explores the evolution of a newly-crowned monarch . . .
. . . as she blossoms from grief to happiness, from solitude to inclusion. Queen Bellna herself represents the goddess, who returns to her land and its people with an emotional intent to heal where her father had harmed. Rural subjects are eager to lionize the royal by embellishing their already opulent festival. The Fairies’ return is celebrated in conjunction with that of the queen’s appearance, with breads, dances, flowers, and love.
The Fairies’ Crossing
The Queen was waking.
Bellna had slept the months of winter beneath a cold blanket of mourning. Snowflakes flew about the towers and turrets of Tumblerock, and she peered out the windows to the smeared world but failed to see it as hers. She roamed the halls, painting images in her mind of cataclysms, then repainted the memories of catacombs, of childhood and fatherhood and what it had meant to be weary of holding a crown. She roamed the corridors alone, plumes of ice rising from her parted lips of frozen rose. She gave greetings to none, nor whispered comments of the cold. The coldest season of the eldest elder’s memory, the talk of the world, and she could find no cause to speak of it. The cold of winter was incomparable to the grip of sorrow.
No one called her a sibling, a cousin, a relation—save for a great aunt, a dowager in a far off place, who wrote letters tucked into crates of tea and canned consommé. “Be well, dear,” the pen strokes gently commanded, “and, eventually, the sadness will leave you, though it might leave you striped in grief forever.”
Bellna began to have veils drawn from her eyes as the highest pines began shaking coats of white from their limbs. With a divine new curiosity she watched them leave behind their brumal wear and bask in warming sunlight.
She heard a swishing of skirts behind her. Spinning around, she saw Tailea genuflecting, saw more threads of silver spun into the honeyed hair. Bellna squinted, shivering like the pines beyond the glass.
“Tailea,” she pronounced slowly, testing the syllables as a child would when first matching a sound to a name. “Tailea, is winter dead?”
Tailea, older and frailer after watching Queen Bellna’s silent fight, had a cane help her upright, grimaced against a sharpness in her bones. “Yes, Your Majesty. For some time now the crocuses have been out, the snowdrops and dandelions plentiful. I’ve been told this snow is the last. See how fast the sun melts it?”
“I’ve seen very little.” Bellna was honest when she spoke, a rarity upon the populace that her father had not conveyed.
“Your Majesty sees very well. And, as part of the rites of the season, I have come to tell you that—” She stopped: Bellna had returned her lost look to the window. Tailea was afraid Bellna had again vanished into her habitat of despair.
“Go on,” Bellna suddenly said.
Tailea inhaled. Perhaps the shroud had become perforated, if not entirely vanquished. “I have been sent to inform you that the Guild was spotted crossing the River Riben. The ranger returned practically just this moment. It will soon be time to send someone to investigate the lands, the florescence of your ancestral arbors.”
The suggestions brought forth a thousand connected images, and Bellna endured the run of them, from smoky fires on the outer plains to dancing figures in chaplets. The Guild had returned. Wandering misfits with magical properties—and the less sorcerous ability to intimidate. Bellna remembered them in robes of blue and green, heads laced with ribbons, strings of knotted flowers, and colorless eyes flashing across a coating of guile.
And one image returned of a winsome face, unforgettable, teeming with the singularity of miscegenation.
Bellna swerved to Tailea, a name already pressed into the air. “Freya.” Pain and fear of a new variety catapulted her into an alert state. “Where is Freya?”
Tailea imbibed the tranquility of relief. Freya, of course, had the strength to tug Bellna from dolor dungeons. Tailea managed the tiniest of smiles. “She’s downstairs. She was the ranger who gave us word on the return of the—”
Bellna swept past the adviser. In her rush to see Freya, Bellna was soon uncertain of the way. Where do they normally store visitors pending a meeting with the king? Not the king. The queen. Now it was time for a queen. She gripped the newel post of carved stone, frozen again, anxiety ensorcelling her.
“Tailea,” she breathed, “Tailea, in what room did you leave Freya? There are a hundred rooms.”
