In the nighttime when most things are sleeping, the Fae murk about freely. Masking their true visage with glamour spells, humans often see them as fireflies, glittering and twinkling in shadowy areas at dusk. In the daytime they pretend to be hummingbirds, chipmunks, or dragonflies. It is through this deception they spy and when night falls, they steal away with your most fanciful dreams, your lover’s breath, and sleeping babies. You should never seek them out, call on them, or make any deals with them whatsoever. They are astute hucksters and they will hold you to every letter of your word, even though theirs are not worth the breath they are spoken with. Humans do not realize this and often think of faeries as something magical and good, believing them to be wish granters who make flowers bloom and animals breed, glowing assistants to Mother Nature, harbingers of Spring, charms of seasonal bliss. While some choose to be good and helpful as they are imagined, many are not. Faeries in fact, are often very, very dark creatures.
Dreams, passion’s breath, and especially children are all highly redeemed in the faerie realm and considered precious as gold by the Erlking. This infamous faerie king has been portrayed by Shakespeare and other renaissance bards as Oberon, King of the Fae, playful, plotting trickster and devilish adversary to his Queen, Titania, but the truth of this autocratic potentate is much less commendatory. His true and actual name is Lyzander Alberich Reedfly the Eternal, King of the Fae, and he values human babies above all other gifts from his faerie folk only because he can siphon their life’s essence to keep himself eternally young.
Eager to please the rapacious Erlking, many faeries attempt to steal infants during the dark of night, but luckily for humans few succeed, because carrying a child away under the watchful eyes of its parents takes magic and stealth and very clever planning. Dark faeries cunning enough to obtain such a prize must offer it to King Lyzander immediately upon their return to the Breen, the faerie palace beyond the Veil. The Veil, as described in ancient texts, is an unseen membrane that divides the natural and ultra-natural worlds, a secret passage to hidden realms. Human children unfortunate enough to find themselves in this place serve Lyzander’s court until they are eighteen years old, then they are banished to work in the gold mines until they die. But when they first arrive, they serve a more disquieting purpose; their uncorrupted souls are the ambrosia of immortality for the King.
As a reward for this precious gift, the clever Fae who bring the Erlking babies are granted one month in human form in the human realm, thus encouraging their pillage of human flesh. In human form they may experience what it is like to dream and to love for themselves, while simultaneously collecting intel about humankind for the avaricious Erlking. It is one such event that begins our story.
Late one night, in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia’s southeastern-most region, a baby boy lay prey to these evil beings. His parents, passed out in their sofa chairs and snoring deeply, were idly unaware, a sleeping spell having been dripped on them while they watched television. The whispers of an uncommon tongue filled the air as the glittering Fae spoke the Charm of Transience. As the words were chanted, the baby rose softly into the air, still sparkling from the fallout of faerie laminae, and began to drift out the open window like a balloon. A curiosity called a gimcrack, closely resembling a walnut, was placed in his empty bed, and by the time the adults awoke it would break apart to reveal a changeling mimicking their very own baby boy. The imposter would present itself as their young one, taking its place in their lives forever without the poor deceived parents ever being the wiser.
The pernicious faeries flittered away enraptured with their conquest, the feathery ferns of a weeping willow tickling the baby boy as the winged thieves spirited him away from his family forever. Fluttering hastily across the Appalachian Mountains toward the Veil with their prize, the faerie trio crossed moon-shine drenched waters, long open fields, and dense pine forests incongruously in their zeal to be rewarded. Sweetly unaware his life was ruined, the child smiled innocently at his tiny, glittering abductors, the wistful journey oddly magical for the stolen babe who was oblivious of his dark fate.
A bright light flashed briefly and ripples of impact tremors ricocheted across the grass as the faeries passed through the Veil into their hidden realm, the baby cooing delightedly, tickled by the unseen force. The picaroons hovered expeditiously past the Void, a consuming black space which connected the parallel worlds, and quickly entered the Breen.
Excited to deliver the small gift to their sovereign for soul extraction, the baby boy was handed to King Lyzander as soon as the faeries arrived in the throne room. Slowly and creepily the King reached out with his long, spindly clawed fingers, cradled the infant, and trembling with exhilaration, exhaled eagerly, “Ahhh-hah!”
The blue-green pallor of the aged king’s wrinkled flesh glistened with perspiration and his soured mouth watered as he anticipated the rush of draining the baby of its life force. The child grinned and wiggled innocently, nescient of the danger as the evil Erlking whispered a dark incantation. Drool dribbling off his chin as the last of the words rolled out, he then pulled the baby close to his mouth and began to inhale deeply. Unable to renounce his fate, the child’s countenance gradually faded as he was stripped of his essence, his soul being slowly absorbed by the sinister creature. When it was over, the drab, hollow baby was handed to an anxiously awaiting goblin nanny; a thing known as a skirka, for rearing.
As the skirka shuffled off with its wilted charge, all the faerie court oohed and ahhed at their preening sovereign. Lyzander stood, his arms outstretched, chin high and pointed, and turned so all the court could partake of his magnanimous self during the restoration. The decrepit flesh that previously clung tightly to the ancient bones of his withered body swelled and glowed, taut and vibrant once more. The haggard, ashy complexion of his skin restored to a youthful, shimmering viridian, all its firmness renewed in mere minutes, and his large blue eyes brightened and flashed like the chrome of a brand-new car. Formerly brittle silver hair trapped in a loose snood beneath his crown was now styled in a tight, red pompadour, animated by long pointed ears slowly unfurling from their withered, coiled positions on both sides of the pomp and rising up beside. Now that he was no longer hunched his naturally, yet grievously thin body, was average human height and draped in the splendor of royalty, his garments magically sparkling and renewed as he was, adding the finishing touch to the whole swaggering spectacle.
