Fantasy Coming of Age Fiction

In the stillness of the faerie woodlands, a low keening sound emerged from the dense vines of an old valete tree. A dryad was dying, and the entire forest knew it. The trees shuddered in sympathy, while the woodland faeries flitted in and out of the branches in distress. They whispered amongst themselves, fearful yet curious.

It was always a great event when a dryad reaches his golden age and is in the precipice of being one with nature. The event is especially grand for a male descendant of an ancient Unseelie family. Usually, the event was celebrated with dancing and merriment. Sadly, a proper send-off was not in order, as the dying dryad had been in the throes of excruciating agony for days.

Inside the tree, a crowd surrounded the old dryad.

Among them was a human boy, Lon. By all known human standards, Lon looked to be about sixteen years old, but time worked in a different way in the lands of the faeries. He was actually much, much older than sixteen.

“Tell me what I can do, Mophi?” Lon asked the old dryad, whose milky eyes were squinted in pain yet opened immediately at the sound of the boy’s voice.

“I told you to speak to me only in the human tongue!” hissed Mophisto. The old one’s outburst was punctuated by the snapping of a vine, which whipped across the boy’s face. Lon acknowledged the rebuke and repeated the question in English, albeit haltingly. The unfamiliar cadences of the human language does not flow as fluidly the lilting flute-like sound of faerie speech.

“Perhaps,” One of the female dryad attendants interrupted briskly. “Old one, perhaps we should look through the belongings you have brought in from the human world for clues on what is causing this condition...”

She surreptitiously looked at Lon, as if checking if the boy had taken offense. Lon wordlessly reached under the cot to retrieve a burlap sack. One by one, he removed the contents and laid them out on the bedside table: seashells, combs, a baby feeding bottle, an English dictionary. Murmurs filled the space.  

“Was this thing given to you freely?” The female dryad asks, gesturing toward the book.

“It was a gift,” replies the old one softly. “A human friend gave it to me when I needed to teach Lon the language of his kind.”

He glanced at Lon who was opening the pages of the dictionary curiously.

“Mophi, it’s not a gift” Lon finally said in a sinking voice, “There’s a due date on the back cover when it should have been returned to a library. The dictionary was loaned to you, not given.”

He spread the back cover to reveal the markings inside. Property of Lourde Private Library. The date when the book is due to be returned was stamped below the ownership mark. The book should have been returned more than 70 years ago.

The quiet that suddenly permeated the cavernous tree trunk was deafening. Everyone was thinking the same thing: a faerie can never pass to the afterlife if he had unpaid debts, especially to a  human.

“Lon will return the book. He’s the only one who can,” Mophisto said, suddenly sounding very tired. “Leave us. The boy and I have much to discuss.”

When all the other dryads had left, Mophisto sat upright and gazed at Lon’s suddenly stiff face. The boy always looked like he was ready to revolt whenever anyone suggested that he return to the human world and to the people who left him as a baby in the forest of the feys. Mophisto knew well that Lon would rather stay with the fey.

“My son…” Mophisto said, using the secret endearment he reserved for their private conversations. “The woman who left you in the forest all those years ago might have died already. It has been 70 years.”

Stony silence met the old dryad’s words, even if Lon inclined his head a fracture of an inch to acknowledge Mophisto’s words.

“You must know that the fey tolerates you only because of me. And when I’m gone, you will no longer be welcome. The dryads will turn you over to the Unseelie court, where you will either be treated as a slave, or worse, fodder for the kelpies!”

Lon’s shock was apparent. He had never imagined a life other than with the fey and never considered that they would ever turn against him. Yet, now, his adoptive fey father was saying he had never been considered as one of them.

He had yet to find his voice when Mophisto suddenly broke off one of his fingers and quickly bundled it using a torn burlap square while simultaneously quickly clamping his mouth around the wound to stem the flow of sap.

“When you pay my debt, and I finally die, this piece will also turn to dust. That’s how you would know,” Mophisto said as he tied a piece of string around the bundle and hung it around the boy’s neck gently. The old dryad always had a weakness for humans, especially those who are turned away, rejected, or unloved. It was he who lifted the bawling infant from the ground where it was left to die, leaving an enchanted changeling image made of driftwood in its place.   

