Faulks dipped large, work worn hands into the bucket and splashed cool water on his dirt-streaked face. He could taste the salt on his lips from the sweat of a day’s work. Slicking back reddish gold hair that was peppered with streaks of white, he looked up into the sky as pink and purple faded into a darkening blue over the lush fields that vegetated with life.
Shaking the last droplets from his face he headed toward his herb garden before daylight was completely gone, taking one last second look at the glory of day slipping to dusk. He grunted softly, bending down to tend to a Grimsweed. It wasn't actually a weed, but a flower that budded dark blue petals tipped with green. It was a rare find in Locksley, where rain fell more often than not. Grimsweed usually only grew in the dryer more arid areas.
Faulks patted the earth around the wilting flower and then sifted a fine, sand-like substance in the dirt. Touching the petals he whispered softly to the flower, his large hands cupping the plant with a light and tender touch. The flower slowly grew, standing taller, fawning beneath the man's touch. He whistled softly. "Now be a good lass, and stay strong." At his bequest, the petals unfurled like a butterfly's wings.
Grimsweed was one of the only known plants that could heal the Fairy-tale afflicted. It was a rare illness and those that suffered from it often were lost to a vain and obsessive search for a happy ending. Faulks shook his head. For the most part, the Fairytales and the ordinary folks got along fine. At least on this side of Tressla. Faulks rubbed his brow, feeling the worry creases etched into his flushed skin. In other parts of Tressla, he admitted to himself, the Fairytales weren’t so lucky. He shook the unpleasant thought away, reasoning there wasn’t much he could do, and patted the flower once more.
While the flower’s remedies were not much needed in the village, it was better to be safe than sorry. Besides, he got paid well for harboring a plant that usually could only be found in the Eldridge Mountains. Not many were willing to make the wearisome trip there, and even fewer were willing to travel into Maya’s Valley.
Faulks was the town green thumb. He could make virtually anything grow and so the villagers often recruited him to grow the various oddities, saving themselves from having to venture out of the relative safety of Locksley. Faulks was an oddity himself in many ways. He stood close to seven feet tall. His hair was a shaggy burnished red-gold, although white had begun to show at the temples. He had a gruff face, grizzled with stubble that grew over a hard jaw. His nose was large and burnt from the sun, and lines creased around his eyes and down his cheeks. But for such an imposing man, he treaded the earth lightly and with grace.
As he turned to make his way into sup, two large aqua eyes peered up at him beseechingly from beneath a tangle of straw-like yellow hair, stopping him before he could take more than a step. He could tell the child had been hovering close by for some time. Giving her a stern look his voice grumbled, "Well what do ya want?" It was Kestrel, the cook's wild daughter, holding an earthenware pot out to him. Looking down he noted the sad looking Thumbelina Rose that was sulkily drooping from neglect.
Kestrel looked up at him boldly, but her voice held the proper note of guilt and regret when she spoke: "My Thumbelina is dying.”
"Now why do you think it's dying? Huh? Did you water it with only dew drops like I told ya?" he asked her.
Mutely, she shook her head, casting her eyes down. "Did you talk to her and sing to her like I said?" Again, the girl with hair like a dandelion puff shook her head.
"Then what do you want me to do?" Her lower lip came out in a pout as she lifted those large, blue eyes to his, lips trembling. "I promise I'll take better care of her, I thought it would be okay if I just gave her water from the stream. Please, Faulks! She’s going to die.” Her eyes filled with tears as she thrust the pot toward him emphatically.
Faulks knew the Thumbelina wasn’t really that bad off, just sulking. The Roses liked to be the center of attention and became quite resentful when their little girls didn’t treat them with the proper respect.
Shaking his head, Faulks cupped his hands around the Thumbelina Rose and hummed a light tune. The flower slowly lifted her head. Just like he’d thought, the Thumbelina inside was in the later stages of her gestation period and had been dramatizing her condition. The bud deepened quickly from a sickly pink to a vivid purple again as she took sustenance from Faulks's green energy. Wings that had recently broken out of the bud gave a soft flutter as a song of thanks lilted on the breeze and then faded to an almost inaudible humming.