The faerie court applauded and regaled their selfish ruler with great and audacious gusto far longer than was necessary, while the three who brought Lyzander this most precious prize stood ready to receive their reward. The court was full of every size elf, dwarf, goblin, brownie, spriggan, and sprite imaginable of varying colors, characteristics, and heights; differing temperaments, duties, and types. There were many crammed into the throne room and many, many more throughout the kingdom.
The kidnapping faeries, Nyx, Tucker, and Nettle, stood in front of the Erlking fidgeting nervously with their hands, their respectively lowered heads not fully concealing the proud and fiendish smiles pinned to their sparkling faces. Quite diminutive compared to Lyzander’s elven proportions, the small creatures waited anxiously to be turned into humans. This transition in faerie culture is called glamouring, but the more common, slang term for glamoured faeries is shiners. It is the act of magically veiling their appearance where only other faerie folk or people who have been to the faerie realm can see them for what they really are.
Meanwhile, across the room, lined up against a far wall, the children who had reached their eighteenth year were being assembled for allocation in the gold mines. Scots Gaelic for “child without fear,” leanabh-gun-eagal is the title given to these child slaves of the Breen. The term defines them as fearless because they are often stoic, their soullessness rendering them impotent of emotional sensation and therefore indifferent to their surroundings, but this is not a steadfast rule; there is always the exception.
One such example was a young man named Boothe, whose hollow core harbored a deep loathing for all faerie kind. While most child slaves of the Breen were catatonic with apathy, Boothe was fueled by an uncommon curiosity and a rigid distaste for the Fae. Despite his soulless nature Boothe was always a spirited lad, so much so, he had often been beaten into submission by the keepers and bore the scars to commemorate it. Standing last in line to be sorted, he watched the proceedings with repulsion as the three thieving faeries were fantastically turned into false humans, and suddenly a burgeoning anger erupted inside him that surpassed his loathing.
Boothe had been plotting to escape all his life and today was his last chance. Once in the mines it was nearly impossible to get out unless you were a corpse and even then, there was a chance of being buried where you fell. Realizing this unscheduled event granted him a limited opportunity, he resolved to take it.
Boothe knew what he had to do and he knew it had to be now. Acting while all around him were distracted, he stealthily slipped behind one of the long, heavy tapestries that hung about the castle as the line was led forward and turned out of view of king and court. He would wait there stiffly and silently till all was quiet, emerging only after he was sure he could move about freely. Being that until this day he was a regular servant in the palace, the other attendants would not question his presence there. So, as long as his absence from the counting line wasn’t noticed by the sorting guards or keepers, he would accomplish an escape.
The Breen was a massive fortress made of solid stone, an impenetrable stronghold worthy of any empire. Boothe knew every corner of it because he had cleaned every corner of it and he knew exactly where he needed to go. Once he was certain he had been lost and forgotten, he cautiously came out from behind the tapestry. Sneaking purposefully around the spired corners of the palace, Boothe finally reached the theatre, a chamber where newly turned faeries were fitted with human clothes and readied for their experience in the human world.
Boothe entered the room and fumbled around to find something unassuming that would both fit well and camouflage. Finally deciding on a nice brown and dark green combination with a leafy coat, Boothe slipped out of his servant’s rags and into the pilfered garments. After adding shoes, he took a moment to check his reflection in the chamber’s giant, gold floor-to-ceiling mirror. Awkwardly trying to straighten his attire, Boothe took a long look at himself for the first time; he was a pitiful thing. Dirty brown hair crudely chopped at chin length and unkempt was all a muss atop his head, and his dull blue eyes framed by a furrowed brow were sad and weak and reflected no inner light. Although he was athletically built from hard labor, his visible ribs shared the truth of his lifestyle beneath tanned and unwashed skin. Tall, thin, and dirty, he looked as neglected as a stray dog.
Suddenly, Boothe heard shuffling feet and whispering voices outside the theatre door and rushed to find a hiding place. Swiftly concealing himself within one of the heavy coat racks, he squatted down beneath the hanging garments like a child playing hide-and-seek. Keeping quiet and still, he listened carefully to the voices of the glamoured faeries and watched their feet as they fussed about the clothing and assembled themselves, each taking a turn in front of the mirror as he had.
Soon after, a brownie entered the room handing each of the shiners a shoulder bag. Inside each bag was gold, enough for lodging and food in the human world, a compass, a calendar-based clock called a calendular, and a small vial containing a purple elixir — a memory erasing potion called Oblivoneum. Collectively swearing an oath in witness of the brownie, each agreed to drink the elixir if they were captured, so they would never be able to share their knowledge of faerie secrets with humans. It also meant they could never return to their home world beyond the Veil.
The brownie was short and round, about knee-high to Boothe, and he had a grouchy disposition that perfectly matched his ruddy, purplish-grey complexion. Solely responsible for guiding and monitoring these three on their journey, he spoke in the tongue of the Fae while explaining the contents of the bag then abruptly began to speak in English, “You must only speak the language of the land from this point on! When you enter the human world, find a bed and make it yours; breathe, love, dream — but do not reveal faerie magic or secrets to any human for this is the highest treason!”
In order to understand the importance of these fetishes to faerie kind, an explanation must be provided now, or nothing more will make much sense. Inhaling the breath of lovers makes faeries high, keeping them euphoric for hours like a dose of magic mushrooms. It is captured by breathing it in, in the afterglow of rapture as lovers sleepily drift into bliss. Its effects are so intoxicating some faeries have been discovered while in this inebriated state, swooning on the resting bodies of the lovers they stole it from.
Human dreams for faeries are erotic, addictive, and orgasmic things, working like an aphrodisiac on their senses. Faerie tongues are hollow, looping up and out of the faerie’s mouth like a butterfly’s proboscis and when placed against the forehead of a sleeping human, they are able to slurp dreams from the human mind. As the dreams are drained the enraptured faerie elicits moans of contentment, glowing with pleasurable strobes of phasing colors as its tiny body pulses. Simultaneously, the pilfered dreams are collected and stored in an absorbing gem called a starstone which the violating faerie is holding in its miniscule hands at the time of the ravishing. The transfer is done when the starstone glows bright blue; it is then taken back to the Breen for all the faerie court to savor.
