As the wind blew sand across the fire, the coins embroidering her skirt gave a chime. She tightened her shawl and sat cross legged on her worn woven rug. A small group of people sat around her, wrapped in thick blankets. Some were familiar faces, locals from the nearby village, while others were strangers, passing through on their travels. As the audience settled, the gypsy storyteller began to weave her tale.
"A long time ago, when the world was young, there was a fisherman who lived in a small village by the sea. This fisherman was a kind and honest man who often shared his catch with the village children.
One evening, while the fisherman was cooking his meal, a beautiful faerie appeared before him. She was small and delicate, with wings that shimmered in the moonlight, and eyes that sparkled like diamonds.
The faerie had been watching him, and she admired his good deeds. She was so moved by his kind heart that she decided to grant him a gift - a conch shell filled with pure ancient magic.
The fisherman held the conch shell to the fire light, marveling at the intricate patterns on its surface. When he placed the shell to his ear he dropped to his knees. Deep inside this shell he could hear the faint tune of his wife singing. Ophelia, enchanting was she. Her voice was like the cool river she’d bathe in. Her spirit was unaltered by time or hardship. The day the sea rose and took her with it might as well have been the day the fisherman vanished too. There were darker days where he’d sit alone in his home and watch people pass by his window. Some would see him staring and quicken their pace while others left small gifts on his doorstep.
“Poor young man,” they’d whisper.
But this shell. This shell opened something inside of him. The faerie had somehow found a way to bring her back to him, if only through the sound of her voice.
As the fisherman walked through the village, he felt the weight of the conch shell on his belt. He couldn't help but feel a sense of pride and wonder at the magic it held. His neighbors stood in awe as he shared the tale of how he came to possess it. But as the night wore on, one villager couldn't resist the temptation. The villager grabbed at the man’s belt, sending both to the ground. The faerie appeared before them.
Her voice rang out like tiny silver bells, ‘The magic within this shell is not meant for the greedy or the selfish. It is meant only for those who are pure of heart.’
Her small fingers dug into the villager's eyes as he slammed the back of his hand into her and sent her flying into a nearby tree.
The faerie let out a sharp cry of pain. Her wings fluttered frantically as she struggled to regain her balance. Once the dirt had settled, the faerie’s wing was torn, the conch was shattered and the eternal tune was released into the wind.
The fisherman wept for the faerie. He lay her gently inside his home, where he cared for her as best he could. He bandaged her, fed her and returned from his fishing with haste.
Despite the faerie's injury, she never lost her charm or her wit. She and the fisherman would talk well into the night, and she would tell him stories of the ancient world and of her own kind.
As the faerie's wound healed, she knew it was time for her to go. She thanked the fisherman for his kindness and told him that he would always have her gratitude.
Years went by, and the fisherman never forgot the faerie. He would often look out to sea and wonder where she had gone, and if she was safe.
Every now and then, when the breeze would blow just right, the fisherman swore he could hear his wife’s singing. And he would always reply with a gentle whisper.
‘Thank you for bringing her back to me.’"
The storyteller paused, taking a deep breath before looking up at the audience with a twinkle in her eye.
"And that, my friends, is the story of the fisherman and the faerie. A tale of magic, friendship, and the power of kindness."
The audience let out a collective, satisfied sigh.
As the flames dimmed, the crowd dispersed and the storyteller was left alone with the dying fire. Just as she was about to pack up her things, a mysterious figure appeared from the darkness. A woman stepped forward from the shadows, her face hidden beneath a hooded cloak.
Her voice was soft and low, "Are you the gypsy Mirabel?" The woman's voice grew shaky.
"My daughter, she-she’s been taken. I've searched everywhere, beyond the desert mountains. I’ve got nothing, except for this.”
She handed Mirabel a small, silver coin stamped with the image of a two-headed fish. Mirabel's eyes widened, "This is the mark of the Bleden," she said, "They're a band of thieves and smugglers who operate along the coast. They're known for their brutality and their secrecy."
