For reasons no one understood, Arethusa only ever gave out prophecies at dusk. We arrived just as the sun was setting, the sky tinged a pretty mix of pink and yellow. It made the quaint brick house we were heading to look like something out of a fairy tale, surrounded by a myriad of trees and flowers. Outside of the house, as if she didn’t have a care in the world, Arethusa was gardening.
Unlike most fey, Arethusa was one of the only faeries I had ever met that didn’t look eternally young. Her hair was long and white, her face that of mature woman. Yet she had no wrinkles and still appeared ageless. It was a mystery to all, just like everything else she did. If I hadn’t known better, I would have assumed the woman wearing the floral dress was just a normal mortal tending to her flowers. But when she turned around at our approach, and looked us over with eyes that were a vibrant pink, there was no mistaking her power.
Arethusa was a futureteller. She called her gift 'seeing'. And she could see more than just the future, she could see the past as well. She could dig up all of a person's secrets.
‘Regan.’ She said with a smile of greeting. ‘It’s been too long. Why do you never visit me anymore?’ She complained.
‘I am sorry, Arethusa. I have been busy.’ She nodded, staring at me intently.
‘Yes, yes. You’re always busy.’ She murmured. Then suddenly she gasped and grinned. ‘Oh, but never like this! You have your queen!’ She exclaimed, and I froze in surprise.
‘You know about that?’ I asked. She pursed her lips at me.
‘Of course I know, silly boy. I know everything.’ She said matter-of-factly, chastising me like a mother. She didn't care that I was a King, and one of the strongest faeries living. Arethusa always took on a nurturing role whenever fey came to seek her help. While others would have hidden the gift or demanded ridiculous payment, Arethusa offered it to all for free. She was much admired and respected in the fey world.
‘How is she? What is she like?’ She asked excitedly, picking her way across her garden beds for a hose set against the front of the house. Though Arethusa loved to help faeries, she could never be rushed into doing so. It seemed we were going to chat first. Sighing, I shrugged in response to her question.
‘Interesting. Not what I expected.’ I answered. She laughed as she set about watering her flowers.
‘Queens aren’t pretty dolls, Regan. They are strong and fierce and they are rulers.’ I chuckled.
‘Yes, I think I’m figuring that out now. She’s definitely very mysterious.’ That made Arethusa pause, as she froze mid motion.
‘Mysterious. Yes. Lots of secrets. Dark secrets.’ She whispered, her voice slipping into the flat tone she used when she was seeing. She spent a moment staring upwards at the sky thinking, as if she had forgotten we were even there. Then the next instant she was back to watering her flowers.
‘Well, we will see what we can find out about your queen. You will need help to win over your lady love.’ She said with a smile.
‘She’s not my love. She doesn’t like me very much.’ I replied, unable to keep sadness out of my words. Arethusa threw me sympathetic look.
I had spent the last 500 years searching for my lost Sun Queen. She held the secret of the Sun's power, and could save my faeries from their current weak and powerless state. For years the Night fey, our enemies, had been fighting us and winning. But now that I had found Serena, we could finally fight back. We would be King and Queen united.
If only she would agree to help.
‘That is why you must win her over. The best things in the world need to be fought for.’ She said, switching of her hose. ‘Like this garden.’ I stared at her in confusion.
‘Can’t you tell there’s something wrong with it, Regan? It is sad. It needs help. It needs life. Life you can give it.’ Arethusa explained. ‘You have more power now. Help my garden. Then I will help you with your queen.’
I glanced back at Niall and Tavish, my faery advisors, who had been silently watching our exchange. They nodded. I squatted down so that I could press my palms to the dirt, and let my power flow free. Over the last few days I had been taking every chance possible to do this, to use my extra strength to help the earth, so it was now second nature. Letting my tendrils of awareness spread through the soil, I soon realised Arethusa was right. Though at first glance the garden looked healthy and colourful, the flowers were weak, the trees dull.
So I pushed my energy out of my body and into the soil. I let it travel through the roots, stems, branches, feeling the life of the garden like a flickering flame. A flame that was now growing stronger. Gold sparkles were spreading throughout the garden, the flowers blooming and growing before all of our eyes. In just seconds it was transformed from plain to vibrant. Arethusa beamed.
‘Oh Regan, it is so beautiful now.’ She exclaimed, quickly stepping towards me and helping me to my feet. She kept her grip on my arm and then started tugging me towards the house. The next few minutes passed quickly as she fluttered around her home, pulling out objects and herbs from the clutter that filled every room. Then finally we were all seated cross legged on the living room floor, which was lit only by the dim light of the sunset.
In the middle of the circle we had made was a flat wide bowl filled with water. Arethusa quickly added and sprinkled things into it, before carefully placing one of her palms flat on the surface of the water. Water that after a moment started to glow. Though I had seen it before, it still took my breath away to see the liquid light up to shimmering white. I had always wondered how exactly Arethusa made it happen, but it was forbidden to ask. Arethusa got angry of you asked too many of the wrong questions.