"It won't be long now so you better take better care of her this time. Keep her healthy until she opens," he warned. Kestrel's pale lips quirked in a lopsided grin and she beamed up at him. "Thanks, Faulks!"
He gave her one last stern look and then his features creased in a broad smile that lit up the folds of his face. He gave her nose a tender squeeze and winked an eye that glittered with mirth. "Go clean up, your mother will have dinner on the table soon enough." And with that, the nymph-like girl scattered off, clutching her flower to her chest.
Turning, he headed into his cottage. A modest abode for a man who kept the odd and much-sought after profession. A rich summer breeze floated in through the open windows, candlelight lighting the interior of the cottage as night dimmed the day.
He sniffed. The rabbit stew cooking made his stomach growl. "Supper almost ready?" he asked. He stepped up behind a small woman who stirred the pot and peered over her shoulder.
"Just about. It would have gotten done faster if it weren't for Kestrel mooning all afternoon over that Thumbelina Rose you insisted on giving her. I told you she wasn't going to take care of her," said Jemma as she smacked his wandering hand that had dipped in for a taste. She looked up at him sternly and pointed her finger to the table.
Faulks attempted to look grim, even going so far as to furrow his heavy brows. But Jemma continued to point unwaveringly, and Faulks thought better of it and threw himself into a chair, eyeing the steam coming from the pot hungrily.
"Eh, I think she'll do a better job this time around. The Thumbelina will come through just fine. Little girls love those flowers," he said, watching as little Kestrel darted in the door and placed her flower on the window ledge.
Jemma turned and glared at him, a dark strand of hair clinging to her damp face. Her expression brooked no argument, yet she could never hide the kindness of her true nature. She was skinny, bony even, all hard lines and joints, yet her mouth was soft and her eyes a mild summer sky, making her almost lovely at times.
"Those Thumbelinas are just trouble," she grumbled, but her expression lost its edge as she watched her daughter softly kiss a petal. Jemma snuck a glance at Faulks who grinned knowingly, so she quickly began to grumble about the Rose again. "Those damned Thumbelinas cause trouble, Faulks. They bloom, get a little girl attached, and then fall in love with some fairy prince and prance off into the night, never to be heard of again." She was shaking her head at the nonsense of it all as she walked over and set a bowl down in front of Faulks, shooting her daughter a sincerely concerned glance.
"Hornswoggle," Faulks grunted as he ripped off a chunk of bread and dipped it into the stew. "That there is a Morning Glory Thumbelina, she don't look like a Red Rose Thumbelina, does she? Those are the flighty ones. Morning Glories are born to be a lass’ best friend; hardly do they ever run off with some blasted fluttering prince.”
Thumbelina Roses were a little girl's companion. Rare to come by, but Faulks knew where to find them and he knew how to grow them. Jemma sat down and began to eat, dropping her consternation. She gazed at Faulks as he renewed his vigor for eating, attacking his stew when Hank walked through the door, dipping his hat before taking it off and dropping it on the counter. Faulks looked up and grunted a “hello” as Hank dipped to kiss Jemma's brow and winked at Kestrel.
"Stew is on the stove," Jemma told her husband. "How was the market?" Hank shook his head, his face red from the sun, longish brown hair still clinging to his youthful face from a long day under a mid-summer sky.
Hank was a merchant. He had come on as a hired hand originally, but when it became apparent that Faulks was only letting him work for him out of the kindness of his heart and not for any green thumb talent Hank displayed, Faulks had offered to share his home and hearth to the man and his wife. Kristina, his wife, had adored the company, and Jemma had been a help around the house, especially when Kristina had fallen ill. Faulks tried to not let the memory get the best of him as the image of Kristina’s smile lingered in his mind and heart.
"Something's afoot," Hank said. Faulks lifted his head from his reverie and looked into Hank's open honest face that was now furrowed in worry.
"Whatchya mean?" Faulks asked, pushing the memory aside as a slow dread crept into the barrows of his stomach. Hank just shook his head and finished chewing a hunk of bread, taking a moment to glance out into the darkening sky as he swallowed.
