User:Michael Bard/A Faerie Tale

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A Faerie Tale

Author: Michael Bard

It was late spring when I was hiking through the fragrant, flower-filled wilderness to my grandmother's cottage. It had been years since I had last visited it. I was finally returning as it was now mine - grandmother had died over the winter. I thought that the cottage would be the perfect retreat to edit my Physics Thesis.

These thoughts filled my mind as I hiked to the cottage. With me were only some supplies, an emergency radio, and my notes for my thesis. And, of course, Oberon. That's my cat. I named him that under the urging of my grandmother. She had told me that Oberon was the name of the hidden king of the faeries. As I strolled along Oberon danced among the flowers and chased butterflies across my path.

I arrived at the cabin after an hour's walk through the primeval wood. In the centre of a shaded glade surrounded by huge maples, roofed by their outstretched limbs, it was exactly as I had remembered it. The clearing was filled with countless wild flowers pained in dazzling shades of colour. Superimposed upon this were the melodious songs of birds, as though they were a vast choir singing in a wondrous cathedral dedicated to the joy of life.

The cottage was without a lock (another thing I had brought with me) as my grandmother had never installed one. I pulled open the door and, in the beam of light issuing through the opening, saw her dusty legacy. I sighed and walked in. Oberon just stood and the entrance and watched. Putting my pack on the table, I looked for something to begin the task of cleaning.

In the far left corner of the room was a small cupboard in which my grandmother had always kept the broom. I walked over and opened the door. Tacked to the inside of the door there was a roughly penned note on yellowed paper:

My Beloved Granddaughter:

This is the last that you shall hear from me. I know I am dying as King Oberon came and said his last farewells this afternoon. Soon I shall pass and my home will be yours. The forest will also be yours. Both have been in the family for centuries, so take as good care of them as have I.

Your Loving Grandmother

P.S. Don't forget to leave some clean water outside the door for the faeries. It is only with their blessing that our family has remained on this land undisturbed by the rest of the world.

I finished the note. I stood lost in thought, remembering the times that I had spent with my grandmother. She had always loved and cared for me with all her heart. I remembered the tales that she had told me of the people of Faerie who lived in the forest around the cottage. In my youth I had believed these tales but I had thought I had grown wiser. I was awakend from my reverie by Oberon nipping at my ankle. Carefully I removed the note and placed it inside one of the notebooks I had brought.

The rest of that afternoon I spent cleaning winter's debris from the cottage. When I had finished I set-up the gas stove that I had brought, cooked supper, and fed Oberon. I moved my pack over to the bed to make room on the table. Afterwards I gathered some of the wood that was still piled outside and lit a fire in the fireplace. I pulled an old wickerwork chair in front of the fire and sat down to read some of my notes before going to bed. Oberon lept up onto my lap and, after kneading it, curled up and fell asleep. As I read I remembered my grandmother's quaint warning to leave water for the faeries (I ignored the warning as a silly superstition.) Then I too dozed off, embraced in the sweet bosom of sleep.

I was awakened early the next morning by the sweet song of the birds outside. My legs were numb as Oberon was still asleep on my lap. Presently he too awoke and stretched, digging his claws into my legs and arching his back before he neatly jumped off onto the floor. He looked back at me, expectantly, demanding his breakfast. I smiled, got up and went over to my pack to prepare his meal. Oberon just walked over to his dish and sat there, awaiting my arrival. When I returned with his food, I reached across him and dropped some into his dish. He sniffed it, and once it met his approval, rubbed his head against my leg and then began to eat.

I watched him for a brief time and then went over and opened the window to let in some air. Returning to the bed, I got out a change of clothes, some food, and some coffee from my pack. Once I had dressed, I heated the food and coffee. I sat down to eat, watched by Oberton who had finished his meal.

When I had finished, I cleared the table and brought over my notes to begin their organization into the final thesis. I began to work but had to halt to throw Oberon off the table as he had settled himself on the book that I was using. After a few tosses Oberon finally gave up. Then he started running madly around the room, chasing some fly which must have gotten inside when I opened the window. I settled down to my labours.

