The Faerie and the Fair
Antikia raised her fist and slammed it onto the moist ground with a howl of pain as once more she fell to the ground. If only she could fly a little higher, she would be able to make it over the ring of giant mushrooms that surrounded her.
The purple Shoyru rose to her feet and took a deep breath. Slowly, she spread out her wings--so far, so good--and then flapped them once or twice. She craned her neck at her right wing, wincing at the slight tear in her outer membrane. It didn’t hurt, not too much at least, but it certainly made flying a lot more difficult. Especially the take off.
Looking forward once again, Antikia held her breath and jumped upward, flapping her wings furiously as she fought to maintain her height, to regain her flight. And she had it--she truly had it!--and she was slowly rising higher. She beat her wings down and shot upwards... only to come tumbling back down again as she lost the delicate balance she had fought so hard to hold on to.
The purple Shoyru rolled onto her back, her wings spread out underneath her, and felt warm tears slide down the corners of her face. She had tried so hard, tried for what had seemed like hours until she no longer had the strength to fly. She was stranded here, without food, without help: she was going to die. She lifted her head and slammed it back against the mossy ground; she felt no pain and screamed out in anguish.
And there it was. Up in the sky, through the treetops she saw, the golden glow of a shooting star.
But no, it was falling too quickly, growing too large, far too bright to be anything but--she jumped up and rolled out of the way just as the Light Faerie struck the ground exactly where she had been a moment before. The little pixie whirled around, her shining aura exploding upwards.
“What are YOU doing here?”
Antikia quickly looked around--surely this Faerie wasn’t talking to her!
“Well?” The Faerie crossed her arms and glared up at the Shoyru.
“Um... I...” Antikia smiled nervously.
The Faerie sighed, as if bored already, and then snorted. “Well, just so you know, I’ve alerted Fyora and she’s on the way. So, yeah, you’d better leave quick if you plan on leaving at all.”
“Oh, but I can’t,” Antikia pleaded, feeling a surge of fear rush through her. “I--I can’t fly away.”
The Light Faerie laughed. “Sure you can’t.”
“You don’t understand!” Antikia was on her feet now, spinning around in frantic circles. “My mother told me not to fly today, ‘The winds are too strong for you, Antikia,’ but no--I had to fly anyways. The winds blew me off course and I couldn’t recover and I broke my wing falling through the trees--don’t you see?” She whirled around and unfurled her wing at the Faerie, who leapt back with balls of light in her palms as she dodged the potential attack.
“Hey, watch it, girl,” she hissed, but let the light fade away and leaned in to better see the tear in Antikia’s wing. She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms again. “And how do I know you’re not just telling me stories? Come on, after all that, and you just happen to land in a Faerie ring?”
A Faerie ring? Antikia looked around at the towering shrooms, her mouth hanging open. It made sense now, a Faerie ring, where only the strongest Faeries cast their strongest spells, infusing the earth with magic unthinkable. But she thought they only existed in Faerie tales; she’d never seen a real one before, she’d only ever heard them to actually exist in... Fyora’s forbidden garden.
“Oh, please, please, please,” she said as she fell to her knees, “please do not punish me. I meant no harm--I didn’t know where I was--it was an accident, I swear--”
Antikia saw the lavender light out of the corner of her eye and spun toward the Faerie Queen, falling on her face as the tears filled her eyes. “Oh, please, I beg of you, let me go free--” And her mouth would not open no matter how hard she tried.
“The punishment for trespassing upon hallowed ground is death,” the queen said, and Antikia felt her body bend as she rose into a sitting position, her face turned toward the Faerie Queen and her eyes unable to look away, to even blink. “Why should I spare one so little as yourself?”
“I didn’t mean to--”
“Didn’t mean to?” The queen threw her head back in raucous laughter. “Who says they meant to sin when they are caught in the act? I should slay you now for your crimes.”
“No, please no!” Beady tears ran down the sides of the purple Shoyru’s face. “Please, Queen Fyora, please do not kill me. My mother told me not to fly today--but I was foolish and flew anyways. The winds blew me off course and I couldn’t recover and I fell through the treetops. Please, Queen Fyora, please. I’m so sorry--”
Antikia recoiled as bright cyan light flashed over her and she knew she had died in the sudden absence of all feeling. She looked down and gasped as she saw through her body, straight to her heart. But it wasn’t her real heart, it wasn’t where she’d felt her heart beating a moment before; it was in the middle of her body, bright azure and swiftly beating as it changed color to fuchsia then darkened to a deep purple like her skin had once been and began blossoming like a flower until it had blossomed into an incredible bloom. Then she fell forward as the light faded away and she struck the mossy ground in the middle of the Faerie ring. With all the energy left inside her, she pushed herself up and stared at the Faerie Queen.
“Your soul is fair and innocent,” the Queen said.
Antikia’s hopes fell away, fresh tears streaming down her cheeks. “You want my soul...?”
