Faerie - Prologue
This is my magnum opus. It will possibly be finished in about forty or fifty years, by which time the printed word (on actual paper) will be obsolete and no one will be able to/want to touch, smell and listen to my words. What I've inadvertently done with this project is I've started writing an epic piece of fantasy without actually really knowing how it's done. Reading and understanding Lord of the Rings does not qualify one to write a similarly hefty and perfectly planned tome. And yet, I have taken it upon myself to invent an entire world containing many tens of tribes and races of immortal beings that require their own languages and histories to be written. I would not go so far as to say that this project is beyond my capabilities, but it does require more dedicated time than I can spare.
But here are two chapters from it. They're quite different from each other, but the first is set sixty years before the second, so they would be different.
Anyway, here they are (one here, and the other here):
Faerie - Chapter One
‘And how are you Hesther?’ Mrs Morris peered down her nose at the sullen-looking young girl, who was standing beside her younger sister Grace, and her small brother Edward. The fact that Mrs Morris managed to look down on anyone was an extraordinary feat because even at fifteen years of age Hesther was already much taller than the prickly old woman. Mrs Grey, Hesther's mother, gave her daughter a nudge. Hesther brushed her long and wavy blonde hair away from her face and put on her fake smile, though her eyebrows kept their frown, giving her a frighteningly psychotic look, as she said through clenched teeth,
‘Fine, thank you, Mrs Morris.’
The old lady ignored the girl’s insolent tone, and carried on.
‘Are you still traipsing off to the forest every day, girl?’ And without waiting for her answer, ‘it’s quite indecent you know, a young girl in the forest alone. Do you really go there by yourself?’ She narrowed her eyes as she peered nosily into Hesther’s. Hesther didn’t answer, but stared back defiantly. She would not tell this interfering old gossip anything.
Mrs Grey laughed nervously, ‘Oh, she hardly ever goes to the forest anymore, do you dear? Far too busy helping me around the …’
‘Because,’ Mrs Morris continued to eye Hesther, ‘I do not approve of young ladies being out alone in such a place. You’re liable to be snatched by gypsies, or worse.’ And on that last word she pushed her stare so hard at Hesther that her eyeballs looked as though they might pop out of her head. Hesther recoiled slightly.
‘Well, you know, Mrs Morris, I really don’t think there are any gypsies around Stone, and as I …’ Meek Mrs Grey never managed to finish her sentences when talking to Mrs Morris and others like her in the village.
‘You know Janet, you shouldn’t be letting this girl go gallivanting. You need to keep a tighter rein on her. It’s no good saying there are no gypsies,’ Mrs Morris was now in her element, doling out advice to those in need of her friendly guidance. ‘You’re far too lenient with your children Janet, far too lenient, and mark my words, no good will come of it. She’s likely meeting a young man over there, and what’s to become of her if that’s the case, I’d like to know?’ Mrs Morris arched her eyebrows to an alarming degree, and looked disapprovingly down that beak-like nose at Hesther once more. Mrs Grey stared at the ground. Like a chastised child, her cheeks were red and her breathing short, but Hesther could see that she had no fight in her.
Mrs Morris adjusted her grip on the hefty carpetbag that she carried everywhere. ‘Well my dears, I must be going,’ and she smiled sweetly at the three of them, as she turned to leave, blissfully unaware of having caused any offense. She had done her duty. Hesther looked incredulously at her mother, willing her to call back Mrs Morris, and to at least stand up for herself, if not for her daughter. But Mrs Grey only turned in the direction of their house.
‘Mum! You’ve got to say something.’
‘Come on love, let’s just go home.’ Mrs Grey ran a shaky hand across her tired forehead, then began to walk at a brisk pace. Hesther followed, ushering her siblings before her.
‘Mum, please, stop. You can’t let her talk to you like that.’
‘Morning, Mr Watson,’ Mrs Grey waved to their neighbour as he passed by on the other side of the road. ‘Hesther,’ she whispered, ‘please just let’s get home.’
Hesther stopped. ‘No, I’m not going home Mum.’
