This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
In the High Tatra where the fair-people dwelled, Aemilia Winterguard was paired up with another young fairy, Ctirad Summersprite, for the day’s sparring match. Ludvík Autumnraider was their commander for the day.
“Unsheathe your weapons.” The autumn fairy called. Ctirad took a short sword out his scabbard and Aemilia unhooked her dagger called Statočný* from her belt. The two other boys in the team began to whisper to one another, but Pavel Springsentinel shushed them; he wanted to be able to concentrate on what his daughter would do. They waited for the signal and then they lunged at one another.
The more they went at it, the more the watchers’ stomachs tightened and the more intense Pavel’s stare became, trying to keep from flinching whenever he saw Aemilia be struck. His dark brown flick of bangs attempted to interrupt by falling over his eyes, but they were shoved back in place.
The fights always felt long to watch, but it went by much too fast for the actual volunteers. It was better to go earlier in the session and get it out of the way, that’s how it was for anyone. Though there was nothing wrong with the ones who preferred to wait and be called on, but they were often looked down on by the first-rank men. It was still nerve-wracking nonetheless, watching the fights and waiting to be called on. Getting it over with was the easy part; anticipation was the worst kind of anxiety.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t horrifying for a moment when one realized that their enemy had the winning end and have that surge of adrenaline suddenly swimming through their veins. Aemilia was smaller than the boys — she could squirm out of their grasp more easily and move more quickly. But she had to be smart and find a way to make them go down. Once they were down, make sure they had no way of getting back up. She had to have a method of some sort, right? Beating down wasn’t the only technique in the fighting world.
Ctirad saw she was about to win — once an opponent was to the ground and the other held the end of their blade to their necks, it was over. And it had only taken the young woman less than a minute to shove him onto his bottom, but he wasn’t about to be humiliated even further by losing to the only wingless girl in their village. He grabbed the wrist of the hand she was holding Statočný with and burned her.
Aemilia screeched and reared back, dropping her knife into the grass. She took a moment to observe her burn then shouted, “He used his magic! He burned me!” She said to Ludvík, annoyed at his tactics and angered that she had gotten scared for a second — she had a high pain threshold, but couldn’t stand letting herself feel afraid.
Before he could say something to Ctirad, Aemilia swung her hand and whipped hail at him, bruising the summer’s face before he could accuse her of lying.
“Disqualified!” Ludvík exclaimed.
“He burned me! You’re taking his side like you always do!”
“It has nothing to do with that; I told you both no magic, and you were the one who didn’t follow the rules.”
Pavel rushed over before she could make any more of a fuss.
“Look at my wrist! He’s too weak to do that just by grabbing it!” She insulted him as she forced Ludvík to acknowledge the red burn mark. Nothing serious, but it would take days to heal.
“Aemilia,” Pavel forced her to back away so, god forbid, she didn’t attack the man, “both of you are disqualified from this match.” He then eyed the man he’d been training and then coaching alongside with for many years now, “Fair?”
“Bite your tongue, Aemilia.” He chided.
Ludvík agreed with Pavel’s compromise and told Aemilia and Ctirad to step aside. This situation was nothing new; it happened at least once or twice a week during sparring. Aemilia finished the task by snatching up her blade, huffing and sitting down with the other spotters, and then she would pout her way through the rest of the session like always.
The winter fairy had soon gone off wandering in her own head instead of paying attention to the next fight. Usually the coaches would ask what they observed and if they noticed any mistakes — Aemilia would try to force her attention back to it but this had become a rut for her.
It had so far been another average day for her — she could at least say she enjoyed the days where the weather was simmering down more than when she had been suffering in the heat or have their home deluged by rain for the past few months. In two days, the Autumn Equinox would be there. It was an annual holiday celebrated by the fair-people.
She didn’t realize how dazed she had been when she heard her name suddenly called. She did her usual routine of snatching herself out of the daydream and checked to see who was looking for her attention. Instead of one of the coaches, it was her father’s gentle gaze, “You may as well go home and get your housework done. Your mother’s asked for you to do them.”
Queen Rosalyn Winterguard had been about the High Tatra checking the perimeters. That just showed what little she had to do within the village. There was practically nothing to do; sometimes Aemilia found herself wishing she could go with her.
There were only a little over fifty fairies in their halcyon home, not much population to protect, but Rosalyn still wouldn’t risk losing any of them. Since only the western borders were what needed to be checked, she spent less time along the others.
That trip took an entire day if she checked all four borders especially well, but Rosalyn had estimated she’d be home by the evening when she left that morning.
Aemilia wasn’t very pleased that she was coming home so soon; it felt less stressful when she wasn’t home. However, when her mother wasn’t home, her little sister was plastered to her side, which got irritating after a while.
Ramona Springsentinel was very, very different from her sister. She was a trusting young fairy who tried to copy her elegant mother in every way. From her composed personality, to her makeup and hair.
