Now what? She didn’t know, couldn’t figure out the next action needed. So she started walking. She had no idea where to, but she needed to walk, somewhere or nowhere.
Look at it. Look at it, her beloved home. Devastated. Then Alethea did know what was next: Rebuild Faerie.
Thinking back to a time before the war, she remembered an incantation that Fey gardeners used:
Make the landscapes
that their detail
in their beauty.
The chant had made Faerie flourish. With longing so deep it was a passion, Alethea remembered those lands, recalling each one as completely as if it were the terrain of her own body. She closed her eyes, and tried to bring one of those memories to life before her, by visualizing it: arches of both tree limbs and gateways, leaves so defined that they were like cut gems . . . No, it wasn’t working. Elven beauty was too extravagant for her mind to encompass any large piece of it.
She would focus her visualization on one small thing. A rose. Again, she visualized: a green stem . . . then she imagined the stem was slightly curved . . . Then thorns along it . . . The thorns sharp and reddened . . . The rose: red . . . Each petal velvet, color deepening almost purple in places.
. . . Each petal’s edge as precise as a child’s love for his mother. She opened her eyes, and there it was, in reality: a perfect rose. No, it was better than perfect; it was a perfect Fey rose, unmatched by any human’s garden.
Then, without further help from her, additional growth started. The stem lengthened and branched, while other parts of a rosebush manifested, planted right into the ground. Blossoms covered it, ridiculously full blossoms. Small tender promises appeared—wee buds so poignant they could only have been magic-ed into being.
From all sides, brethren appeared. Brethren! Gorgeous, laughing heartily and musically, their features and bodies so beautiful that it was foolish—her Faerie kin.
Alethea’s shocked smile was so huge, her happiness so apparent, that they laughed even harder. Without reproach, she asked, “Where were you? And why are you showing up now? I needed you.”
Instead of speaking their answer, they started rebuilding Faerie all around her. For a moment, she watched, then started visualizing a perfect fountain. She was no longer alone, she was with her kind. And, together, they had what it took to do this job.
Grass started covering distant hills and nearby patches of earth. She stopped to watch this most precious Faerie color flood the area all the way to the horizon, then she realized that everyone else had ceased work to watch, too. They all had the same expression on their faces as she did—satisfied grins, cheeks and brows relaxed in the peace of a long, fierce, and unsatisfied hunger finally met.
Wait, they were watching, not visualizing! Faerie was growing on its own now. Their love and coaxing had woken Faerie, which could now make itself flourish and be beautiful.
Right off the road, a tree formed in a meadow. The tree manifested bit by bit, but not by starting as a sprout or sapling. First came the trunk’s enormous girth, initially transparent, then more and more dense as huge boughs appeared, laden with leaves of silver and crystal, in keeping with the tree’s white bark.
Some Fey builders ran to the tree. Others collapsed happily to the ground, to just sit and watch. Alethea sat down on the road, knowing she wore a stupid grin. The Tree of Life. The cycle of life. The combined efforts of herself and her fellow Sidhe had brought Seelie Court magic back, until the magic of life itself grew itself in the meadow. And it in turn would take care of Alethea and the rest of the Seelie Court.
A fellow builder—Mikal—came up beside Alethea. They’d known each other for an eternity—literally. Putting a loving arm around her shoulder, he said, “Thank you. We needed you to start the work. You are truth, Alethea, you initiate the work.”
Alethea’s peripheral vision caught a figure moving past her. She turned her head to see—not a fellow creator of forests, crystal buildings, merry-go-rounds, and hope, but a stooped-back man, shuffling along. Tears poured from his eyes as he forlornly studied his environment. Other newcomers followed behind him. Some cried; they all kept walking, walking, walking. Not one of them stopped to help with the work or acknowledged the workers.