Mrs Grey turned and walked back to her children, and took hold of Edward and Grace’s hands, both of whom looked wide-eyed from their sister to their mother. Mrs Grey let go of both hands momentarily as she pretended to adjust her white church gloves, trying to collect her thoughts, before giving Hesther her full attention. She spoke quietly, but with forced composure so that her voice shook a little.
‘If you are not coming home, just where are you going?’
Hesther shifted her weight from one foot to the other, reluctant to openly go against what she knew were her mother’s wishes: she had never defied her parents before.
‘I’m going to Faerie,’ and she stuck out her chin. She would show her mother how to stand up to someone.
Mrs Grey struck her daughter, hard, across her left cheek. Hesther reeled, mostly from the shock, but also from the pain. Her hand shot up to her face, which was already hot from the impact of her mother’s hand. Mrs Grey closed her eyes, shook her head, and sighed.
‘Hesther, no more of this, I mean it.’ She looked at her daughter. ‘We will go home, and you will help me to prepare lunch for the lodgers.’
Hesther was afraid of the consequences, but she was now so angry with her mother that she could not help but speak. ‘No, not today!’
‘Hesther,’ Mrs Grey hissed, not daring to raise her voice, ‘how dare you stand in the street and disobey me?’
Hesther stared at her mother in disbelief. Mrs Grey was trying to behave as if nothing unusual had just transpired between them. ‘You will come home immediately,’ and she held out her hand, expecting Hesther to give in and take it.
‘Mum, I’m not a child anymore, and I can make my own decisions.’
‘Well then Hesther, you can stop acting like a child, come home, and learn to run a house, as a young woman should.’ Mrs Grey’s voice was still measured.
Hesther started to back away. ‘I’m not making this stuff up Mum. It’s all real. I’ve never told lies.’
‘Alright, that is absolutely enough,’ Mrs Grey took several strides towards her, now looking extremely angry. ‘Stop this. And I mean stop it, completely. It’s time to grow up Hesther. You cannot play at fairies anymore.’
‘I am going to Faerie. I will be back before dinner.’
‘Hesther. Stop. You are embarrassing me.’ Mrs Grey’s voice was hushed again, since she knew that all of the curtains were twitching now.
‘I don’t care what people think of me.’ Hesther believed she was telling the truth about this, but since she had realised that her trips to the forest had become food for local gossip she had been taking them more frequently, and staying away for longer, keen to avoid hearing the whispering behind her back. She was certainly the centre of attention now.
‘Please Hesther,’ Mrs Grey’s voice softened, ‘I’m sorry I slapped you, I was angry, I lost my temper and I shouldn’t have.’ Hesther’s anger did not abate, her mother couldn’t even hold her ground against her teenage daughter, let alone the tough old village busy-bodies.
‘I’ll be back before dinner, I’m sorry Mum,’ Hesther called out as she turned, and ran down the main street of Stone.
She carried on running until she reached the edge of the village, and when she knew that she was out of sight of her mother she slowed down. As she dumped all feelings of guilt by the side of the road, she felt much lighter, and smiled to herself, thankful to be free at last. It had been an unbearable week, with Mrs Grey heaping chore after chore on her to keep her hands and head occupied every minute of the day. It was the summer holidays, but she would not be returning to school, and Mrs Grey was trying to arrange a job for her in the nearby town of Wheeler. Hesther had wanted to stay in Stone and help run the family’s guest house, which was also their home, but Mrs Grey would not hear of it - Hesther would never find a husband if she stayed at home all day, where the only men she ever met were the crusty old academics who lodged with the family in term time.
As she walked through the village she tried to take in all the familiar sights and sounds. Her life was going to change soon, and only now did she realise how precious every moment of her free time was. She stopped as she came on to the High Road, and looked back at the neat little rows of cottages, so pretty with their well-tended gardens. Then she looked ahead of her, up the road that led to the cliff. She could smell the scent of the sea blowing in on the breeze, and as she reached the cliff top she looked down to see the boats bobbing about in the bay at high tide.
