The Ballad Beyond
by Saffia Widdershins
Alone in the mists, the fae waited, her fair hair covered by a dark red hood. At her side, the little unicorn shivered and stamped a nervous foot. The motion caught her eye and she looked down at him and smiled.
He shook his head, but then stilled as though he heard something.
Sharp elven ears heard it too. The fae drew a deep breath, audible as the sigh of wind over night seas, and she stepped further back into the shadows.
Footsteps, approaching slowly. A slight shuffle, as though one leg was dragging.
Slowly a figure approached, through the tunnel and into the park. Slowly, it made its way down the wooden walk between the watchful gargoyles towards the lighted bank of candles on the broken, half-forgotten shrine. There he stopped – for it was a man, wizened, old and bent. He gazed at the candles for a long moment.
Then with a sigh that was nearly a groan, he reached inside his shabby cloak and lifted out a candle, a rare beeswax candle, tall and elegant. He leaned forward stiffly to light it from one that already burned there, and then set it down in an empty space, taking care it was set upright and proud.
Then he stepped back and gazed at it for a while.
She spoke softly but he clearly heard, for he stiffened and then straightened a little. But he did not turn towards her.
Ah well, he had always been proud.
“Tam,” she said again, and now she stepped forward, the little unicorn trotting at her side.
“I came to see you, Tam,” she said softly. “To see if you have forgotten … “
He was still staring at the candles, obstinately silent, as though to give her words was to give her power over him.
He had not forgotten, then.
“Do you light the candle for me, Tam? Or do you light it for her?”
She was close enough to him now to see the tear making a track down his face, although he still held his face averted, staring ahead.
“Was she good to you, your Jennet? Did she love you like I loved you? Or did she just want a name to give as the father of her babe? How soon did the life of mortals begin to weary you, Tam Lin?”
At that old, old name he turned suddenly, showing her his face for the first time, facing her fully. Despite what she had known, she shrank back. And he saw it and smiled grimly, displaying the ruins of teeth in a face lined with wrinkles.
“Yes,” he said, and his voice was hoarse, as though from years of disuse. “You did this. You gave me the life of the fae lands, but forgot to give me youth. Jennet died … as mortals must. She was full of years – and they were good ones, the years we spent together, watching our children grow and in time, rule the land. And their children … ten generations now between me and the Lord of Blackmoor, and yet still I live.”
She took a step towards him, her hand raised and held out to him.
“Then come with me,” she said. “True Thomas, my Tam Lin, come along with me. It may be harder to find now, but the way is still there. We will not take the hard road, we will not take the soft. We’ll take the bonny, bonny road to fair Elfland, and we’ll take it together. And there … I will give you the gift you crave – your youth.”
And he laughed softly.
“Ah, my Queen … my fairest Lady … you never understood mortals, did you? You think I crave my youth again? No.
“I crave what you stole from me. My death.”
by Midniight Dae
I never really felt that I knew my father, but I lit a candle for him anyway and wished him well in his next incarnation. Things had been tense between us since my mother died and he discovered that his bereft daughter wasn’t willing to concede to his every whim. Banging on the table with his knife wouldn’t get him dinner any faster, and after I threatened to throw it in his lap, he got the message. Yes, things got tense.
I was there to light a candle, when I first saw the stranger. Hesitant footsteps down the tunnel sent me scurrying for cover. The sanctuary is a desolate spot, especially on one of our usual foggy winter evenings. I scrambled up the bank, familiarity allowing me to move slowly and silently. I was above the tunnel when he emerged. By his grey hair, he was older than I, but not by much. My own face held its share of lines. The sweat of sudden fear was quenched by cold fingers of fog, but the folks of Blackmoor soon learn the ways of silent disappearance.
I saw him again, a few nights later, near the shrine for hope. By then I’d heard he had been asking about me, but caution outweighed curiosity and I had no desire to confront him on another night of fog and scarce company. I backed away, careful on the slick cobbles, and vanished easily into the evening.