About noon, my head full of the language of physics, I stretched, got up, and made myself some lunch. I had already fed Oberon. While I ate I remembered a quiet pool in a small clearing about half an hour's walk from the cottage. I decided to relax that afternoon with a swim. Grabbing a towel, I walked over to the door. I thought Oberon would want to come along, but he had fallen asleep on the bed, so I left him.

Outside it was another sunny and warm day. I couldn't feel any breeze although I heard the soft whisper of the leaves above me. As I left the cottage I remembered that I had forgotten to leave water for the faeries, but there was nothing amiss. The trees were still there in their might, and the flowers were still abloom. I set off along the path that I thought led to the pool and eventually, after a few false starts, found the right one. Soon I arrived.

It was, if anything, more beautiful than I had remembered. The pool was crystal clear and as smooth as glass. It was mostly shaded except for the centre which was spotlit by a single beam of sunlight that had penetrated through the canopy of leaves above. The only sounds that could be heard were the singing of a few birds, and the flow of water from the spring into the pool. The spring trickled out from about half way up a small circular mound that rose a short distance above the forest floor. I had never been able to understand why the water flowed from a place apparently above the water table. My grandmother had said that it was a faerie mound, the home of the stunted King Oberon, and that the spring was the nectar that flowed from their cups. I just assumed that it contained a crack leading to a lower water table in which the water was under pressure. On top of the mount there was an ancient twisted thorn tree that my grandmother said had been there since before she was born.

Soon I had divested myself of my clothing and lept into the pool. The water was cold and wonderfully refreshing. I swam around the pool and then dived and floated just above the bottom. I swallowed some water and suddenly felt strange and tired. I got out of the pool, dried and then dressed myself. My clothes seemed larger than they were earlier. My tiredness grew and I sat down, leaning my back against an immense, ancient, oak tree. Just before sleep came to me, I thought I heard the tones of some wondrous, unforgettable, primal music.

When I awakened it was pitch dark. The back of my shoulders itched and a coarse, thick, leather surrounded me. I tried to tear it but had some trouble as my nails were gone. Eventually I tore through it and found that on top of it was a heavy mass of thick fibres. I crawled through the rip and continued along between the top of the leather and the bottom of the fibres. I felt something pulling at my shoulders but as it relieved the itching and caused little pain I ignored it. I reached the end of the fibrous mass and crawled from underneath it.

I stood up and looked down along the old pair of jeans that I had been wearing. The pant legs appeared over 30 metres in length. At the end I could see a hollow slab-like structure of translucent skin, partially collapsed. Panicking, I spun around. I could see the top half of my clothing, and the hollow skin form of my head, arms, and hands. My hollow head still had its covering of hair. From the waist up the entire form had slumped to the ground. Behind was a curving wall, its surface a confusing maze of ridges and valleys - the tree that I had fallen asleep against.

I must have fainted because the next thing I remembered was waking up upon my hollow form in the early evening. Even though the sun was almost down, it was as bright as it had been when I first entered the clearing. Panic arose within me but I willed it away. It would not help. I began to consider my surroundings to try to figure out what had happened to me. Assuming that I was neither dreaming, nor mad, I must have been shrunk in size. Only my living body had been shrunk as the non-living part, the outer skin, hair and nails, were still present on the hollow husk around me. By treating this as though it were just another experiment, I was able to thrust the urge to panic further away.

Trying to keep my mind, the next logical step was to investigate what I had become. I felt the same as I usually did and a quick visual examination revealed that I appeared physically identical to what I once looked like, except for the missing hair and nails, and a much larger mass of muscles just below my shoulders. By comparison with my surroundings, I estimated my new height as approximately one inch. Since I could still see clearly, even though it was evening, my vision must have been enhanced. To test my strength I walked over to the end of the sleeve of the shirt that I had been wearing and tried to tear off a piece. I succeeded. My strength could not have decreased greatly from what it once was. I tried to wrap the strip about my waist but found that there was something behind me. I managed to cover myself with the scrap, and then I turned my head to make my final discovery. I had grown wings.

