The Winter Childby Terri Windling, Brian Froud (Illustrator), John L. Jones, Wendy Froud (Illustrator), John Lawrence Jones (Photographer)
Carefully combing his ears and tail and wearing his finest red felt boots, a furry young faery named Sneezle prepares for the Midwinter festival in Old Oak Wood the oldest faery court in the British Isles. All the denizens of the wood have gathered for this grand winter holiday...but this year something is strangely wrong. By now the forest should be
Carefully combing his ears and tail and wearing his finest red felt boots, a furry young faery named Sneezle prepares for the Midwinter festival in Old Oak Wood the oldest faery court in the British Isles. All the denizens of the wood have gathered for this grand winter holiday...but this year something is strangely wrong. By now the forest should be blanketed with snow, but the air remains warm, the leaves have not fallen, and branches remain laden with autumn's fruit. Somehow, the cycle of nature has been halted, and even the faery king, Oberon, cannot fathom why winter has not arrived. From this mystery will come a great adventure, one in which young Sneezle and his best friend, Twig, will confront menacing goblins and an evil sorcerer.
By turns charming, menacing, and hilarious, The Winter Child follows Sneezle and Twig as they bravely ferret out the terrible truth behind Winter's absence and witness a dramatic duel of sorcerers in which the future of the faery kingdom hangs in the balance. In this marvelous collaboration between renowned doll maker Wendy Froud and award-winning writer Terri Windling, the entrancing story twists and turns its way through the magical beauty and ominous shadows of the faeries' world. Art-directed by Brian Froud, beloved creator of such classics as Good Faeries/Bad Faeries, the book's spectacular photographs capture Sneezle, Twig, King Oberon and Queen Titania, the sorcerer Malagan, the Royal Council of Sorcerers, and the faeries of Old Oak Wood, all in such vivid detail that they seem to come alive...as indeed, perhaps, they are.
Following the success of Wendy Froud and Terri Windling's first Sneezle adventure, A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale, this new volume opens the magical window of enchantment once more with an extraordinary combination of story and art. A mythic tale of nature humbled by whim and ambition and of good and simple souls triumphant The Winter Child will be a classic among lovers of fairy tales, fantasy literature, and all things Froudian.
- Simon & Schuster
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.34(w) x 11.66(h) x 0.43(d)
- Age Range:
- 6 - 9 Years
Read an Excerpt
from The Winter Child
The faery court of Old Oak Wood was not the largest in the British Isles, but it was the oldest, steeped in elfin history and tradition. Ruled by Titania and Oberon, those celebrated lovers of story and song, the wood was a misty, mossy place hidden deep in the hills of Dartmoor. The court maidens of Old Oak Wood were said to be the most beautiful, its dancers lightest on their feet, its flying faeries faster than the wind. Its wizards and its warriors were famed throughout the faery realm. But young Sneezle was none of these things; he was just a humble tree root faery who lived in a small round house at the very bottom of Greenmoss Glen.
On Midwinter's Eve, Sneezle dressed up in a red tailcoat and red felt boots, for this was the winter holiday celebrated throughout the realm. Tonight, on the longest night of the year, the king of the forest would lead the revels, just as the queen presided over the Midsummer's Eve procession. Sneezle tended to fall asleep just before these midnight celebrations, but not tonight. He combed his ears and tail, and then he was ready.
The young faery left Greenmoss Glen on a path that wound through silver birch, their slim trunks gleaming white against the blue shadows of twilight. The trail led east, to Golden Springs and the lovely Winterglade beyond a sacred place, used only at this special time of year. At dusk the path was crowded with piskies, brownies, blue-caps, hobs, and bobs. Green maidens flew over their heads on wings formed of color and light. Behind them came the elfin knights, their silver hair long and unbound, mounted on red deer with ribbons tied onto their horns. Nixies joined them at the springs, rising from golden, iron-rich water; their long wet hair and skirts left trails of puddles on the eastern road.
The Winterglade lay just ahead. Sneezle could hear the court already: laughter and soft music played on harps of alder wood. The path snaked down a rocky slope and into a broad clearing below, circled by oak and rowan festooned with silks in red and gold. The Royal Committee for Forest Decoration had done a splendid job this year and yet, Sneezle thought as he entered the circle, the glade didn't look quite right. The grass should be carpeted by snow, the rowan trees should have lost their berries...but autumn lingered in Old Oak Wood like a party guest who refused to go home. The trees were still laden with autumn's fruit; the leaves had turned but not fallen. The air was warm, too warm, and winter had not yet made an appearance.
