“Kallen, I know this is a great sacrifice…” Grandmother says from across the kitchen island counter.
I stand up so quickly, my stool tumbles across the tile floor. “Great sacrifice? Grandmother, you are asking me to give up my life as I know it. Tomorrow. Did you expect me to welcome your request? Cowans killed my parents and you want me to go to their realm and live among them? You do not think you are asking too much?” I am grateful for the large slab of marble countertop that separates us. Otherwise, I might be tempted to try to shake some sense into her.
Grandmother’s face is grim now. “If you do not go, the Cowan realm will be forced to bow down before the Pooka Fairies. The atrocities that will occur as they seek revenge should not be wished upon your worst enemy.”
I will not be guilted into this. “That is no concern of mine.”
Standing to her full six feet, she narrows her piercing green eyes in my direction. “You are not as indifferent as you now claim. I have heard your arguments with Dagda regarding his attempts to find the girl.”
Dagda, King of the Fairy realm, who is hell bent on returning to the Cowan realm to take revenge for his damaged pride. He cannot accept the fact that a Witch was able to better him in a physical, magicless showdown. His ego bruised, he has become a Fairy obsessed beyond reason, wanting to right an imagined wrong by finding the daughter he does not know, and use her to open the gateways between realms. By killing her. Once a respected uncle, my esteem for him has suffered greatly as he has become a raving lunatic on this subject. He and I often argue the point of vengeance and its merits, or lack of merits. If he follows through with his intentions, his soul will be blackened beyond redemption. Still, I never signed on to be the savior of his soul.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I say, “My opinion has changed significantly in the last ten minutes.”
Slamming down her spoon on the stove, Tabitha turns towards us. “Isla, how can you ask him to do this?” she asks. Seeing her face, and the dangerous storm brewing on it, I almost take a step back. I have rarely seen her this angry. Gray-haired, slightly plump, and definitely someone you do not want to get on the bad side of, Tabitha takes care of our home while Isla attends to her High Chancellor duties. She has also been a second Grandmother to me throughout my life, and I am grateful she is taking my side on this.
I am amazed, though, that she has held her tongue this long. She usually lets her opinion be known as soon as it forms. Looking closely at her, I cannot tell if those are sparks coming out of her eyes, or if it is the sunlight from the window sparkling off them. I am leaning towards the sparks. “How can you send him away like this?” she demands to know.
“I have seen what happens if he does not go.” Grandmother has the power of divination. She rarely discusses her visions of the future because the future is not set in stone. I wish she had kept this vision to herself, as well. “She is going to willingly open a gateway to this realm because she will not know any better. Without the proper protection, she will die.”
I shrug. “I do not know this girl; why should I care if she lives or dies?” As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I wish I could take them back. I am not a heartless cad; I simply want to live out the rest of my days in my own realm, not the fetid, broken Cowan realm. I do not truly wish this girl the brutal death that will come to her if she is brought here. I simply want nothing to do with the whole situation. “If she is going to intentionally open the realms, why does she need protection? It seems more like she needs someone to stop her.”
Isla nods solemnly. “That may be, and that is what you will need to decide when you meet her.”
I take a deep breath and my hands are knotted into such tight fists on the counter, I’m pretty sure I am losing all circulation in them. “Just how would you expect me to stop her?”
Her eyes darken, as she says, “As a Sheehogue Fairy, it is your duty to protect those who cannot defend themselves. Which means that sometimes, you have to consider the greater good over the life of one individual.”
My mouth drops open. She cannot mean what I think she means. “You want me to kill her?”
She shakes her head of long, gray streaked black hair and I start to sigh in relief. Until she says, “Only as a last resort.”
Now my jaw just about hits the floor. “Give up my realm, as well as become a murderer? What is the matter with you? You are not the grandmother I have known all these years. Do you simply want me out of your house? If I have been such a burden to you over the years that you feel you have to send me on this fool’s quest, there are less cruel ways to be rid of me. I would rather be forced into a hand-fasting with a Cowan Fairy than this. I will live in the forest until you choose who you want me to marry.” More words I regret. First of all, I sound like a child throwing a tantrum. Secondly, I will not wed without love. And I have yet to meet a full blooded, or otherwise, Fairy whom I could love. Even if it is the only way to stay in this realm.