I was meditating near the waterfalls when he finally cornered me. It’s one of my favourite places, but that didn’t excuse stupidity. He backed away when he saw my frightened glances, looking for an escape route.
“I only want to talk. The Arcadia inn at the main square in an hour?” He backed away when I nodded, but I never stopped gripping my dagger until I reached the roadway and the streetlights.
When I reached Arcadia, he was staring outside, as bemused as most outworlders, staring at what appeared to be a lake inside the building. I muttered the words of power from behind him and the normal inn returned to view. We like to keep our inn for locals only, but occasional guests are permitted. I waved the barmaid over, and she brought two flagons of the better ale.
“You have something that you want from me?”
“No, not at all,” he looked down at his hands then back to me, and I noticed some very familiar blue eyes. “I think we share the same father.”
“Gemfire and Obsidian”
by Talia Sunsong
“Catch me if you can!” said Gemfire. She beat her wings faster and dove into a fog bank.
“Gemfire, no, that’s heading towards Blackmoor. It’s dangerous.” Eran called at Gemfire’s fleeing back. “The elders said never to go to Blackmoor.”
The only answer was Gemfire’s laughter, that somehow sounded more hollow as it echoed off the fog.
“Come back! Oh, curses.” Eran dove into the fog after her. “Where is she?” Eran could see nothing in the dense fog. He slowly flew forward. Strange trees with twisting branches appeared in the fog.
“Whoa!” Eran dodged a branch that seemed to reach out to grab him. He scrutinized the tree, in case it was actually trying to grab him. It stood motionless.
“It must have just been my imagination. The tree looked like it was moving, because I was moving in the fog.”
He could see the thick branches of more trees poking through the clouds of fog. If he kept flying, he might find himself entangled in a branch, or hit his head on trunk.
“Gemfire jokes that I am thick headed, but it still would hurt to ram a tree.”
Eran flew down to the ground. He landed on an uneven stone path. Immediately, a cold dampness soaked through his Fae shoes. Shoes made of flower petals did not offer much protection from the cold.
They were made for the sunnier lands that Fae lived in.
“Gemfire, where are you?”
Eran strained with his sensitive ears to hear any sound of Gemfire.
All he heard was the dripping of water echoing inside of a tunnel, and a murmur of a waterfall many yards away.
I hope she didn’t hit a tree, thought Eran with a sense of foreboding.
This place was so dark compared to the Fairylands he lived in.
There was a low sound, of a foot scuffing on stone.
Eran crept forward. The sound had come from the other end of a tunnel. He hesitated at the opening. It was dark and smelled of rotting vegetation. Everything told him this was a dangerous place to go, yet if Gemfire was hurt inside the tunnel, he had to go to her.
Eran entered the tunnel. He felt the clinging of a hundred threads of spider silk.
“Yuck!” Eran wiped the web off his face. Something landed on his left shoulder.
Spider? thought Eran, brushing his shoulder quickly. He felt dampness. It was drops of water dripping from the top of the tunnel onto him.
There was another scraping noise. Eran moved more quickly through the tunnel. It opened next to a gray body of water with a wooden walkway over it. Winged stone gargoyles sat atop columns next to the walkway. A shadow moved on the walkway.
“Who is it?” said Eran.
There was a low laugh. “Me,” said a gravelly voice.
Eran spun around. He saw no one. “Who spoke?”
“Don’t you have eyes to see?” said the rasping voice.
Eran looked up and realized the stone gargoyle was speaking. “By the Fae gods, you are alive.”
The gargoyle lifted a leg to scratch at a spider crawling on its side.
“Of course I’m alive. Where have been, that you have never seen a stone gargoyle speak?”
“In the Fae lands,” replied Eran automatically.
“Hah!” said the gargoyle, narrowing his eyes as if Eran had lied.
“These are the Fae lands.”
“The Fae lands are not like here. They are sunny and warm, with a great tree many Fae live in.”
“These are the Fae lands, foolish boy,” sneered the gargoyle. “Why are you here?”
“I’m looking for my friend, Gemfire. She’s Fae too.”
