A Walk in the Woods

[Well, for most of the eastern US, the weather outside is frightful. To pass the time as you bundle up and try to stay warm, here’s a 650-word “prequel” to Children of Pride, due to become available (hopefully) in about a month.]

“By oak, ash, and thorn!” Danny exclaimed. “It ain’t been this cold in twenty years.” He pulled his cloak tight as he crunched through the icy snow. His traveling partner, with his shorter legs, hurried to keep up. They walked in silence, saving their breath, through a wilderness of barren trees and snowdrifts: a stark vista in black and white spreading for miles beneath a steel-gray sky.

At the crest of a hill, Danny said, “You don’t reckon the Winter Court is up to something, do you?”

“Nah,” the second traveler shrugged. “Sometimes a cold snap is just a cold snap. If I was you, I’d be more worried about your own boss.”

Danny shivered, not entirely because of the cold. “You just had to go and say it, didn’t you, Bug?”

“Didn’t you tell me she gave you the winter off?” Bug said as if that proved his point. “So why, all of a sudden, are you on your way back to Bisgarra Verry?” Bug pulled a pointed ear back underneath his red knit cap.

“Hey, you may not know it, but I’ve gotten to be a pretty important guy at the Summer Court. Mrs. Redmane probably wants my opinion about—stop laughing!”

“I can’t help it, Danny. You crack me up sometimes! Look, you’re a nice enough guy. Best switcher I ever worked with. But you can drop the act. You’re scared of Mrs. Redmane, same as everybody. And you ain’t being called in ‘cause the Chief Matron of the Summer Court wants to have tea of a mangy pooka!”

“Yeah,” Danny said. “You’re right. But would it hurt you to be a little more diplomatic about it?”

“I’m a goblin,” Bug said. “I don’t do diplomatic.”

Danny rubbed his gloved hands together against the cold. “Winter’s got to be up to something, Bug. It ain’t been this cold in thirty years—at least.” The path opened on a patch of farmland.

“Maybe,” Bug agreed. “But that ain’t your problem.”

“Yet.”

“Yet. If Winter’s got a plan hatching, you can guarantee somebody’s keeping an eye on them. It’s the Summer Court that’s cut your vacation short. Go see what Mrs. Redmane wants.”

Danny sighed. “Probably just wants to give me a heads-up about my next assignment.” He smiled in spite of himself.

“This is your last one, ain’t it?”

Danny nodded. “Contract’s just about up. I reckon another couple months and I’m a free agent again. I swear, I can just about taste it, Bug.”

“That’s great, Danny. I’m happy for you. If you ever need somebody with my skills, I’d be happy to work with you again.”

“Thanks. That means a lot, coming from you.”

“The ring’s got to be around here somewhere,” Bug said.

Danny pulled off a glove. “Just keep watch for me.” He tilted his head toward the farmhouse in the distance. “We don’t need no Topsiders getting all curious.”

Bug nodded, and Danny summoned a ball of flame into his hand. He held it close to the ground around where he thought he remembered the ring being. Thankfully, the snow had heaped up into a bank ten or twenty feet away. The wind patterns had left the spot they were looking for almost clear, and Danny found what he was looking for soon enough.

It was a ring of mushrooms just wide enough across for two people to stand in. Danny smiled.

“One good thing,” he said. “They keep it pretty warm in Bisgarra Verry.”

“Then here’s to a toasty new year, Danny. Shall I?”

Danny nodded. Bug gestured toward the mushroom ring. Slowly, a swirl of sparkling light emerged. It grew until it became a column of white punctuated with gold and silver flashes.

“Thanks for walking with me,” Danny said.

“I appreciated the company. Now, go get ‘em!”

Danny winked, stepped into the vortex, and vanished.

Interview: Kindreds

Into the Wonder: Your friend, Danny, thought I would like to interview you, Bryn. I hope that’s all right.

Bryn: Any friend of Danny’s is a friend of mine.

ITW: He speaks very highly of you.

B: Pooka and huldra, field and forest. We make a pretty good team.