And love, well to be in love, to experience this sensation in all its forms, to feel pleasure and pain, is something faeries cannot do except while human. Understanding human love is every faerie’s desire, the one thing that usually corrupts them, bids them to stay and never leave the human realm. Love is a powerful magic, and for some faeries it is worth forgetting all that they know and all that they ever were just to keep its warm light within them.
“Also,” the brownie instructed, his voice harsh and crackly, his tone curt and loud, “you must return before the calendular tally chimes and with all the contents of your bags intact, except the gold, of course. You have exactly thirty days! If you decide to stay in the human realm or if you are captured, you must drink the elixir, and within three days your memories of this world and your life as Fae will evanesce. If you violate any of these rules or betray your oath, the Dir Figgar will hunt you down and you will face disintegration in the Void and even your kin will deny you ever existed! Do you understand?”
“Yes, Rutherford, sir,” the answer echoed in unison.
To illuminate this threat, the Dir Figgar were monstrous faerie henchmen. They were massive, loping, beastly, twisted mercenaries that could change form at will and once they had your scent, they would forever crave your blood on their tongues. Betrayal of faerie magic or secrets or other faeries was rigidly imposed, and if you broke this vital rule, these monsters would be sent to pull you apart or drag you back to the Breen for dissolution in the Void.
Death by Void was something all faeries feared irrevocably; more so than iron or silver, more so than being caught by humans or hunted by the Dir Figgar, even more so than owls. Faerie kind were horrified by owls, mostly because it was not uncommon for them to be picked off by the great birds when up to their nighttime high jinx.
The Void was the direst penance for faerie folk and ultimately dreaded above all else. It was an inky, murky, dark and shadowy space that lined the path between the realms. If any unfortunate faerie, non-dreamer, or spiritless child were to fall inside the Void, they would immediately be burned to ash, disintegrate within its eternal blackness, and fade into obliteration. To worsen this fate, if you were sentenced to death by Void, the faerie court would soundtrack your doom ad nauseum with a hateful chant: “Nothing was, nothing be! Nothing was, nothing be! Nothing was, nothing be!”
As mentioned before, Boothe had learned to loathe the Fae and his plan to escape now included following the shiners and killing them, ensuring they would not infect the human world ever again. For now he would stay hidden and listen to the false humans learn about humanity from a brownie who knew absolutely nothing of what it was to be human. Thinking about it, Boothe didn’t know anything about being human either; he barely understood the English they were speaking, but he knew his blood was human and that was enough to fuel his resolve to end these wicked imposters permanently.
The three glamoured faeries chattered excitedly, practicing their English and imagining what the human world would feel like now that they were temporarily a part of it. Boothe followed them out of the Breen and onto the path, staying close enough to keep them in sight but back far enough they did not detect him. The path toward freedom seemed to go on forever as Boothe clutched tight to the shadows, cautiously skulking about the dark passage, ever watchful and mindful not to slip over the edge into the hungry black chasm dissecting the parallel planes.
Finally, the shiners emerged on the other side of the Veil, the penetrated membrane initiating a flash of lucent rippling energy waves that quickly dissipated, cloaking the faerie realm from human view. Though it was nighttime in the human world, the full moon’s light made it bright enough to see clearly. Boothe watched the shiners walk away, waiting till they crested the hill of the forest road before emerging, so the flare from piercing the Veil would not alert them to his presence.
Boothe stepped through and let his feet rest on native soil, taking a moment to breathe in deeply and stare up at the stars. The woody path was lined with trees and a symphony of Earthly forest sounds and smells surrounded him. All was peaceful here, no excessive light or putrid smells, no barrage of noise. Though Boothe had no memory or knowledge of his realm of origin, he could still recognize this was a natural and under-populated setting. It was a beautiful place he wished he knew more about or remembered being a part of. No time for regrets, he refocused on his mission and continued to follow the shiners through the wood.
After walking for a while, the glamoured faeries finally stumbled across a small deserted fisher’s cabin vacant for the season. Deciding to take up residence there, they instantly went to work clearing it of anything they perceived as a threat. Boothe climbed up a large sycamore tree to watch as they began to clean the house. First the iron fireplace tools flew out the cabin door, then some silver items—a few utensils and cups and a picture frame. They also tossed out all the salt and sugar they could find as these were a temptation they could not afford at the moment. Next, they went to scrubbing everything fanatically from top to bottom, wanting to remove any unseen human residue.
Boothe rested as he waited, but once the bustling stopped and he was certain the faeries were asleep, he crept out of the tree and made his way to the junk pile they had erected. Boothe knew exactly how to use the discarded items against them; he also knew the glamour spell left them vulnerable. Though all their faerie instincts were intact, their usual gifts were impotent due to the glamouring, leaving them almost powerless.
Most humans, those who believe in faeries at least, do not realize faeries are mortal. The truth is, although faeries live extraordinarily long lives they do expire, eventually wilting away of old age, and they can be wounded and even killed. Blades of silver or iron will turn them to ash and of course there is the Void or being eaten alive by owls. As faeries they have gifts that supplement their lives, make them harder to catch, harder to kill, but all faeries are susceptible to damage or death, especially while glamoured. All with the exception of Lyzander the Eternal, of course, but that is only because his existence is prolonged by evilly sucking the souls out of human babies.
Acting quickly, Boothe recovered the most viable options from the pile, pulling out a fireplace poker, a tub of salt, and the silver frame. Stopping momentarily to look at the picture in the frame, he saw an image of a couple embraced, holding each other closely, smiling at one another tenderly. Boothe did not understand the context of these experiences and without wasting another minute trying to, he went back to action. Breaking the frame and palming one of the broken sides like a blade he whispered, “I can wield this like a knife, I think.” He checked the weight of the poker, flipping it in his other hand a few times end over end. “This will work well with the element of surprise. Now I just need to get them each alone, one at a time.”
