There is a little pixie girl that lives in a tavern on the road, though I suppose she is more of a woman now. Why do I say ‘pixie’? Because that is what she might very well be. She is short in stature and made so delicately a strong breeze looks as if it might break her bones. Her hair is kept tucked away in a soft cotton cap, never have I seen it free, and her eyes are the rare kind that change with the weather. At times they can be a bright, clear blue, as gentle as the sky on a spring morning while at others, they can be dark and grey as a storm cloud about to burst. Her nose is a snub little thing dotted with sun kissed spots that stand out on her fair-as-milk skin and the shape of her face as a whole is delicately moulded, like a ladies ought to be.
When she dances, her feet, small and delicate, fly in patterns too fast for a man’s eye to follow and her head tosses back with her delight, but her cap remains in place. When she dances or laughs or smiles, that is when a man is most at risk from her. One can almost see the light bubbling up from her toes, her wonder at being in the world, part of this world is almost too beautiful to look at.
When she sings, her voice is soft, not made for those bar room lymerics of crude mentionings, but for those heartfelt ballads that get a man right in the guts. She is honest and earnest in her tellings. When she sings or very well even hums, that is when a man is most at risk from her. Her voice swells like a gentle, unseen wave beneath the feet of the noise until it has caught you unawares and drags you deep below, to a sweet death you welcome with a smile and a damp cheek.
When she is quiet, when the day is done or has just begun, she watches with eyes so steady that they could be ageless and enthrals a man but, at the same time warns him away. She sees every man right down to his bones and passes judgement as honestly, as silently as the Deity, Herself. When she becomes the watcher, when she sees every inch of your soul, both good and bad, that is when a man is most at risk from her. Light as a touch, a lovers caress, you feel her eyes down to the bottom of your soul, feel it like warm arms about you and, for good or ill, she has seen you.
Rumours say that when she was a babe, the Fae stole her away to their lands and, as stories often go, she was replaced by a Fae child. Her mother, though, was wise in the ways of the Fae, she knew putting out bread and milk each night would protect her household from mischief makers and creatures crawling into her bed and she knew how to steal her daughter back from the Fae. And so she did.
The details are vague and become moreso with each telling but in the end, Goodmother had her babe returned to her breast and all was well with the world only now, now the human babe was more than suspected. Some stories say that a Fae touched child is inherently evil but this is not so, no more so than a mind-addled child or a child crippled by birth or some later accident. A Fae-touched child, like these others, is simply different.
Now you must understand, Goodmother was not of this area when all this occurred, she and her babe, the father not long buried, lived in the north where courtly games ruled and disease and theft ran wild on the streets. Dwellings were pressed up so closely against one another that one could know what your neighbour four doors down was doing just as soon as he did it.
Ignorant of the ways of the Fae and with an ear to new stories telling of curses and poisoned fruits and death at the hands of the evil Fae, the people within these cramped dwellings spurned Goodmother and her child. Soon Goodmother realised that she and her babe were now in danger, not from Fae with a craving for a human-child, but from her own kind. With the fear of a new mother and the wisdom of her ancestors, in the dark of the night, she gathered all things valuable to her, which were very few and spirited herself and the babe away.
The story goes that Goodmother walked for eleven days and eleven nights and on the eleventh night she came upon a crossroad and sat to rest. In her walking she had had little to eat or drink and the babe, unknowingly, had drawn sustenance from her failing mother. Goodmother looked to the stars, high up in the dark sky and began counting. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. She stopped and stretched and began again. One, two, there, four, five, six, seven. A yawn overcame her but she began again, one last time for luck. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. The Fae-touched babe gurgled, a sound of excitement that Goodmother had not heard since she left their close-pressed home.
Before we go on, you must understand, these numbers are important to the Fae, special. Eleven, seven, three most especially. Goodmother knew this and had from the first. On the eleventh day of Kinling, her daughter had been born. On the seventh day of Reysis, her daughter had been stolen. On the third day of Mauring, her daughter had been returned to her.
But what Goodmother also knew was that a crossroad was a sacred meeting place for the Fae. Many a Fae story tells of meetings with human heroes on a crossroad, Adaynis, Therope, The Lady Marlea, and so she sat and waited.
It is said that the Fae arrived at the witching hour, as all Fae stories go, of course. Not one as with Adaynis, or three as with the hero Therope or even seven as with The Lady Marlea. They came, stepping from the trees and from the sky and from the very ground itself, they came in numbers so great that Goodmother, in all her wisdom and knowing, could not count them. They came, large and small, two legged and four, winged and with tails of leather and fur and with feathers upon their back but all with eyes as bright and golden-white as the stars above.
Clutching her babe close, Goomdother looked around her, surrounded on all sides by the Fae of myth and legend and suddenly, she began to cry. A Fae, almost human if it weren’t for his star-bright eyes and too-handsome face, knelt by Goodmother and touched her knee.
“Goodmother, why is it you cry?” he asked, his voice low like the rumble of thunder before rain.
The babe at her breast smiled at the Fae, reaching her arms for him and Goodmother cried harder but tried to answer for to ignore the Fae is a foolish thing.
“For two reasons, old one,” she lifted her head to see the Fae again, to drink them in with her wet eyes as she doubted she would see such a sight again in her life. “I cry because I see the beauty in you, in your faces, in your hearts.” This seemed to please some of the Fae as they preened under her gaze and at her words but others shifted in the shadows but Goodmother continued. “I cry because I see the danger of you too, I see the hardness and the death. I see the truth of you.”