She always loved to walk right to the edge of the cliff and to gaze out over the bay for a while. The views were so beautiful, and a person could while away many an hour watching the families who lived in the houses close to the beach, and the fishermen coming back from the open sea. She had always wished her family could have lived by the beach, where the air just sizzled with adventure and possibilities, where she could have seen the sea every morning from her bedroom window. Stone was a lovely place, but tucked away in its tiny valley, even with the sea so close, she had always felt a little stifled, trapped.
She wandered along the cliff top, walking parallel with Aunt Beatrice’s grounds, and after a few minutes came to a path that led away from the cliff and into the forest, and led to Aunt Beatrice’s house much deeper in. She turned onto this path. The trees were thick to either side, though the way itself was well trodden; but Hesther soon turned off the path. After pausing briefly to check that she was in the right place, she plunged into the thick foliage. She was so eager to reach the clearing today that she barely noticed the thorns and branches scratching her legs. She usually took more care when negotiating this part of the wood, but today she felt as though she needed to rush. She had perhaps only a few more visits before the end of the summer, and then she didn’t know how often she would be able to come here. Her mother had said that she must never go to Faerie again, but Hesther was determined that she would always visit.
She had only been pushing her way through the trees for a few minutes when she reached the clearing. It was a perfect circle of bright green grass that looked as if it had been cut into the forest, and it was flooded with light, as even the leaves near the tops of the trees did not break into the space.
She stepped into the clearing, and walked towards the centre, her whole body instantly tingling with goosebumps. There she saw the small ring of toadstools, never changing, as she had seen it many times before.
An image of her mother appeared in her head, and she felt her conscience prick. Poor Mrs Grey, who couldn’t even stand up to her own daughter properly. But Hesther gave herself a shake, and forced herself to concentrate on the beauty and serenity of her surroundings. She must perform the ritual properly to open the portal, and any unnecessary distractions would shatter the spell.
She pushed all thoughts of her mother from her mind, and relaxed allowing the atmosphere to soak into her body. She felt the warmth of the sun, smelled the earthy smells of the forest with just a hint of the ocean. She heard the gentle rustle of the leaves though she could barely feel the breeze, so peaceful was this part of the forest. She smiled as she untied the rabbit fur pouch from her belt, and opened it. The pouch was lined with red linen, and contained various small implements and herbs for performing magical enchantments. She took out a sprig of elderflower, and pulled a few of the tiny blooms from it, remembering clearly the time when Nym had taught her to summon the portal.
‘I mean no harm, I come as a friend,’ she whispered, as she scattered the elderflowers into the toadstool circle, watching them float down to the grass to land upon the brown and dried remains of flowers that Hesther had used before. She closed her eyes.
The rustling of the leaves grew stronger as the breeze began to gather speed and started to swirl around the clearing. Hesther’s dress whipped around her legs and her hair became even more tangled as it was blown around her head by the spiralling wind. She looked towards the sky, which was now becoming hidden from view by the flurrying leaves, and though it was still early in the morning the light began to fade, and with it the warmth. She shivered slightly, but thrilled to the sensations of nature at work. She closed her eyes again, then cupped her hands together directly over the toadstools, and immediately she felt the warmth as a tiny crystal of light appeared in them.
The wind continued to gather speed, and Hesther placed her feet a little further apart in order to keep her balance, and prevent herself from being blown over. Despite the noise of the gale, she could just distinguish the faint sound of flowing water coming from the light, as she slowly began to open her hands. The light held its position in midair as she moved her hands away, and it began to increase in size as she opened her arms wide. She watched with tears in her eyes, allowing her concentration to break slightly, as she wondered how few chances she would have left to perform this magic. The ball of light, now about the width of a dinner plate, bobbed slightly, and flickered in response to Hesther’s momentary lapse of attention. But it steadied, and continued to expand as she focused her mind on the task once more.