The morning sun crested the mountain and beamed in through the windows of the cabin, waking all inside. Reflecting back off the glass, the light roused Boothe from his tree bed as well. Quickly pulling himself together and climbing down, he retrieved one of the iron weapons he had hidden under some nearby shrubbery then, his eyes glued tightly on the cabin door, he kept low and out of sight. First the windows began to open, then the front door, a moment later the males stepped out with their bags. One of them spoke to the female inside, his English choppy but improving.
“We will walk to town, meet some people, buy some food, be back at nightfall.”
“Agreed” was the female’s answer. “What shall you say to the humans?”
“We will tell them we just arrived and need supplies, what is the word? Hmmm, oh, for the camping!”
Without much more deliberation the cabin door shut and the false humans made their way down the road. Boothe creeped along behind lurking in the overgrowth and low ditches that skirted the dirt path, keeping low and inconspicuous, his intention to be the only one returning to the cabin by nightfall.
By midday the two male shiners were dead. Boothe had confronted them on the path, charging at them from the underbrush and taking them by surprise; the advantage was his. They put up a fight but without their faerie powers they were no match for Boothe’s human strength or his crude fireplace weapon. Once the iron poker struck their flesh they quickly turned to ash and the deed was done. Afterward, Boothe sat by a nearby creek and contentedly snacked on blackberries from a wild vine till his stomach began to ache. Opening the faerie bags he examined the contents and while counting the gold, said to himself, “This will definitely come in handy. Once I have killed the last of them, I will have three times as much to start my life over with, and I will never have to worry about faerie kind again!”
As the sun warmed him, Boothe’s heart and mind were filled with great comfort, a sensation unknown to him before this day. His stomach full and his mind at ease, he lay back in the soft grass putting his head against the bags and began to drift into slumber. The location was warm and beautiful, the crackling of the water an effective lullaby. Boothe quickly relaxed and for the first time in his life tried to let himself dream.
Boothe allowed earthly images to idly flow through his mind, letting sleep overtake him as the filtering sun through the leaves of the trees made his eyelids grow heavy. But because all he had known in his life was darkness, emptiness, and pain, his dream quickly turned emotionless and full of shadows which taunted him. Restlessly Boothe slept, twitching and groaning, his soul crying out from those shadowy places forever out of reach for him, forever bleating, his suffering subconscious puppeteering his body until finally he awoke with a jolt.
Pulling himself together, Boothe returned to the cabin before nightfall and cautiously hid the faerie bags with his weapon hoard. Taking the salt, the silver shard, and some of the blackberries he had gathered earlier, he climbed back up the Sycamore tree to wait. Lodging himself in the branches with a view of the cabin door, his adrenalin spiking from anticipation, Boothe voraciously munched on the berries till he crashed and dozed off again.
Boothe’s dreams once again were fitful, the imagery dark and evocative. As he slept, Boothe twitched and jerked in the boughs of the tree causing the leaves and limbs to shake, sending the remaining berries raining to the ground. Inside the cabin, the motion of the trembling tree drew the attention of the female faerie watching from the window, eventually drawing her outside to investigate. As she approached the tree, Boothe's groans and cries alarmed her, but curiosity encouraged her to press on. Fortunately for her, Boothe was deeply entrenched in his nightmares.
Mustering her courage and blindly unaware of the real danger she was in, Nettle peered up the trunk of the tall tree to find an unfamiliar young man sleeping fitfully in its branches. Expecting to see an animal, the human presence surprised her. Running away before rethinking her actions, she quickly reminded herself why she was there — to be a part of the human experience. Deciding to repress her trepidations, she approached the tree again and yelled up to the man sleeping in its boughs, “Hey!”
Startled by the shout, Boothe awoke abruptly, frantically groping the tree’s branches to stabilize his balance. Glaring down the trunk toward the voice, he was more than a little surprised to see the woman he planned to murder looking back up at him. Unprepared for this encounter he momentarily froze.
The faerie woman regarded the berries littering the base of the tree and called up to Boothe again. “Are you hungry?”
Boothe, unsure what to do, answered bluntly, “No.”
“Well, if berries are all you’ve had, you must be hungry. Why don’t you come inside? I made food, it’s not much, just some potatoes, onions, and carrots I gathered for soup. I’d like the company.” She continued to coax. With her comrades missing and night falling, Nettle was a little apprehensive about inviting this stranger to dinner but more uneasy about being all alone in this alien world.
“Thank you, no,” Boothe shouted, continually trying to hide his face, knowing if she saw his eyes, she would instantly know what he was.
“I am Nettle…Nettie. What are you called?”
“Boothe.” He took notice of how well she articulated English already; she spoke better than he did.
“Do you live around here, Boothe? Why are you sleeping in a tree?”
What’s with this one? Boothe thought, she’s too friendly, it must be a trap. Not trusting Nettie any more than any other faerie he responded with a lie, “No, I’m just passing through. I got tired and this tree looked like a safe place to sleep. I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’ll go.”
“Oh, no, please stay,” Nettie pleaded, “my friends have vanished on me and I would really like some company. Please, come eat and talk with me.”
By now the light had faded and it was dark. Boothe, realizing the advantage, secretly tucked his weapons deeper into his jacket pocket and hesitantly began to climb down the tree. Boothe was suspicious of the female’s open and friendly demeanor but he decided her hospitality, if it was even real, was an unwitting opportunity to finish her. Once at the bottom Boothe kept his eyes averted, only risking a fast look. Until this moment, he hadn’t noticed what a pretty human Nettie made. She was quite lovely, slender with long tightly curled red hair, skin so creamy white it seemed to glow, and huge green eyes that sparkled like emeralds against the sharp contrast of her features. Her smile was warm and sweet, her manner kind and welcoming; she was a very different character from her brutish male comrades.