“That can be a terrible thing for one such as you, Goodmother.” The Fae with a voice like thunder inclined his head. The things in the shadows now moved, please by her words. Fae are duplicity, not by choice or design but by nature. They are the thing itself and to define them any other way would seem impossible. They are not one thing or another, good or bad, though they might pretend to be, might wish they were but it is not within their many abilities.
“But why do you cry?” The Fae asked again, touching gentle fingers to Goodmothers tears and then to his lips, as if tasting her sorrow.
“I cry because you gave my daughter back to me yet I see you in her. Even now, I see how clever she is, too clever for the likes of my blood alone. She sees things, she sees into their depths with old eyes. You have given me my daughter but she is not as she was.” Goodmother cried in despair. “I have always respected the Fae, I have followed all the old stories to appease you but now I realise we shall never be free of you. You have returned my daughter to me but she is changed, just as you are changed and forever will it affect her life.”
“Would you have us take her back?” A feathered Fae stepped forth, black wings in the place of arms and pale as snow skin. She watched Goodmother with hard, light-bright eyes and a firm, beak-ish mouth.
For all that her daughter had changed, for all that Goodmother feared for her future and that of her babe, she could not give up her child. She remained her own flesh and bone, she was as much a part of Goodmother as her own arm or leg and to give her to the Fae was something she found physically impossible.
“In this I will not bend. Changed as you have made her, this babe is mine, my blood, my bone, my heart and you will not take her from me.” Goodmother swore, her tears drying on her cheeks.
“The heart can be a confusing thing, Goodmother, for those of your ilk,” said the Fae with the voice of thunder and the handsome face. “We have watched you as you journeyed, Goodmother and we have come to tell you this. We see you recite our numbers as you wait at our crossroads. We see you journey hard with your only thought for your daughter. We see you wasting away. We see how closely you hold her to your heart. We are neither good nor evil, we are, at once, both and none but we see you.” He inclined his head in a deep bow of respect, still on one knee and his hair fell over his face in a long cascade that brushed Goodmothers knees.
“Your babe is changed, touched by Fae but do not despair. Even knowing of the touch, you care for your child, you carry her far from what you know.” Another Fae stepped forth, this one hunched, its hands gnarled like the branches of an old tree, its skin leathered as bark. It looked up at her with only one bright eye and a mouthful of wooden teeth. It was a darker Fae than the others that had spoken, though only a shade, and Goodmother saw its duplicity as it smoothed over it like sunlight over water. Before her eyes, it straightened, its skin rippling and smoothing until it stood tall and lithe like a young sapling, though one eye remained closed to the world.
“You could have cast her out, to the stones as many do. You could have done many a thing that would create an ending but you have not. For this we wish you to know, we have our eye on you.” It smiled, blinking its’ one star-bright eye, “Do not despair. Though Fae-touched is a hard life, it can be a life of many rewards.”
“To you we give three things,” the thunder-voiced Fae rumbled, “we give you a place of safety.”
“Three miles walk east there is such a place where meals are hot and the hands are kind.” The feathered Fae arched her black wing to the eastern path strewn with others of her ilk.
“We give you a thing of comfort.” The thunder Fae announced.
“A cloak woven from shadows and secret and the earth itself,” said the one-eyed Fae, stretching its long limbs to drape such a cloak over the shoulders of Goodmother. It was soft to the touch and warm, so light it was almost not there. “It will comfort you in the worst of times. Such a cloak comes from the heart of Mother Earth herself and she is with us always. Should it wear or tear, though such a thing cannot happen by any normal means, bury the cloak beneath a blanket of moss and leave it for seven nights. Uncover it and it shall be whole again.”
“We give you a truth,” the Fae by the knees of Goodmother said finally, watching her as he reached out to touch the cheek of the babe. “Your life will not be an easy one, nor will that of your child but she will grow to be strong and she will make you proud. She will win the hearts of men and Fae a world over and she will see the truth in all men, just as you have done. She is known by us as Be well Goodmother.”
As suddenly as a raindrop, the Fae vanished, leaving the Goodmother and her babe alone at the crossroads once more. Goodmother kissed her Fae-touched child, more tears coming to the fore of her eyes then stood and travelled three miles down the eastern path to find a sturdy, warm tavern on the side of the road. The food was warm, she was welcomed kindly and that was where she stayed.
There is a little pixie woman who lives in the tavern down the road. Her hair is kept tucked away in a soft cotton cap, never have I seen it free, and her eyes are the rare kind that change with the weather. She is short in stature and made so delicately a harsh breeze looks as if it might break her bones but she is strong, she has the iron of her mother in her bones and her wisdom in her blood but it is the eyes that give her away. She has the truth of the Fae in her soul and that is when she is most dangerous to men, when such truth shines from her quiet eyes.
Never have I seen the cloak of Mother Earth, nor has anyone else I know. Perhaps it is a thing that was made up for the mouths of storytellers, perhaps the whole thing is a story for the fire but there is a little pixie woman who lives in the tavern down the road who captures the heart of all men alike, who sings the sweetest melodies of the birds and who can strip a man bare with a single look. She leaves milk and bread out each night, just as her mother did before her, to protect her home and those within. She dances with the joy of the young to tunes she has never before heard but knows by heart and she laughs with the abandon of the reborn.
For all that she is, the truth of her is beautiful to me.