Now I panicked. I closed my eyes, arched my back, and screamed. Loudly and shrilly I cursed the world that had done this to me. Then I hit a branch. This knocked some sense into me as I stopped screaming and started falling. Apparently, when I had panicked, I had also flown upwards. Since it worked once, I panicked and screamed again, stopping my descent. I hovered there for a long while, my eyes closed, breathing heavily. Gradually I regained a measure of calm. I noticed a loud buzzing behind me and almost screamed again. Hanging onto the edge of my sanity by my fingertips I realized that the buzzing was only me. I began to compose myself and think. The buzzing was me and I was aloft. I felt new muscles in my shoulders pumping back and forth and realized that, instinctively, I had fled from the ground and into the air. I started to sweat. I didn't know how to fly. I looked frantically for something to grab. There - the stalk of a leaf. I grabbed it and hugged it tightly. I closed my eyes and fled into myself.

I remained there, trapped in my mind inside a darkened space, running back and forth and getting nowhere. Searching for my mind. I was running, and running, then I began to fly around and around, searching, madly searching, frantically, insanely searching. Flying up and up, finding nothing, spinning round and round, seeing nothing. Then I saw it. The equation. F=ma. I fled towards it, towards sanity. At first it seemed to flee from me but then, gasping for breath, I began to catch up. I reached up and grabbed the equality. I began to rub the equal sign with a quivering hand to convince myself of its existence, to remind myself of its familiarity, to draw myself back into the real world. I began to calm. I stopped gasping for breath. Then I awoke.

I was still hanging from the leaf, my arms sore. I loosened my grip a bit and tried to take stock. I no longer felt the urge to scream, to panic. I had crossed the chasm and emerged intact on the other side.

I took a deep breath and continued my investigation of what I had become, taking comfort in the familiarity of that activity. I stretched out my new wings and turned my head to look at them. They were membrous, much like those possessed by insects, not feathered as one might expect. I started to grow calm. The wings began as stalks growing out of the back of my shoulders and grew in width to about 1/4 of an inch near their ends. Each wing was about 3/4 of an inch in length. Additionally, unlike many insects, they were not paired - there were only two single wings. Their presence explained the unusual muscle growth below my shoulders. They looked fragile but were incredibly strong as my rocketing into a tree hadn't hurt them. I no longer felt any urge to panic.

Next I tried to move them slowly up and down to get used to the feeling of applying them. I found that it was easy to move them quickly, but that it took a great deal of concentration to move them slowly. I practiced and gained control over their movements. Finally, I took a deep breath and let go.

I began to fall and almost panicked again, but I kept myself from doing so. Making my wings move, I gradually slowed down. Finally I managed to halt my descent and slowly began to move horizontally. I began to gain confidence and soon knew instinctively what to do while in the air. Turning, I flitted over to the pool to try and see my reflection. The entire grove was clearly lit by a silver light, as if by day, and the myriad sounds of night life could clearly be heard. I reached the pool and looked down to see my reflection. It wasn't there. I was startled but then remembered my improved vision and realized that although there was enough light for my new eyes to see by, there was not enough light to create a visible reflection. I looked up and saw only the full moon above me. Although I could now see at night, the stars were gone, their light blotted out by my perception of the moonlight.

I hovered there and considered my condition. Finally, I decided to return to my cottage and plan my next move there. I found my way home with little trouble and tried to unlatch the door. However, every time I tried, instead of the latch lifting, I just pushed myself down. I began to think about how to get inside and remembered opening the window that morning. I flew around the cottage and in through the window.

Inside it was much darker as little light was able to enter. I flew over to my bed in search of a match to light the lantern that my grandmother had kept above the fireplace and noticed Oberon creeping along the floor towards me. I stopped, and decided to greet him and apologize for leaving him in all day. He slowly stalked across the wooden floor towards me. Suddenly, he lept high into the air and grabbed for me with his paws. I screamed and flew up out of his grasp and rammed into the ceiling before I was able to stop myself. Rubbing my head to relieve the pain, I cursed myself for being such a fool. Caught in mankind's superiority, I had never realized that I was now, in effect, a one inch long insect - prey for the feral life outside the cottage. Only through incredible luck had I lived to make it home.