Boothe’s strange countenance made Nettie a bit uneasy, but she was more frightened of being alone. She also knew if she was ever going to understand humans she needed to make at least one friend. Nettie tried to get a better look at Boothe’s face but he kept it well-shielded. “Don’t be shy, I don’t bite,” she joked, seemingly unaware of how sketchy he was. “Follow me.”
Boothe smiled uneasily and followed Nettie to the cabin door. Once inside she went to work lighting all the oil lamps and very soon every corner of the little log cabin was flooded with warm light. Boothe looked around the room; the place was riddled with big windows on every wall and there was a fairly large gathering room on the right with some rustic furniture and a rock fireplace filling it. A small kitchen and dining area on the left of the shared space featured an ornate blue metal stove and a copper basin. From his line of sight at the cabin’s entrance, three closed doors stood behind an archway at the back of the room where he assumed the sleeping quarters were.
Nettie commented on Boothe’s nervous manner and his dirty clothes, breaking the intensity of his stare. “Is there something wrong with your eyes, my friend? I only ask because you keep them shielded, and forgive me, but I see your clothing is a mess. I may be able to help.”
Boothe watched Nettie spoon the stew into bowls, and taking a seat at the small table, he answered, “Thank you, no.” Boothe took the bowl he was handed and continued, “I’ll be fine. I got in a scuffle in town this morning, that’s all.”
“And your eyes? Were you struck in the eyes? Is that why you won’t look at me?”
“No, Miss, I’m just a little shy, like you said.”
“I do not mean to embarrass you, forgive me.”
Boothe quietly kept eating.
“Well,” Nettie continued, “seeing it’s so late and you have nowhere to go, perhaps you would like to stay here tonight? There is plenty of room and it’s got to be more comfortable than some old, scratchy tree.”
“Thank you, Nettie.” Feigning a weak smile, Boothe dared an upward glance before quickly lowering his gaze back to the bowl. “That is very kind of you.”
Boothe was unprepared for Nettie’s kindness. It took him completely by surprise, but it was of no matter. Self-conferring a duty to protect humankind from faerie evil, he was determined to sneak into her bedroom and kill her in the night. For now, he resigned to politely impart a false sense of security and gain her confidence.
The two talked late into the night till Nettie, finally tired and ready to dream, fitted Boothe with a pillow and blankets. “It has been nice talking with you, Boothe, but if you will excuse me, I am looking forward to my dreams. Goodnight.”
“Wait,” Boothe stopped her, “what do you mean?”
“I can’t explain it to you, but I’ve never been able to really dream before. Since I have been here, I have dreamt of beautiful, magical, amazing things!” She continued, smiling, “When I sleep, my mind is filled with colors and talking animals, oceans and rivers, bicycles for two, swings hanging from trees, someone who loves me, clouds and birds and children laughing!”
Suddenly Nettie caught herself becoming overly impassioned. “I’m getting too carried away. I know I must sound foolish, getting so excited over dreaming, but this place has brought such wonderful magic to me. It makes me never want to wake up.” In that moment, Nettie noticed Boothe’s eyes were fixed on her and she abruptly cut the conversation. “Well, sweet dreams, Boothe.”
As Nettie entered the door to the left of the archway, Boothe snapped out of his stupor and responded, “Yes, you too, Nettie.”
Watching the door close, Boothe’s mind went awhirl. There would be no sleeping, he needed to think. Boothe’s dreams were like the Void, empty, hollow things full of darkness and terror, far from the magical things Nettie’s mind was full of. Boothe wondered how a faerie, a thing he had only known to have a cold nature, could have such powerful visions of things otherwise unknown to her. Nettie was experiencing his world in a way he never had. Boothe wanted to dream like her, to see the bright colors of life, to know that kind of serenity. As he examined the silver weapon hidden in his pocket and waited for her to fall asleep, Boothe suddenly felt very covetous of Nettie’s ability to dream in color when he could only manifest dingy, gray, dark shadows.
After a short while Boothe entered Nettie’s room; a trusting thing, she had not even locked the door. Boothe found this a bit suspicious but entered the room anyway. As Nettie slept sweetly and soundly, Boothe approached the bed, creeping closer till he was hovering over her, the silver shard squeezed tightly in his hand. Raising the weapon high above his head ready to slam it into her bosom, he drew it back and down it came — then he stopped.
Pulling back at the last moment, the silver shard hovering centimeters over Nettie’s breast, Boothe withdrew himself from delivering the fatal blow. He had to reason it was Nettie’s contented state of dreaming that would not let him kill her, not yet anyway. Not until he knew what she was dreaming about.
The next morning Nettie seemed a little uneasy as she prepared breakfast. Boothe had been up all night, paranoid of his own actions and unwilling to unfold the dark fabric his dreams were made of. Immediately sitting at the table, curious to hear about Nettie’s dreams, he commented on her observed nervousness.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She forced a smile. “I’m fine.”
“Didn’t you sleep well?”
“Some.” Her answers were short at first, but she came around directly, “I still dreamed.”
“Great!” Boothe responded excitedly, “I can’t wait to hear more!” He caught himself looking at her again and swiftly averted his eyes to the table. Eye contact was made, but Nettie did not react to his eyes with knowing. Boothe didn’t understand why Nettie couldn’t tell he was leanabh gun eagal, but he was beginning not to care.
After setting their food on the table, Nettie began to recount the events of her night’s dream as a serene look came over her face. “It seemed as though I was flying — no, floating on clouds. The sun was welcoming and bright and I could almost feel its warmth on my skin. Suddenly I was joined by some birds just gliding in the air alongside me; all different colors of birds, bright colors, many colors and their music was so sweet! After flying all day, the moon came out and glowing fish popped in and out of the water as I flew over this sparkling green lake. Then I heard singing and that’s when I realized the fish were mermaids! They waved at me as I floated along above them and then, all of a sudden, I felt frightened and I was compelled to float home and wake, as if I were in grave peril. I can’t explain it, but when I woke this morning, I felt a little uneasy.”
Pausing briefly to sip her water, she then asked Boothe about his night. “What did you dream about?”