Already the glade was crowded with faeries of every type, description, and size from tiny sylphs in cobweb lace to tall lordlings in velvet and jewels. Serving gnomes moved through the court with trays of candied mistletoe and goblets of the pale oak wine traditional at Midwinter. Flying maidens peeked down from the trees, giggling behind their hands, while fiddlers tuned their instruments, jugglers juggled, tumblers tumbled, and fireflies drew rounds of applause weaving patterns of light overhead.
Sneezle pushed his way through the jostling throng till he reached the High Table, where the king and queen sat close together, looking down over the revels. His good friend Twig, a marsh thistle faery, was somewhere among the queen's attendants. He scrambled under the tablecloth and crawled past velvet slippers and shoes, searching for Twig's bare feet among them probably muddy as usual.
Inching forward, Sneezle recognized the faery king's voice overhead. Oberon did not sound happy, and Sneezle cocked an ear to listen. "It's just not right," the king was saying. "Something's amiss don't you feel it, too? We've always had snow on Midwinter Eve, not green grass and ripe blackberries! It should be cold this time of year. I'm sweating in this blasted velvet."
"Perhaps the Big People are meddling with the weather," said the faery queen with scorn. All faeries have been affected, time after time, by the things we humans do to the world which is why so many faeries now hide themselves away from us. "But even so, these rites of ours have always helped the seasons to turn. When we welcome winter with this feast, surely the snows will come."
"Indeed, you may be right," said Oberon, "and yet, my dear, I'm troubled. I mean to consult the Council of Sorcerers tomorrow, by raven post. I want to know precisely what has caused this winter's long delay. I'll write to old Master Malagan. I assume he's still head of the Council...?"
"I suppose he is," the queen answered, "but it's been more than a hundred years since I've laid eyes on those fusty old souls...not since the Goblin Wars ended. Now, no more talk of weather and wizards. The dancing is about to start, and everything must be perfect tonight to call winter back to the forest."
The musicians struck up a lively air as Sneezle emerged on the table's other side, half hidden by the fluttering skirts of the tall court ladies surrounding him. Closest to Titania's throne were the queen's lovely royal handmaidens. Three of them were the elegant faeries he'd saved from enchantment the summer before; and behind them, younger and smaller, was the fourth handmaiden, Twig. Sneezle sighed. Just an hour ago, Twig's skirt had been clean, her wings washed and pressed, her hair pinned up in a delicate crown but sitting still and keeping clean were never things she'd been good at. Now she stood with the other three handmaidens a barnyard duck among swans, hanging back to hide her moss-stained skirt from the faery queen.
She brightened when Sneezle caught her eye and called to him to wait where he was. The king was about to give a toast and lead the queen in a Midwinter dance; then all the handmaidens would be freed from their duties and Twig could join him. As Sneezle waited, he spied a golden dish piled high with honey cakes his favorite treat in all the world. The little faery licked his lips.
He sidled to the table's edge and cast a look at the courtiers. No one was watching him; all eyes were fixed on the royal couple.
Oberon stood, raising a cup of faery gold and amethyst.
"I drink to the moon and stars," he intoned the ancient words of the Midwinter rite. "I drink to the bitter cold, the ice, the snow, and the pale winter sun. On this, the darkest night of the year, we celebrate the great wheel of the seasons: birth, growth, decay, death, and renewal. Let us drink to renewal!"
The gathered faeries raised their cups, shouting, "To renewal! And to our king!" At that very moment Sneezle reached for a cake...and then he had it. He stuffed the whole cake in his mouth at once, filling his furry cheeks, and then looked quickly around the crowd to see if anyone was watching.
Across the table, a pair of bright black eyes was gazing back at him, set above a beaky nose in a homely red-cheeked face. This odd little faery had three hands one on the end of each thin arm and one stuck on the top of his head. A borrower! Sneezle had heard many tales about borrowers before, but he'd never seen one in the flesh. They didn't like to be seen.
Between one blink of the eye and the next, the beaky face had disappeared. Sneezle rubbed his eyes, wondering if he'd really seen it. A borrower!
The band struck up an estampie and the king bowed low before his queen. "Will you lead the dance, my lady?"
"With pleasure, my lord," Titania answered.