“No, Antikia,” she said softly. “I want your servitude.”
The Shoyru gasped and rose higher on her knees, her widening eyes filled with graciousness.
“Every day from sunrise to sunset,” the Queen continued, “you shall toil in the garden and tend to my plants until your lips are parched and your hands are tired.” She waved her slender hand at the little Light Faerie whom Antikia had all but forgotten. “Melinda here shall be your mentor.”
“What?” the Faerie spat. “Fyora, I am not watching this brat until she dies of exhaustion!”
Fyora nodded. “How right you are, Melinda. Indeed, you shall not watch her suffer and die; instead, you must watch her toil and ensure that she does not stray, and when she is too tired to tend to her duties, you shall bring her food and drink and set her down to rest. While the moon is high you shall watch her sleep, and when the sun rises, you shall wake her and teach her the techniques necessary to tend the garden. And when her wing has healed and she may fly unhindered once more, you shall call for me and I shall return.”
“No buts, Melinda.” The Queen looked down at the Faerie and raised her eyebrows. “You need a lesson in humility as much as Antikia needs a lesson in responsibility.” She waved her hand and the stalks of some mushrooms bent outwards to allow Antikia to pass through them with ease. “Now tend to your duties, both of you, and I shall return in due time.”
And before another word could be uttered, the Faerie Queen was consumed in lavender light and rose unhindered into the sky.
* * *
Time passed slowly for Antikia as Melinda grudgingly taught her the names of each of Fyora’s sacred trees and vines and flowers and shrooms and Melinda dolefully carried out lessons in the hallowed arts of Faerie gardening. Antikia’s feet grew blistered and her hands grew callused, and every night Melinda wrapped her wounds and cast a spell of healing over her so that she might work again the very next day.
Time passed further and as Antikia became skilled in the arts Melinda had taught her, her days tending the garden lasted longer and she needed to learn less and less each day. Long hours of lonely silence were soon broken as each inquired of the other, Melinda telling Antikia what life as the forest’s guardian was like while Antikia told Melinda of the wonders of her native Faerieland, which, to her utter surprise, Melinda had never stepped foot in or even seen on a single day of her life.
And as time seemed to stretch into eternity, Antikia found herself kicking off the ground one sunny afternoon to reach the higher leaves of the sacred tree.
“Antikia--” Melinda gasped as her eyes widened. “Antikia, you’re flying--your wing, it’s healed!”
Antikia’s hand flew to her mouth and she landed before the Light Faerie, sudden worry in her eyes. “What does this mean, Melinda?”
The Faerie sighed somberly. “It means I must call her. I must call... Fyora.”
A flash of lavender light illuminated the trees and when it faded, the Faerie towered above them. Both turned to face her and bowed until she gave them allowance to stand.
“You have done well, Antikia,” the Queen said, “as have you, Melinda.” She sighed and turned to the purple Shoyru. “And now, Antikia, I shall bind your lips and grant you your freedom.”
“No, Fyora, you can’t!”
The Faerie Queen frowned as she looked down at the little Light Faerie. “It is the only way, Melinda: Antikia may speak nothing of what she has learned in the gardens the moment she steps out of them. Surely, you understand this.”
Melinda nodded, but still slumped back to the mossy ground, her shimmering aura reduced to a faint glimmer around her. “But I don’t want her to leave....”
The Queen turned to Antikia. “And your thoughts on this matter?”
“I miss my mother,” the Shoyru said quietly and then turned to face her friend, “but I would miss Melinda just as much if I never got to see her again.” And although she tried to hold it back, she found a tear had crawled to the corner of her eye and was now sliding down her face.
The Faerie Queen smiled. “Then it is decided. Antikia, for six months of the year, you shall reside in the gardens and tend them alongside Melinda and all the world shall experience the bliss of your labor in the blossoming spring. And for six months of the year, you shall return to your homeland and the world shall weep in your absence.”
Light filled Antikia’s face and her smile burst with happiness. “Oh, your Majesty, do you truly mean it?”
“Indeed,” said the Queen with a smile. “But if you are to work under my care, I must mark you as my servant. Do you understand, Antikia?”
The purple Shoyru held her breath for a moment, but then finally nodded.
“Then I shall call you Antikia Lighten,” Fyora said, “for your spirit enlightens the hallowed ground upon which the Divine Fate has placed you. Now, my child, return to your mother so that, in due time, you may return to me once again.”
“Oh, yes, your Majesty,” Antikia said, “oh, yes, I shall. Thank you so very much!” Antikia turned to the Light Faerie and embraced her in a heart-to-heart hug. “I will miss you, Melinda, but I promise, I will return.”
The Light Faerie wiped her tears aside and nodded. “Just don’t crash next time, okay?”
Antikia Lighten smiled then and nodded to her friend as she flew into the sky, heading back to her home away from home.