The woman's face paled, but she didn't falter.
"Please, I have to find my daughter.”
Mirabel knew of a contact on the coast near the town of Nebuqet. At dawn, they departed and after a few days of travel, finally reached their destination. Their plan revolved around disguising themselves and fabricating a convincing narrative to cover their tracks.
Mirabel's contact was a wiry, grizzled man named Rat, who made his living as a fence for stolen goods. He listened to their story and nodded, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
"I might be able to help," he said. “Bleden all have a charming trait. They’re not too bright.”
All in agreement, they vowed to reunite at the designated spot once they had accomplished their mission. Rat would pose as a wealthy merchant, and the two women would be his daughters. They would pretend to be interested in buying exotic luxurious commodities, and hope that someone from the Bleden would take the bait.
Days turned into weeks as they waited for their opportunity. They visited local markets and taverns, making small talk and spreading rumors about their supposed wealth. And then, one night, it happened.
They were sitting in a dimly lit tavern when a rough-looking man approached their table. He introduced himself as Vigo, and said he heard they were interested in buying high quality wares.
The sight of the man made Mirabel's heart race. A faint scar laced across his cheek and there was a gleam of danger in his eyes. Despite his fine garments, his shoes were scuffed and worn.
"We might be interested," Rat said smoothly, playing his role to perfection. "But we're very particular about the kind of merchandise we deal in.”
Vigo nodded. "I understand. I have something that might interest you. But I can't show it to you here.”
He motioned for them to follow him, and they left the tavern, wandering through a labyrinth of alleyways until they arrived at a dimly lit cellar beneath a rowdy pub.
Vigo led them inside and motioned for them to wait. The sound of splashing water drew them towards an open door. They could just make out the silhouettes of people huddled around a large pot. As they moved closer, they saw young girls dyeing, washing and beating hot fabrics.
The woman saw her daughter. Before she could motion for her, Mirabel grabbed the woman’s arm, “Patience sister, we will take them all.”
Vigo returned holding a small, silver box. He opened it, revealing several sparkling diamond necklaces and a pair of shell shaped earrings made of glass.
Rat could see what needed to be done, “We’ll take them. And those girls there, what price for them.”
Vigo smiled crookedly, “more than you could ever.”
“Name your price, how much? Do not insult me, my daughters are barren, they would enjoy caring for them. That one there, with the shorter hair.”
Rat put his hand behind his back, slowly drawing a knife. Vigo raised an eyebrow, looking back and forth between the women and the children.
“No sale. Take the box for what it's worth or leave.”
Mirabel brandished a thin metal sword with a copper handle. Her movements were so quick the end pierced Vigo’s throat without delay.
“We will not leave without the children.”
The woman flung open the door and rushed towards her daughter. She hurried the other children through the back and into the night. They made their way through nearly a mile of thick cool sand before catching their breath inside a damp cave off the path.
They waited. The cave dripped quietly as the sun made its way into the sky. Shuffling and gasping came echoing into the opening of the cave. It was Rat. One hand at his belly and the other gripping a ripped portion of Mirabel’s skirt. The coins tinkered as the woman cried and her daughter cried, and the children cried. Rat leaned against the cool walls and laughed. His hands glistened red.
“Do not cry dear ones, you are free.”
Rat slowly slumped over, a smile melting on his face.
She emerged from the cave and looked up to the sky, noting the position of the sun. They set off, journeying for four long days and nights before finally reaching home.
The woman cared for the girls as best she could until the following year a storyteller came to their village. He was tall and handsome, the women gathered quickly to hear his tales of magic and wonder. When he finished, the woman approached him.
“I too have a story to tell,” she said.
She told the man her story, of the brave storyteller who helped find her daughter. She pulled out the coin laced fabric which had been washed and prayed upon. The man recognized these coins, each stamped with the symbol of a small winged faerie. With tears streaming down their faces, the man tied the cloth around his neck and took the woman into his arms.
As they held each other tightly, he whispered gently in her ear, "Thank you for bringing her back to me."