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Summer was gone.
Nights were getting chilly.
One morning Alida could see her breath as she sat up in the nest she shared with her sister. Terra was already awake.
Alida stretched and tucked her wings under her shawl.
Then she followed Terra downward through the branches of the massive old oak tree. The edges of the leaves were turning brown.
The sun was barely up, but the meadow was already full of faeries.
No one was flying. They were all walking, their wings hidden beneath cloaks and capes and shawls.
Every day Alida’s mother made sure there were faeries perched high in the trees, watching the forest and listening for the sound of hoofbeats. No one knew when Lord Dunraven’s guards might come looking for them again.
Near the middle of the meadow, Alida waved at her sister and Terra waved back.
Then they both hurried to begin their work. Today Alida would help weave sturdy floor mats from river grass.
There was a lot to do before winter closed in. The day before, she had helped her aunt Lily sort through all their blankets. Some had been torn on the journey home. Aunt Lily had taught her a simple mending magic. It had been hard at first, but Alida had practiced it until she could help repair the old blankets.
They would need many new blankets and warmer clothes before winter came. The weavers were doing everything they could to get their looms up and working.
Most of the faeries were headed toward a wide, tangled circle of berry bushes and sapling trees. Any human coming into the meadow would think the bushes were part of the forest. That was exactly what the faeries wanted them to think.
But they weren’t.
Alida had searched for seedlings in the woods. Everyone had. They replanted them here, in huge, crooked circles.
A slender mulberry tree Alida had carried home was twice as tall already. The young blackberries, blueberries, wild pear trees, and woods’ roses had all grown incredibly fast too.
Alida’s mother said there was a thousand years worth of magic in the soil. Her sister Lily said it was even older than that.
Whatever it was, the uneven circle of trees and bushes was tall enough to hide the weavers’ and cheese makers’ houses the faeries had built—and their storage sheds.
They had planted a second circle of jumbled trees and bushes at the other end of the meadow. That one hid a pasture for their cows and goats.
Alida looked at the faeries around her. Almost no one was talking. No one was smiling or singing.
The faerie flutes and harps were packed away. No one dared to play music in the evenings now.
Everyone was worried. They were always ready to run.
Everyone knew exactly what to do.
If Lord Dunraven’s guards came, the faeries would race to the tall oak tree on the edge of the clearing. They would stand close together so Alida’s mother could use her new magic to make them invisible.
It had worked twice.
Both times, when the guards couldn’t see anyone, they had left.
Alida sighed. Her mother had taught her the magic too, just in case. Every night before she went to sleep she recited the odd, ancient words. She practiced gathering her own magic and reciting the names of all the faeries, too.
Alida knew the guards would probably come again, sooner or later.
And when they did, it would be her fault. She was the one who had helped the humans. She was the one they had seen.
Walking to the creek to gather a stack of tall, strong grass, Alida made herself stop worrying long enough to concentrate on the new magic she was experimenting with. It wasn’t big magic.
It was small magic—the safest kind.
First she used the usual cutting magic her father had taught her and watched a wide swath of the tough, wiry grass fall neatly on the ground.
Then she tried to mend it.
About half of the grass jerked upright and balanced on its stems, but then it fell over again.
She tried a second time, then a third.
The fourth time, some of the grass repaired itself, the stems as strong as if she had never cut them at all. Alida smiled, gathered up the rest, and walked back to the clearing.
All morning she helped two of her sister’s friends and a few elder faeries weave mats for the floor of the weavers’ house.
As usual, most of the elders acted like she wasn’t there.
Kary and Cinder were nice, but Alida could tell they were a little uneasy around her too.
Alida didn’t blame them. It wasn’t just because the villagers had seen her and knew the faeries had come home. She was different. She had grown up by herself, locked in a castle tower. Her best friend was a human boy and she missed him every day. That was very hard for the other faeries to understand.
Gavin and his grandmother lived in Ruth Oakes’s cottage near Ash Grove. It wasn’t that far away, but she couldn’t go visit him. And he was afraid to visit her.
Lord Dunraven’s great-grandfather had made the cruel law long ago. Friendship between faeries and humans was still forbidden. They were not allowed even to talk to each other.
Alida’s family had tried to obey the law. They moved to a meadow far from this one, in a place where no humans lived. They had stayed there a long, long time until Alida’s mother realized the faeries couldn’t be happy—or healthy—anywhere but here.
So they had come home, traveling at night, following hidden forest paths. Gavin had helped them move back.
Almost all the faeries had come to like him very much. But they were still afraid to have him come visit.
She turned at the sound of her mother’s voice.
“Have you seen your sister?”
“Terra’s helping Aldous and his family,” an elder faerie answered before Alida could.
“Thank you, William,” Alida’s mother called as she turned away, walking fast.
Today, like most days, she was dressed in plain clothes. She would work alongside everyone else.
If Lord Dunraven’s guards ever rode into the meadow looking for the queen of the faeries, they wouldn’t be able to tell which one she was.
Alida’s mother was always busy. Every single argument, every problem, every decision, was her concern.
Almost every decision.
Alida lowered her head so no one could see the worry in her eyes.
When she had decided to help the people in Ash Grove, she had kept it a secret because she didn’t want anyone to try to stop her.
Lord Dunraven’s guards came to the village every year in big, creaking wagons pulled by tall horses. They always demanded a share of everything the farmers had raised, and hauled the food back to Lord Dunraven’s castle.
Lord Dunraven owned the forest.
He owned the towns and the farms.
And this year, he had ordered his guards to take more than usual, even though it meant some of the human families might starve. Alida wasn’t sorry she had flown to each farm in the dark of night and used her mother’s new magic to make half the harvest invisible.
But half the town had seen her when she came back to remove the magic.
After so many years of hiding, she had been the one to ruin everything.
The humans in Ash Grove knew the faeries had come back. If they told Lord Dunraven’s guards, there would be terrible trouble.
Alida had no idea how to repair the damage she had done.
She only knew she had to try.
© 2011 Kathleen Duey
Posted November 7, 2013
Posted November 7, 2013
Posted July 31, 2012
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