The gargoyle laughed. “She’ll be staying here then, with Obsidian.”
“What?” Eran stepped closer to the gargoyle. “Gemfire, stay here, in this dark place? Where is she? Show me.”
“Show yourself, boy. Obsidian is wooing her now. With his magic and dark beauty, you don’t stand a chance.”
“Where?” Eran clenched his jaw tight. How dare anyone use love spells on Gemfire. No one would take her from him.
“Obsidian is starting to play his magic lyre. That always works on the ladies.” The gargoyle jerked his head towards a spot down the walkway over the murky water. The faint sound of music drifted across the waters.
Not wasting another second, Eran ran down the rickety walkway towards the music. A board suddenly cracked under his foot, and he leapt to the next one to avoid twisting his ankle. The walkway ended at a series of alcoves. Most were dark and forgotten things, but there were candles burning in an alcove down a pathway to his right.
The music drifted from that direction, as well as the sweet notes sung by a man.
Eran ran closer. In the candle light he could the face of a man, slender and youthful looking, like many magical creatures with long lives who looked eternally young. The eyes seemed dark and full of cunning, the lips twisted into a self satisfied smile. The man strummed a lyre and sang a crooning song of desire for a beauty to come to him.
A woman stepped closer to the man. Her red hair and gem like wings caught the candlelight.
“Gemfire!” cried Eran.
Gemfire turned to Eran, her eyes widening in surprise.
“Eran, you’re here?”
“I followed you. We’re not supposed to come here, remember the elders said to stay out of Blackmoor.”
“Eran is your name?” said the man with disdain. Eran looked at the man. Now that he was close, he realized the man did indeed have Fae wings. Although they were jet black wings with chips of shiny crystals like obsidian.
“Eran is my name, and you are Obsidian, I would guess?”
Obsidian raised his eyebrows. “I am Obsidian.”
“He was playing a song for me,” said Gemfire. “It was so beautiful! Please sing it again, Obsidian.”
“No more songs, Gemfire. It’s time to leave.” Eran held out his hand to Gemfire to pull her away from Obsidian.
“Eran said that his elders told him to stay out of Blackmoor, so Eran should obey his elders.” Obsidian pierced Eran with his look.
“Come Gemfire, time to go.”
“Gemfire can stay.” Obsidian set down his lyre and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Oh, Eran. I can stay for a while. I’ve never been here and it’s such a lovely place. I never knew there were Fae here.”
“I still haven’t shown you the waterfall,” said Obsidian picking up his lyre and holding out his hand to Gemfire. “You must see it.”
Eran heard the extra emphasis Obsidian put on the word “must”. He could hear the magic tones underlying the word “must”. It was a command spell.
“Gemfire, do not listen to him,” said Eran, but Gemfire had already taken Obsidian’s hand and they were flying down the path. Eran flew after them.
Holding Gemfire close, Obsidian flew rapidly down the twisting pathway. Eran dashed after them, barely avoiding collisions with boulders and trees.
Obsidian and Gemfire landed on the grass at the top of a tall waterfall. Obsidian strummed his fingers across his lyre.
“Come with me my beauty, Gemfire. Stay with me my love. Be by my side, Gemfire, and forget about the others.” Obsidian sang, his dark eyes meeting Gemfire’s eyes.
“Don’t listen, Gemfire, it’s a spell!” yelled Eran.
“Ignore the voice of others, listen only to me,” sang Obsidian. “The other one will be caught by a tree.”
A tree bent down and tried to entwine its branches around Eran. Eran threw himself sideways. The tree missed getting a grip on Eran, but a twig scratched Eran’s face.
Eran swooped down on Obsidian, and snatched the lyre from his hands.
“Gemfire, don’t listen to Obsidian. He is an evil Fae. He will just try to trap you with his evil ways,” sang Eran desperately. Gemfire’s eyes turned to Eran.
“Eran, you’re singing? You never sing.”
“Come away to safety, let’s leave this awful place.” Eran rose higher in the air, and Gemfire followed.
“I’ll get you next time,” called out Obsidian. “This isn’t over.”