“Stupid!, Stupid!. Stupid!”
These were the first three words to emblazon themselves across her mind,- when words eventually came. Before that, there was confusion. Days of wandering aimlessly. Too numb for thought, and unable to focus her new found, human, brain. She had never felt the cold before,- and naked meant nothing to the Fae. When hunger and thirst appeared, they were like knives in her pale, delicate flesh. Images of tall spires and the sounds of sweet music filled her head. Cold tired and exhausted,- she stopped moving, and gave in to a growing sense of numbness. She curled up in a pile of leaves and dreamt of flying, as her short-lived human body began to die,
She felt rough hands on her tender skin as she was lifted up and wrapped in a coarse woollen rug and brought somewhere warm and laid on a soft seat. Too weak to resist and too tired to open her eyes, she felt straps tied across her. The was a purring sound. She felt movement as she drifted back to sleep.
Some days later, her mind cleared. She had words but no voice. Flashes of memory as she lay in a warm soft bed. She never wanted to be cold again. There had been an old man, bearded, with kindly eyes and a lady who looked like a fairy godmother from the children’s books she used to peek at late at night. She struggled to remember. Then those pains started again and she got frightened. She did not want to die. She started to cry. She had never cried before and the salt tears puzzled and distracted her.
Suddenly a door opened and she got a whiff of the most amazing smell. It made her mouth water. “ Ah!, You are awake. I thought I heard you moving about. Are you all right?
I brought you some soup and bread. Something light to build you up. You must be hungry !”
“Hunger.. ah!”, she understood the pain now. She laughed. It sounded awful. Strangled and squeaky. She had no voice in this strange body she had foolishly trapped herself with.
The lady chatted away as she ate, but she hardly heard her. All the pieces of the puzzle were falling together. She remembered the little boy in the woods. He came every day for ages. She would watch him. He made her feel funny inside. Then one day she had appeared to him. They became friends, or so she thought. She decided to give him the ‘Faeries Kiss’ so that he could stay forever with her. He had run away crying and somehow torn her away with him. He had not become immortal, but somehow, she had become human. As she looked at her arms and down her body, she realised that in this vessel she was just a child.
When the lady had gone, she examined herself and was horrified. Skinny legs and arms and a little pot belly with no waist. No matter how hard she tried she could neither manifest her wings or change her shape and size. She was stuck. She peered closer at the mirror. Two huge brown eyes and a button nose, framed by dark curly hair. “At least I am pretty”, she thought.
She needed to get back to the forest and see the elders. Failing that she would have to find the boy and take back the faery kiss,- assuming that she even had that power anymore.
For now, she was stuck. She needed to bide her time and build her strength. By her own reckoning, she had no more than seventy years to find her way back.
She had no intention of waiting that long!
Within a few more days, Kiara was strong enough to move around the house. It had lots of wooden panels and carvings. She would wander around and trace them with her fingers. There was a tall, skinny girl who was always moving around with a duster, but thankfully, she always avoided the spider webs. Kiara liked spiders. She loved their delicate webs and could feel them peering at her as she explored the big old house.
Her favourite place was the kitchen. The cook was a small wiry woman with a harsh accent.
Kiara had been scared of her at first, but when she found out that the girl was dumb,- the cook had taken her to her heart. She would sit her down with pies and pastries to watch her cook, and chat for hours while she worked. She spoke about the Welton’s and what a lovely couple they were. How pleased she was to have a child in the house again, and random gossip about the people from the village nearby.
As she started to settle into her new home,- she began to sense things again. The mice beneath the floorboards with their nervous little twitches. The owl in the barn, and the fox who checked the kitchen bins every night for scraps. There were stables too. She loved the smell of the stables, but the horses were wary of her. The stable girl was also a bit sullen and unfriendly, so she did not spend as much time there as she would like. She wondered how she could persuade the sullen stable-girl to teach her to ride. She knew that the forest must be a long way away, and If she could get to know the horses better, then she might be able to ride there.