"All day at the market, the horses were skittish, dogs scrappin' and well . . . " His face paled and he continued, dropping his voice. “A witch came into town, a fortuneteller. She told us that Brink’s army was going to be visiting every village in Tressla, that they’re looking for something. And you know what that means. Then the fortuneteller started to babble about a child, storms to come and then . . . " He grew paler even still. "She mentioned The Green."
Jemma gave a gasp, but Faulks merely grunted.
“What about her?" he asked gruffly.
"She said she’s going to die." The table grew silent; even Kestrel’s eyes grew wide as she took a birdlike taste of her cooling stew, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
Are you sure?" whispered Jemma.
"Positive," said Hank. "The whole town went 'bout as white as you just did when they heard it.”
"I don’t believe what those damned witches say. I’d rather hear it from one of the Daughters of the Will,” Faulks said, but he pushed his plate away, his appetite surprisingly gone.
"What's this about a child?” Jemma asked.
"Well, it was hard to make out, but I remember it went something like this," he said, brows furrowing, face screwed up as he tried to recall the witch’s words.
"When light shifts . . .” He paused, thinking for a moment before going one, “and twilight sleeps, when lines cross . . . a babe sleeps … When . . .” He shook his head. “That's all I can recall." For all of Hanks simple ways, Faulks always thought he could have done well as a scholar; he always had a good memory for detail.
They all sat in silence for a few moments, lost in their own reveries. “What did the witch . . .” Jemma started to say, but she was cut off when the floor beneath them began to shake, making their bones vibrate. It was slow at first, but then it began to pick up speed as the house began to shudder.
“Into the doorways!” Faulks shouted over the din of the roar as the land shook. Jemma had already grabbed Kestrel and ran to the door leading to the bedroom. Hank joined her seconds later and huddled over his wife and child, protecting them from the clattering of breaking dishes and pots.
Assured that the three were as safe as they could be under their doorway, Faulks ran to shut the shutter on the window and paused in disbelief at the maelstrom that cracked the land. Trees swayed and rocked, and a loud pop pierced the roar as bark and root were split down the middle and landed in one of his flowerbeds. It looked as if the world had gone mad.
“My Thumbelina!” he heard Kestrel scream over the howling wind and spotted the flowerpot sliding toward the window’s ledge. Cursing, he slammed the shutters and grabbed the flowerpot and ran to the other bedroom doorway, bracing his arms for support while the world rocked beneath them.
The storm lasted only a few moments, the clanging and breaking slowing until finally it was quiet, the Thumbelina flower’s trembling subsiding as the world reclaimed stability.
The first haunting song of a bird broke the sudden silence, and the rhythm of life picked up its pace once more.
“It’s all right,” Faulks gruffed. “It’s over, for now.”
Hank slowly straightened and met Faulks’s gaze with a terse nod, surveying the damage the quake had wrought.
“Is everyone okay?” Faulks glanced at the three anxiously. As a response, Jemma smoothed back her hair, which had come undone from its tightly woven bun, and grabbed the broom. That was always her way, to do just what needed to be done.
“My Thumbelina,” Kestrel ran toward Faulks who clutched the pot in one large hand.
“Here ya go, Kessie. You may want to sing her some songs to comfort her, the plants and animals are the most sensitive to these kinds of things and she’s got to be pretty shook up.” Kestrel nodded solemnly once more and, taking the flower from Faulks, clutched the Thumbelina to her chest. As she walked away he heard her softly start to sing a lullaby, making him smile to himself. Yep, she had learned her lesson and would raise a nice healthy Thumbelina.
Joining Hank and Jemma, he righted a few chairs and went to open the shutters and review the damage, but a muffled whimper whispering like prophecy come true made him pause.
They all looked at each other and then they heard it again. Kestrel had stopped her singing and went to her mother's side. "It's a baby," she said, the simplicity of her words cutting through the bewilderment clouding the rest of their heads. With a glance at Kestrel, Jemma jumped up and ran to the door. She slowly lifted the latch and opened it gingerly.
Faulks glanced at Hank, who stepped forward quickly to grab Jemma before she could let whatever was outside in, but it was too late.
Her lips formed a perfect “o” and a flush crept up her cheeks as her soft eyes gave a glisten. Then she bent down and picked something up, and turning to the men, she smiled. "It is a baby!" Looking down, she blew a raspberry with her lips and stroked the child’s soft cheek, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth as she gazed down at the bundle.