Many of the bedraggled walkers were wide-eyed in miserable horror as they looked around them. They looked hungry, not for food but starving for spirit. Alethea moved to the closest one—a blond woman whose polished features sagged, as if she had been in pain too long. Alethea tapped her shoulder to get her attention. The woman wore a pale blue dress with matching scarf. She seemed oblivious to Alethea’s touch and did not stop walking, the scarf slipping from her, left behind in Alethea’s hand.
Mikal pulled Alethea to himself, his grip tight and consoling. Alethea asked him, “Why? Why don’t they help us? How can they be unhappy amidst such beauty?”
“They don’t see it. Just like you could not see us until you created the rose.”
“We’ve got to do something, help them somehow!” She started walking next to two more of the shuffling figures, who were unaware even of each other.
“Hello! Hello!,” demanded Alethea.
Alethea turned away. It’d taken her years to return to Faerie. Despite that, she might have wandered desolate landscapes in Faerie forever, if she hadn’t decided to re-magic her home. It was a solution that the bleak wanderers might come to on their own. She could only hope.
Nothing to be done for it. Except hope, and bear the grief. She turned back to study the Tree of Life.
She sensed a shimmer next to her, a displacement of energy and matter. She did not have to turn her head to know the Faerie Mother stood next to her and Mikal now.
Still studying the World tree, she spoke. “Mother, I’ve been thinking that perhaps the Unseelie have assaulted me since my childhood. Am I right?”
“Yes.” Mother reached down and brushed a hand across a remaining bit of blackened earth, gently and tentatively, as if it were a wounded animal. Lilies of the Valley sprouted up, in the wake of her touch, as raspberry vines and ivy also emerged from that patch of ground, twisting around each other in formal plaits.
“I will no longer hide my head in the sand, pretending that evil does not exist. I’m willing to admit that Unseelie have continually attacked me, and that they will always fight truth.”
“Alethea, that they have forever fought you is a myth. Not a myth the way humans use the word, but a real myth—a truth. That they have forever fought you is a truth you now admit, was the myth you lived, and was the only possible myth/truth that could have existed.
“But now, my child, it is no longer truth. If you continue to believe that they will always attack, it will no longer be truth but self-pity and will draw their fire in order to become truth.
“You have a new myth now. Wear the mask. Trust my warriors.”
Alethea bowed her head, silent for a moment, then smiled. She kissed the Queen on the forehead, squeezed Mikal’s arm, and walked away, into the meadow, toward the World Tree. When she was under its canopy, dappled light blessing her through wind-shifting leaves, she slightly bent her knees, started humming a soft, gentle, easy tune, and began a series of small, swaying, subtle movements in sync with the melody.
The Queen of Faerie ran to catch up with her and asked, “What are you singing?”
“It’s from a movie. I think it was called Once Upon a Time in China. I saw it when I was dating a mortal. You know how human men are when they court; it used to be flowers and flattery, now it’s beautiful films with cultural resonance.” She laughed, her laughter part of the tune.
“Did he also teach you Chi Gung?” She referred to the moves Alethea performed.
“Why are you doing it now?”
“It makes me happy.”
“It is going to be a very good spell.”
“It depends on whether I end it with sex or not.” She winked at the Queen, without breaking the gentle flow of her dance.
The Queen smiled, and started imitating Alethea’s moves flawlessly, having taught Chi Gung to its mortal originator.
It was time for the wandering hero to enjoy herself, tend herself, play, contemplate stars until her heart was once again filled with them. Filled so completely with ancient fire that starbursts created new cosmoses within her being.
It was time to meditate on sacred, passionate, yummy darkness until her heart filled with it again. Filled until the spaces between atoms were an emptiness so utter that it can only be experienced, never described.
It was time to feast in Faerie banquet halls.
In other words, it was time for pleasure. It was time for sex. And all these joys and self-tendings, though done for their own sake, would spin the last bit of magic required for Faerie to be whole. The last needed details—subtleties of color, exquisite enchantments, precisions of glamour.