Lon left at twilight when everyone seemed to be settling down in their own nests. Lon’s leaving didn’t seem like a grand exit, but he could feel the eyes of all the dryads on him as he went, as well as their relief. They had never been openly hostile towards him, but he suspected that this would change when his surrogate father and protector finally passed.

Lon walked all the way to the borders of the woodlands, letting the trees guide him. He touched each one, whispering in the language of the fey, and they whispered back, shuddering their instructions. He implored the trees for fruit when he couldn’t climb high enough to reach them, suddenly aware of an extreme, unfamiliar hunger in the pit of his stomach, as well as aches and pains he never felt before. The farther he went away from the woodland forest, the more he felt different.

The first thing he noticed were the painful blisters that formed on his feet as he walked farther away from the woodlands toward areas of humans where the air seemed to buzz with sounds. He was parched but knew better than to go to the river where predatory animals went to hunt for deer on their early morning drink. Worse, he saw the hungry red eyes of kelpies lurking just beneath the surface as he drank his fill. When he nearly slipped from the rock where he perched resting, one of the kelpies showed its fangs at him, as if smiling.     

By dawn, Lon finally reached a wide road made of reinforced dirt. Lon has never seen anything like it, but he soon understood why the road needed to be sturdier than the grassy soil. Big contraptions made of metal thundered by, leaving behind them a plume of white smoke much like fog in the morning. He stared spellbound, until one of the contraptions slowed down as it passed him  and finally stopped a small distance away, as if waiting for him.

He watched as a human male came out of the thing and approached him. The man was dressed from head to toe in colored fabric. Lon glanced down at the woven vine strands and burlap material covering his body, realizing how very oddly clothed the other man was.

“Hullo there, are you lost?” the man asked, his red hair glittering in the morning sun. His freckled skin becoming increasingly paler as he regarded the strange boy in front of him.

“No,” Lon replied, clearing his throat. “ I am going to a place called Lourde Private Library, can you take me there? I would be grateful if you can provide me assistance.”

Lon’s voice wavered as he spoke his request out loud. The fey never ask for anything from humans for fear of the reciprocity trap. The fey never said thank you, either. To do so would put them in the human’s mercy until the debt is paid. But, Lon reminded himself, he was not a fey, and he could do all these things.

“Of course, certainly. I know that place. It’s just 20 miles from here.” The man walked over to the other side of his car and opened the door for the boy. “Please sit here for a while until we get to the place.”

Lon did not hesitate. Mophi always said he would need to depend on the help of other humans to reach the library. The thought of the old dryad suffering back in the faerie glen made Lon more determined to make haste, even if it meant trusting strangers.

The man drove at a moderate speed, slowing down or stopping altogether to allow animals to cross the nearly deserted road. He glanced every once in a while at Lon, as if wanting to ask something but holding himself in check. Finally, he spoke.

“Erm, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you come by these parts? There’s no town nearby.”

“I and my parents lived in a private park in the forest. We are custodians there.” Lon practiced this line with Mophisto, knowing he would be asked questions such as this.

Lon would have elaborated further, but he was very much distracted by the piece of yellow fruit on the dashboard and the canister of aromatic liquid nestled between himself and the man. The man noticed him looking and offered the food and drink to the boy as he pulled over.

“Please, eat.” The man said, his eyes widening as he watched Lon wolf down the banana and tea.   

Lon was cognizant of the other man’s regard, but he certainly was not going to answer any unspoken questions. The other human’s gaze was simply too knowing, too aware. He kept silent and waited.

“I am Scottish, my grandmother’s side at least,” the man began, “she talked of the auld folk that lived in these forests, that there are entire communities of them. And sometimes… there are times when they took in human children to serve as conduits when they’re grown. Are you…?”

So, he knew.

“Perhaps.” Lon replied, still busy eating. The other man’s amazement  was apparent, and his statement made Lon realize that humans are not as oblivious to the fey as he thought. Some of them believed the stories their ancients tell them.  