For a moment Boothe thought she knew he had tried to kill her. He wondered if she somehow suspected his intentions and was playing games with him. Since he wasn’t sure he simply answered her question, “I couldn’t sleep.”
“You were up all night? Are you not tired?”
“A little. I’ll be fine. I’ll take a nap later.” Boothe made an assumption he was staying, one Nettie seemed to support with her response.
“I was hoping you would accompany me into town to gather supplies and food. Will you go with me?”
Boothe could not let Nettie know he had the faerie gold. “I don’t have any money, but I can go with you and I can pick berries along the way to help with food.”
“Can you fish or hunt?”
“Fish?” As a servant in the Breen, Boothe was not allowed to hunt or taught to use any weapons, though his skills wielding the iron poker might suggest otherwise.
“Never mind.” Nettie smiled dismissively.
After cleaning up breakfast, Boothe followed Nettie into town and helped her gather food, all the while suspicious of her kindness and still harboring the intention of killing her, though their time together was beginning to loosen his resolve a bit. Boothe momentarily considered she was harmless and thought perhaps he could let her go until on the way back, she shared more of her dreams with him. Now they included things she dreamed while wide awake, like hopeful aspirations about falling in love one day. Listening grievously, Boothe thought, I will kill her tonight.
But the next morning came and Boothe still had not killed Nettie. Pacing the cabin floor as he waited for her to emerge from the bedroom, he decided to end things right after breakfast, just as soon as she shared the night’s dreams with him. Hearing about Nettie’s dreams was so compelling to Boothe he did not want them to end, but he was also becoming increasingly resentful of Nettie’s ability to experience them.
As Boothe set the table, Nettie filled two drinking cups with water and over breakfast she began to share every dreamy detail. Conflicted by the voices in his head, Boothe listened until suddenly, overcome with anger and jealousy, he thought, it has to be now! Rising swiftly from his chair, he pulled the salt tub out of his shirt pocket and scattered it all over the floor.
Shocked, Nettie jumped out of her seat and immediately knelt, compelled to count each grain one at a time.
Standing over her and reaching back into his pocket, Boothe went for the concealed weapon but then — he stopped again. “What was I looking for?” he asked, as the thought of murder involuntarily drifted right out of his head. Noticing Nettie was cleaning a mess, he dropped to the floor beside her and began gathering the spill.
Tears began streaming down Nettie’s face as she nervously kept counting, aware she was in trouble.
“Don’t cry, it’s only a little salt.” Forgetting his mission to kill her, Boothe tried to help. “Why are you counting?” he asked, outwardly confused as to why anyone would do such a peculiar thing, as if he never knew this was a compulsive faerie instinct.
“I...” Shaking, Nettie had to force herself to stop counting. “It’s a very old, very odd habit, I know it’s strange.” A knowing look on her face, she sat down at the table, her eyes never leaving Booth while he finished cleaning up.
Boothe laughed. “What’s odd is that I suddenly can’t remember what we were talking about.”
Nettie shrugged coyly, still trembling and lied, “I don’t remember either.”
“Hmmm,” Boothe shook his head thinking himself fatigued. “I guess I’m just tired. I better go lie down.”
When Boothe awoke, it was evening; he realized he had slept all day. His dreams, as always, had been flooded with dark disappointment and his head was a bit fuzzy, but his memories were rapidly returning.
Seated on the floor, Nettie sat across from the sofa where Boothe had been napping; he turned to see her watching him. Done with all pretenses he finally asked, “What happened?”
Nettie pulled a small empty vial from her skirt pocket; she too was done with witful games. Though he was none the wiser, Nettie had slipped Oblivoneum into Boothe’s water at breakfast. It seemed she knew exactly what he was and she knew he was trying to kill her, but she was hoping the Oblivoneum would change things, or at least postpone them.
“Do you know what this is?” Nettie’s question was direct and curt; Boothe’s expression told her he indeed knew what she was showing him.
“How long have you known?”
“Since the first night. I saw your eyes when you told me about your dark dreams, then I knew.”
“Why didn’t the elixir erase all my memories?”
“Its full potency is only effective on faerie folk, but on humans it has an instant but temporary effect. I was just hoping it would slow you down.”
Nettie rose from her seat, reached into a nearby trunk, and pulled out the bags of gold and supplies Boothe had hidden in the yard and laid them in front of him. “Did you kill my compeers, Nyx and Tucker?”
Offering no excuses or lies, Boothe responded in a non-apologetic tone, “Yes. When did you find these?”
“While you were sleeping, I searched the yard for clues and found your weapon hoard and the bags. Why haven’t you killed me yet?”
“I love hearing about your dreams.” Boothe lowered his head momentarily, then returned her eye contact. “Besides, you have been very kind to me, so it has made things difficult.”
Nettie nodded, but did not respond. She sat back down on the floor in front of him unafraid and said nothing for a long time.
Breaking the uncomfortable silence, Boothe asked, “If you knew I was trying to kill you, why didn’t you kill me first? You had the opportunity.”
Nettie smiled disappointedly.“I am not here to hurt anyone. Like I told you before, I only wanted to dream and maybe be loved by someone.”
Boothe suddenly became animated, his words full of passion as he melted out of his seat and onto the floor in front of her pleading, “I want to dream in color so badly, to know what it’s like to be filled with that kind of hope and imagination. I want good dreams like yours, not nightmares like mine. Why can’t I do it?” Nettie seemed to understand things he hoped she would know.
“You were robbed of your spirit at a very young age, you have never known love or kindness, you were deprived of hope and comfort, your imagination was never given a chance to thrive. How can your dreams project what they do not know? When you spend your whole life in shadows, you may only dream darkly.”
While Boothe pondered her words, Nettie surprised him yet again. “You are welcome to stay with me. I will try to help you, but I have to be able to trust you won’t keep trying to kill me.”
After exchanging a long, unfeigned stare with Nettie, Boothe agreed.