ITW: And yet you seem so different. And not just your personalities. The more I learn about Your Kind, the more I’m amazed at how different you all look.

B: Part of that is magic. We can pretty much look however we want. And then, a lot of us are really into body modification.

ITW: You mean like piercings and tattoos?

B: Piercings, tattoos, hooves, antlers… The sky’s the limit, really. And, of course, the different kindreds all have their own particular look, if you know what I mean.

ITW: Kindreds? You mean different types of fae?

B: Presactly. Our Kind live all over the world, and we’re just as diverse as you people. Topsiders, I mean. And most of us value our heritage. Oh, not that I would think any less of Danny, for instance, just because he’s a pooka. But we all have our own ways, our own magics. It’s something to take pride in, you know?

ITW: And somehow, you all manage to get along?

B: Well, I’d say most of us at least try to stay out of each others’ way. There are some of Our Kind who are best left alone. Know what I mean? There’s no need to go asking for trouble.

ITW: So, some fae are more…agreeable…than others?

B: Isn’t it like that among you people?

ITW: Touché.

B: I think I like you, sweetie. You’re real easy to talk to.

ITW: Erm…thanks.

B: Is something the matter?

ITW: No, it’s just…well…

B: It’s the tail, isn’t it?

ITW: I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to stare.

B: Aw, you’re blushing! How cute! But it’s okay. Really. It’s just part of who I am. Nothing to be embarrassed about.

ITW: You’re very kind. I think that’s enough for now, though. This has been very enlightening. Shall I see you to the door?

B: Such a gentleman!

ITW: I’m a married man, Bryn. I’d appreciate if you’d stop batting your eyes at me.

B: Sorry. Force of habit.

ITW: Now you’re blushing.

Interview: “Faery”

Into the Wonder: Your name is Danny…?

Danny: If it’s all the same to you, Professor, sir, I’ll just stick with Danny.

ITW: Your Kind seem to be a bit touchy about names.

D: Yeah, well. You try living amongst folk who can…do things…if they know your name.

ITW: Fair enough.

D: Oh, your everyday name is usually pretty safe. Not much magic in it, at least compared to your true name. But if you’re really gonna share this little talk with the whole Topside world…

ITW: Yes, I see your point. And is that why Your Kind object to the word “faery”?

D: That’s part of it, I suppose. It’s not really a bad word, so to speak. Just a little forward, you know? Say your boss is named Charles. You don’t just go around calling him Charlie—not to his face, anyway!

ITW: And Your Kind consider yourselves our bosses?

D: I ain’t never said that! Oh, the Gentry’ll take that attitude, I admit. But most of us don’t. We got more sense than that. But anyway. Yeah, “faery” just don’t sound right. We’ll use the word to describe our animals, our magic, stuff like that. But ourselves? Forget it!

ITW: You prefer “fae.”

D: Most of us, anyways. A fella down in South Carolina explained it to me once. You see, fae comes from an old French word, faé. “Enchanted.” I don’t exactly know how you spell it, though.

ITW: Don’t worry, I’ll spell-check it later.

D: Thanks. So, if you look at it scientifically, faery relates to fae the same as witchery relates to witch or knavery relates to knave.

ITW: So it’s not a person. It’s a concept? A characteristic?

D: You got it. It’s the whole shebang. It ain’t just Our Kind; it’s the realm we share with all kinds of magical creatures.

ITW: But it’s also those creatures themselves, right?

D: Right. Call one of Our Kind a faery, you’re lumping him in with everything in the Wonder: the plants, the animals, the whole deal, you see? How’d you like it if I called you by the same name I called your dog?

ITW: That’s very helpful. So it’s fine to talk about faery dogs or faery horses…

D: Some of my best friends are faery dogs and horses.

ITW: Just not…uh…faery faeries.

D: Bingo.

ITW: Thank you, Danny, for taking the time to visit. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

D: Just that Our Kind are just like Topsiders. We can be some of the friendliest, most helpful folk you’d ever want to meet. But we can also be cruel, selfish, petty, and destructive. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

ITW: That’s a lesson all of us could learn.