She was now able to see inside the light; the portal was open, and in a few more moments it would be big enough for her to step through. She looked into the portal, where she could now make out the hazy shapes of trees, in the realm of the Fae where her friends would be waiting for her. This first sight of the magical lands always took her breath and made her heart skip. She took a deep breath, and walked into the light.
With just a few steps Hesther moved from the cool, dark forest of Stone , and emerged from the portal into the warm, green brightness of the Oak Groves. She stayed completely still for a few moments, as she always did, taking in the sights and sounds.
The trees in the Groves were gigantic, seeming to reach almost to the sky, and with great wide trunks, big enough for several people to live inside comfortably. The canopy of huge oak leaves caused the light under them to be green, but the floor of this forest was covered with a vibrant carpet of flowers and herbs. A small river snaked its way through the trees, bubbling and gurgling with water flowing fast over pebbles and rocks, the sound so clear and pure. Everything was pure here, and wholly unspoilt. But more than just pretty trees and flowers, the Groves shone with a beauty that came from within every living thing. It came from the raw magical energy that held the whole world of Faerie together.
Faerie could not exist without magic; it had been made with magic, and magic kept it alive now. Hesther had always believed in it, and had been able to enter this place since she was a small girl. She was now fifteen, and too old for silly games, Mrs Grey had said.
Hesther’s thoughts were broken by the pounding of hooves coming from the other side of the river, and then she then heard the gleeful burst of laughter that was so familiar.
‘Whoah, slow down, I see the beautiful Hesther,’ cried the silvery voice of Nym. The faerie laughed again as her bright white horse cantered up to the river and stopped sharply, causing her to lurch forward on its bare back.
‘Hesther, want to ride with us?’ she asked a little breathlessly, as she vaulted, landing lightly on the ground. She paused for dramatic effect, knowing how beautiful Hesther found her; Nym was not a little vain. She was tall and slender, with long scarlet hair that her slightly pointed ears could just be seen poking through. She was dressed simply, in exquisite faerie-woven garments, a pair of leggings and a tightly fitted moss-coloured tunic, and she was adorned with several of the tools of her trade, and other treasures. Nym was a hunter, and so she carried a bow and a knife, both ornately carved, but no less deadly for that.
Hesther grinned. She concentrated and then spoke a few words under her breath, and slowly two slender, pale blue gossamer wings materialized on her back. They looked barely strong enough to carry a dragonfly, but as Hesther pushed off into the air with her legs, she was able to use her wings to carry herself across the river easily. She landed gently on the opposite bank, as Nym sprang at her and bestowed an affectionate and crushing embrace.
'I cannot understand why you insist on wings, Hesther. They're really not necessary.'
'Yes, I know, so you've said. But faeries should have wings, and I can have them if I want them.'
'You're not a faerie, dearest little one,' Hesther teased, laughing. 'But do you want to ride today, or not?'
‘I’d love to ride, but perhaps just to town today? Mother is not happy with me, and although I’d love to stay the whole day, I don’t want her to worry.’ Hesther did not know why she now felt sorry for her mother, but she did now think that perhaps she should not have run away as she had.
‘No, a good long ride, or nothing at all. We’ll race to the plains and see if we can ride all the way to the mountains before moonrise. You can ride Silvermane and I’ll call Firethorn.’ Without waiting for an answer, Nym gave a long, loud whistle through her finger and thumb, then she winked at Hesther.
Hesther sighed and shook her head, ‘I’m not riding all the way to the mountains Nym, I’m not.’ She tried to look stern, but instead she grinned again at her best friend, and pulled herself up on to Silvermane’s back, using a handful of white mane to help.
‘Okay, just to the plains,’ Nym chuckled.
‘I mean it Nym …’ Hesther had to make this clear now, as she knew how capable this two-thousand-year-old faerie was of coaxing her into anything. Hesther often felt as though it was she who was the older of the two.
‘Yes Hesther, I understand,’ Nym said in a deep and mock-serious voice, but the twinkle remained in her eye.