Boothe no longer wanted Nettie dead. Still incapable of dreaming, he waited anxiously every morning to hear Nettie share her dreams with him. The first night had turned into a day and that day turned into two, four days into a week, one week into two, and soon three. Over this period of time, they had become quite attached to one another and Nettie, feeling guilty over Boothe’s condition, wanted very much to help him.
Being human and being with Boothe had changed Nettie, and by day twenty-seven she was in love with him. Overcome by these powerful emotions, Nettie decided to make them known, hopeful they would be reciprocated. With the afternoon sun streaming in through the cabin windows, Nettie embraced Boothe for love’s first kiss.
Boothe was very fond of Nettie and though soullessness had left his heart inert, he wanted desperately to feel something. Having faith in her love and hoping ardor might unlock his dreams, Boothe submitted to the moment, believing carnal exploration might unleash something locked deep within. There alone in the stolen cabin, yielding to their hopes, at the mercy of their inexperience, the rest of the afternoon was surrendered to amatory human bliss.
Per the rules of faerie glamouring, it was time for the brownie in charge, Rutherford, to observe the shined faeries and report back to King Lyzander. This was typically done three days before the calendular called them home, a detail which was, of course, never disclosed to any of them. If faeries knew a condition of glamouring was surveillance at any stage, they would conceal many things as it is in their nature to be mendacious. Understanding this deceitful tendency of faerie nature is exactly why King Lyzander deemed the procedure be kept confidential in the first place.
Rutherford, along with three brownie minions, passed through the Veil, immediately cloaking themselves with invisibility as they entered the human realm. Following the scent of faerie pheromones, they soon found the cabin and began to search the yard for evidence of anything hinky or out of place. Their timing was unfortunate for the new lovers, as spying through a cracked window the brownie snoops observed Nettie and Boothe engaged in a kiss.
Shocked by this development, Rutherford gasped aloud and quickly dropped out of sight. Though their visage was cloaked their voices were not and they could be heard. Nettie pulled away from Boothe and approached the window, looking left and right for the source of the breathy sound. The brownies stayed low and quiet waiting for the threat to pass, but they kept their large ears tuned-in to the conversation inside.
“What is it?” Boothe asked.
“I swore I heard a gasp. I think we are being watched.”
“I’ll go outside and check it out.” Boothe quickly pulled the fireplace poker out from its new hiding place under the sofa and ran outside. Raising the iron weapon high, ready to swing, he shouted, “Who’s there? Make yourselves known!”
The brownies stayed cloaked and didn’t move. Lying low, Rutherford captured Boothe’s eyes in his own and then he knew this was no ordinary human, and this was a huge problem. As his duties dictated, the head brownie immediately sent a telepathic message to his minions — Nettle Oakenthorn is harboring an escaped slave child! And no less, bonding with him! It is scandalous and it breaks about seven faerie laws! The king will be furious! —
“Show yourself!” Boothe demanded, keeping the iron poker held high and ready to thump, but the brownies kept hidden for fear of him. After searching outside revealed nothing unusual, Boothe went back to the cabin where Nettie quickly pulled him in the door. Rutherford listened closely, his invisible head pressed tightly to the window’s edge.
“Boothe, if the Fae are spying on us, if they find out about Nyx and Tucker, they will drag us home and execute us!”
“They won’t execute you for that, I killed Nyx and Tucker.”
Rutherford had to quickly suppress himself again, clasping his hand tightly to his mouth as he continued to eavesdrop.
“Keep your voice down!” Nettie shut the windows tightly then continued to speak to Boothe in a hushed voice, “It does not matter which of us killed Nyx and Tucker. What we are doing here together, experiencing love, sharing secrets and dreams as lovers do, my loyalty to you after you killed my companions — it is treason, Boothe! That is the only way King Lyzander will see it!”
“It’s okay, Nettie. I’ll protect you.”
“You can’t protect me from the Erlking, Boothe.”
They embraced again, Boothe holding Nettie tightly as she cried. Nettie could not help but lament; she could feel their time together closing and there was nothing she could do about it. Whispering sadly she said, “I will miss sharing my dreams with you.”
Rutherford sent another telepathic memo to his minions, updating them on the newest piece of intel — Murder! This news is too rich! We must get word back to the king quickly! The calendular tally is almost up! —
On the thirtieth day the Dir Figgar arrived at the cabin, busting down the door and charging into the bedroom where Boothe and Nettie were sleeping. After they were wrestled apart, drug outside, and their hands bound, one of royal faerie police, a Red Cap, officially charged Boothe and Nettie with treason.
“You, Nettle Oakenthorn, are hereby charged with abandonment of faerie law, of bonding and consorting with a fugitive child of the Breen having known he murdered your brethren, of sharing sacred faerie knowledge with non-faerie creatures, and concealing these things from your king!”
“Forgive, please, forgive!” Nettie was shaking uncontrollably. “Boothe I’m scared.”
Boothe shouted at the Red Cap, “I did this! You leave her be, scum! Deal with me instead!”
The Red Cap responded gruffly, “You will be dealt with and you will be punished!”
Boothe turned to Nettie. “There is still time, take the elixir. They won’t take you back if you’re human. We still have Nyx and Tucker’s vials, it’s not too late until the calendular tolls. Please Nettie, forget all of this and be free.”
With tears in her eyes Nettie whispered, “I took it three days ago. All I want to remember is you.”
“What?” Boothe turned his rage toward the Red Caps, “Let her go! She’s human now and no longer beholden to your laws! You must let her go!”
Boothe did his best to comfort Nettie as they were dragged to the path between realms. “I’m right here with you, Nettie.” He wrestled against their captors, cursing and damning them the whole way, protesting faerie law, though he knew it would change nothing. Before long they were at the cusp of realms where just beyond the plasma curtain of the Veil, King Lyzander stood awaiting them.
Without a single word being spoken beyond all of Boothe’s growling, the troop stood silently detaining the accused at the cusp, awaiting the calendular’s bell to chime out the end of the shine as their laws dictated.