The crowd parted to let them through, the queen's long skirts trailing through the grass, her hair braided with golden threads, adorned with tiny flickering stars. Lords and ladies lined up behind, following with careful, dainty steps in a dance that was old as humans reckon time but still fresh and new to the faeries.
Released at last, Twig dashed to his side. "Don't you look handsome tonight!" she exclaimed.
He blushed as red as his new tailcoat. "Do you think so?" he asked shyly.
"Oh yes! You'll dance with me, won't you, when they play the jigs and elfin reels? And I want to sing with the piskie choir. What do you want to do?"
"Eat!" said Sneezle.
Twig laughed at him. "We'll dance, sing, and eat, don't worry. And play Hobgoblins, and Bury the Berry, and a match of Chase the Rabbit, too. Your uncle Starbucket is here, you know, and my aunty Pod, and, oh, everybody! My aunties flew all the way from the marsh to see me serve the queen."
Never before in the history of the wood had a faery from Eastern Marsh obtained the rank of royal handmaiden to the faery queen. Twig had been rewarded with the job for saving the queen's Midsummer crown (since no one knew it had actually been Sneezle who'd carried it safely through the forest). Rianna had been the fourth handmaiden then, a wicked faery who had tried to steal the crown. Now Rianna was banished and the marsh thistle faery had taken her place.
Sneezle was proud of Twig's royal post, but Twig was embarrassed about all the fuss particularly since she knew she wasn't good at her new job. While all the other maidens served the faery queen with effortless grace, Twig spilled wine and braided Her Majesty's hair into tangled knots. Nonetheless, she knew that all her aunties in Eastern Marsh were thrilled and so she ignored the tittering of the court ladies and tried her best.
Twig smoothed out her crumpled wings and said, "Look, Sneezle, the dance is ending."
"Then can we eat?" he asked hopefully.
"First Titania will make a toast and then we can eat," she assured her friend. "Quiet, now. It's time for the queen to speak. Oh, I love this part!"
Together, the king and queen mounted the steps to the throne of Old Oak Wood, sharing its seat between them as was the custom of the forest. The king beckoned to the chamberlain to bring his drinking cup forward. The chamberlain nodded, turning to the king's royal cupbearer.
The cupbearer was trembling. "I can't find the cup!" the elf whispered.
"The king left it right by the Midwinter cakes," the chamberlain told him sternly.
"But it's not there anymore," squeaked the elf.
The chamberlain scowled down at him. "Then find it at once! Royal cups don't walk away or vanish into thin air!"
"I've looked! It's gone!" wailed the cupbearer. "I swear, it did vanish into thin air."
The chamberlain's wings twitched anxiously as he searched the High Table himself. The table was crowded with drinking cups of silver, rainbow glass, and wood but Oberon's beautiful amethyst cup was nowhere to be seen.
"Well?" snapped Oberon, annoyed. "Bring me my cup for the Faery Queen's Toast!"
The chamberlain swallowed, his wings drooping. "The royal cup is missing, my lord."
"Missing? My favorite drinking cup? I've used that cup for six hundred years!"
"It appears that your cup has been moved, my lord," said the chamberlain miserably.
"Moved? By whom? Where's my cupbearer?" roared Oberon, looking angry now. His temper was famous, and even the elfin knights avoided his gaze.
The cupbearer pushed through the court and knelt before the faery king. "I l-left the table," he stuttered out, "to watch you dance with 'er Majesty. And when I came back, Your Magnificence, the amethyst cup was gone."
Oberon stared at the elf darkly, then waved him away with an impatient hand. "Someone has taken my cup, disrupting the Midwinter rites and displeasing me. I demand to know who would dare such a thing. Come and show yourself to me!"
The courtiers looked at one another, perplexed. The serving gnomes all shook their heads. A murmur ran through the crowd, for such a thing had never happened before. The king's gray eyes flashed dangerously. He gestured to his elfin knights. "Search the glade. We shall not feast until my cup is found."
Titania put her hand on his arm. "My love, stop and think," she said urgently. "The Midwinter rites have begun. You mustn't stop them because of a cup!"
"My favorite cup," he growled at her. "It was made by Wayland, the great faery smith."
"Wayland made hundreds of cups," soothed the queen. "I'll get you another one."
"I don't want another one I want my own!" said Oberon, pounding the throne. He pointed to an elfin knight. "You, there. Go and find it!"
But the elfin knight, passing through the crowd, could find no trace of the royal cup. The courtiers gazed at one another, shocked. Who would steal from the faery king?
