A Dark Færy Tale
Michael was an odd boy.
The other children in Twisthall had decided it. Even his best friend Tim agreed. Every day they talked about such things while they made their way down Twisthall bank.
They’d talk as they walked past the constantly working mines.
They’d have cross words as they crossed Twisthall brook, and climb on figurative high horses, as they climbed the steep hill on the Briarsley side of the brook-dale.
They passed comments as they passed the newsagent’s, and be down on him as they walked down the High street to the town-square.
Passing the war memorial, they were always more concerned with jeering at how odd Michael was, than the brave men who had laid down their lives for their Country and the Crown.
Michael often stopped to read the names of the heroes, and wonder in what act of bravery they had died. Had they died fighting Martians, Ottoman Mechanimals, Prussian Flying-Tanks, or Romanian Werewolves, or, rather less interestingly, simply died of an Italian, German, or French bullet? He’d stand as long as he could, wondering about each name, and how they had died.
Once an old Tinker had joined him, and told him about some of the names. The Tinker had served with them, he knew how each had died; he’d told Michael their stories, at least until a policeman had chased him off, and dragged Michael, by the ear, to school.
Michael liked school, and that made him very odd.
He even read for pleasure, which was almost unheard of, and he often carried extra books home. Ignoring the name calling that came with it.
His parents had also found him odd for the last fifteen years, and so apart from the usual rural chores of mucking pigsties, drawing water from the well, and weeding, harvesting, and fertilising the garden, they left him alone, even somewhat ignored.
Folk even said that the Posenhalls were too in love with each other for the boy’s own good, they hardly noticed if he was there.
During the summer, he would pull his bed close to the window, with a book upon the west-facing window-sill he would read first by the light of the sun, then the dusk, before eventually the gloaming light would become too dim, and tiny night-elves would play games, dragging and changing the letters around, as he struggled to catch them.
He read everything the school library held, books on history, books on alchemy, old battered translations of German and French science, and soldiers’ memoirs from the Great War, and of course, the few magical texts that all schools had available.
Michael dreamed that he might grow to discover he had magic, that the Crown would recognise him as a Baronet (or a more powerful rank in his wildest fantasies), and grant him lands and title, and send him off to attend universities, where he could read books all day and night.
Today was mid-summer and he was celebrating the solstice by reading long into the night. His parents already slept, but he didn’t let their snores distract him.
He read on until the night-elves had danced the letters into confusion, then resolved to sleep until dawn. He settled down, twisted his alarm clock once to wind it, and set it for four-and-a-half hours. He punched his pillows and buried his head, intending to sleep some.
He laid there, in silence, feeling like time had stopped. Something was different, something —
He pulled his head from the pillow and stared out the window at the stars.
Something called him.
It wasn’t a voice, nor was he certain that it was music.
He was not even convinced that he could hear it at all, but that made it even more maddening. He tried to bury his head, slipping it beneath the pillow again, but somehow that made it worse. The calling music seemed louder.
He silently climbed from his bed and dragged on his rough clothes, the call seemed to stop completely as he tied on his shoes, but came back as soon as he opened his bedroom door and stood uncertainly upon the threshold.
He crept down the stairs, and carefully unlocked the back door in the kitchen.
He paused again, unsure in the doorway, looking out into the porch, and beyond over the dark fields.
Again he heard it, now just at the limits of his hearing, a tinkling musical sound, far in the distance, like rain pattering upon musical instruments, he thought he could make out a voice singing softly too, and it tugged on his soul, dragging him at once, out into the night, but also into his own inner thoughts.
He moved past the pigs, their faint night noises drowned out the music, and he moved into the garden, searching about for the source. One of the cats stared at him from atop the pigsty before turning first her nose, and then her tail, up to him as she shimmied away.
He followed the traces of music from the garden to the south, into the field; behind him, the house was dark against the light horizon in the north.
Now the music drew him west, across the fields, and then downhill along the Mwch Warlock road towards Briarsley, then across into the village lane.