The gentleman who had rescued her, Mr Welton, was a kindly old man. Cook said that he had been a very important person a long time ago, but had retired early after he lost his only son. Kiara had to think hard to understand what cook meant. A lot of what she said only made partial sense to the stranded faery. Death does not mean the same thing to the fae, but she knew of a few humans who had lived with the faeries for many, many years. Those who remembered spoke of death and loss and hunger. These were experiences that she was only beginning to truly understand. It made her even more desperate to go home.
He was in his dusty old study, when she rambled in. “ Good morning princess!”, he said with a beaming smile. “I have some great news! Some very good friends of mine have arranged it so you can stay with Martha and I, for as long as you wish.” She forced herself to smile. He was such a kind man,- and he had saved her life. “Martha must be the fairy god mother”, she thought,- he had always called her Mrs. Welton before. “This can be your home forever”, he said. At the word ‘forever’, she thought of home and burst into tears. His strong arms swept her up onto his lap and he hugged her. “You will be safe here”, he said,” and you will never be hungry or cold again”. She had no voice to tell him that hunger and cold had never been a part of her world. She wanted to explain that she needed to go home. “ Now that is sorted, we can send you to school. You will learn to read and write and you will be able to talk to us with pen and paper”. She had no way of explaining that she could read a bit, although not as much as when she was her old self. But, the mechanics of handling a pen, and writing was totally beyond her. Perhaps when she could write, she could ask them to return her home? She would have to wait and see. Schools, she knew about. She had seen pictures in story books. They were little buildings with clock towers and playgrounds. The swings looked like fun. And then, when she went and learned to write, she could ask to go home.
For a few weeks afterwards, life was pleasant. Martha seemed to appear almost every day with big parcels, and they spent their time in trying on clothes. Some of the costumes were pretty enough to easily match the images that she had seen in books of how humans see her own folk. She wondered if Martha suspected where she came from, but nothing was ever said. Also a huge leather trunk appeared and they would pack the clothes into it after she had tried them on. Soon it was too full to close easily and they would sit on it and fight with the strap, laughing. She loved the feel and the smell of the new leather. It even had a lock and a little key to go into it. Martha put the key on a piece of ribbon and hung it around her neck, telling her to be careful not to lose it. She seemed sad that day.
She discovered that the horses liked carrots and that the stable girl liked mince pies. Every time she could, she brought a gift to the girl and the horses. Eventually, she made herself understood and before long she was astride one of the horses. Riding was easy, but a bit painful. The horses knew exactly what she wanted of them and obliged instantly. As for the pain, she was beginning to realise it was never very far away,- where humans were concerned.
Attempts at needlework were disastrous and also painful,- as were her attempts to scrawl letters on a chalkboard. But, she consoled herself, once she got to school, everything would be sorted out.
She learned from Martha that they had been very far away when they found her. That was a disappointment. Still, once she had been to school, and she could write and explain, then they would surely take her home.
Her first day at school, was when Kiara discovered fear. When Mr. and Mrs. Welton took her there in the car, she remembered the purring that she had heard, when he had taken her from the forest. Now she realised it was the car. They travelled a long distance and she gazed out the window with interest, despite the wind and the rain beating against the glass. They drove through two huge metal gates that were firmly anchored into massive stone walls. The gates closed behind them by themselves and they drove a little further in the rain through a tiny woodland. Then she saw the huge fortress of glass and stone. The tiny cottage with swings was nowhere to be seen. Instead, she was faced with a huge castle. It was dismal and dark, with the rain beating futilely against its grim grey walls.
They scurried from the car into a cold dark hall with dark-wood panels, each studded with brass plaques in continuous columns. They seemed to stretch forever down a long dark corridor. There was a horrible stench. She thought that she heard a very faint scream in the distance and she shuddered. A tall stern looking woman eventually appeared. A heavy-set man in a dark uniform struggled to keep up with her, as she walked along the dark corridor towards them. Her voice was honey-sweet. “Ah! Mr. and Mrs Welton!, -and this little angel must be Kiara!. James will fetch her trunks and you must say goodbye here. She will be in safe hands and, I promise you, we will have her reading and writing, and perhaps, even talking in no time at all!” When she smiled, it was a terrifying sight for some reason,- cold and unnatural. They hugged her, and James followed them to the car. James returned with her trunk on his shoulder, pausing only to lock the heavy wooden doors with a big brass key. Kiara looked up at her captor with a deep sense of foreboding.
