Short story fiction. Fantasy. Urban Faerie tale. Allegory. June, 2011
Yay, I finally managed to get the second installment posted. (It can take so long between writing something and posting it! I have the rest written, too, but I need to copyedit it, sigh.) Click here for part one.
Alethea had walked for at least two hours, human time. She’d passed no buildings, saw nothing but landscape—desolated, devoid of inhabitants. Sickened earth, plants so saddened it was heart-rendering.
She didn’t want to consider what spells would have to be spun to make every tree she passed look the way it did. But she had to face it: What was the exact nature of the magic that had been used? She could not fight unless she knew her enemies’ weapons. And she could not fight hard enough if she wouldn’t admit the cruelty in their hearts, the ruthless lack of caring for Fey lands.
So she walked, pondered. So engrossed in thoughts, and mentally dulled by the ongoing bleakness around her, she was startled when she heard a woman’s voice, even though it was gentle, warm, and musically mocking.
“About time you caught up with me.” The speaker sat by the side of the road—a hooded figure, in a robe of unrelieved matte black, face hidden by hood’s shadow. There could be no face at all.
However, Alethea waited for a gracefully slender hand to pull back the hood and reveal a lovely red-headed woman. Not stunning, but pretty. The sort of face that humans would trust in an advertisement for a wholesome soap, but not if promoting a luxury item. Fool mortals. Mother, Queen of the Seeley court, sat patiently waiting for Alethea’s response.
Alethea took five quick steps, almost scrambling in her haste to come right up before the Queen. Then she dropped down on one knee to grab Mother’s hands in her own. “Thank you. Thank you for bringing me home.”
Alethea paused, but not long enough for the Queen to speak. The Queen was not insulted. Instead, a slight smile lifted the corners of her mouth, and her green eyes were soft and kind as she waited.
“What do I do? What do you want me to do? How do we fight?”
“The war is over, child.”
“No . . . No. That makes no sense.”
The Faerie Queen said nothing. Alethea found the answer inside herself. “Yes, you’re right, it does make sense.”
She continued, as if talking to herself, “While I’ve been walking, I kept thinking that coming home to war makes no sense. Seven months ago, I finished a quest that had lasted two years. It was hardly my first quest since I left here. But two years is a long time in the human realm. And the quest was hard, soldier hard—many battles. A quest for surrender, so that you would let me return here.
“When it ended, I heard your voice telling me that I could finally stop my quests, finally stop fighting, come home. Be a peaceful person. Be domestic, not a warrior.
“Since I arrived, I have thought about Ulysses, that maybe I am like him: He went home to find a battle and a usurper. I’m not Ulysses. That’s not my myth. I am Alethea. I am my own myth.”
Alethea paused again. “No, wait, you say the war is over and, in my heart, that makes sense. But you also told me through the veil that you would battle the Unseelie for me, and that I should drive the chariot. What did you mean?”
The Queen withdrew her hands from Alethea’s, and tenderly cupped Alethea’s chin. “Have you forgotten your Tarot lessons? The Chariot Card is the card of the mask. The war is over, but when the Unseelie threaten, put on the mask.”
“But you said you would fight for me. And one of the few things I’ve figured out since I came through the gate is that the Chariot Card means I am to use my will to fuel your fight. The stars know I am right about this.”
The Faerie Queen answered, “Yes, the stars in my bones know it, too. There is no contradiction here. When you put on the mask, it will empower me.”
“Oh . . . I understand: War’s ended, but there will always be skirmishes, now and then . . . Something still doesn’t make sense here, Mother. I mean, there’s more I’ve got to figure out.”
“And you will.” The Queen vanished.
Damn. Gone. Again. Always with me, yes, but sometimes near impossible for me to find, see, hear. Alethea started walking again, then shrugged and sat down in the middle of the road. Where was she even going?
The Queen’s voice rang out, as if from nowhere, “You’ve gotten old, Alethea. No, don’t mock me,” she added, apparently able to see Alethea rolling her eyes like a teenager. “You may look 16, but it’s almost time for you to sail to the Western Isle. You’ve got big lessons to learn before you do, and little time in which to learn them.
“The Unseelie would pull you away from that work, away from your hard-won peace. They will war against you, when there is no war, so that you live in battle when the time for battle has ended.”
Alethea spoke into the now silent air, “They would pull me away from my truth. So that they have no one to contradict their lies, and so that I can unknowingly lie all the better myself. The Western Isles, epitome of all that is Fey. I want that instead.
“The emptied part of me is mighty, is a tool of the Unseelie. It will do everything it can to defeat me, so that I am my own enemy, an inner warrior who knows me well, who can rob me of love and joy, and even kill me. I need to find all my power. I will find all my power.”
The above exchange, between the Queen and Alethea, is loosely based on a conversation between my bud Vanna Z Red and myself, respectively.