Liam led Alanna down a well-worn path. This late into the fall, the leaves on the oaks were already showing their fall colors. Samhain was only a couple of weeks away. The sunlight was warm on her shoulders, but she knew she couldn’t take her jacket off. There was enough chill in the air, it wouldn’t be long before she’d want the warmth of her windbreaker once again.
“We have to take this fork. If you look, there’s one tall one over to the left. It’s a bit different than the rest of them in the grove to the right,” Liam explained.
“I’d like to wander through the other grove as well. I use acorn nuts in a cookie recipe my great grandmother gave me. I don’t think many use them for human consumption.”
“If we have time, we can do both. I want to be back in the van before sunset.”
“I’m glad you went to early mass then. We’ve got enough time. I do see what you mean about this tree though. It’s roots are arched higher than most, and the girth of it is crazy big. I would expect it at the center of a grove, like the tallest one over there.” Alanna turned to point at the dense grouping to their right.
“Exactly. I find I like the single tree. I’ve spent many an afternoon sitting against a root reading or drawing.” Liam said as he took them down the narrow path between two ruined walls of tumbled boulders.
“It looks like this path was between two different farms at some point,” Alanna speculated.
“I think this might be where the Norse and the MacCarthy agreed to a border. It isn’t really clear where their boundary was anymore.”
“Then the double wall makes sense. When it was a proper wall, this was wide enough for a cart or a couple of horses to use. I wouldn’t want to come head on with two loaded carts though,” Alanna said.
“Exactly. Look, once we get over this rise, we’ll be at the fairy hill tree.”
“Let’s hurry. I’m hungry. I didn’t get a big breakfast, just tea and an apple this morning, while I got our picnic basket together.”
Alanna looked around. The towering oak in the middle of the field had a few golden brown leaves. Ireland was later than Montana when it came to seasonal changes. It was mid-October. The great arching roots provided nooks where she would love to spend her free time reading medical texts, or on rare occasions, her favorite book of poetry.
“I’m right here,”
“On your shoulder, but I suppose I should reveal myself.“:
The air in front of her shimmered and the slender man materialized in front of her. His ebony hair lay in ringlets over his shoulders and his blue-green eyes sparkled with mischief. A golden crown gleamed in the sunlight and prisms of light refracted from the jewels set into it. As he turned to face her, she caught a glimpse of fragile wings attached between his shoulders, and they glimmered with all the colors of the rainbow.
Stunned, Alanna spoke the first thing that came to mind.
“How could you be on my shoulder, and now be a full sized man, right here in front of me?”
“If I’m a fairy, why shouldn’t I?”
His tone sardonic, he raised an eyebrow, and shrugged his expressive shoulders.
“I know fairies exist. Grammie has told me of her adventures with them. She said she was lucky to escape the fairy hill. She was only a girl at the time.”
“And I am here to tell you, I owe her a boon. And you as well,”
“Aye so you told me when I mended your wing. How is it?” She recognized the much refined face of the fairy Prince she’d met once before in her dreams. Alanna narrowed her eyes as she met his. She should have known it was King Oberon. He’d only been a prince when she met him last.
“Good. Please remind me never to go to a world where dreams and demons work together.”
“Aye, t’was an odd place, it was a dream world to me as well.”
“Our hill is here, under the oak. The tree is as old as the land. A gateway to many times, many worlds. My kingdom is beneath its gnarled roots.”
“I’ll come to visit sometime soon. I am curious to see if everything is still the same as Grammie said.”
“I promise to let you go again, without a loss of time. We are grateful for your help,” Oberon said. The regal we he used suited him. He had aged well.
“I’ll protect myself from you charms in any case. I know you. You won’t be able to stop yourself from trying to keep me there.”
“You are wise beyond your years.”
“No, I’m wise because I heed the warnings of yore. And those of my dear Grammie Gaia.”
Oberon groaned quietly.
“I bow to you. But I will not promise to be as kind to other visitors.” He nodded toward Liam who stood frozen with his mouth agape.
He began to shrink, and then when he was barely tall enough to reach her ankle in its worn leather hiking boot, he turned and strode into the tangle of roots. If she had blinked, she would have missed it. A tiny door hidden between two blackened roots opened and disappeared as it closed behind him.
“What in the universe of worlds, has brought Oberon to my doorstep?”
Alanna spoke aloud wondering if he held the key to her dreams. Perhaps it was the fairies and their intrinsic trickery who were behind the nightly dreams.
Liam wrenched his jaw closed and backed up until he felt a root behind him. Sitting down, he pulled his sketch book out of his day pack and his favorite pencil out of his pocket. He took a moment to draw in a few perspective lines and then his pencil flew across the paper capturing the astounding sight in front of him.
He drew the fairy king full size first, with Alanna a vague figure to fill in later. He caught the ringlet curls of ebony black hanging around the narrow face with brilliantly black eyes. The fairy’s face would live in his memory for the rest of his life. The conversation between Oberon and Alanna referred to something in dream they were both part of. He needed to ask about that as well.
He needed his paints. There was no way to make the shimmer of his wings properly with a pencil, but he drew in the knee breeches with the golden buckles and the white stockings over strong calves. The polished leather shoes, with another set of buckles that matched the ones at his knees and the lovely white linen shirt which seemed to be perfectly tailored to flow around his wings where they emerged from Oberon’s back.
He took careful note of the crown and drew it first in the margin of his paper, then placed it properly on the prince’s head.
And when Oberon began to shrink, he made note of the root with the door and drew it in decisive strokes adding the stones and mushrooms that nearly hid it from his eyes. He wondered how he could find it as it disappeared. Would his crude sketch be enough for him to knock on the door?
“If I hadn’t drawn it, put it on paper, I would never have believed you, Alanna!” Liam exclaimed.
“You drew him? Let me see.” Alanna walked over to sit beside him like nothing unusual had happened.
“You were talking to the fairy king,” Liam was still trying to convince himself his eyes had seen true.
“It’s not the first time. I healed his wing not long ago, at least not for me. Time runs differently for the fairies. He’s much older this time,” Alanna said.
She traced a finger along a jagged line which marred one of the wings Liam had drawn.
“I mended this for him. He’d been injured when he arrived in the dream world, we were both sent to.”
“You’re sound a bit daft,” Liam said as he looked her in the eye.
“I know. I’ll tell you about it if you want to hear the story. Grammie said it was definitely an out of body experience for me. Even though I woke the next morning thinking it was a dream.”
“Was he really Oberon, king of the fairies?”
“He is, and you’ve caught him quite well in your drawing. I had no idea you were an artist.”
“I don’t let this side of me show at school. Papa has given me lessons with one of the local artists who comes back to paint the ruins every summer.”
“Let’s not tell anyone we saw Oberon today. You can say you let your imagination go wild when we were out today. And whatever you do, if you do go through that door.” Alanna pointed at the root where it had disappeared. “Do NOT and I mean it, do NOT eat or drink anything while you are there, or they will keep you trapped forever.”
“So, that’s true? I thought those stories were balderdash.” Liam flipped his sketchbook closed.
“It’s truth. I’m surprised he allowed you to see him.”
“No more astounded than I am. Can we eat now? I think we’ll leave the other grove for another day.”
“I agree. I’m suspicious. I wonder if Oberon has anything to do with my dreams?”
“I doubt it, but then again anything is possible. I found that out for myself today.” Liam tapped his portfolio of sketches with his pencil before he put it back in his pocket.