"Goblins," ran a whisper through the court. Goblins delighted in mischief and theft. But surely no goblins would dare to step into the faeries' sacred grove unless they'd come in secret to spoil the Midwinter celebration.
Titania frowned. It would not be spoiled. This year of all years, it had to go right. Oberon's temper, though sharp as thorns, was also as changeable as the moon. Thinking fast, she turned to her lover and smiled up at him.
"My lord," she suggested, "you want your cup found. Let's make a game of it, shall we? A royal quest for Midwinter's Day. Let's see who can find it first."
"A game?" The king's eyes lightened, his anger passing as quickly as it had come. Oberon was a sporting man and Titania's idea intrigued him. He stroked her hand, considering, and smiled back at his lovely queen. With a flick of his fingers, the faery king brought the elfin knight back to his seat.
Titania rose to face the crowd, her hair turned silver by the moon, her skin as white as milk, her velvet dress as red as wine. "I propose a quest," she cried, "for Midwinter's Day!"
A ripple went through the court. A quest! All faeries love a good quest, and they listened to her eagerly.
"The king has lost his favorite cup, made of faery gold and amethyst. Whoever finds the cup shall win a fine Midwinter prize. The quest will start tomorrow, good friends when this night's revels all are done. For now: eat, drink, be merry. The Hunt for the King's Drinking Cup starts at dawn."
She turned back to King Oberon. "Your bauble shall be found, my love. But look, here's a humble acorn cup. I shall use this cup for the Faery Queen's Toast."
The faery king said gallantly. "In your hands, my dear, it's as fine as gold."
She gave the cup to the chamberlain, who filled it with Midwinter wine. Then he passed it back to the faery queen, who raised it up to the stars.
She said, "I drink to the moon, the stars, the ice, the snow, and the pale winter sun. To the change of the seasons, to winter, and to the renewal of life in the spring!"
The gathered faeries raised their cups, shouting, "To renewal! And to our queen!"
The band struck up a lively air and the Midwinter feast resumed.
As the chamberlain wiped his brow with relief, Twig turned to Sneezle, her eyes shining. "Oh, isn't Titania wonderful? The queen always knows what to do. I think she must be just as smart as a sorcerer. Don't you think so, Sneezle?"
But Sneezle wasn't listening; he was thinking about the missing cup. Bright borrowers (his uncle Starbucket said) were the light-fingered thieves of Faerieland, attracted to anything that glittered brightly, like amethyst cups. It could hardly be coincidence that he'd just seen one sneaking around.
"Twig," he exclaimed, "I'm going on that quest. I know how to find the cup!"
He told her about the borrower, and Twig bounced up and down, excited. "So all we have to do," she said, "is find our way to the borrower's lair "
"We?" Sneezle interrupted. "Won't you have to stay to serve the queen?"
"Tomorrow's a holiday, silly. And I've never been on a quest before! We'll have such fun! We'll start at the crack of dawn and be home by teatime."
"But quests can be rather difficult." He frowned at the slender marsh faery, remembering his journey six months ago to fetch the faery queen's crown.
"If you're going, I'm going, too," his friend insisted, hands on her hips.
"All right, all right," Sneezle quickly agreed, for he recognized Twig's stubborn look. At least borrowers weren't dangerous. "We'll leave as soon as it grows light."
As the two shook hands to seal this plan, a horn fanfare echoed through the trees and a troop of serving gnomes appeared bearing wicker trays piled high with food: toadstool pie, baked goblin fruit, sweet honey cakes and crab-apple cider. Young Sneezle shivered with pure delight as he crossed the glade, arm in arm with Twig. Tomorrow would be quite soon enough to think about cups and borrowers. Tonight they would eat, drink, and be merry. It was the queen's command.
Despite the plan to set off at dawn, it was almost noon before they woke beneath the empty feast tables, and then the two young faeries stopped at Sneezle's house for a spot of breakfast. Nonetheless, Sneezle and Twig were confident they would win the hunt for, unlike the royal courtiers, they knew who they were hunting.
Sneezle packed acorn bread, blackberries, and cake into his traveling pouch, along with a magic hazelnut wrapped up in a handkerchief. This was the only magic he had left from his quest to save the queen's crown. He didn't want to use it up, but it was best to be prepared.
"So where would a borrower go?" Twig asked her friend, finishing her toast and jam. She hoped it wouldn't be a long quest. She was feeling tired and sore already from last night's match of Chase the Rabbit, which those blasted rabbits had won by scoring two points in the very last seconds.
