The tears streamed down Queen Maia’s face as she sat staring out her bedchamber windows. She was alone in the only place she could be herself, no veils, no masks, and no one around. Surrounding her was beauty of the most remarkable kind. The walls were hand-carved and magically sculpted from the richest mahogany found only in the Moonwood, home of the light elves. Mirrors, framed in ornately sculpted gold with rubies and diamonds, were placed all around the room so she would remember how different she was, how beautiful she was. Next to her sat a tray full of the most succulent food and drink, food other fairies did not even know existed in their world, drink flavored by honey and morning dew. And yet Queen Maia did not see any of it. The tears would not stop flowing. Yet, she did not make a sound. She had learned the harsh lesson of allowing others to hear the sounds of her crying. And even though she knew that no one could hear her, she still did not take the risk of allowing any cries to escape her lips.
The doors to Queen Maia’s bedchamber suddenly flew open. Queen Maia quickly grabbed the veil from the seat next to her and threw it over her head before turning around to face the intruder.
“My sincerest apologies, Queen Maia,” Councilman Hypathos cried out as he turned away from her. “There has been an incident.”
“What is so important for you to barge into my private bedchambers?” Queen Maia demanded, quickly wiping the tears from her face behind the veil.
“Our scouts have spotted a dark elf in the area,” Councilman Hypathos exclaimed, still facing the doors. Queen Maia exhaled, whether from relief or fear she did not know.
“This has happened before, Councilman. The dark elves cannot see our lands, our magic protects us. He shall pass, as has happened in the past. Now please leave me.”
“I’m afraid I cannot, Queen Maia. The dark elf may not be able to see our lands, but he knows we are here. He has called out your name,” Councilman Hypathos grinned, doing well to keep the smile out of his voice.
“What?” Queen Maia cried out. She could not imagine how he could dare to call out to her in her own land. “Where has he been seen?”
“Half a day’s flight from the northern borders. He has not wandered off. He has shown himself twice now, each time calling out for you.”
“Leave me. I will dress and go see what this dark elf wants of me.”
“Yes, my Queen.”
Queen Maia quickly gathered all of her veils and prepared herself to go meet with the dark elf once more. She believed herself rid of him when she swore to relieve him of his debt upon completion of this dreaded task. He was a dark elf, but above that, he was one of the most feared dark elves in all the lands, even amongst his own people. He had no heart, no conscious, the perfect creature for the task that needed to be done. This time, Queen Maia did not even notice the beautiful sculpting on the walls that lead to the outside. She could not stop the thoughts that ran through her mind of all her previous encounters with the elf.
The royal carriage took Queen Maia to the northern borders of Caelien. She did not wish to expose her driver more than necessary and bade him to wait within their protective shielding. The magic that was used to hide their cities also made things brighter, since fairies could not see very well in the dark. As such, Queen Maia knew the moment she stepped out of the shielding and into the unprotected woods. The trees no longer sparkled with the mist that encompassed their city, the light from the sun that was hidden by the trees seemed dull and diffused. Flowers appeared lifeless and none of their magical flowers grew out here; even the animals sounded sad, from the chirrup of the crickets to the songs of the birds that flew overhead. After walking far enough from the boundary to ensure she could no longer be seen, she took off her veils and set them in the hollow of a small tree so that she could find them before returning. Sighing with resignation, Maia stretched out her wings and began flying north, still wondering what the dark elf could possibly want with her.
After several hours of flying, Queen Maia was beginning to tire. There had been a few times where she had nearly dropped midflight. Suddenly a giant hand came up in front of her and she nearly flew right into it. She stopped and flew back just in time to avoid being captured.
“Why did you not tell me?” the dark elf demanded as he stepped out of the shadows. Queen Maia gasped and finally dropped out of the air, landing forcefully on a sunflower. The dark elf was not covered. She had never seen him without his cloak hiding him. He had pale skin that seemed to glow in the dim sunlight, as though the magic within him needed to escape. His white hair swayed gently in the light breeze, and his face seemed much too exquisite to be real. His eyes, not red as she had always assumed, but a striking lavender with deep blue and violet specks, shone so brightly she believed she would be able to see her own reflection in them. He resembled the elves of the Moonwood more than his dark elf kin, who had black hair and mauve-hued skin.
“Well?” he demanded when Queen Maia did not reply right away.
“Tell you what?” Queen Maia asked, truly confused, for she had become completely lost staring at this miraculous creature.
“That the fairy child you sent me to kill was the same one you made me swear to protect!” The anger Queen Maia had detected in the dark elf’s eyes turned to full fury, making her remember who it was she was facing.
“It does not matter!” she cried out, regaining her composure. “This task will erase your debt and it cancels your previous task. You will do this. You have sworn to it!”
“And if I do not?” the dark elf asked, a mischievous grin beginning to form on his plum colored lips. “What will you do to me, Queen Maia?”
“How do you know my position?!” Queen Maia cried out, completely thrown that the dark elf could know so much about her.
