From A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale
This is a faery story. It doesn't begin "once upon a time" or "in a land far, far away"...it begins here in the world we know, in a forest called Old Oak Wood.
Old Oak Wood is a dark and tangled forest tucked into moorland hills, and in that wood dwells one of the faery courts of the British Isles. Now, many folk in our modern world will tell you faeries don't really exist but this doesn't stop the faeries from going about their daily business, any more than their disbelief in humans would cause us to disappear.
Faeries are contrary creatures, but there is one way they are pleased to oblige us: to humans determined not to believe in them, they remain quite invisible. Yet anyone who has ever suspected that Nature herself has a spirit and soul can learn to see her children, the faeries, flickering through shadows of field and wood. As the Irish poet Yeats once said: "You can not lift your hand without influencing and being influenced by hordes of them...."
At dawn of a certain morning in June, the faery court of Old Oak Wood was not particularly concerned with the belief or disbelief of human folk. Those of the court who sleep by night (and, certainly, not all faeries do) woke to the sound of a pipe calling the sun up through the trees. They stretched their limbs, unfurled their wings, and wiped the dream-dust from their eyes. A pale light filtered through the leaves of ancient oak, young rowan, and thorn. The Piper of the Dawn played faery music so high and pure and clear that it could break a human heart, and even the old oaks shivered.
A small faery named Sneezle woke in his feather-lined nest in an oak tree's roots. He wiped the dew from his cheeks and crept out from the leaves and moss. His eyes were bright with anticipation, for this was a faery holiday. Midsummer Night began at dusk a time of potent magic in the calendar of the faery realm. Mistletoe would be harvested for use in spells throughout the year, and water would be drawn from the sacred spring beneath a hazel tree. Human maids would put flowers beneath their pillows to dream of lovers to come, and farmers would drive their cattle through bonfire smoke for protection from the faeries. At dusk the Faery Queen's Gathering began, and after that...well, he wasn't quite sure. Sneezle was just two hundred years old, a mere child in faery years and in two centuries he'd never managed to stay awake to join the Gathering.
Something wonderful would happen tonight or perhaps it was something dreadful and strange, for the faeries have two sides to their natures: the fierce and the gentle, the dark and the bright. Whatever it was that happened on Midsummer Night, this time he would play his part. Sneezle yawned and stretched, picturing himself at the center of bright pageantry the cupbearer for the Faery Queen, or leading a stately procession through the woods. Surely there was an important role for a handsome young faery like Sneezle. He smoothed his ears and groomed his pelt with his tongue and the back of his hand, like a cat. He brushed his tail and buttoned his coat while the Piper played her morning song, then made his way through the ivy and undergrowth toward the heart of the forest.
Time in the faery realm follows different rules than time in our human world. Although it was summer in Old Oak Wood, spring flowers carpeted the hills and autumn berries hung red and ripe for plants blooming out of season are always a sign that the faeries are near. Sneezle passed through bracken, under briars, over stones slippery with moss, and found himself in a glade where brittle leaves gusted in a cold wind. A troop of goblins scurried past, carrying bowls of sweet autumn fruit. Wind-sylphs ran at their heels, chilling the summer air where they stepped.
"What ho!" cried Sneezle, his mouth watering, for there's nothing so delicious as goblin fruit. Humans who dare taste it soon waste away, content with nothing less. "Stop! Slow down! I'll help carry that!" He reached for a bowl, and his hand was slapped.
"Hee'cha!" shrieked the goblins in Goblinese, a language of squeaks and giggles and shrieks. Then they disappeared through the bracken, followed by gusts of cold autumn wind. Behind them, warmth returned to the glade; the ferns unfurled and the flowers bloomed, turning their faces to the new morning sun. Two goblin berries lay on the ground, one red as blood and one white as milk. Sneezle put them in his pouch and followed the trail trampled by goblin feet.
As the trail looped crazily through the trees, Sneezle lost sight of the goblins and sylphs, but the brown autumn leaves they left behind gave him a clear path to follow. He breathed in smells of rich, damp earth, tart wild mint, sweet honeysuckle. He heard birdsong, and water chattering, and the distant pipe. Old Oak Wood was quiet and still if you looked at it through human eyes but Sneezle looked through faery eyes and saw quite a different picture. The shadows were filled with woodland folk faeries and foxes, brownies and badgers, piskies and porcupines, derricks and deer, all busy now with preparations for the Gathering to come. Tiny green piskies harvested cobwebs, red-eared trolls gathered mandrake roots, and luminous flower faeries wove garlands of ivy and briar roses. Brownies with clothes of bark and moss painted white spots onto red mushrooms. Excited rabbits, always a nuisance, rolled in the leaves and scampered underfoot. Delicate sylphs flew overhead, pouring mist from silver buckets.
Text copyright © 1999 by Terri Windling