it morning already?” he asked in kind.
“You were out all night. The king will want to know that you are awake so that he can sentence you to the court.”
“He hasn’t already?”
“Faerie law requires the courts to decide capital punishments,” she replied, “even from the king.”
“What is your sentence?” Matthias was still whispering. Prim was clearly concerned that they would be heard.
“The king has removed my birthright as the heir.”
Matthias wanted to say that he was sorry, but something was bothering him. “You keep calling Cian the king, yet he calls you his daughter.”
Prim gave him a sad grin, telling him that he had guessed correctly. “He isn’t my father. He married my mother when my father the king died, and has ruled since her death.”
“If you are the only heir to the throne, then why allow you any freedom?”
“Honestly, I never expected him to go so far. He already made his sons the most powerful among our nobles, but to take away my birthright…” she trailed off, tears starting to form in her eyes.
Matthias crossed the room and sat beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
What she did next surprised him. “I need your help.”
“You were able to enter our realm without using magic.”
Matthias was confused. “I used the magic in the wall.”
Now Prim was confused. “No one has been able to use that magic in generations.”
“Then how did you get through?”
“I used that moment to bring my wings back and flew through the cave behind the waterfall.”
“You didn’t hit the five marks?”
The conversation was going nowhere fast, but Matthias suddenly had an idea. “Was the Cellar built the same time as that wall?”
Prim tilted her head. “Of course.”
“Did the same faerie design it?”
“No.” She scoffed. “Both were made by the elf Andulan.”
He knew that myth well. Andulan the Builder, he who connected the realms. It was his son Andurou the Thief who had always captured Matthias’ imagination. He could always escape from any prison. If Andulan the elf was real, and he had built both the wall and the Cellar...
Matthias rose to his feet. First he walked to the door, then turned and marched towards the far wall. He stopped at about the same distance as he had from the wall, lowered himself, and searched. Nothing to the left or right, then he looked higher. Five dimples, of a different pattern but within a hand’s width, were just visible overhead.
“Take my hand.”
Prim gave him a look, then walked over and gently took his hand. He then placed his hand on the dimples. The wall lit up in the same pattern as the wall, then they fell through the rainbow again. Halfway through he no longer felt her hand.
They emerged at the mouth of a cave. The sky was filled with stars, a light breeze tostled the trees, and in the distance Matthias could see King Thaddeus’s castle.
“Where are we?” Prim asked in his ear.
“That’s home.” Matthias said as he pointed to the castle. He turned to see her reaction to the sight, and his jaw dropped. She was barely six inches tall, standing on his shoulder with her silver wings wide open.
Prim smiled at his shock and hovered off of him. “This is our true size.”
“Then how was I the same size as you when I went through the wall?” he asked in wonder.
“Anyone crossing to the faerie realm takes on our size,” she explained, “though how or why has been lost to us.”
He remembered something like that from one of the bard songs, though which he couldn’t say. “And why are your wings no longer clear?”
“Our magic is strongest in the moonlight.”
“Ah.” was all he could reply.
Prim then flew in close and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you for helping me escape.”
Matthias’ cheeks burned a little. “You’re welcome.” Then he thought about her predicament. “What are you going to do now with your birthright gone?”
“You mean ‘what will WE do’.” she replied. “Cian will go to your king and demand recompense for what has happened. Neither of us is safe.”
There was something in the way she said that that piqued his interest. “Well then, I know a few places we can hide, and a few more that Andurou was rumored to have visited.”
“So you’ll help me regain my father’s throne?”
Matthias smiled. “It is my duty to protect the forests. Your realm is within the most sacred part of the forest, therefore I am bound by duty to it.”
Prim’s smile beamed in the moonlight, then a silvery mist swirled around her and grew. When it dissipated, she stood at the height he had first seen her, this time with her wings and pointed ears. She leaned in and kissed him. “Thank you.”
And so it began.
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This is a great story. I really writing and reading fantasy, so this caught my interest very quickly. Keep up the good work!!
Thank you. I appreciate the encouragement.