‘Alright. Now this is going to be different to before, since this time we actually know who we are looking for.’ I nodded, sucking in a deep calming breath. The anticipation of possibly learning more about my queen had me edgy.
‘First of all I need her name.’ Arethusa said. I winced.
‘Slight problem there. I don’t know it.’ Arethusa gave me a disbelieving look.
‘I heard her called Alana by someone else, but she got really angry when I used that name. She told me to pick a different one. Now I call her Serena.’ I said uncertainly. Arethusa turned thoughtful.
‘Hmm. That’s very strange. And interesting.’ She murmured. ‘Alright, forget the name. I need you to visualise her in your head, as clearly as possible. And then I need your dominant hand.’ I fought the urge to ask why and held out my right hand. She took it in her own and placed my palm on the still glowing water. To my surprise the water was ice cold despite the light it was giving off. Realising I was supposed to be focusing on Serena, I started concentrating.
She was very easy to imagine, even after only seeing her a few times. From the moment I had first dreamt of her, her image had been etched into my mind. Her long brown hair, tanned skin, and her bright blue eyes. Eyes that I had watched turn to gold numerous times as the sun's power burnt within her.
All of a sudden, the glowing water started to morph into the same gold colour I had just been imagining. We were all bathed in the yellow light as a swirling image of Serena appeared in the pool of liquid. Arethusa took my hand from the bowl, but the image remained, growing bigger until it filled the entire surface.
‘She is a very pretty queen, Regan.’ Arethusa said with a smile. ‘You will make a good couple.’ I leaned forward eagerly.
‘Will we be a couple? Can you see?’ I asked. I could feel excitement building in my chest, but I tried to fight it back. I was glad when the next second, Arethusa frowned.
‘I’m not sure.’ She murmured. I gave her a questioning look.
‘I see the two of you together. Frequently. But I can’t tell if it’s romantic.’ I nodded. I wasn’t surprised. Arethusa could see a lot, but she couldn’t see everything. She wasn’t always right either. And given how fickle Serena was, I could only imagine how hard it must be to try and predict her actions.
‘I see dancing. Very close.’ That made me perk up.
‘So she’ll forgive me then?’ I asked.
‘No.’ Arethusa’s response was firm.
‘What?’ I asked, panicked. She sighed.
‘She’s very angry about something, and it has something to do with you. And yet it doesn’t. This is very hard.’ She said, and I could hear an edge of frustration on her voice. I decided to try a different question.
‘Will she become the full Sun Queen?’ I questioned. Beside me I saw Niall and Tavish tense. The answer to this question was monumental. Yet once again, Arethusa frowned.
‘I can’t tell. Too many variables. But if I had to guess…’ She gave me a sad look. ‘I would say no.’ I gaped at her, speechless. No. There was a high possibility that Serena would not become my queen. How was that possible? She was destined to be queen!
‘I don’t understand. She has the power…’ I stammered.
‘I know. I see that. But there’s so much darkness, so much confusion. There’s something hidden… There’s something I can’t see…’ My eyes widened with fear.
‘What? What is it?’
‘I can’t tell. Something’s wrong. It’s almost like… I’m being blocked.’
The moment the words left Arethusa’s mouth, the bowl abruptly turned black. The room was plunged into almost darkness, with only the dim red of the sun remaining. At first I thought that Arethusa had lost the connection to Serena, and that the bowl of water had returned to its original state.
But then I realised the darkness in the bowl was moving. The black was curling like mist, wisps creeping out from the bowl and into the air. The water itself was rippling and bubbling, despite the fact that no one was touching it. Arethusa was wide eyed and shocked, which made my stomach drop. This wasn’t meant to be happening. I was about open my mouth and speak when suddenly she shot me a fierce look, one that didn’t need words to decipher.
Stay still. Stay quiet. Don’t do anything.
The darkness was still spilling from the bowl, spiralling upwards into the air. Yet it was mysteriously not touching any of us. Glancing around me, I saw Tavish was frozen with surprise. Niall too looked very shocked, but he was also wary. His suspicious gaze confirmed what I had already suspected.
This black mist was dark magic. There was no other explanation for the unnatural way it moved. Movement that wasn’t as random as I had first thought. All the black wisps were coiling together now, forming a shape in the air above us. I saw a head, a body, wings. Soon a bird of mist and shadows floated and hovered. A bird that was rapidly gaining substance, until with a flash and a squawk, it became real.
The mist was gone, and in its place was a big black bird, flapping and cawing in the air. It had real feathers, real legs, its beating wings stirring up the air. It dropped gracefully down into the now empty water bowl, bright red eyes searching the room. Eyes that were too clear, too focused, to belong to any normal animal.
Which was confirmed in the next moment when the bird started talking.
‘Do you know who I am?’ It asked in a deep raspy voice, turning to stare down Arethusa. She nodded.
‘Norken.’ She whispered. Just the word sent shivers down my spine. It took me a moment to remember when I’d heard the name before, but the moment I recalled it I immediately wished I hadn’t.