Then suddenly, the whole world became a brighter place as she saw a glowing figure behind the matron. A faery stood there, surrounded by the reflected beauty of the land of the fae. She gestured to Kiara to pretend that she did not see her. Kiara realised that she would have to wait until she was alone to find out if she could still communicate with her own kind, and maybe get a message to her elders.
The vision faded quickly as she realised that the matron was speaking to her. “Well young lady, at least we will have one client who does not answer back!” Her attempt at light-heartedness fell flat as the child stared at her sullenly with frightened eyes. “James will show you to your room, and supper will be brought up in an hour. You will see Doctor Boglin in the morning. Then we can decide what to do with you. You may be able to join the other girls in class in a few days time when you have settled in. It all depends on what the doctor decides when he has examined you. Off you go! Just follow James and we will see you in the morning”. Again she gave that smile that never quite reached her eyes.
Kiara turned and hurried after James. She was hoping that the vision would return once she was safely alone. They went down the long dark corridor until James stopped at a door and unlocked it, still carrying the trunk on his shoulders. She followed him in and he placed the trunk on the floor by the light of a flickering fire. He reached up and lit a gas lantern. “You must turn this down before sleeping”, he said and showed her the little lever on the side. “ Someone will return with food in a little while. There is time to make yourself comfortable. He opened a door and pointed. “This is your water closet”. He left without further comment. When the door closed behind him, she heard the key turn in the lock.
She looked around her gilded cage. I was almost as ornate as her room back home. Funny how she already called it home, when her real home was so very far away. The fire looked cheerful and cosy. She had come to love fireplaces since her first, awful, experience of being human. She sat on a stool and gazed into the glowing embers. She could almost see her kin. There among the flames, she saw the spectres of elves and fauns, calling her to the woodlands. But, they were not the woodlands of her home,- and in any case, she could no longer go there through the fire in her present form. She sighed and stared at the fire, lost in reverie.
A quiet knock on the door brought Kiara back to the room with a start. The lock turned and a young girl appeared with a supper tray. She was thin, with a boyish figure and lank hair and pale greasy skin. Kiara thought that she looked very tired and unhappy. She greeted her with a wave, but just received a wary look in return. The servant girl placed the tray on a little breakfast table and left without a word. Again, the clicking of the lock and Kiara was alone.
She sat on the single chair provided and picked at her food with little appetite. It was obviously left-overs from dinner. A small fish peered at her from its bed of over-cooked vegetables, which had been piled carelessly onto the plate. She stared at the fish for a while, saddened by such an ungracious ending to its short life. She placed the cover back on the plate and looked around the room. She shivered. The fire was beginning to die,- and with no obvious source of fuel, it was probably best if she prepared for bed before it got too cold.
As she sat brushing her hair by the mirror, she half hoped to see the faery in the reflection, but she never came.
That night, for the first time since her exile, she dreamt of her homeland. She was beginning to remember, and it made her very sad.
She was flying towards the large oak tree that dominated her forest home. The sun was setting, leaving a bright glow in the sky. Out of the haze, flew about a hundred fae. She could see their smiles as their arms opened. Everything seemed to have a golden aura of joy. Their transparent wings split the light into rainbow colours which seemed to radiate out in huge waves.
Everyone was communicating at once and all trying to hug her at the same time. It was a glorious bedlam of song and touch and warmth. She thought that she would burst for joy.
Then the crowd around her became silent. They opened up a wide corridor. There through the tunnel of oscillating wings, she saw the queen. The queen beckoned. She tried to fly to her but could not move. The others began to shake her and push her forward. It was no good. She was frozen in mid air.