"Borrowers live in the western woods," said Sneezle. "He could be anywhere, but I know somebody in those woods who might be able to help us."
"I've never been to the western woods," said Twig as the pair left Greenmoss Glen, climbing a ladder of roots to an overgrown path through the trees above.
"I don't usually go there either," said Sneezle, "because of the goblins."
"Goblins!" Twig exclaimed, alarmed. "We won't go that far west, will we? I hate goblins. They used to raid the marsh when I was small."
Like all young faeries, they'd both grown up hearing tales about the Goblin Wars. Even though it had all happened long ago, no faery quite trusted the goblins anymore. The good ones were unpredictable and the bad ones...oh, they were wicked indeed. Sneezle didn't plan to go to the western hills where the worst of the goblins lived, but borrowers were known to dwell in the alder groves close to those hills so they'd go as near to the goblin lands as they dared, find the cup, and hurry home.
The narrow path looped through the trees, twisting, turning, uphill and down, and it took them half the afternoon just to reach the western forest. Here, the trail divided around a tall finger of standing stone carved with mysterious elfin symbols dating back to the Goblin Wars. The right-hand trail led to the heart of the wood, where the old Tree Oracle lived but they wouldn't find their borrower up there, among the sacred oaks. No, the creature was bound to be in the dark, dank wilderness ahead; and so they took the other trail and slowly plodded onward.
Twig looked around her warily. A roof of leaves blocked out the sun; cobwebs draped the undergrowth, binding bracken and thorn together. She broke the gloomy silence, asking, "Sneezle, who do you know out here?"
"A tree elf who lives just ahead. I met him on my quest last summer. He knows these woods. He'll know where alder trees are growing and if borrowers are nesting in them."
"The borrowers build nests?" asked Twig.
"No," said Sneezle, "they 'borrow' them. They like bird's nests in alder trees, but if they can't find any of those, they'll look for nests in oak trees, or even use an animal's den."
Twig turned her gaze to the branches overhead. "Do borrowers have floppy ears?"
"Uh-huh, they do. And floppy hats." Sneezle peered into a rabbit hole. Nope, no borrower down there.
"Do borrowers have furry tails?"
"Uh-huh. And furry feet," said Sneezle. He looked into a hollow log and a small hedgehog stared back.
"And beady eyes?" asked Twig.
"Then there's a borrower!" she cried.
Sneezle looked up through the tangled trees where a face was peering down at them. "That's no borrower!" he said, smiling. "That's the elf we're looking for. Hey there," he called. "It's me! It's Sneezlewort Boggs! Remember me?"
The tree elf waved, balanced like an acrobat on a slender, swaying bough; then he jumped from branch to branch as lightly as a cat till he reached the lowest. He was dressed in fine Midwinter clothes, sporting a handsome new red cap, but Sneezle recognized his wrinkled brown face and his beetle-black eyes.
"Yup, to be sure, I remember you, laddie," the elf recalled, peering down at the boy. "First met you at Midsummer, I did. We was helpin' them ladies to polish the stars. No head for heights, as I recall. What brings you back to this neck o' the woods?"
"We're on a quest," Sneezle said grandly. "A mission for King Oberon. This is Twig, my friend, who is handmaiden to the faery queen."
"My word!" The tree elf quickly removed his cap and bowed respectfully.
"Oh, please don't bow," said Twig, embarrassed.
"I'm honored to meet you," said the elf. "Don't get many grand royal ladies down here. And you, laddie, you've found yourself a fine job. Why, I'm mighty impressed!"
Sneezle puffed out his little chest. "Yes, I'm a busy man these days. Right now I'm looking for borrower nests. We wondered if you could help us."
"Borrower nests? My stars!" said the elf. "Plenty of borrower nests 'round here. Borrowers got small brains," the elf went on, tapping his own forehead. "They fill a nest with treasure, forget where it is, then they fill another one. That's why they're called borrowers, did you know? They don't really mean to steal, no sir, they just want to borrow things for a while. But then they lose the nest, and so they can't bring anything back."
"Can you show us their nests?" asked Sneezle eagerly. "We're looking for the faery king's cup, you see. A borrower took it yesterday and I thought maybe you had seen it."
"Nope, can't say that I have," said the elf, "but tell me more about it, lad."