On he walked, stopping to listen in the dark every now and then.
He ignored the owl hoots, as he disturbed their hunting alongside the village hall. The tall hedges gathered over the semi-paved track, creating a green tunnel in the daytime, but at night, it was black as the nearby mines, and Michael eased through the darkness like a part of it.
As he walked, following the musical hints, he noticed the sound of the mines getting louder, so he turned away into the fields again, putting the ridge, and a farm between him and the winding engines.
He climbed the low hilltop and looked around him, trying to locate the musical call. He turned, his gaze sweeping the dark farmland to the east and the south, cattle and sheep moved on the rolling hills, dimly lit against the night. The call was not there, his eyes scanned on, darting between the treetops, and where, he imagined, the treeline of Twisthall Edge lay.
He trawled the shadows for a while, taking in the edge of the gorge where the trees clung tightly to the steep sides of the river valley. From here, he could see down the dale, carved by Twisthall brook as it plunged into the gorge, almost to the river below.
In the gorge itself, gaslights lit the opposite bank. The yellow-orange spheres of light picked out the sharp brickwork on the houses, roosted along the wall like gull nests. Michael could see the masts of boats moored along the quays below the Orichalcum-bridge, though the actual bridge was hidden from sight by the trees of Twisthall Edge, it was marked by the clock-faced steeple of Saint Luke’s perched above it.
Some night bird whistled in the air above him, the noise was loud, and cut across his hunting for the music, it whistled six times, or perhaps six birds whistled. Michael didn’t recognise the bird from its call, it was no plover, teal, swift, or lark that he heard. He stood awhile in the darkness, staring above him for a glance at the whistlers, but he saw none. Although, he thought, he might have heard a seventh whistle in the dark.
As he searched the dark skies for the bird he saw, far above, gliding in the dark clouds and approaching from the south, a light, so powerful it lit a sharp yellow cone in the cloud.
Michael watched it, deciding it was a Mail-ship or perhaps, some Navy vessel. It raced on through the clouds, until its running lights were visible alongside the main light. Then it passed overhead, headed north and drew his eyes back across the gorge, as the Saint Luke’s clock chimed midnight.
The last faint harmonies of the bell seemed to settle into the sound of music once more, and drew him down the slope, headed towards the edge of the trees.
As he descended, the sounds grew in clarity and volume.
There was singing, although Michael couldn’t understand the choristers’ words, which joined with soft notes of bowed strings and trilled flutes. As he reached the bottom of the hill, he began to see lamps drifting in the trees ahead of him. He assumed that he was sneaking up on a gypsy camp, and thinking he might see something interesting, he crouched in the bushes and wormed his way closer.
He had hoped for a gypsy camp, but as he got closer, he saw something more interesting still.
The lamps seemed to be little fluffy balls of white light that drifted and bobbed through the trees, all the while making the whistling and humming noises that he had heard. They held his attention only as long as it took him to spy the source of the singing.
The trees gathered around a pool, enclosing it, and hiding it away. On the steep gorge-side, opposite the hill he had just descended, a spout poured spring water into the pool and in the water, a woman was bathing.
Her skin glistened with the iridescent reflected light of the floating puffballs, as she splashed and soaked her long limbs, and dipped and dunked herself in the bath-deep water.
While she bathed, she sang.
Her voice haunted Michael, drawing him, breathless, closer to the pool.
Her song carried him gradually forward, until he stepped free of the trees, into the space where the lights drifted like Will-o-the-wisps above the water. Then, just as he would have been able to see her face (and perhaps, he dimly hoped, some other interesting features), the puffball lights vanished, the music abruptly ceased, and the woman stopped singing.
Michael stood perfectly still in the darkness, the only noise was the water gurgling from the spout and babbling into the pool below, but he fancied he could still hear her breathing, and the soft trickles of water as they caressed her form.