Lon disembarked in front of the library wearing tweed pants, a button down shirt, and leather shoes. He was also laden with a gym bag full of clothes, some money, and a thermos of leftover tea. The man who was nearly completely disrobed when they reached their destination insisted Lon took everything.

He also hinted that maybe Lon can put in a good word about him and his family to the fey, in exchange for better apple harvests. Lon did not bother telling him that favor deals with the fey didn’t work that way, and he was never ever going back to the faerie lands.    

Standing in front of the stately but rundown building, he clasped the bundle on his chest like a talisman and whispered “Almost there, Mophi. Just a few minutes more.”  

The old man behind the counter looked up as the windchimes above the door announced Lon’s entry. He had white hair and wore spectacles upon his straight nose.

“Good morning,” he said, pausing to look Lon over, barely hiding his surprise at the bedraggled appearance of the young man in ill-fitting clothes. “How may I help you?”

“I’m here to return a book lent to my father by someone named Alistaire Lourde.”

The man pushed his spectacles up his nose slowly toward his widening eyes. With shaking hands he reached for the English dictionary and examined it. He flipped to the back page and noted the markings there.

“My grandfather checked this book out in the early 1900s, back when we still had a full-time librarian and staff. This signature was that of our first librarian, Mr. Foster.” Mr. Lourde said in a hushed tone. Then, as if realizing something, he glanced at the young man in surprise.

“But that must mean-- ! What was the name of your father, young man?” He demanded.

“Mophisto,” Lon said, distracted. He was clasping his adoptive father’s severed limb. It had not yet turned to ash even after he’d handed over the book to Mr. Lourde. What was going on? Why wasn’t it working?

Mr. Lourde paled in response to Lon’s words, he grasped the countertop as if his legs could no longer support him.

“Young man, it is impossible for Mophisto to have been your father. I had met him on camping trips with Poppy in the Kilerth forest as a young lad. It’s just improbably that you can be this young and have been sired by him… It can’t be! He’s not hu--”

Lon looked up, calmly speaking to the panicked old man in the manner of the fey. Hypnotic and serene.

“If you knew Mophisto, really knew him and what he is, then you must also realize that I was merely adopted and raised by him. I am not one of his own.”

Mr. Lourde nodded mutely, relaxing a little and staring as if mesmerized at Lon.  

“Sir, I must ask you now to clear this loan. Mophisto — my adoptive father – his life depends on the return of this book. He suffers much because of this great debt.”

Mr. Lourde immediately went to work examining the book from front to back.

“It seems that you need to pay the overdue fee, which is a bit hefty if we consider the date of the loan and how long ago it was…”

Lon stared at him. “But I don’t have much money, just the few bills that the man in the car gave me.”

Mr. Lourde tapped his fingers together, deep in thought. “I suppose I can ask you to do some sort of service for the library in lieu of cash payment. If only you knew how to alphabetize –“

“I do.”

“— then you can start immediately with the stack of author, title, and subject cards over there at the corner. You can sleep at the back room of the library while you’re here; the librarian’s old room. There’s a bathroom and a service area you can use. I’ll bring food every day, as I need to come in anyway to receive the occasional check-ins, though they’re not as numerous now that public libraries have sprouted everywhere...”

Lon wandered over to the corner while the old man was still talking, stunned at the sheer number of books and maps around him. By the time he reached the stack, he was starting to feel differently about the chore that Mophisto sent him to do. He was excited at exploring the library and all the books therein.

After he arranged the card catalog, he worked on wiping the dust individually from the maps, globes, and books in the circulation and reference areas. When done, he mopped the floor and polished it until it gleamed.

He trimmed the shrubs in the garden, where he sat to eat Mr. Lourde’s delectable sandwiches for lunch. He would catch a glimpse of  pixies curiously peeking at him from gaps between the hedges, and he smiled at them jauntily, knowing that they would report back his activities to the Dryads in the woodlands.

After a fortnight of working non-stop, Lon felt the bundle on his chest heat up and pulse. He had just deposited the last of the fallen leaves into the bin and was about to turn in for the night. He felt a surge of relief.

“Finally, you're free. Good-bye, Mophi.”

May 01, 2021 02:41

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