Knee deep in Fey forest pool, I bend to see my own, new face. Today I am new. Today I am free.
Back before dawn, I wrapped my green, "invisible" cloak around me. I took up my wee bundle of clothes, knives, and fire flints, and tied my Bee Sting of poisoned darts to my belt.
In last darkness I studied the faces of my sleeping friends. ( Fey eyes see in the dark like owl eyes.) I thought, Likely, we will not meet again for a while. And when we meet, we will all be changed.
Our branch of the Children's Guard was a small group of girls. By now the Goddess had blood-blessed all of us. It was our time to go free. We were like a nestful of fledglings trying out new wings; I was only the first to fly.
Once before, I had flown a nest. I do not now remember walking away for the last time from my mother's den. Maybe I didn't know then that it was the last time. Maybe I thought I was only going to hunt mushrooms, or play with a friend. I did not guess, then, that my first new, spirit wings were fluttering.
I do remember looking around at noon-bright trees and rocks and thinking, I won't go back to Mama. I'll stay out here.
Then, I suppose, I may have met one young friend, and then a new one, and then an older Guide. I must have joined the Children's Guard almost without knowing it; as a fledgling sparrow joins a fluttering flock.
This morning my "wings" bore me away again. Light as dandelion fluff, I stepped over two girlfriends and around a third. Silent as a breeze I stole away from our clearing.
Today before dawn I grew up and ceased to be Child Guard, Child, or Guard. Today and forevermore I am simply Me: Lili of the Fey.
I bend to morning-bright water. Leaves and twigs float about my shadow. Lower I bend, searching shadow. A fresh, new face rises toward me: round, dark-big dark eyes. The mouth pouts too sweetly. Sternly I straighten my lips. Relaxed, they sweeten again.
Here under overhanging leaf-shadow my aura reflects faintly in the pool. I glimpse it as a wide, blue cloud whose edges fade in reflected sunlight.
This water-girl shows me who I am now, and who I will be for a long time to come. Later, this face will change. It will coarsen. One day it will wrinkle. But I, Lili, will still be free. Always I will be free, and always cool as this water that chills my knees and the black mud that clothes my feet. For I am Fey.
My black braid slips like a snake down my shoulder. I watch the water-girl's braid slip and drop.
The two black braids reach out and touch. Shivering water, shadow, and light shatter the water-girl.
Nesting blackbirds dart and call over the pool. Spring toads peep. Ahead, a twig snaps.
That will be my blundering Human friend Percy, come to meet me. Silent motion is too much to ask of Percy!
I sink cupped hands, raise cool water toward my lips.
From behind I hear a strange, faint sound: a quiet, repeated thud.
Cupped water halfway to thirsty mouth, I pause. Listen.
Hah! I have heard this sound before.
I have heard it while I perched in treetops, wrapped in my green invisible cloak, watching the Kingdom outside, guarding our forest from invasion.
(Something I will never do again! From now on I will be free to live my own life and be only Me.
True it is, the Goddess will demand Her sacrifice. This debt I must yet pay. But I have time a-plenty for that.)
This repeated thud! coming nearer; I have heard it pass by my spy-perch many a time. Sometimes wheels creaked and squeaked, sometimes armor rattled and clanged. This is a Human Kingdom sound from the world beyond forest. Never before have I heard it in our forest! It is the sound of slow-plodding horses' hooves.
Splash! Noisy Friend Percy wades into the pool.
My eyes still look on my shadow. The water-girl is back, cupped hands halfway to sweet lips. She and I see Percy's reflection wade toward us, huge and flaming-bright, like Percy's very presence in our forest. His reflected aura ripples large and broken, orange in green water.
Always, the Children's Guard avoided Percy as a flock of blackbirds avoids an albino. Nervously, they resisted my early attempts to draw him in among us.
"You can't fish with that Percy. The fish think his hair is the sun, and dive deep."
"You can't hide with that Percy! No one could miss that blue stare of his!"
"You notice he's got hair growing on his chin?"
"He's good with darts. And that's all. What do you see in him, Lili?"
Never could I say what I saw in him. My friends were right, he was good for nothing, not even for sex play. Gods witness, he lived with his mother, like a toddler! I soon gave up trying to make him a Child Guard. But we met here at this pool, or in his secret tree-den, for years.
We first met on Apple Island, home of Nimway, revered Lady of the Lake. I poled a coracle over there to learn magic, for my Guide had told Nimway I had talent. I saw auras, and fairies, as few do; and once I put a small curse on a small boy who stole my string of fish. The curse worked. I don't think that boy has caught a fish yet.
There on Apple Island little Percy and little I first met, under the interested gaze of the Lady, and the anxious gaze of his big Human mother, Alanna.
The Lady's gray friend Merlin also watched us meet. Later, he watched us play. Half-Human himself, Merlin saw no harm in our romping, Fey and Human together. When we tired he brought out his harp, Enchanter, and sang us Fey songs. If I were alone, magic lesson ended, Merlin might sing me Human ballads. What very little I know of the Human Kingdom I learned from those ballads.
But Percy heard only the Fey songs, never the ballads. For his mother Alanna had begged Merlin never ever to sing to him of the Kingdom; and kind Merlin never did so.
From those ballads I learned of the Human Heart. Merlin called it the World's Greatest Magical Power.
Once he said to me, "Your friend Percy will grow a Human Heart. He doesn't know it, but it's growing now inside him."
"What about me? Don't I grow a Heart?"
"No. You are not Human, Lili. You are Fey. Be glad that Heart is not a gift of the Fey! For Heart is dangerous."
"Far as I can see, all magic is dangerous!"
Strumming Enchanter, gray Merlin nodded.
I leaned on his knee. "Mage Merlin? What Fey gift will come to me?"
"Simplicity." Merlin struck a sudden, bright chord. "Clarity." A deeper chord. "Freedom."
This last chord brought unchildish tears up in my throat.
Merlin said, "Humans rarely find any of these gifts, because of the constant clamor and uproar of their Hearts."
Still and all, I longed for a Heart!
I still do. If Heart is truly the World's Greatest Magical Power, Gods witness! I want one! ( This may be what I see in Friend Percy. Maybe I hope to catch his Human Heart from him, as once I caught a cough. Maybe that's why I trouble with him at all.)
Here he comes now, splash-splash.
Thud! Thud! From the trail behind, three horses approach.
I lower cupped hands. Water spills back to shatter the water-girl again. I glance around.
Three dark Fey maidens flit by on the poolside trail, nearly invisible in shadow. Only the gleam of merry eyes and filed teeth betrays them. For the rest they are shadows, gowned and leaf-crowned as for a Flowering Moon dance.
They vanish around the next bend. I doubt that Percy notices them.
The three coming horses carry Human riders. Alert now, I hear the rub of leather, the thump of hilt on thigh. A wave of Human odor drifts over the pool like smoke. Pffa! Never before have I smelled it so close!