After Oberon had failed in his attempt to grab me, he just sat on the floor below, staring hungrily upward, his tail swishing back and forth. To do anything in this cottage I would have to get Oberon to realize that I was his mistress, not just another bug. I couldn't just tell him, but I could rely on his knowledge of me. I began to speak and reassure him. For a second I worried that my voice had changed but it had not. Slowly, making no sudden moves to attract his attention, I allowed myself to drift down towards him. Oberon didn't attack me as I approached but only sniffed me as I landed and recognized me as his mistress. Fortunately my scent had not changed either.

Having pacified the cat, I now told Oberon that I would get him some food. He started purring at that suggestion and simultaneously I realized how hungry I was. I flew over to the bed, untied my pack, and entered it. With a little effort I was able to find the box of dried cat food and get ahold of a packet. I dragged it out with little trouble. Pushing it off the bed, I landed near it and carried it over to Oberon's dish. Tearing it open, I poured out the food and narrowly got out of the way as Oberon began to eat. I went back, got a match, and lit the lantern sitting on the mantle above the fireplace. Fortunately, it was still fueled.

Then I went back to my pack and dragged out some dried food and the small mirror that I always carried. Finally, I was able to get a good look at mywself. I looked basically the same, although the baldness was disconcerting. I spread out my wings and examined then closely. They were a pale translucent blue in colour. I put the mirror down and ate some of the dried food after ripping open the package. It wasn't until I had finished my meal that all of the pieces finally fell together.

It was the faeries who had caused my transformation. I had not put out the water for their young and they had taken their revenge. Once I had come near their home within the faerie mound they had caused me to be transformed into one of them. The transformation had been initiated when I had swallowed some of the water from the pool. I had slept whlle the transformation occurred. According to the stories told to me by my grandmother, I was now one of the lesser faeries. This also suggested a reason why I had not been attacked on my way here. The wildlife within this area was used to the faeries, unlike Oberon who had only just arrived. The faeries must have bred them over the ages not to attack the fey.

As I considered this, I was interrupted as Oberon bumped into me, knocking me over, seeking attention. I began to pet him and talk to him and eventually he curled up and went to sleep, ending with me on top of him. Then I remembered more faerie lore. My grandmother had told me that faeries were vengeful and always avenged themselves on those who had wronged them. She had told me tales of the extremes to which this vengeance had sometimes gone. Now, I had wronged them - and they had taken their vengeance. But was this great a revenge necessary? Of course it wasn't I believed. To cure myself I would have to talk to them, which meant that I had to gain entrance into the faerie mound. And I remembered the method. All that was required was for one to walk nine times around the faerie mound on the night of the full moon. Which was tonight. Then the entrance would bhe revealed. Tonight I would go and seek out King Oberon, apologize for my errors, and seek forgiveness. The king would certainly forgive so small a slight and then I would be restored.

I flew off of Oberon's back and headed for the window. Just before I left, I realized that I might not return, and that Oberon could be trapped inside the cottage. I could not leave until I left him a way out. I had to open the door. I flew over to the wicker chair and tried to push it. At first this was impossible as I could get little traction, but by lifting up one leg and adding the weight of the chair to my own, I was able to pull it towards the door. The resulting grating sound awakened Oberon, who jumped up onto the chair and enjoyed the ride, looking smugly down at me as I pulled. Eventually I reached the door and was able, standing on the chair's back, to open the latch and push the door open. Oberon lept from the chair and off into the trees. I left the door slightly ajar and flew back towards the pool and the faerie mound where my transformation had occurred.

Outside it was as if it were day. The entire world was illuminated by a silver glow that I had never before seen. Around me it was a world of unabelievable glory and beauty; a world of vibrant life outlined in silver fire. Only now, no longer bounded by my human self, could I behold the glory before me. Yet, as I journeyed, I realized that I might be forced to give it up. For if my transformation could be reversed I would regain my old world, but lose this one that I had only begun to know.

It took little time for me to travel to the faerie mound. It had changed from its earlier appearance. Now the entire top of the mound was raised up on pillars revealing the faerie court and the joyousness therein. Though I may not have needed to, I landed and walked around the base of the hill nine times. On the ninth time around a glowing yellow path appeared before me and I followed it into the hill.

