We had been walking for what felt like hours. My legs ached from walking up and downhill on unstable, rocky pathways. The joints in my knees burned like fire as I pushed myself up the hill. I could feel myself slowing down, my body too tired to keep going. I took one more step to reach the top of the hill. I looked down at the scene before me. At the base stood two massive trees. They stood at least thirty feet tall and their trunks just as thick as they were tall. Below the lush trees sat long thick grass and blooming purple, yellow and white flowers.
I looked up at the sky. The moon was low in the sky as the sun began to make its way higher into the wispy clouds that lightly dusted the sky. The night sky had faded from black to light blue with red and orange hues that started at the base of the horizon and shot up towards the disappearing stars.
I felt the purple-eyed man nudge me forward once again. I looked back down at the base of the hill. The rest of the group stood there waiting for us to join them. A man and a woman stepped between the two large trees. They bowed their heads and raised their hands up to the sky. Softly spoken words were mumbled as they began to slowly dance in small circles. A golden light began to form in the palms of their hands. The light began to trickle from their hands and out towards the sky. Sparks of light danced around them before they clumped together at the base of the trees. Soon a wall of sparkling gold and silver light formed in the shape of an arched doorway.
The man and woman didn’t move as the rest of the group moved towards the light. The woman that held the sleeping baby was the first one to walk through the glistening arch. Slowly the rest of the group followed through in groups of two.
I began to walk down the hill completely mesmerized by what I was seeing in front of me.
“It’s so beautiful,” I whispered once I stood in front of the gate. I looked up at the magic that danced before me. I reached out to touch the glistening light. The man with purple eyes reached out his hand and pushed mine away.
“Never touch the light.” He said. “The light may only touch you.”
I didn’t reply. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was serious. This magic was not one to be messed with.
“Let’s go.” His long fingers wrapped around my upper arm as he dragged me through the golden-arched gate.
As I passed through the glittering gold, my body felt awakened and warm. Energy flowed through my body as the golden orbs touched my skin. They felt like warm massage oil.
“What’s happening?” I looked up at him as the orbs danced around me. No golden orbs circled around him or kissed his skin. I stared at him in fear and confusion. My heart raced, and my hands shook. I began to feel the panic rise. Everything that had happened in the last few hours hit me like a bag of bricks.
“I’m going to die.” I couldn’t think rationally as I looked down at myself.
“Welcome to your forever.” The purple-eyed man’s voice sounded like it was right next to my ear. I felt his hand grab hold of mine, and we began to walk forward. My whole body shook with fear. I was walking into the unknown with creatures that were supposed to only exist in stories.
I looked behind me. The man and woman closed the arch. The golden magic began to fade, the trees faded along with the magic, and so did my only escape. I tried to pull myself away. The man’s grip tightened on my hand. He pulled me into this muscled chest. His other arm came across my bust, trapping me against him.
“No! Let me go!” I clawed at his arms and tried to kick myself free.
“Relax, Lass.” His voice was angry.
“Let me go!” He wasn’t the only one that was pissed. I continued to try and pry myself free. His hands began to glow against my skin. I began to kick and scratch at him more as the light grew brighter.
“Sleep.” He demanded. I continued to fight against him as my mind began to feel hazy and my eyes began to feel heavy. There was nothing I could do. I could never escape him. This truly was my forever.
The smell of lavender and jasmine was the first thing that I noticed as I slowly came to. The smells that surrounded me were comfortable and inviting. I snuggled deeper into the thick blankets and covered me. I could hear the soft hum of voices speaking in the next room. Their voices were quiet as if they were speaking like they didn’t want me to hear what they were saying.
The sound of a loud steam whistle from a boiling kettle startled me out of my warm slumber. I shot up in bed, the heavy quilts fell from my body. I looked up around the small room. It was simple; the queen-sized bed that I was sitting on sat in the middle of the room. Soft blue walls surrounded me, a large painting hung above the headboard of the bed. A small dresser sat in the corner of the room and one bedside table sat next to the bed.
As I took in my surroundings, I looked for a weapon, something I could use to protect myself. There was nothing, no lamp on the bedside table, no statues, glass bowls, nothing.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I slowly made my way out of the room and down the dark hall. At the end of the hall, I could see the light shining through the open doorway. I leaned against the wall, trying to hear the voices in the room next to me. They were silent.
“Come in darling. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” The light tone of an Irish woman met my ears. I didn’t move, my mind was spinning.
“Come on now.” The woman’s voice was closer. “Come have a nice cup of tea.” A petite woman stepped out from the doorway.
She was beautiful. She stood around five feet tall, she was small and childlike yet somehow seemed like an adult. Long dark hair cascaded down her back in a thick braid. What stood out the most was her golden yellow eyes. They shined bright, even in dark places where little light filtered through windows. Thick lashes rimmed her eyes, which made the colour of her eyes stand out even more against her fair skin.
Her hand reached out and grabbed mine. She pulled me into the small kitchen and guided me towards the small round table that sat in the middle of a small kitchen.
“Anything in your tea, darling?” Her voice snapped me out of the small trance that I didn’t even realize I was in.
“No,” I whispered as I looked around.