Tailea again smiled, less tentatively, more humorously. “We use only fifty of them, dear. She’s in the Draygorn Room.”
The fancy silver handle of the Draygorn Room door was carved within an inch of its life, and as her fingers pressed against it Bellna recalled the thirty years she’d touched the handle, first as a small girl, then as a young woman, then as a woman still holding the dreams of youth. And now, as a monarch flying low to the ground, flitting in and out of sunbeams, looking, still for that elusive way to escape the love that chased her.
Inside, she found Freya standing in front of the fire, moving a figurine on the mantel. The fright of being intruded upon caused the figurine to tip, to fall from its place—then to be caught midair by Frey’s fast hand.
“Sorry,” she said contritely, replacing the tiny woman holding an arch of flowers. “It’s just—you—you scared me, actually.” Freya blushed, tinging thin cheeks already prone to pinkness, a strange hue incongruent with the greenness of wild irises, the ashen blandness of hair perpetually short. She still carried the scent of the open world: fresh air, water, rushes, fens and horse. In suede and leather, browns and greens, she resembled the rough nature she’d traversed to reach home.
At once, recalling her place and in front of whom she stood, Freya slipped agilely to one knee, kneading her hat, a glance upon the ground stormy, confused.
“Sorry,” she said again, “Your Majesty.”
Bellna was in no mood to let the joke recede into a vast thing upon which, someday, they would laugh. Instead, she gave in to the instant silliness of it, the gladness of having her friend with her again in a time she was most needed. Bellna swatted the uncombed locks, pulled suggestively at the slightly pointed ears.
“Oh, rise, Freya, don’t be ridiculous.” Bellna’s mouth twitched sympathetically at a new stream of scrapes on Freya’s jaw. Her fingertip lightly grazed it. “Too close to your brethren, were we?”
“Try angry squirrel. He’s far more dangerous than the whole of the Guild Fairies.”
“Tom-tom?” Bellna named Frey’s pet squirrel, although applying ‘pet’ as an adjective was entirely optional.
“Never steal a squirrel’s nuts, even if you’re starving.” Freya returned Bellna’s examination of their outer parts, and counted in silence the months they’d not seen one another, that Freya, bound to the borders far in the south, had been too entwined in for the writing of notes. She gripped Bellna’s hands, forgetting the signet rings and the promises to a kingdom. “Bellna, your father—I didn’t have the time to get here and I—I didn’t know until I’d reached the nearest town and—”
Bellna pressed a forefinger over Freya’s maundering mouth. “I would’ve loved having you here, but you would’ve felt so helpless.”
“I’m not very good at being idle. With the Crossing here—don’t the months soar by!—I’ll be on my way again to the Parklands, studying your arbors as I go.”
Bellna turned about the room, stuffed with curios of Draygorn figurines, handmade by those in the Draygorn Parklands. A royal family tradition, collecting the figurines. If one broke, it had to be thrown in the fire and returned to the air and earth that forged it, or returned, by hand, to the Fairies of Draygorn.
Bellna’s hand flew upon one figurine she’d always hated, the ugliest of goblets in a sea of beautiful carvings. She watched with a private glee as it crashed upon the tiles. Freya came over, examined the pieces, and turned worry upon Bellna.
“I broke it,” Bellna said, “and I will have to throw it in the fire—or return it to Draygorn.”
Freya fumed. Bellna had done this since she was a spoiled princess, manipulating the avenues of the fragile world to suit her imaginary needs. “You’re not going to Draygorn. What would the Queen of Tumblerock do in Draygorn?”
Bellna’s simper lit her dull navy eyes, and a finger, exercising its right to express coyness and cuteness in front of her favorite and most unsuitable of suitors, twirled around the bottom curl of hair endlessly, impossibly black. “The Guild are my people, too.”
“That your father hated, disowned, nearly wanted to annihilate!”
The raising of her voice brought Tailea in from her hallway perch. Freya wrenched away, hands tucked into her hair, breath heavy, uneasy. Bellna failed to mind Freya’s condemnation. It was common for her. She called to Tailea.