“Why camest thou to this place of mine? To spy on me with that face of thine?” her voice asked as it rose from the water.
There was something else to her voice, some musical, tinkling noise like glasses toasting marked her ‘t’s.
“I’m sorry, I heard music. It… it called me here,” Michael whispered.
He heard a soft tinkling just behind his ear, and felt a single drop of water that fell upon his neck. It was cold as it trickled into his shirt, and it carried a shiver with it.
“Well, thou hast a mighty gall, to gaze ‘pon my bathing pool, but if called thou were, and called thou came; then I would prefer, to know thy name,” she breathed behind his ear.
He could feel the presence of her body in front of him, her head dipping down and around as she spoke, he knew that if he stretched his hands forwards he would brush her moist skin. He shivered again, a different, new shiver. He realised suddenly she was waiting for something, what was it?
“Oh, my name… um-Michael, sorry my name is Michael, Michael Posenhall.”
“And so at last hath his tongue been untied, so now, um-Michael, Michael, Michael Posenhall; does thy stutter something else hide? Perhaps my uncomeliness did thee enthral,” she whispered again, now coming from the other ear, although he had not sensed her movement at all.
“Oh no,” he said, “I think you are very beautiful, I don’t know if your face is as beautiful as your voice, but it must be at least as beautiful as your shoulder, and that was very pretty indeed.”
She chuckled, a sound that blended with the gurgling and babbling of the pool and spout.
“It is long since any called me beauty, for much more am I known for my duty. In truth man-child, didst thou see me so, as a Greek nymph from so long ago? Saw thee not an aged crone, washing laundry all alone?” she asked him, her voice drifting across his face, so close he could feel her words upon his lips, driving more shivers into him.
“I don’t understand, I saw you bathing, I’m sorry. I should go,” Michael said, making to turn away.
“Why rush away now, with thy damage done? Does knowest not thou, what prize may be won?” her still cool and wet finger drew slowly along his jawline, her long round tipped fingernails gently scratched in the hair around his ears.
The shiver became a shudder, as his legs trembled beneath him, and fire lit his spine.
“Would thou giveth of thyself to me? For that which is freely given is law and not one of the courts could disagree; for all is as one, in both love and war. Wouldst thou be forever, mine? As I would be, forever, thine?”
Michael moaned something as she ran her fingers down his neck, and across his collarbone. He murmured something affirmative as she slid her nails across his chest, his shirt buttons seemed to fly apart before her hand. Then she paused, her hand and nails stroking across the top of his waistband, waiting for something. He struggled to think, why would she stop this pleasure now? Was she thinking second thoughts? No, he realised she was waiting for him to answer.
“Yes,” he gasped, as her hand continued.
A while later the lights and music returned, playful and whizzing about the two lovers as they laid entwined with their feet splashing in the pool.
Michael stirred from his stupor as the lights danced by, and rolled to look at his lover in the light. She smiled contentedly back, still tangled with him. There was something strange in her smile, not the ardour or passion; Michael scanned her beautiful seeming face, studying it.
She saw the love and lust, then intrigue, then confusion, and finally fear as each passed across his face. She sighed, “Sweet, Michael my love, now you should cry, for in truth Ginny Greenteeth am I.”
She grinned, showing him her teeth. Each one stood like a shard of broken bottle-green glass, Michael jerked, trying to pull away, but Ginny was quick, lithe, and strong, and wouldn’t let him struggle from her lover’s grasp.
The odd boy’s corpse floated face down in the shallow pool surrounded by dark clouds of blood.
The ancient Færy woman raised her eyes to the lightening sky, then stooped over the corpse and spoke softly to the stream as it flowed from her pool, “Sabrina, mother of mine, see my gift so freely given, before the light of dawn-shine, was loved and drowned and heart riven.”
As she began to fade with the sunrise, she looked upon her hands, and reflection, and saw the promise of Michael’s vision staring back from the rippling surface.
She chuckled, “Come what may for others here, for me this will be a very good year.”
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