Norken was the servant of Death. In the fey world there were two main sides, Sun and Night. But there was third small, secret group that nobody knew anything about. The Death fey. It was ruled by the Kind of Death, Hadrian, who I had never met. Almost no faery alive had. Instead, he sent the Norken to do his business with the living world.
And a visit from the Norken always meant trouble.
‘Yessss.’ The bird replied, the word ending with a hiss. ‘I come with a message from Death.’
I almost stopped breathing. Oh no. This was bad. Because what other message could the Norken be bringing other than imminent death? My heart was beating furiously in my chest, fear making my stomach twist. Which one of us was about to die?
‘You are not to look for the woman again.’ The Norken said in his hoarse raspy voice. I felt my eyes widen in surprise. This was about Serena? Was I about to lose my queen? Despair gripped me. No. Not her. No after all this time. He couldn’t take her.
But it wasn’t me he was talking to.
‘Yes, dark one.’ Arethusa said quietly, bowing her head. I gaped at her. She was okay with this? With Death taking my queen away from me? With anger flooding through me, I was about to open my mouth to protest when Niall shot me an urgent look. A look warning me not to anything. I glared back. Serena was his queen too! Why was he so calm?
It was then that I realised that the Norken hadn’t actually mentioned anything to do with killing Serena. He had simply told Arethusa not to look into her future. I couldn’t stop myself from sighing in relief. She wasn’t going to die. Thank god. But it wasn’t over yet. The Norken was still here. He was still watching us with his glowing beedy eyes.
Eyes that were suddenly disappearing as with a croak, the bird morphed back into mist. Soon even the black smoke was gone, with nothing left to show what had just happened. What had just happened?
‘Is everyone alright?’ Arethusa asked softly, breaking the heavy silence that had filled the room. I nodded distractedly, my mind spinning.
‘I don’t understand. What was that?’ I replied. Arethusa sighed.
‘That was Death letting us know that we interfered where we weren’t welcome.’ She murmured. ‘It explains why she was so hard to see. He is already watching her.’
‘Why? And what does it mean for her?’ I asked with concern. Arethusa gave me a sharp look.
‘You think that the return of the sun's power after 500 years isn’t an important event? Every faery in the world will be paying attention to her.’ Arethusa said.
‘I know that. But I didn’t expect him. What do we do?’ I replied frustratedly.
‘Nothing.’ Arethusa replied calmly. I gaped at her.
‘Do you think you can take on the King of Death?’ She asked, raising an eyebrow. I shook my head.
‘No. But–’ I protested.
‘But he has not harmed her. So far he is just watching. As long as you stay out of his business, he should stay out of yours.’ Arethusa said strongly. Then she sighed.
‘I’m sorry, Regan. I can’t give you any more answers. And you need to be careful about your question from now on.’ She cautioned, and I nodded.
‘Yes, alright.’ I reluctantly agreed. ‘This just got so much more complicated.’ I grumbled. Arethusa gave me a sympathetic look.
‘I’m sorry. I wish I could be of more help.’ She replied quietly. ‘But you had to know winning over your queen would never be easy.’ I couldn’t help but smile at that.
‘Yes, I did know that. I just didn’t quite imagine all of this.’ I answered. ‘What do I tell her? She has a right to know if Death is interested in her.’ Arethusa blinked at me surprise.
‘She already knows about faeries?’ She asked. I gave her a confused look.
‘Yes. She’s part of the fey world.’ I replied slowly. Arethusa smiled.
‘That is good news Regan. You are doing better than you thought if she already knows everything.’ She said. ‘But I don’t think you will need to tell her about Death.’
‘Why not?’ I asked. This was important. Serena would be furious if I kept it from her.
‘Because she probably already knows.’ Arethusa said matter-of-factly. My jaw dropped.
‘Regan. When Death is following you that closely, there’s no way not to know.’ She explained mysteriously. ‘But you must persist. Continue wooing her. She will be worth it.’ I nodded distractedly.
‘In the meantime you must protect her. Mortals are so vulnerable to the fey world.’ Arethusa continued. That made me freeze.
‘Mortal? No, she’s not. Serena is fey.’ Arethusa gave me a shocked look.
‘What? No, that can’t be right.’ She turned silent for a few moments, thinking. Her familiar blank expression told me she was seeing, searching for the truth.
‘No. She’s definitely mortal. I’m certain of it.’ She eventually said, her voice firm. I stared at her in surprise. This didn’t make any sense. Serena was fey. She knew the Night King, was a Night fey. She had lived for two centuries without aging. She was fast like faery, and possessed so much of the sun's power that no mortal could stand it. She was a faery. She was the Sun Queen.
Yet 500 years ago, when we had first visited Arethusa and asked for help in finding the sun’s lost power, we had been told she was mortal. And now again, even knowing exactly who Serena was, Arethusa was again telling us she was mortal. How was that possible? Arethusa was not always right, yet she had said she was certain.
But how could Serena be both faery and mortal?
Unless she was a halfing. Halfings were half human, half fey. But they didn't exist. They died as babies, the mix of mortal and immortal blood making them sick. It wasn't possible for Serena to be one of them.
But then who was she? Who was my mysterious Sun Queen?
I was going to find out.