“Tell the ministers I wish to travel with my ranger to Draygorn.” The disbelief from Tailea disappointed Bellna, yet riled her determination. “It’s time a member of the reigning monarchy saw what she is responsible for. I’d like to see my ancestor’s trees, and meet, at last, the people partly responsible for the creation of Freya.”
Freya’s palm met her forehead. She held in a scream. Before anyone else moved, Freya grabbed the segments of the goblet and aimed them at the fire. A hand stopped her arm. Bellna looked young when full of solicitation. Against it, then replete with it, Freya collected the goblet in her scrip, capitulating.
Bellna repeated the order to Tailea. The door shut, and Freya tried to find words suitable for her bewilderment and annoyance.
“Your father would disapprove.”
“Like he disapproved of you? Father’s gone. It’s only my people that I have to please now.”
“This is ridiculous.” The argument was not nearly as potent or stinging, but it remained incredibly valid.
“You and I are part of the kingdom,” Bellna said, flicking away one of Freya’s troublesome forelocks. “I want to please you, too.” She allowed herself to do what she’d repressed for years, since she was twelve and Freya thirteen, and her father began mouthing his hatred for fairies and their half-breeds. She roped Freya’s long neck with her arms, and on her toes, eyes closed, she found Freya’s mouth soft and yielding, everything Freya wasn’t.
Freya pulled back. “You make me so angry sometimes, Bellna.”
Bellna’s laugh was a baby hesitantly pushed from grief’s nest. “I love you, too.”
Bellna was to be a guest of her great aunt. The humor of a queen upon a land of cattle and sheep failed to strike anyone but Freya. The royal procession was small, the usual coterie, the usual set of knights, a total of thirteen bodies, one wagon, sixteen horses. The knights had a camp upon the grounds of the dowager’s ranch, and Bellna insisted that she and Freya stay at the house, in rooms separated only by a hallway. Bellna disliked the hallway, and accessed Freya’s room, and as many rooms as she could, using the balconies that wound, a serpent of ironwork, around the entire house.
Bellna roved as often as she could, infected with the freshness of mountain air, the coldness and clearness of water from underground springs, now free from pitying looks of ministers and courtiers.
Freya waited for a lash against Queen Bellna’s plan to mingle among peasants, but none ever came. They adored her for doing what her father hadn’t the courage to do. His mind had been chaos, gloom and regret. Bellna was playfulness, renewal, wisdom and helpfulness.
In Ditana, the nearest town to the dowager’s ranch, the people prepared for the Crossing, eager that their Queen should witness it, value it, take part in it. She would be the first monarch from Tumblerock to do so in two hundred years.
A bell was mounted on the pole used to herald the arrival of the returning Guild Fairies. Wreaths were fashioned of vines and flowers, and children ran with ribbons and strings of posies wrapped on sticks, so that everywhere were the heady scents of flowers, just below that of baking goods, yeasty treats and tiny cakes. Fires sprang up nightly along the main road of Ditana, with singing and dancing and, with a town full of fine cooks, plenty of eating.
Come mornings following nocturnal festivities, Bellna lounged in a nook in Freya’s room. While Freya slept, commonly on the floor or on the balcony, Bellna would sketch delights of the night before. She’d lost her connection to art for years, and now it swooped back as she greeted life again.
Freya kissed Bellna by her ear. It rewarded her soul to see Bellna returning to art, to hobbies, to a sense of self not disrupted by death and coronation. Then Freya stood in the middle of the bedroom, sunlight on her naked shins, a boot in one hand, emptiness in the other. She flexed her fingers, testing them.
“Something wrong?” Bellna asked, finished with the sketch of twirling children.
“A tingle in me,” said Freya, “like a maple ready to give sap.”
“Let me get my pail. It’s your blood, I suppose,” Bellna said, smiling. It was easier to smile now. “Or the wine from last night. It was deliciously perfumed. Was it mead?”