Soon, in a tone much louder than Boothe would have expected, the toll rang out with intense timbre, a reverberating GONG, inciting the faerie hoard to move forward into the faerie realm. As they were pushed back through the Veil’s shrouded entrance, Boothe and Nettie soon found themselves on their knees in front of King Lyzander.
Boothe immediately appealed to the faerie court, addressing the Erlking directly. “No, you cannot Void her! I killed Nyx and Tucker! Besides, she is human now and soon she will forget everything! There is no need to Void her! She drank the elixir!”
The evil king regarded the statement a moment and bearing a sinister grin, responded coldly, “That is a good point, only soulless things disturb the Void. So, I will separate her from her lifeforce before I toss what’s left into oblivion!”
“No!” Boothe finally broke away. Standing in front of Nettie, temporarily blocking her from harm, he reminded the king of the rules, “She is allowed a last wish!” Boothe reminded the court as well, turning to them he shouted, “It is sacred faerie law!”
Lyzander begrudgingly conceded, allowing Nettie to dispel her last desire.
Kneeling to face her, Boothe begged, “Wish yourself free, Nettie, please. They have to allow you whatever you wish. You will be shunned, but you will live.”
Nettie shook her head softly and kissed Boothe’s face, the act inflaming disgust in the faerie court, evidenced in their groans and voices. “It would be no life without you. It’s okay, Boothe, I know what I want to do.” Locking eyes with Boothe and tuning out the vulgar slurs of her kin, she spoke loud and clear, “With the knowledge of magic I have left I gift Boothe my soul! May it replace what was taken from him unfairly!”
Before her magic was gone and her memories undone, Nettie kissed Boothe one last time, a kiss full of passion and fury. Charges of pulsing light ran through them both burning the binding ropes off their wrists, allowing them to hold each other. As they gripped tightly to one another, shockwaves rippled through all who stood along the path. Flashing aftershocks cracked and sparked for miles before waning, the ground shook with impact tremors, rumbling and resonating loudly. The event held all in submission for a few hard minutes, even the Erlking, till suddenly, the suspended electricity flared all at once resounding in a loud POP and dissipated around them, saturating the ground with residual static energy. Then, as everything fell silent and the faerie court was temporarily subdued, the light in Nettie’s eyes slowly began to fade and Boothe’s began to radiate.
“You could have saved yourself. Why did you save me?” Boothe asked softly.
Nettie smiled. “I want you to know what it's like to dream. I love you, Boothe.”
Finally, able to feel everything Boothe held her and wept.
Disgusted and anxious to get back to his throne, the sovereign grunted, “Oh, spare me,” and without further delay he waved his hand signaling the Dir Figgar to wrench Nettie and Boothe apart as the faerie court began the chant — Nothing was, nothing be! Nothing was, nothing be! Nothing was, nothing be! —
“I, King Lyzander, presiding judgement over you, Nettle Oakenthorn, hereby condemn you for betrayal against your faerie brethren and consortium with their murderer, a fugitive child of the Breen. For these crimes, I renounce you as Fae and I order you to death by Void!” Ending his adjudication, he snidely added, “Any last words?”
Nettie’s mind was fading but her words were clear and strong. “I have only to say this, that I am thankful to have dreamed and to have loved! I regret nothing!”
With another flash of Lyzander’s impatient hand and the chanting growing louder, the Dir Figgar threw Nettie into the Void. Upon touching the shadows of this inky Stygian space, Nettie’s body was suspended as if caught in a net. Bright blue sparks erupting from her core began pouring over her, quickly consuming her body in lava-like, flowing sapphire flames. For a moment she flashed, shining bright as the birth of a white-hot star, before the last of her was consumed by the blackness of the unforgiving chasm.
Boothe fell to his knees overcome with heartache. Watching Nettie fizzle into oblivion deepened his hatred for the Fae with an intense fury, his new soul enabling feelings of grief and vengeance he could have never thought possible. Suddenly he was consumed with a powerful urging that rivaled the blackness of the Void itself.
“You scum!” Boothe screamed at the faerie court and then he turned a blathering on the Erlking till he was out of breath.
King Lyzander stood unaffected by Boothe’s rage, too arrogant to be offended by this lesser creature. He had no choice but to free Boothe; Nettie’s life gift had released him from the whip hand and jurisdiction of the faerie realm. Leaning down, the Erlking made a deep examination of Boothe’s eyes, bemused by his anger. Then, he ruminated out loud, “I don’t know how a child of the Fae could ever develop feelings as deep and powerful as love for a nothing like you, but you have been granted a very magical, very rare gift. Do not piss on it!” Ending the lesson, his face curling up with disgust, he waved his spindly fingers and barked another order, “Banish him!”
The Dir Figgar wasted no time. With a flash of plasma and light the entire faerie court disappeared abruptly as Boothe was forcibly and rudely thrown back into the human realm. Quickly getting to his feet, Boothe stood cursing the Fae as loudly and crudely as he could, turning around and around in the forest shouting until finally withdrawing into the stark silence that surrounded him.
Faerie law deemed a recovered soul gifted by a faerie as pardonable, and all levies were withdrawn. The realm of the Fae would be hidden from Boothe forever forth; exacting revenge was now beyond his reach. No matter, Boothe didn’t give a damn to ever see the faerie realm again. Nettie wasn’t there and nothing would ever replace her, not even satisfying his vengeance. Nettie’s love made Boothe a man and her gift renewed him, the thought of her magically filled his heart with peace. She gave her soul so Boothe could live and he knew it would be dishonoring her to waste that gift on hate.
As he stood alone in the world aching, his rage dissolving into sorrow, Boothe let go of any notions of revenge with a long, deep sigh. He would honor Nettie’s last wish and would not waste the new life he had been gifted. Besides, he knew where he could always find her and took comfort knowing he could meet her there. Now that his soul was intact Boothe could finally dream without darkness and for the rest of his life he would dream of Nettie in every possible color.