Unlike her sister and mother, Aemilia’s hair was in a short cut that swayed a little past her collarbones. Long hair got in the way when for someone who was constantly active.
Ramona’s hair fell gently over her shoulders and down to her elbows, the ends curling up slightly. Rosalyn’s hair was as straight as fine hardwood. Ramona had her father’s freckles, except hers were much easier to see even from a distance; Pavel’s swept freckles could only be noticed when someone was right in his face.
Aemilia’s skin was fair like her mother’s, a trait most Winterguards shared. Rosalyn’s eyes were gold while Aemilia’s were glittering emerald, but Ramona had her mother’s eyes. Pavel’s tawny eyes were deep brown with a notable golden tint to them — they almost glistened in the sunlight.
The winter trudged home and was grateful to see that all the fairies she passed, older couples and children along with some of her own peers, were all distracted by their own affairs — making their homes and gardens nice for the arrival of their beloved and detested queen. Despite the fairies had royalty, there was no home in their village.
Her home was just as quaint as the others. Goldenrods trailed along the cracks of its wood lining and it glowed warmly among the forest heights. It was big enough for a family of four, but that was it. Neither any house guests to stay the night nor any ‘sentimental’ gatherings occurred at their place. That’s how all of the fairy houses were.
Aemilia was almost an adult and she still shared a bedroom with a thirteen-year-old because of the small size — but the fairy girl couldn’t imagine any different.
But she didn’t mind it; after all, should something attack their home she could keep her sister safe. It wasn’t until the two got older that Aemilia started appreciating her sister more — anyone who would assist her in her chores was someone she wanted to keep pleased. The two girls agreed that with whatever they were assigned, they would compromise who would do what. Aemilia abhorred kitchen work and touchy grimy dishes while Ramona couldn’t stand the tedium of sweeping and washing clothes.
After they cleaned up the main area of their home, they decided to take a break. Aemilia went into the washroom to bathe.
The fairies tried to use rain water as much as they could, but for the most part, they ended filling buckets with water from the great lake in the heather meadow or from the streams that ran though there.
They doused themselves with it in a round, wooden tub and scrubbed their nude bodies with a sponge cloth. As freezing as the water was, it was what these fairies in particular had. They wouldn’t actually use the lakes or creeks as their wash basins because that was the same water they drank.
The teenager was wrapped in a towel drying her face off with a cloth in their washroom when her father came home; recognizing it could only be him by the sound of wooden floors groaning under the weight of leather boots. Males were the only ones to wear shoes year round while women that were non-winters or non-summers wore them during the colder seasons. Leather was scarce, and women preferably flew around anyway, “Hello, Daddy.” She heard Ramona say. Pavel came closer to the young lady.
“Home so soon, Father?”
“You know we need to talk about what happened earlier.” She could hear the sternness in his voice and could tell that he had his arms folded and was leaning against the doorframe — that was his typical scolding position if she had her back turned when he approached her.
Sometimes as a child she thought if she didn’t look at him long enough, he’d leave and save the scolding for later. But Pavel was as stubborn as most Springsentinels come — they were like the fish that was told it couldn’t breathe on land but hopped up on shore anyway. He’d stand there and shift his weight from one leg to the other until she was ready to face him.
Not that Pavel would ever yell or intimidate his children —however; they’d earned a rational fear of seeing disappointment or disapproval in his eyes. Even Aemilia, who made him proud every day, couldn’t stand the thought of seeing that. And today she knew she’d done something of the sort, “I know you heard me.” He said.
“I just threw a little snow in his face,” she said while she wrung her wet hair out, “and besides, he really did burn me.”
“So you acted just as ridiculous as he did?” He replied calmly, shifting foot to foot.
“So what?” She finally looked into his narrowed, tawny eyes. Pavel didn’t always need to speak to get his words out; she knew he wasn’t pleased with her answer. She was just as annoyed as he was, whether he believed it or not, “I didn’t want to let him think he could win through cheating, so neither of us won!”
“Didn’t you tell me that was unfair earlier?”
“Heat of the moment — couldn’t help that.” Her father went to speak, but he saw her go to unwrap her towel and turned away, exhaling through his nose to show his patience was eroding. She dressed herself.
“Aemilia, you’re acting like a child.” He didn’t let her escape into her room and grabbed her shoulder, whirling her around. Her nonchalant expression quickly sank into subtle remorse upon seeing his rebuking eyes. The eyes that made her realize she would have to admit her mistake sooner or later — she chose later.
“I don’t care, Dad.”