The small woman sat down across from me. She gathered up bread and some fruit and slid the plate full across the table towards me. I greedily accepted the plate not realizing how I hungry I was until she put the food in front of me. I happily ate in silence as I took in my surroundings.
The small kitchen wasn’t anything special. It reminded me of a small kitchen you would see in an old cottage. A small skin sat in the middle of the counter that lined the walls in an L shape. The walls were a simple cream colour that perfectly matched the pine cabinets that hung on the walls above the counter.
The sun hung high in the sky. The rays shined through the window above the skin and made the whole room seem warm and bright. I looked to the side of the room, the gas stove sat at the edge of the counter to the right of the room. I stared, wide-eyed at the back of the man that stood in front of the stove. His presence felt familiar. He turned to face us carrying the try with the cups of tea. His striking violet eyes met mine, he made no expression and held no emotion of recognition. I quickly looked away, not wanting to get lost in the inviting swirls of lavender.
“Don’t worry about Rupert, dear. He’s as harmless as a slug.” The woman laughed, shaking her head as if she was entertained by her own jokes. Rupert turned and glared at the small woman which caused her to laugh harder.
“It’s you the lass should be worried about.” He replied, she immediately stopped laughing, her smile momentarily slipped from her face before she plastered it back on.
“Oh please!” She scoffed. “I’m harmless, just wonderfully annoying.” She took a sip of her tea. “Now,” She turned and looked at me as if she was reaching to see into my soul.
I looked away, embarrassed, as she studied me.
“You’re quite the creature.” She said. “Where did you find her?” She turned to Rupert.
“In the forest. She was watching the ceremony.” He sat down next to me.
“Watching the ceremony?” She gasped. “How is that even possible?” She sat down her teacup and tapped her fingers against her chin.
“Quite simple really, with my two well-working eyes.” I raised my eyebrows, looked her straight in the eyes and took a sip of my tea.
The sound of a soft, deep chuckle met my ears. I looked over, Rupert had his head down as he chuckled as if he were trying to hide his laugh.
“That’s just it, my love, your two well-working eyes shouldn’t have seen such ceremony.” She stood up and walked towards me. “Stand up.”
I looked up at her, wide-eyed. Not wanting to know what would happen if I didn’t stand up, I quickly stood. Although this woman seemed harmless, something in my gut told me there was more beneath the surface. Something unsettling. She led me over to the sink and had me stand in front of the window.
“Such a beautiful specimen.” She whispered. “Such long beautiful red locks, so queen like.”
“Nix.” Rupert said, his voice low in warning.
“Oh please, she’ll find out soon enough.” Nix rolled her eyes. “You have such beautiful eyes.” She gripped my chin in her small hand, her nails digging into my skin. “Such beautiful green eyes.” She tilted my head towards the light and smiled. “Ah, there it is.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, knowing exactly what she saw. The exact thing that had me teased as a child, tormented for my unusual features.
“Just the smallest bit of colour, hardly noticeable until the light hits your eyes.” Her tone had changed. She no longer was sarcastic and bubbly, she was now serious and threatening.
I pulled myself from her grip and stepped away from her. She smiled at me, a sinister smile.
“Purple isn’t a colour you see often in a human.” She reached out and twirled my hair between her fingers. “No, not human at all.” She giggled. “Not human, but so much a fairy.”
My heart raced in my chest, fear and confusion began to fog my brain. “I’m very much human and don’t belong here.” I snapped and slapped her hand away. I quickly took a few steps back from her to give myself distance from the crazy woman.
“That’s enough, Nix.” Rupert stood up from the table.
“But the little lass should know who she really is, and where she really belongs.”
“I know exactly who I am and where I belong, and it isn’t here with you.” I raised my voice.
“I think it’s time for you to leave.” Rupert turned to Nix.
She rolled her eyes. “You are no fun.” She clapped her glowing hands together and disappeared.
I stood there silently, staring at Rupert. He moved to lean against the counter before he ran a hand over his face then through his hair. I wanted to reach out and run my own fingers through his hair to feel if it was as silky as it looked. I quickly dismissed the thought.
“Well, I’m obviously Rupert. Do I get to know your name, or shall I just keep calling you lass?” He said, trying to be more welcoming.
I stood there, silent for a moment before I replied. “Ariella.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Why am I here?”
He sighed before he sat back down at the table. “Sit, there’s a lot to explain.”
I slowly moved to sit back down beside him. “What was she going on about? Knowing who I really am, where I belong?”
“The ceremony you saw in the forest, it’s a very important ceremony. It’s where sick or unwanted children are taken and brought into the world of Changelings. They get raised in our world as one of us.” He played with the spoon in the sugar dish as he spoke. “You know what a Changeling is right?” I nodded my head in response.
“At these ceremonies, there’s magic that is used. A glamour surrounds us so nobody on the outside can see or hear what we’re doing.”
“But I did.” I frowned in confusion.
How could I have seen the ceremony? I thought.
He nodded. “But you did. That’s why you’re here. You shouldn’t have seen anything in the first place.”
I shifted in my chair. I felt like he wasn’t telling me everything. His answers were vague, basic. His answers weren’t really answers. I wanted to ask more, but I knew I wouldn’t have gotten a straight, truthful answer.
“Where exactly am I?”
He smiled. “Let me show you.”