Hesther was about to protest further when Firethorn appeared. The reddish brown horse, a little taller than Silvermane, cantered towards them, and whinnied excitedly. Nym leapt onto the broad back of this majestic looking animal, then leaning forward she whispered words into the horse’s ear. Firethorn bolted, and within moments horse and rider were out of sight. Hesther shook her head and frowned, and started to talk to herself as she dug her heels into Silvermane’s flanks gently, encouraging him to set off at a trot.
‘Really, I mean what’s the point in racing Nym on Firethorn? Honestly, she always does this. I don’t know why I bother.’
She sighed and dug her heels again, and Silvermane lurched forward, but she had been ready for that, and maintained her firm hold. She was now a fairly experienced bareback rider, and smiling to herself she wondered what her mother would say if she knew.
She did not need to direct the horse at all, as Silvermane knew where to go, as they began to weave through the trees, all the time Hesther trying to catch sight of Nym. The horses were so surprisingly light on their hooves that barely a blade of grass was damaged by their passing, so there was no visible trail that Hesther could detect, although she suspected that Silvermane could sense or smell their companions.
After a few minutes she was just beginning to wonder whether there was any point in continuing in Nym’s wake, when she was startled by a tap on her shoulder.
‘You really are terribly slow, what’s taking you so long?’ Nym grinned, delighted to have taken Hesther completely unawares, she patted Firethorn’s neck and the horse pulled up.
‘Tt, Nym, I could’ve fallen off.’
‘Oh honestly, you wouldn’t have been hurt! Come on, a proper race this time – I’ll give you a head start.’ Nym held out a hand, gesturing to her to go ahead. Hesther took her chance, dug her heels in, and Silvermane leapt forwards, breaking into a gallop instantly. After a few seconds she looked back and could see Nym still smiling. She faced forward again, leaned in to Silvermane’s neck, and prepared to race. She had never beaten Nym before, and was determined to do it this time, even if it wasn’t a proper start.
‘Hesther, I’m right behind you,’ Nym’s silvery voice came floating from close behind. She dug her heels in once more, though only served to produce a snort of indignation from Silvermane this time.
‘Sorry Silvermane, I’ll leave it to you, you know what you’re doing,’ Hesther apologized rather nervously. It wouldn’t do to annoy such a creature, which, after all, was itself possessed of powers that she could only dream of. But the apology seemed to be understood, and Silvermane was spurred on, no doubt by his own desire to finish ahead of Firethorn for a change.
There was no further sign of Nym, and after travelling for what Hesther might guess to be a mile or so, she could see bright light through the trees ahead.
‘Come on, Silvermane, we’re going to make it to the plains first, and then they’ll never catch us.’ They drove on, just a few more yards, and then burst out into bright blue-white daylight. In the forest behind she heard Nym scream her name, and puzzled she looked back. Why would Nym scream like that? She pulled gently on the horse’s mane encouraging him to slow just a little. But suddenly Silvermane reared, and turned back to the forest. Hesther looked back over the plains, something was wrong but she couldn’t tell what.
Hesther, come back, you’re in danger.
Nym’s voice rang out inside her head, and she put her hands to her ears, suddenly gripped by blinding pain.
Nym, get out of my head. She tried to see Nym through the trees, but her vision had become distorted, as though she were looking through thick curved glass.
Hesther, it’s not me hurting you …
Nym’s voice was drowned out then by the sound of her own heart pounding, and of the blood rushing to her head. She desperately looked around to see if there was someone with her on the plains, but as the pain grew so intense she became limp and fell heavily to the ground. Suddenly the pain was gone, and Nym was standing in front of her, facing the plains, arms outstretched. She heard Nym bellowing words from the ancient elvish language, an incantation that she had never heard before. And then she saw it, the thing that had tried to harm her, hovering high in the air, though perhaps as far away as the Malevolent Mountains. She could just make out the unmistakeable silhouette of a dragon. But before she could take in the meaning of what she was seeing she lost consciousness.
Here I have shared only half of my first chapter with you. The first chapter is really a sort of prologue I suppose. What happens in the rest of the book is to do with the mystery of what happened to Hesther.
If you would like to, you are welcome to read some of the second chapter of my book, here.