“I know much more about the workings of your world than you think, fairy. And more than that, I know all of your secrets. I could bring your whole way of life down while you sit there and watch, not able to do anything to stop me. You think that magical barrier protects your precious Capitol city? I can see right through it. I have chosen not to because it does not benefit me.”
“What do you want then?” Queen Maia asked tentatively.
“You will forget the fairy child. You will go back and tell your precious Council that she is dead, that I have killed her, and you will forget she exists...if you can,” the dark elf said slyly.
“The Council will not believe me. They will want proof of her death.”
“Tell them I ate her and if they still doubt they can come here and speak to me themselves.”
Queen Maia pondered the situation she had put herself in. She should have known that the fairy child was too unique to be forgotten. She should have found another to carry out the task. And yet, she had not. What was done was done and this was the result. The dark elf before her was not the same one she had met all those years before, and yet he was more cunning than she remembered.
“Very well,” Queen Maia reluctantly agreed. “But this means your debt to me is not repaid. I will not allow you to change things without proper repayment.”
“What is it you want of me this time then?” the dark elf growled.
“Since you have forced me to remove the task, your previous task is now set in stone. For the rest of your days, you will protect the fairy child. You will ensure she does not ever try to return to the fairy world. Her life and mine depend upon this. She must never come to any harm from creatures of any race. Swear you will do this and I shall never call upon you again.”
“You realize this means I must stay on this side of River Lethe?” the dark elf said, turning slightly and pulling his cloak back over himself. He was happy for this turn of events. The fairy child called to him as no other had done before.
“I know what this task entails!” Queen Maia snapped, angered that her orders were being questioned by this creature. “Do you swear?”
“I swear that the fairy child will be protected and kept safe for all the days of my life,” the dark elf agreed, keeping the smile from his voice, as he backed away into the shadows once more.
Queen Maia heaved a great sigh of relief. She was terrified that her own life was being risked because of the dark elf’s sudden appearance of a conscience, yet she could not help but smile at the thought of the fairy child living a long, safe life.
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The dark elf knew he had done the right thing. It was a strange sensation, one he had never felt before. And yet, the smile would not leave his lips. He quickly ran back to the humans’ home. He did not know how he would manage it, but he had to reveal himself to not only the fairy child, but the humans as well. It was the only way he would be able to keep watch over her. He knew she feared him. He could smell the fear when he watched her from the tree.
The human house came into view as he neared the edge of the woods. The light was beginning to grow dim; the dark elf had spent nearly the full day in search of the fairy Queen. He smiled again, thinking it would be nice to hear the fairy child’s voice once more. Yet a frown began to crease his brow as he listened to the sounds coming from the house. The human female was crying. Something was wrong. The dark elf quickly ran to the house and carefully looked into the windows. The human female was sitting at a table, holding the fairy child’s bed in her hands. The human male was holding his mate. The fairy was not in the room.
“I can’t believe she’s gone,” the female cried.
“I know, Meri, but she must have had a reason for leaving,” the male replied.
The fairy child had fled! She must have run off while the dark elf had gone in search of the Queen. He had to find her. She was safe with these humans. They had kept her secret. They had cared for her. But more importantly, he had secrets to tell her about herself.
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Juni had not managed to go very far. She knew she had to try, but she kept having to stop because she could not see through the tears. She did not cry out loud. Her parents had made sure that she never made a sound when she cried. She never knew why, for she had heard her mother crying many times. It was something she would ask when she returned.
Going back home was harder than Juni thought it would be though. She could not remember where the village was. And she did not know the woods. She had lived her whole life in these woods and yet she had never stepped out of the shelter of the village. The light was dim and she was going in circles.
The woods were nearly black when Juni stopped for the night. She would not be able to find her way in the dark, yet she could not create her own light as so many fairies knew how. So many skills had been kept from her in her schooling. At least she would be able to make a bed for herself. In the last bits of light, Juni found several twigs and leaves and gathered them together.
Just as she shut her eyes to rest for the night, she heard a wolf howl in the distance. Juni’s eyes snapped open and she sat straight up. An owl hooted in the other direction. Twigs snapped close behind her. The woods were not a safe place. Trembling, Juni quickly flew up the side of the tree, trying to find a small hollow she could hide in for the night. Suddenly a large hand came out of nowhere and grabbed her. Juni screamed and the hand quickly let go.
“For the love of...stop, please! I won’t harm you!” the creature screamed as it covered its ears.
Juni quickly stopped screaming, but did not stop trembling. She could make out a human form but could not see who or what it was.
“Who...who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Kareeon. I am here to protect you. I have sworn my life to do so,” the creature replied.
“You do not sound like a human. Your voice is...different than theirs.”
“I will tell you what I am if you promise not to scream again. My ears have started to bleed from the first time you did so.”
“I am a dark elf,” Kareeon whispered slowly.
“What?!” Juni screamed.
“Argh!” Kareeon clamped his hands over his sensitive ears once more. “Please do not scream again. I have told you I mean you no harm.”
