“Castle Moirai lies in the heart of this deep wood. Do the both of you understand that thirty years have passed since you were last there, Natalia? Much has changed. The serenity is shattered. Fae different and alike are grouping together, instead of working together. You will find Palace politics are now daily bogged with haranguing arguments that echo down the corridors. Petitioners line up daily to ask for resolve of the most inane disputes. Paedeon’s grand speeches mesmerize the masses. The melting pot you left has become a bubbling mass of dissent. The old ways are ridiculed openly, and the Resistance calls for open war if the King and Queen will not have the barrier removed. They wish to pass freely between the realms as in the days of old. They yearn for offerings at festivals thrown in their honor, like our ancestors were given. Your own fairy tales tell you all about the grand courts of the Fairy Royalty. But there were constant struggles between the human and Fae. I told you how acts by the Fae folk were represented as witchcraft, and innocent people died for it. When the Duchess’s ancestors settled here, they chose a remote location surrounded all around by trees. They didn’t tear out the forests to build, rather they chose it for its seclusion. They built their grand home in the valley near the center of the forest. They had no idea who they had just moved next to! Throughout the construction, the Fae tried to dissuade the continuing building. Sprite and Brownies, Fairy and Orc, Trolls lumbered from their caves all intent upon denying the Snippet’s claim to the land. The King of Aedon, stopped the bloodshed before it started. He met with the man named Snippet, and they struck an accord. If they both would disavow knowledge of the other, and live by rules of disengagement, then there would be no harm done by either side. If throughout the ages, one side ever broke their vow, then the pact was null and void, and war would be the result. Britta, I want you to imagine your world suddenly overrun with angry Fae folk, bent on seeking glory by forcing respect. Humans no longer believe in magic, that doesn’t make it non-existent. The Snippet family has always upheld their oath, and have been long friends of the Moirai Court.”
Pausing by a brook, Glen stooped to drink, the girls followed his example. Stretching his graceful body, he gazed up at the sun through the trees. Nodding to himself, he began digging a pit, instructing the ladies to gather kindling. By the time they had returned he had stuck up two forked sticks and made a spit, a small copper cook pot was filled with water and various vegetation and fruits. He again grinned at Britta when he lit the fire with a flick of a finger. He loved watching the astonishment on her face when he used magic. As the fire crackled, the pot began to warm, slowly coming to a boil. Fragrant steam floated out of the open pot, reminding the girls that they had missed their dinner. Glen sat crossed legged on the ground, leaning forward to stir the soup occasionally. Natalia was unusually quiet, seemingly lost in thought, only appearing half aware of either her friend or protector. Britta thought for a moment, then looked at her little princess with a mixture of awe and uncertainty. If what Glen said was correct, then Natty wasn’t six, she was sixty, nearly as old as Aunty Belle. This was a hard concept to swallow. How had Natalia really felt all the times the other children told her she was too young to do this or that? She had never mentioned the aging difference, perhaps to her it really didn’t matter. She had always been sure that eventually she would return to the Fairy world she claimed to have been born of. Another question flitted around Britta’s mind. How old was she in this world? Using Glen’s approximation, she was astonished to know she was closing in on two hundred years, or was it cycles? Her brow furrowed in thought, Britta directed her attention to the land around her. That in itself was enough to confuse her. The colors seemed to be somehow more alive than before. The sky was flaming reds and oranges, with the sunset. She didn’t know that she had ever seen such a beautiful sight in her entire life.
Everything in nature seemed to be more alive on this side of the veil, it seemed to the older girl, and she wondered how her little friend had endured the years without this vibrancy in her life. Instead of being morose at its loss, Natalia had brought part of it with her into Mercy Home. It was what they all adored about their Princess. Britta wondered at many things as they sat by the fire. She wished her sister were here, Sonya would understand all of this better. With her nose always in a book, she related to Natalia’s stories in a way that few others had. Was Sonya worried? Glen had made clear that the adults knew what had happened, but what of the other children? How was their disappearance to be explained to them? Lost in thought, she didn’t notice that dusk had begun to settle around them.
Peering across the fire, Britta noticed that Natalia again seemed to have gone inside herself . She wore an expression of only being half aware of her surroundings. The teen glanced at Glen seeking some sort of explanation with her eyes, the question left hanging unspoken in the air between them. He gave the barest of nods to indicate all was well, and she did not press further. Finally, the stew was ready, and Glen passed around light wooden bowls and spoons, as well as a cups for water from the stream. Britta decided she wasn’t going to figure out anything on an empty stomach, and set in hungrily. Natalia still acted as if on auto pilot. Systematically lifting the spoon to her mouth, then back to her bowl, all the while looking as if she were listening to something that only she could hear.
The stew was filling, and surprisingly delicious to Britta, who didn’t recognize most of the ingredients. A concoction of roots, mushrooms, and berries swam in her bowl, relaxing her with its earthy smell, and a calm spread through her body as she gave herself over to the peace and quiet of her surroundings. As the evening fell around them, the night birds began to chatter amongst themselves. Fireflies played tag in the woods. Moonlight dappled through the leaves overhead, and the girl found herself dozing. Britta struggled to throw off the sleepiness that seemed to settle upon her like a blanket, giving up as she idly wondered exactly what had been in the soup.