My dearest girl,
If you are reading this, then you haven’t burned my letter. It’s more than I deserve, and I’m grateful. I can only imagine what these last years have been like for you. You must have been lonely. You must have felt abandoned. And you must have been so, so angry. Perhaps you still are. I don’t blame you.
As I sit here writing this letter, I know I can’t tell you the truth when I send you away. So let me say it now: I’m so sorry I lied to you. If I had told you where you were going, you would have fought me or run away. And if I had told you the truth - the entire truth - you would have sought them out, like you always seek out everything that puzzles you. You are too curious. It’s one of the things I adore about you. But I can never let them take you.
Our last night together is burned into my memory. In my mind I see your face every day, the way it looks in the moonlight. All shadowy angles and sharp cheekbones. And when I remember your laughter, it’s not just my heart that breaks. I will shatter further every day, whenever I think of you. I imagine you reaching that tower. I think of how your face must crumple when you realise you could never leave. That you would never see your friends or family again. That your life had narrowed down to a small room with only an old servant for company. I’m so sorry, my darling girl. But I had no choice. I can’t not lose your forever.
I will try to explain. You have the right to know why your childhood has been taken away from you.
Do you remember the stories I told you about Margaret, my sister? She was like you. She was always asking questions. She would sneak out onto the roof at night to look at the stars and she couldn’t see a tree without climbing it. I joined her once or twice on her adventures, but usually I was too shy and too scared. I stayed inside with my books, but Margaret was a whirlwind. She got into so much trouble. I remember that she cracked open a wasp nest one day, just because she wanted to see how they’d built it. She must have been stung a dozen times, but she told me later it was worth it. Another time she burned her eyebrows off when she tried to make her own gunpowder. I loved her, almost as much as I love you. And then I lost her. It was All Hallow’s Eve when it happened. I was twelve.
We searched for her, of course. But we never found any trace of her. Then one night, nearly twenty years later, she came skipping into the hall as though nothing had happened. She was still twelve years old but I knew her immediately. Though we weren’t identical twins, we always looked alike. But now I was a woman and she was still a girl with her hair in braids and dirt on her nose. She said she had wandered into the forest at sunset and joined a group of dancers on a hilltop, just for one dance. She’d worn her shoes to shreds but somehow she herself was unchanged. Or so we thought.
No one can pick up the threads of their life after dancing with the fairies, not even Margaret. She threw herself in the river and drowned. She was buried under an old oak tree that she had loved to climb as a child, and I visited her grave often. I talked to her. I told her about my life, and about you. How I would soon be meeting you and how I wished she could meet you too. And then one day the wind talked back. It hissed through the grass and in that sound I heard the fairy queen. She was angry that she had lost Margaret. I fled back inside.
You were born a few months later, and you brought a swirl of colour into my life.
Do you remember how we watched the moon rise together, the night before I sent you away? I heard the fairy queen again that evening. Her voice was a rattle of dry leaves. She wanted what was her due. It was just days before All Hallow’s Eve, seven years since Margaret’s death, and all I could think of was how like her you are. You have that same bright streak of mischief. You tilt your head to the left and scrunch up your nose when you see something you don’t understand, just like her.
I lost Margaret, but I cannot lose you. Better to waste your childhood in a tower than to dance away your life on a hilltop. I hope and pray the fairy queen can’t find you, that your tower is far enough away. There’s running water and a grove of rowan trees nearby, and a a bolt of iron on the door. I’ve heard that these might offer some protection against fairies. I hope it will be enough.
I don’t know what the fairy queen will do when she sees you are gone. I doubt she will leave us alone. But whatever vengeance she wreaks, I will bear it, as long as you are safe. She might come back next year, or the year after, so I must keep you hidden. I won’t write and I won’t visit. I can’t risk it.
I have instructed your servant to give you this letter ten years from now, when you turn seventeen. Perhaps you are not safe, even now, but you are old enough to make your own choices and take your own precautions. I hope your adventurous spirit has not been completely crushed, and that you can find some happiness.
Please don’t think too badly of me. I can understand if you never want to see me again, but I hope you can find it in your heart to send me a message every now and then. I just want to know you are alive.
Your loving mother