“Come on! Up you get! You have a busy day ahead and breakfast is ready. Come and eat it while it is still hot!”. Kiara looked up at the source of the friendly voice. For a moment, she thought it was a pixie. Tiny oval face, black curly hair, and eyes as large and brown as her own.
“I’m Annabelle”, she said, “and Matron is my mama!. You are very pretty! I think we will be good friends!”. “Mara was very busy with the other girls, so mama let me bring your breakfast up. They all share a room, but you have your own room because you are very rich, Mara said”. She paused very slightly for breath. “Are you very rich?” Oh! You cannot speak, can you? Never mind Mama says I talk enough for ten girls! And Look! I have a Key!” As Annabelle raised the key, Kiara decided that they would be very good friends indeed. She smiled at her. She climbed from the bed and sat at the little table. She had regained her appetite and she ate with relish, as Annabelle chattered away ceaselessly beside her.
Annabelle sat with her as she got herself ready for the day. She brushed her hair for her and put a pretty wooden comb in it. That pleased Kiara. It was a gift from Martha, but she would never have managed to put it in by herself. She decided that she liked having a friend. On impulse, she took a silver pin, in the shape of a hare, from her jewellery box and gave it to her. Annabelle gave her the biggest hug ever. “Mama says I must bring you to her as soon as you are ready”.
They set off, hand in hand, and she led Kiara through a maze of corridors and up a set of spiral stairs. Finally, she knocked on a door and they entered a room that had a big desk and lots of bookshelves filled with rows and rows of big heavy books. Each had a single large letter and some numbers on the spine. Matron was sitting behind the desk. She smiled.“Good morning Kiara!. I wanted to have a little chat before you saw the doctor”. Annabelle!, Run along and get yourself off to class!. I am sure that you two can get together later,- once lessons are over”.
She turned to Kiara, “You would like that,- wouldn’t you Kiara?”. Kiara nodded... suddenly feeling wary again.
“Come child!. I wish to show you something and explain the rules of our little establishment.
She took her down yet another long corridor and up a flight of stairs. They led out into a smaller corridor. Here the walls were made of rough stone. It felt cold and draughty. They went through yet another door. It was old and heavy with a big bolt on the outside. Inside was a set of creaking wooden stairs which seemed to spiral up forever. Kiara was frightened by the stairs and the steep drop over the handrails. Matron grabbed her arm roughly and forced her upwards. The stairs went up through heavy wooden beams and she found herself standing by a row of metal bars. There were small holes in the wall instead of windows. Behind the bars she could see a cot and a bucket in the corner. The room stank horribly and she tried to pull back, but Matron had an iron grip on her arm.
“ Look child! There is only one rule. You must do as I say! There is only one punishment. If you misbehave, then you will be left here until you have learned your lesson. Do we understand each other?” Kiara nodded.
Back in her office, Matron was again friendly. She gave Kiara a children’s book to look at while she waited for the doctor. Kiara pondered this new aspect to the situation she was in. She dreaded to think of what would happen if she ran away and got caught again. But at least she had a friend. As for that terrible room,- she decided that she had no intention of ever misbehaving.
She wanted to learn to write, and if the Matron kept her promise and she got her voice back,- then she might soon be on her way home. As she sat looking at the pictures and idly deciphering the words of the story, she wondered if her faery friend would come back. A single message to her elders might quickly free her from this awful predicament.
Lost in thought, she slowly became aware that she was being watched. She looked up to find herself face to face with the tiniest human she had ever seen. As she looked into his eyes she felt a little dizzy. It was almost as if she was seeing him twice at the same time. There were conflicting images as she looked at him. One image was of a small smart gentleman in a suit, with kindly eyes and a big friendly smile. But behind that she sensed something vaguely familiar. She caught the faint, feral stench of a goblin and she could have sworn that beneath his smile were rows of sharp pointed teeth. For some strange reason, she felt calmer that she had, since her visit to the the room in the tower.