I walked through a short, dimly lit tunnel that led into the court. It was much bigger than the mound indicated and was brilliantly lit in yellow and silver. All of the faeries present were dressed in fine clothes of silver, gold, red, yellow, blue and green, surrounded by sparkles of these same colours. As I approached, I realized that the faeries that I had noticed earlier were not my size, but were instead as large as I had once been, and that the sparkles were faeries of my height. As I continued, I was surrounded by, at first, joviality, but as they recognized me, and saw me in my hastily improvised garb, silence rippled out. Soon there was not a sound to be heard. The gaiety had ended. Ahead of me a path opened towards the centre of the mound where the faerie king Oberon was seated. Surrounded by silence and hostility I approached the King. Once I had entered his exalted presence and was hovering level with his face, an even deeper silence spread around me as King Oberon spoke:

"Thou hast wronged our people and hath suffered our just and righteous punishment. We shall hear they words."

I remained silent, surrounded by increasing hostility. Finally I got up my nerve and spoke, "Oh great and noble king, who through my fault has been unjustly wronged. I have accepted your just punishment and seek your forgiveness."

He continued: "That ye have, and a right lovely fey thou dost make. Yet though seemst sad about thy punishment."

"In that you are correct. For although this form reveals a wonderful world that I had not before known, it is not my own. I seek a return to my rightful self, and the world of which I once was part."

"And why should we aid thee, thou who hast wronged us? We have decided upon thy fate and that fate thou shalt bear for the rest of eternity. Speak no more."

He turned away. I started to leave but then one final idea occurred to me. To draw his attention I rose above his head and shouted down at him, "Yet if I am no more among mankind, who will guard your forest home..."

Oberon raised his arm and a sudden blast of wind smashed me into the ground. "Thou art impertinent..."

Raising myself up on my hands, I was stunned at his hautiness. Fortunately I restrained my rising anger and shouted only the following words, interrupting his decree to the astonishment of all present. "If I go, man will come and destroy you!" King Oberon paused in his speech and looked at me. The rest of the court turned away, no longer expecting the punishment for which they had watched. I continued, "If I remain as one of you, there will be no one to protect your homes from man. He will come and destroy your forest. He will level your homes and seal you in with stone. Only I, as a human, can halt this."

The king, who had been about to interrupt me, sat there and thought. Minutes passed, after which he spoke over the talking of the others who had resumed their revelry. "Thou art right. Yet thou hast wronged us. But, thou hast realized thy wrongs and seekest our forgiveness. Go back to the pool where once ye swam and immerse theyself. Thou shalt be restored to normal by the dawn. But know this, if thou shalt ever wrong us again, our wrath shall be terrible to behold." Saying this he turned away and joined the other fey in their mirthful repast.

With a heavy heart I left the mound, wishing that I could remain, knowing that to do so would result in the destruction of all that I would remain for. I obeyed the king's command and, returning to the pool, dove into it. Then I flew back to the tree where all of this had started and slept where I had lain less than a day before. In the morning I awoke, tired and chilled. I was again nude, still had no hair or nails, but I was my full size. My clothes were still beside me but the husk that I had left within them was gone. Where the faerie mound had been, there was only the bare earth. I sat and remembered what had happened to me.

Eventually I got up and returned to the cabin. It was a bright and sunny day but it seemed to me as though it was raining. The door was still open and there to greet me was the cat Oberon who rubbed himself against my ankle once I had entered. Over the next few days my hair and nails regrew and I tried to get back to work, but could only remember the world that I had lost.

Now I leave water outside my door every night for the faerie young to bathe in. I have read hundreds of books on fey lore and now do everything recommended within them. But I am no longer happy. I no longer love the physics I know, for I know that it no longer explains the universe as once I thought it did. Every night I dream of the faerie court, and of what I briefly was. Every night I dream of those few hours; every day I wish they were here again. I live on only so that I can preserve what I remember in the hope of earning king Oberon's forgiveness and regaining what I have lost. For the faery king's punishment was not the first transformation, it was the second.