“You should. It makes you look bad.” He replied in a hushed voice, not wanting to attract Ramona’s attention. It was hard for anyone not to hear the fairy’s conversations in such a small living space. Even if two fairies were whispering to each other in another room, it wasn’t hard for anyone else to listen in if they were sneaky enough about it. Aemilia kept a heavy scowl as Pavel explained his point, “I didn’t say anything the last few times you acted out because I thought maybe you were just having a day, but this has gotten ridiculous. The other men confronted me about it after I sent you home.”
Pavel was the captain of the defenders. The first ranks were one of each season; Pavel was the spring while Ludvík was the autumn. The winter was Imre and the summer was Ignác. Spending more than thirty years together, they’d moved up from their positions as rookies, to third rankers, to second rankers, and now they trained the new generation.
At age seven, certain male fairies began to learn swordplay and their own personal combat skills depending on their magical abilities; each season had their own elements.
Springsentinels could lift stones and boulders and reshape them to their liking as well as controlling the movement and growth of trees. Summersprites could generate fire as quickly as an Autumnraider could manipulate the wind. One can guess what a Winterguard does.
Aemilia respected her father in every way at how he could have spent years learning such disciplines, yet he was still sweet-tempered and kind.
How odd, though, that he could seem so authoritative without even raising his voice to a harsher tone; it was their mother that used fear as provocation, “I’m sorry.” Aemilia finally said with no iota of sincerity, “I won’t do it again and they’ll leave you alone.” She went to finish making the beds (or pretend they needed making) and turned her back to him once more.
“It’s not entirely that I’m upset about; what’s been with you lately?” Aemilia’s indifferent façade vanished and she instead sat down on her messy sheets, “You’re usually better at controlling your temper. I feel like something’s bothering you and you haven’t been telling me.” Aemilia Winterguard had known from her very first day on earth that she could come to her father for any problem she had, even if it was something she herself thought wasn’t a big deal but it made her teeth grind anyway — like the stupidity of others or acts of ignorance she’d observed of her peers.
“Nothing’s bothering me.” He’d heard that one plenty of times. Teenagers, he thought. And what made this worse was that Ramona’s own demons had yet to unveil themselves. Said demons had names: defiant, moody, and hardheaded. Not Pavel’s daughters, though. Aemilia was always one to come forward and say what was on her mind… even if no one agreed with what she was thinking.
“Well, regardless if you’re going to talk to me or not, you need to go back to knowing how to control yourself.” It wasn’t so much that Pavel was concerned with his image — that was Rosalyn’s job — but he just didn’t understand what was eating at his daughter so much that she hadn’t brought it up yet.
After the fourth time she’d acted out, he knew he had to get her talking no matter how long the interrogation could take. When the haughty tantrum continued, the Springsentinel took a different approach, “I thought you were more mature than this.”
“I am!” There it was. Just give a teenager a reason to disagree with what you say and they’ll talk, “I’m just frustrated! It’s been the same aggravating thing every day! It’s boring here, and now I’m starting to lose matches! I can’t stand it!”
“Was that really all?” He couldn’t believe she had been holding back something as typical as that.
He didn’t want to go into some sort of speech that would fall on deaf ears; he just waited for her to speak again.
“Anything else?” The father finally couldn’t take the silence. Aemilia gave him a wince.
“Does there have to be anything else?” God, Pavel hoped not. She sighed, “Forget it. You’re right. I’m overreacting.” She once again had no truth in her tone; Pavel saw his second daughter still awkwardly waiting at the door and pointed her back to the main area. Finally, he joined her on her bed.
“Look, this isn’t anything new for either one of us. But when you start acting out, it worries me that something that small could be bothering you that much. Do you see it from my point of view?” He said, still maintaining a cross voice.
“I guess, but how else am I supposed to act? I’m not known for being friendly anyway.”
“No…” Her father wouldn’t agree nor would he disagree, “I just think you need to take your anger out in another way.”
Aemilia thought for a moment and then she said, “Like picking on Mona?”
“I heard that!” The younger sister wined from down the hall.
When they finished cleaning, Ramona brushed her sister’s hair in front of their mirror; Aemilia sat in front of the bed positioned right by the mirror and Ramona was on her bed and slowly running the bristles down her soft, fine hair, “You’ve got really pretty hair, you know. You should let it grow long.” Aemilia didn’t respond — the girl knew her answer to that.
“It doesn’t grow because you pull so much out when you brush it.” Aemilia’s head was being pulled back with each stroke; though she wouldn’t admit the actual the brush gliding their way through her locks was quite tranquil. Ramona obsessively brushed her own hair when she learned one day that doing such made it grow quicker, though ‘quicker’ meant at a faster and steadier pace… Not instantly. She had become a perfectionist at removing knots painlessly and trimming her own splitting ends, “Besides, it gets in the way when I’m fighting. I like it this length.”
“Well, it is cute… But you’re just as pretty as Mom.”
“I don’t know, maybe girls will like you better if you looked a little more like her.”