Faulks wasn’t sure what to do. He suddenly felt massive in the presence of such a small thing, a naked baby in Jemma’s arms. A little lass with eyes that peered up with an astonishing clarity, focusing in on one person and then moving to another as if she was sizing them up and finding them acceptable.
“It’s a baby,” Faulks said gruffly, hearing the wonder that had entered the deep baritone of his voice and lifted it with light. The devastation outside was forgotten. Jemma looked up quickly and met his gaze. But he dropped it back to the small squalling infant. "She needs a blanket," he grunted, heading to his room and coming back with one only a moment later. It had been Kristine’s, her hope for the family she’d one day wanted.
"Hold out your arms, Faulks," Jemma said as she moved to put the baby in his hands. Faulks couldn’t move his arms. They felt like tree trunks to him, hard and wooden with no give for a new baby’s tender head. Jemma clucked her tongue and chuckled. "It's only a baby. She won’t break, I promise."
Grudgingly, he lifted his arms and leaned towards Jemma, who gently placed the babe in them. His embrace felt clunky, unsafe at first, and he worried as he looked down at her flushed little face whether she’d find him unpleasant and start to cry. But she just stared up at him, trusting and sweet, blinking eyes that were bright and as gold as sunshine and honey combined. He smiled widely and with the expression his arms relaxed. He closed the distance and brought her into his massive chest, a wall of security and safety he vowed then and there no one would ever trespass against.
"She's such a tiny little thing," Faulks breathed as he stared in adoring wonder at the child in his arms. "Who would just leave a baby on a doorstep? How did she even survive the quake? How long was she out there?" he growled, tearing his gaze away from the child for a moment with flaring nostrils and glittering green eyes at Hank and Jemma.
"I would imagine someone just couldn’t take care of her. She must be a strong girl to have weathered the storm so well,” Jemma responded wisely. "I'll get her some milk; she must be hungry."
It grew dark, but Faulks’s normal evening ritual was forgotten as he cradled the baby next to the candlelight, wondering why any parents could ever abandon a child. As Jemma continued to clean up the broken glass and take stock of what had been broken, Hank took a break from helping his wife and smoked his pipe. Little Kestrel spent the night diverting her intense concentration between watching Faulks and the baby with wide eyes and making sure her Thumbelina Rose wasn't about to die.
“She looks sleepy, and yet, she continues to stay awake. Cheeky, she is,” said Faulks.
“She needs a bed,” Jemma said, vanishing into the room she shared with Hank and Kestrel and returning with what used to be Kestrel’s old cradle that had been stowed away in a vacant corner. It was rough and worn, but when Faulks bent his large frame and slowly slid the baby in the cradle, she looked back at him serenely, her mouth puckered sweetly as if smiling.
"Sleep," he whispered to her and turned to Jemma and Hank. "What should we name her?"
"Faulks . . ." Jemma said, a note of concern in her tone, but Hank hushed her with a soft smile.
"Why don't we wait until tomorrow, Faulks?" Hank responded in his steady voice. "And if someone doesn't come to claim her, then we'll decide."
Faulks remained quiet and nodded his acceptance, taking a moment to pause before speaking. "I don't think anyone is coming to claim her," he said, ignoring the worry that etched Jemma’s forehead, usually kept taut by the severity in which she secured her bun. Then he looked up and shook his head with a nod. "To bed with all of ya. Tomorrow is a new day, and it’s gonna be a bright one."
Jemma bent down and brushed the baby’s head with a kiss, and then standing straight and laying a hand on Faulks’s shoulder, she brushed one against his bristly cheek. “Make sure you sleep as well,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. He waved her off with a grunt, and she gently guided Kestrel, who had been lingering near the cradle, into their bedroom, shutting the rough-hewn door behind her.
Faulks took a chair and sat beside the cradle, once again caught rapt by the child and her unfaltering gaze. He thought babies usually cried, but she aware and so quiet, as if she was truly observing the world. It amazed him she was still awake, while he was stifling his yawns. His eyes started to slip shut, the twinkling glitter in her bright gaze as soothing as fairy dust.