"The cup is carved from amethyst," said Twig, "with a stem of faery gold."
"Faery gold?" The tree elf frowned and rubbed his chin. "Now, that's a clue. Them borrowers don't like faery gold. They think it brings bad luck, you see. But I know one young fellow among them that doesn't hold with such ideas. I came across his nest not long ago bursting with gold it was. Now, where was it? Just let me think. Alder...thorn...foxglove...wood shrews...ah yes, I remember perfectly! Just up this path you'll find a stream. Follow it down to an old stone weir. Below, you'll come to a stand of thorn with fine young alder trees among them. The tree you want has a nice family of shrews living at its roots."
"And you think we'll find the king's cup there?" asked Twig.
"I'd say it's the likeliest place. Any borrower would steal amethyst, but only one steals faery gold." The tree elf grinned from ear to ear, pleased with his own cleverness.
The faeries thanked the wrinkled old elf and watched him climb to the branches above, then the two companions hurried on, eager to reach the stream ahead. Tree elves, however, have little sense of distance, and the children walked another long hour before they reached the banks of a stream running swiftly over mossy black stones. The water tasted of mud and rust, but nonetheless it quenched their thirst as they ate a loaf with sweet blackberries and shared a last honey cake.
Now they followed the current of the stream, leading them farther and farther west where the dense greenwood seemed older, darker, more buried in ivy than ever. Despite the faery court's Midwinter rites, there was still no sign of winter here. Hazel and oak still bore their leaves; bracken had not yet turned to gold; and one old tree sported flowers and crab apples at the same time.
"'Flowers out of season, trouble without reason,'" said Twig. "That's what Aunty Pod used to say."
Sneezle eyed the crab-apple blossoms warily and quickened his steps.
They were too close to the goblin lands here. He wasn't quite sure where they began, but Goblintown was somewhere in the hills, in an old tin mine. All faeries avoided Goblintown, as did the gentle hobgoblins who lived among the faery folk, for the fierce goblins of the west were different, and worse, than the rest of their kind. The goblins of Goblintown had tried to claim the forest during the Goblin Wars and even though they'd been defeated and pushed back to their underground realm, they still delighted in causing mischief and harm whenever they could. Fortunately, they were none too bright, and rather afraid of the elfin knights. Without a leader (their Goblin Prince had been slain in the final battle of the war) they tended to stay in their own part of the forest, fighting among themselves.
Imagining goblin eyes in every shadow, Sneezle followed the course of the stream till they reached a weir of old gray stones tumbled into weeds and water. Just beyond, as the elf had said, was a silent grove of bent thorn trees. At the center grew a cluster of slim young alder, standing straight and tall.
The tallest held a large bird's nest in the crook of its branches far above. "That's it. Just where he said it would be," said Twig. "I'll fly up and look."
She spread her wings, beating the air, and rose high over Sneezle's head. Landing on a slender branch, she looked into the nest...and frowned. The nest was packed with knives, forks, silver platters, machinery parts, jewelry, shoe buckles, dragon scales, colored glass, and bright gold coins.
"Well, is it there?" Sneezle called up.
She shook her head. "I don't see the cup. But maybe it's buried underneath this junk. I'll have a look."
She picked up jewelry, platters, spoons, and threw them over the side of the nest. Underneath, Twig found a gold bracelet, a Big Person's watch, a golden egg, a copper teakettle...and there, just behind the egg, the amethyst cup! Twig reached for it, snatched back her hand, and stared at the nest, her mouth open.
"Twig, is it there?" Sneezle called again.
The marsh faery just sat and stared.
"Well, have you found the cup or not?" Sneezle was growing exasperated.
Twig looked down at her friend below. "Sneezle, I think you should come up here."
"Oh no," the boy called back, "I'm perfectly fine just where I am."
Twig launched herself from the borrower's nest and floated down to the forest floor. Hovering just above the ground, she grabbed Sneezle by his red tailcoat and before he even had time to protest, he was high up in the alder tree, deposited on a branch that bent alarmingly under his weight.
Twig perched in the leaves above. "Look at that," she told her friend, pointing into the glittering treasure hoard in the borrower's nest.
"Yes, I see! The cup!" he gasped, clutching the alder branch tightly.
"No, I mean look at that egg!" Twig pointed again. "Did you see it move? There's a crack in it, and it's getting bigger." Her eyes were bright as she turned to Sneezle. "I think that egg is hatching!"
