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He was just walking across the grass when the first of the faery lights started appearing. It was strangely hard to find your way around the Links, especially if you didn’t know them well. They were somehow bigger than they seemed and yet all contained within this little pocket dimension. And the glow of pixies and peri was only making things worse. Or it wasn’t helping, put it that way.
And then there were the songs of the faeries, some of which could be quite distracting, whether through lulling you to sleep as you walked, or causing you to drift unwittingly in the direction of fairy rings in the woods, or just because you wouldn’t have thought a tiny fairy would be so fond of light opera.
‘Watch where you’re treading!’ said a little voice from below.
He stopped, foot hovering in mid-air.
‘That’s right, mister, move your foot back and gently step away from the toadstool.’
He did as he was requested, very, very carefully. Then he looked down.
He needn’t have bothered. The faery was rising up to meet him, and soon a girl as tall as he was stood in front of him, sparkling and glowing in the twilight as she looked him up and down. ‘They making knights kind of scrawny this year or something?’ she asked. Then frowned. ‘Say, what are you still doing walking the Links? It’s night-time,’ she added, accusingly. And then, in case he was slow of thinking, ‘Knights don’t walk around in the night-time,’ she said, blinking furiously and rocking back and forth till she was almost taller than him.
‘Um, I’m new here, and I got lost.’
‘Oh,’ said the faery. ‘Well, that’s okay, I suppose. What’sa matter, haven’t you ever seen a fairy before?’
‘No,’ he replied honestly. His mouth cut in on autopilot, ‘I never knew they were so beautiful,’ and then realised what he’d said, and blushed crimson in the gathering gloom.
You’d think he’d given her the moon. The faery maiden looked down, and sort of dusted the grass with her foot. ‘You think I’m beautiful?’ she said, in a very small voice indeed.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to—’
‘All the other faeries say I’m big and clunky.’ She snorted genteelly and then puffed a strand of hair away from her eyes. ‘I’m Leilana,’ she said, and stuck out a hand.
He looked at it.
‘What’s the matter,’ she said anxiously, ‘am I doing it wrong?’ She looked at her hand. ‘I thought big people shook hands when they want to make friends. Do you have a name?’ Leilana asked, skipping nimbly on to a new topic.
‘I did. But I got hit on the head, and I can’t remember it. Everyone seems to be calling me “Boy” since I got here. Or “sir knight”.’
‘I don’t like “sir knight”,’ she said, wrinkling her lip. ‘I like Boy,’ she said, and grinned. She looked down and did that kind of foot-dusty thing again, and started twining her hair around her fingers. ‘You’re nice,’ she declared. ‘I like you.’ She looked from side to side and confided in him, ‘Some of these other knuckleheads aren’t nice. And some of the knights are positively rude. You’re not rude. Even if you did nearly tread on me.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t see you. You were so small.’
Leilana blushed and pulled her hair around her face to hide herself.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you—’
She peered out shyly. ‘Upset me?’ She seemed genuinely puzzled. ‘That’s one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever said to me. Will you be my friend?’ she asked ingenuously.
He had a feeling he needed to tread very carefully here, and even more carefully than when Leilana was tiny. ‘Would you like me to be?’
She blushed again. ‘Yes,’ she almost whispered. ‘Very much. And I’ll be your friend too, if you like.’
‘I’d like that,’ the Boy said gently.
Leilana beamed and shrank down into a glowing pirouetting little star that whizzed and whirled around his head. ‘Here, come follow me, I’ll set you on a better path.’ There was a sensation of a tiny hand being offered to lead him by. He reached up with his finger held forward. Where the two connected, there was a spark and he felt like a jolt of static electricity – and then things sort of blurred.
The light bounced around and he followed it as best he could, not really able to tell where he was going. He thought he might have bumped into some trees once or twice, as the little faery figure led him enthusiastically around. He wasn’t sure that they kept strictly to the bounds of dimensional physics, either. And he wasn’t even sure what that meant. Or where he’d got the phrase “dimensional physics” from.
This section of the Links seemed different. Even this section of the lakeshore seemed different. Like he hadn’t been to either before or, possibly, as if there wasn’t a way he could have.
Here and there it was like liquid twilight lingered on the grass and on the flowers. Elsewhere there was kind of like an evening dew – that occasionally sparkled with different colours (he thought he saw rings of mushrooms past some of the trees). And sometimes, just a kind of gentle peacefulness of evening rested over the whole area, like a sense of taking a rest after a long summer’s day.
‘See you later, friend Boy,’ Leilana called as she flew past his head, drifting back towards the trees. ‘Maybe later, you could come to the dances with me? You can lead if you like.’
‘Dance?’ he asked. ‘Wait, what – ?’ But she was gone, zipping off excitedly till she disappeared with a blink. It only occurred to him then, as life caught up with reality – or was that the other way around – that Leilana was a nice girl. He wondered why the other faeries picked on her.
Maybe he could help her, suggested a little voice at the back of his mind.
Be careful of that, another one tried, gently, to warn him: there were reasons for all the stories about mortals foolish enough to tangle with faeries.
Another part of him had an even better reason: He didn’t want Leilana to get hurt. By her lights, the little (some of the time) faery maiden trusted him, with the faith of an honest heart. Usually it was him who was at risk getting his heart broken. He would have to tread as carefully and gently as he had it in him to. He didn’t know how else to put it. Things here were beginning to get complicated and dangerous – which was okay – but also … there was something on the edge of his awareness, that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but it made his heart ache.
He stopped over-thinking things for a moment, and looked around.
He was standing by the water, in a sort of valley cleft. Stars shone overhead. Almost different patches of time lingered at the edges, or floated over it like mist. Someone had mentioned something about some sign in the clouds, but he couldn’t see anything here.
There was a crackling sound, and something made him duck down. He had a feeling there wasn’t supposed to be anyone else out here that would make sounds like that. He peered out through the bushes, but he couldn’t see anything. Then someone tapped him on the shoulder from the lake side. It was a bit awkward to turn, hunkered down like that, but he managed.
There was a face in the water. The same face from before, smiling, and a bit hard to make out through the rippling and the waves beneath the surface.
There was at least one arm and a shoulder that went with the face. Both arm and face were sort of beckoning to him, as if to say, Come on, what are you waiting for?
There were sounds in the woods behind him, drawing nearer. And suddenly things felt very dangerous, like there was some dark intent behind all this. He could be wrong. He’d been wrong before – it was complicated – but—
—an arm shot out past the surface and pulled him, gently, but firmly, into the water. He didn’t even make a splash. Not a ripple. Not a sound.
There were movements in other bushes nearby, as of someone searching.
They never did get near that bush, though. The roses and wild flowers let out a sweet smiling fragrance on the air, and the stars twinkled on. And a single rose petal fell to the surface of the lake and floated there.
It could keep a secret.
 And those were just the ones where survivors managed to come back to tell the tale – usually after about a hundred years or so, so worn with age or danced to death that they immediately collapsed or died, murmuring something about not going into fairy rings, or not to touch the food (especially the chilli dip, that stuff was lethal).
[You Are Here (Danger: Pixie Crossing) –> Part 5, Fairway to Avalon.]
[Previous –> Part 4, The Friend of the Fae.]
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