While Aemilia liked the thought of girls actually talking to her, she had an objection: “Look more like a queen that they already hate?” Pavel had heard her comment while he was making the fire, but he ignored it. Ramona in the meantime sneered and purposefully yanked the brush from her head.
The winter yelped and the spring glared at her reflection in the mirror, “It’s not Mom’s fault they’re ignorant and don’t like change!” Rosalyn was rightfully queen because she had ebony wings made of elm bark that she could recede or grow to certain lengths —but no one could stand her because she’d broken the tradition of arranged marriages to one’s own season.
Instead, Rosalyn married for love, and the winter ended up loving a spring. Some rumored that her wings were so strong because of how she stood up for what she believed in, but one didn’t know why fairies grew certain types of wings. Or none at all, like Aemilia. Said fairy was wondering where her sister learned such a phrase.
Where did she get that from? Mom? She rubbed her hair that had been violently ambushed, “I didn’t say it was her fault! But it’s the truth — we’re the family that’s hardly talked to because of her. Even if our parents are the king and queen, no one actually likes us. They’re all pretenders.”
“I have plenty of friends, Millie.” Ramona hopped off her bed and got in her face, “Daddy’s in charge of our village soldiers,” His respect is earned, not forced. The elder sibling argued in her head, “and mom’s the most beautiful fairy queen we’ve ever had. You don’t have your wings yet, that’s why fairies don’t talk to you.”
“Ramona, come here!” They heard their father’s voice —there was a moment of hesitation, but she stood up straight and began to leave.
“My wings are just late!” She insisted, hiding how hurt she was.
Her wings would come soon enough, Aemilia told herself. She didn’t care if they were the wings of an ugly horsefly, they were wings. Not having any past the age of fifteen was some kind of ordure to fairies. She didn’t care about looking beautiful or flying, she just wanted them so that she could show nothing was wrong with her. Nothing was — they were just vain and too used to the norm.
She could hear her father telling Ramona to apologize, despite trying to whisper under his tongue. He told her how they were getting too old for those arguments and that they should make it up themselves, but Ramona probably couldn’t handle that maturity.
Aemilia admittedly couldn’t either when she was too mad to try and act her age. Her mother certainly didn’t expect to find her family in such a mood when she stepped through the door; her oldest one in the room pouting and the other two berating each other in the hearth area, “Well, this is a nice welcome home party.” A sarcastic and alluring voice chimed in, startling everyone.
They always heard the sound of her large wings as soon as she landed outside or, as Pavel would say, there was always a chill when she entered a room. Aemilia knew she should probably leave the room right away and pretend to be excited to see her, but her mother knew that she was getting too old to play that game.
She waited for Ramona to give her all the affection, for Pavel and Rosalyn to share a kiss, and then she stepped out. Please no twaddle or asking her about how she’d been; then she’d have to honestly answer, since Rosalyn always knew that Aemilia would never say that she’d done ‘nothing’ all day.
Rosalyn didn’t look quite as intimidating as usual since she had her cinereous wings sunken into her back and her hair was pulled into an updo instead of draped over her shoulders and making her face look narrow and dark. Only if she were furious would she spread out her wings of frightening size while indoors.
Outside, she always had them open and poised so that everyone could be reminded why she was queen. The fair-girl felt a bit secure approaching her, but always had an odd feeling of discomfort when she was home again — it was only when she was gone that she realized how liberated she felt when it was only her, her dad, and her sister.
Ramona still had her arms around her waist when the mother of two brightened upon seeing Aemilia. She pushed her daughter’s hair behind one ear and the words ‘beautiful girl’ escaped her burgundy lips — it was an improvement; usually the two would just give awkward smiles or forced hugs with each other, at least they felt that way for the adolescent.
“Well, nothing seemed out of the norm around the borders, which means we’re probably safe for another season.” The queen said when they sat near the fire together with mugs of tea in their hands.
“So what you’re saying is nothing’s changed since the beginning of this summer.” Aemilia mumbled, bored to hear the news.
“Pretty much.” Rosalyn said, ignoring the unimpressed mood she had, “But Pavel, you’re going to have to check the eastern border with your men; I saw some trees had been cut down over there.”
“What’s so weird about that?” Asked the tween.
“What’s ‘weird,’” she rubbed her tired eyes, “is that no fairy on this mountain has ever cut a tree down unless we needed the wood. And frankly, we don’t need it right now.
“Maybe we do.”
“No, Millie, we don’t. At least it’s not worth cutting down thirty trees for… Pavel, can you send some other springs to revive them?” The man was guzzling his tea, only half-paying attention to the conversation. When he finished, he wasn’t sure of what she’d just asked him and Rosalyn knew it. She fixed her piercing gaze onto him, revealing that he’d just accidentally ignored her.
He gulped his final sip down, “Sorry?”
The fair-woman shook her head, “Never mind.”
* Valiant in Slovak
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