They watched as the crack in the egg widened. It rocked gently from side to side...and then a second crack appeared. The egg rocked violently now, the gold shell slowly separated, and then the top half shattered.
A baby lay curled up inside, soft and downy as a newborn chick. She rubbed her face with tiny little fists and slowly opened her eyes.
"A baby faery," whispered Twig. "I've never seen one hatched from an egg!"
Faeries, they knew, were usually born from earth or wind or water or fire. But this little creature was certainly a faery. What else could she be?
Sneezle's voice came out in a squeak. "Look, Twig! She's changing, she's...she's...growing." And indeed she was, growing right before their eyes, stretching out her milk-white limbs, uncurling her little fingers and toes, and turning from a downy newborn into a tiny, perfect child. Her hair turned to a feathery green, her eyes darkened, her ears grew pointed. She sat up slowly in the shell, and then her face popped over the top. The first thing that she saw was Sneezle. She hiccuped, and smiled at him.
Sneezle felt a lump in his throat as he sat astonished, staring at her.
"Look, she's cold, she's shivering," Twig crooned. "Oh dear, the poor little thing."
Sneezle swallowed and found his voice.
"What are we going to do with her?"
"Get her into some nice warm clothes, of course."
"I mean, what should we do with her? She must have been stolen, like the cup. She must belong to somebody."
"Maybe she has a mother," Twig said, "like Big People and animals do."
Sneezle pondered this. He didn't know much about mothers. He only knew about faery clans like his own respectable tree root clan, where elders were all called Uncle or Aunt. But this child hadn't sprung out of a tree, as he had; she'd been born inside an egg. "Is her mother a bird?"
Twig wrinkled her nose. "Her mother is a faery, silly. Birds don't have fingers and toes. She's got little rumpled wings, like me, but she's still too young to fly with them. It's a good thing we came along how would she get down from this tree without us?"
Sneezle looked down at the forest floor and shuddered. It seemed very far away.
"Don't worry," said Twig. "I'll fly her down, and then I'll come right back for you."
She climbed down to the borrower's nest and lifted the baby from the shell. The child clutched Twig's neck as they floated gently to the forest floor.
Then Twig returned to help her friend. Sneezle lifted his arms, his eyes shut tight. He hated heights. A tree root faery belonged on good, solid ground.
"Open up your eyes, silly!" she scolded. "You need to carry the cup. And here, hold this silver needle, too. Go on, take a nice deep breath."
She grabbed him around his plump, furry waist, then lifted him clumsily into the air. Twig pumped her wings, regained her balance, and flew smoothly back to earth.
The stranger child was watching them, her eyes wide in a pointed face, her pale skin tinged with blue now from the chill of the forest shadows. Sneezle jumped up, took off his coat, and quickly wrapped her up in it, then he fetched blackberries from his pouch and showed the girl how to eat them.
Twig, meanwhile, ripped cloth from her underskirt, teased out some long white threads, and then began to sew the cloth together with rapid stitches. She'd been an apprentice seamstress once, working in the royal tailor shop, and it wasn't long before she'd shaped the cloth into a raggedy dress.
Sneezle wiped berries from the baby's chin with his checkered handkerchief. "We'll have to take her with us, Twig. We can't just leave her here."
"Of course we can't," the marsh faery replied. "We'll bring her back to court. We'll take her to the queen Titania always knows what to do." Twig knotted the thread, cut it with her teeth, then stood and shook the garment out. "This is for you, little chick. Your very first Midwinter frock!"
Twig fitted the dress onto the girl, then stepped back to admire it. Soon, the child stopped shivering and her skin took on a rosy glow.
"Come along now, chick," said Twig gently. "Here, take my hand. Can you walk?"
The girl stood up on wobbly legs, awkward as a newborn colt. She took one step, and then another, then suddenly sat back down.
Sneezle applauded. "Not bad, for a start! But I think we'd better carry you, Chick. It's a long way home and we need to be out of this part of the woods before nightfall."
He settled the child on his back, her little legs wrapped around his waist. Twig carried King Oberon's cup and Sneezle's pouch as they turned toward home.
Text copyright © 2001 by Terri Windling
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This is one of my all time favorite books.It really isn't that it's a great plot but terri does such a wonderful and magical portrail of the fairy world.This book made so happy when I was little.The feeling you get from it is just amazing.The illustrations are gorgeus and vivid.This would be great book for kids who like fairies and fairytales.This book is a great book to read out loud to your little one.