“I’m sorry. I...I’ve never met a dark elf before. I thought you were all evil,” Juni whispered.
“Yes, dark elves take pleasure from others pain and suffering. Yet here I am, a dark elf sworn to protect a fairy.”
“That is a long and complicated story. One I will share with you at some point. But for now, we must return you to the humans,” Kareeon said, holding out his hand for Juni. Juni stared at the shadow of a hand, not knowing what was going on. She knew this was the creature she had felt in Meri’s garden, yet the evil she felt before was no longer there. This creature meant her no harm.
“But I wish to go back to my family,” Juni finally said.
“That’s not possible,” Kareeon told her.
“What? Why?” Juni cried out, snapping her head to look up into the shadow of his face. “Why can’t I go back? I’m a fairy, I belong with other fairies.”
“These woods are not a safe place to talk. I’ll explain everything to you, I swear it, but right now we need to leave.”
“Alright. Then if you won’t take me back to my village, at least take me back to Meri and Huck,” Juni relented, finally stepping onto Kareeon’s still awaiting hand.
“Are those the humans you were living with?” Kareeon asked as he stood up and gently placed Juni on his shoulder.
“Yes, they’re very good people. I just don’t know how they will react to you.”
“We will find out soon enough.”
Kareeon began walking as swiftly as he could with Juni sitting on his shoulder. He caught himself many times in just the few minutes it took him to get to the edge of the woods trying to run as quickly as he could. But he knew Juni would not be able to hold on if he did so, and so he kept his pace as slow as he could manage, which still forced Juni to hold on tightly to his cloak.
As soon as they stepped out of the woods and the house came into view, he could feel the change in Juni. It was almost as if the air around them began to glow. Her happiness was a physical presence. He didn’t need to turn his head to know she had a smile on her face and his sensitive ears heard her sigh of relief.
“Thank you for bringing me back,” Juni smiled. Then a frown creased her tiny brow. “Perhaps I should go in first and explain to them who you are so they aren’t frightened.”
“That would probably be best. I will wait outside the door,” Kareeon replied as Juni flew off his shoulder towards the open window.
Juni flew in through the window that had been left open for her the previous night and saw Meri and Huck sitting at the kitchen table. Meri was holding Juni’s bed in her hands, tears still flowing down her red face. Juni felt horrible for causing them so much pain. She flew towards the table and called out to them.
“Juni!” Meri cried out as she stood up and smiled. “Where have you been? Are you alright? What happened?” Juni giggled at the rapid fire of motherly questions. She knew then that Meri would be a wonderful mother and was already a wonderful friend.
“I’m so sorry Meri, Huck. I was hoping to go back to the fairy village to see my parents. But I can’t go back, or so I’ve been told. But that doesn’t matter anymore, I’m here and I’m not going to leave again. And there’s something else I have to tell you. You might want to sit down for this one though,” Juni said so quickly Meri had trouble keeping up with it all.
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Kareeon stood waiting on the stoop, knowing he was about to confront humans for the first time in his long life. He had spent three centuries avoiding them, and now he was not only presenting himself to them, but protecting them as well. He did not even know if humans still believed in his kind. And yet, nothing mattered but making sure Juni was safe. And he knew she would be safe here with these humans.
Suddenly, Kareeon heard a familiar noise behind him. His breath caught in his throat. He knew what was there, yet he could not believe it. The creature had found a way across. For years he had known he was being followed. The creature was harmless to him and so he had ignored it. For some time he had found it amusing. Allowing the creature to come close and then running off, losing it again. The chase had filled many of his long and lonely days.
During all those years, he had listened to the creature mumbling to itself. He knew what the creature had planned. Kareeon knew that if the creature ever found a way across the river, it would destroy everything it came across, starting with the fairies. He could not allow that to happen. But mostly, he could not allow anything to happen to Juni. He had to take her away from here, again.
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Juni flew over to the table and landed right in the middle. She told Meri and Huck about Kareeon and how she had felt when he was watching her in the garden and then how she felt safe with him in the woods. They had a great deal of trouble following along with it all, she could tell. She also knew they didn’t quite believe her and so she flew over to the door and asked Huck to open it. There on the stoop stood the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.
In the darkness of the woods Juni had not been able to see Kareeon. And when they had come into view of the house she was so anxious to see Meri and Huck again she hadn’t looked at him. Now, in the light coming from the house she was able to see him properly. His white hair shone as bright as the sun, his pale skin glowed, making the doorway of the house brighter than it should have been. His pointed ears stuck out just the smallest bit from the sides of his beautiful hair. His lavender eyes sparkled as brightly as any gem she had ever come across. And yet, there was something wrong. His brows were furrowed together, his plum lips pursed.
“I am very sorry, but we need to leave,” Kareeon said as he stepped into the house. Meri and Huck stood mesmerized; they had never seen anything like him before.
“Why? I thought you said we would be safe here,” Juni said once she recovered from the beauty of him.
“A leprechaun followed me across the River Lethe. He wishes revenge upon all of fairy kind. And he is planning to start with you.”