“There were umpteen wines, from elderberry to dandelion to honeycomb. I can’t say which was which, and this tingle is more than last night’s brush with intoxication.” Her eyes laughed, sending a shot of smugness to the reigning monarch.
“Oh, excuse me,” Bellna returned eagerly, feigning snobbery, tit for tat. “I forget that you have intestines lined with chain mail.”
“But a heart of flesh.” Freya’s hands swooped down from the crown of Bellna, to hold her chin, to kiss her warm face. Then she was up again, lithe and quick. “And I believe the tingle is of the fairies’ magic, a part of me, a part of them.”
It was true that they held a universal magic. As the rays of the sun and the silvery light of the stars cast a glow, so did the misty magic of the elves infuse the earth.
A knock upon the door announced Tailea. She gave an awkward glance to the half-fairy, then to Bellna. She stated it simply. “The bell was struck: the Fairies have returned, Your Majesty. The Crossing has begun.”
The Guild Fairies were unsurprised by the presence of Queen Bellna. As they approached the center of Ditana, their leader, a red-headed being, ivy- and daisy-wrapped, brought forth a mesh purse of rare rose hips.
“A present to you, my lady.”
Bellna was thunderstruck by the fairies. They were tall, narrow, built like the trees they protected. But they spoke slowly, as a summer’s wind trails leisurely through valleys. Yet deliberately, carefully, they chose what to say, and in that way they were removed from untamed elements.
“I have nothing for you,” Bellna said sheepishly. A proper queen would have thought of bringing gifts. “But I have this.” She extended a small canvas sack of broken clay pieces. “It was a goblet, one of your pieces purchased by one of my grandmothers. It isn’t a proper gift.”
The fairy queen knew Bellna better than Bellna knew her. “You have come to see your trees, the ones planted long ago when our courts mingled and loved one another. You have come yourself. You have healed yourself. You love all, and you love one of us. These are not small gifts. Though they may seem small now, in time they will grow, and in their expansion will other gifts emerge.”
“Yes,” Bellna said, head bowing to the finer being. “Yes, I’m sure they will.”
“Tonight you will share with us the joy of our return.”
Again, Bellna said yes. Only a queen would note that the fairy was not suggesting, but was fully commanding.
The twenty-six fairies of the Guild continued through the village, patting children on the head, shaking hands with friends as the bell on the pole rocked jubilantly. The fairies vanished into the fog of morning, the shroud of their sheltered land. Bellna had never beheld anything as exquisite as a fairy. They were drawn from celestial radiance, seen best in the unfinished light of dusk and dawn. Bellna felt that she’d seen stars dance.
For an odd moment, Bellna saw her father’s discrimination falling into the blackness of a deep eclipse. Queens did not cry in front of others, but, in private, back in Freya’s chamber as they readied themselves for the last of the evening balefires, she wept on the shoulder of her beloved.
“They’re beautiful, and why would my father want them exiled forever? What madness was in him that I couldn’t see then and cannot see now?”
Freya pressed her close, kissed her hair. “It’s possible his hatred stemmed from his aunt’s closeness to them, to this place. It is the place of his people, these forgotten Parklands. And it is possible that he disliked them as a means of disliking me.” She paused, correcting herself. “Disliking me more than he already did, I mean. I have loved you since I knew the meaning of the word, and he would not have a half-fairy his daughter’s consort anymore than he would have a half-fairy as a queen’s consort.”
“I would want no one but you, my own half-fairy, to be everything to me that you would want to be.” Bellna pressed their hands together, imagining a life where Freya and her people—all her people—were loved beneath monarchial wings. She held the warm regard from Freya’s fierce green eyes. “Would the fairies think we were usurping their revelry if you and I announced our betrothal? Fifteen years belated, perhaps, but I—” She received a fast, hard kiss, a message that the Guild Fairies would not mind.
is a writer from Ohio. Her version of religion is beginning to look like a brainstormer’s spider web: one idea shooting out from another, from another, from—well, you get the idea. She’s usually spinning thoughts in the kitchen or garden if she’s not learning how to deal with the wonders of being an empath in today’s tricky modern society.