Grandmother sighs in frustration, a sure sign of a storm brewing inside of her, but I do not care. This is beyond even contemplating. “I love you more than you will ever know,” she says. “You have never been a burden to me, but this is what you must do. This is your destiny. I have seen it.”
What a bunch of bull. I know as well as she does that her visions are a possible future, not a given one. “I will make a different destiny for myself. I do not need to follow this one.”
She shakes her head. “Kallen, this is too important. Too big on a cosmic level. This cannot be changed.”
“That is ridiculous. Everything can be changed.”
Rising from her seat, Grandmother walks to where I am sitting. She places her hands gently on my cheeks, something she hasn’t done in years. “I am begging you to do this. If you save that realm, you will be setting into motion things that have been foretold for eons. Foretold by the Angels themselves.”
I pull my head back and her hands drop to her sides. “Are you speaking of the prophecy? You know I hold no stock in ancient prophecies.”
Her lips form a sad smile. “When the Angel of Fates prophesizes, it will come true.”
“Or he could be spouting nonsense in an attempt to keep other magical beings from being foolish. The Angels have often used threats of hell and brimstone to bring about things they desire.”
“Kallen, I am begging you. Please do this.”
I look at the tall, slender woman standing before me. Her face is still unlined and her eyes have not lost a bit of luster over the years. She looks young enough to be my mother, but she is much older than she appears.
She is also determined, I will give her that. I can see it in her green eyes – the sadness, the desperation, the remorse, and finally, the fortitude. She will be unrelenting until she gets her way. “Do I truly have a choice?” I ask. I already know the answer.
“Isla…” Tabitha begins, but grandmother interrupts her.
“Tabitha, please, this is difficult enough. I understand the sacrifice this will take from us all. I do not want to send my beloved grandson away. My heart is breaking at the very thought. But, you know as well as I do, there are some things that must come to pass; they cannot be undone.”
I can tell from Tabitha’s face that she would like to argue with Grandmother, but she does not. She simply nods and turns back to her stew. I do not miss the tears in her eyes, though.
“Kallen, Dagda has already sent Maurelle and Olwyn. They will be upon her by morning.”
I scrunch my brow as a new question pops into my head. “If you knew that this has been foretold for ages, why did you wait so long to tell me?”
She looks down at the counter, avoiding my eyes, and a tiny bit of pink washes over her cheeks. That is definitely a rare sight. “I thought this would be easier for you.”
My eyebrows have reached the nape of my neck, I believe. “You thought it would be easier for me to pick up and leave without saying proper goodbyes, without savoring one last time, the things that are most important to me in this realm?”
This is the first time I have ever seen her look unsure of a decision. “I am sorry I handled things this poorly. Perhaps it was myself I was protecting. I have been dreading this day for quite some time; I did not want you to have to do the same.”
Yes, go with the guilt card again. Well played, Grandmother. “If I have no choice, then I will take the evening to say goodbye to my cousin, at least. I shall be ready to go in the morning.” I lift a brow in question. “Unless I am supposed to leave sooner?”
She shakes her head. Is that a tear I see in my Grandmother’s eye? What an exceptional sight that is.
However, I decide that at this moment, I do not care if she cries a million tears. I will never forgive her for this. I am not too crazy about the Angel of Fates right now, either. I have to get out of here. Another moment in her presence and I will explode. I stand up and leave the kitchen through the backdoor without a backwards glance.
Once outside, I fill my lungs with the scent of the ocean and the forest between which our house lies. The clean, fresh scent of the world I have inhabited since I was a small child. I remember very little of the Cowan realm, where I was born, but I know that it has changed considerably since I left. There are those who can create windows to see into the other realms; windows that do not open, they are only for observation. I know about the pollution, the greed and the creation of odd technology that the Cowans have developed to supposedly improve their lives. Things that would not be necessary if they were magical beings.
Yes, there are Witches in the Cowan realm, but their magic is limited. They bow down to this technology as well; losing their knowledge and weakening their craft as they conform more and more to the Cowan ways. It will probably not be many decades until their magic is extinct.
What irks me the most about this situation? I cannot believe that Dagda is going through with this. For the most part, he has always been a sane and rational man. But, being bested by the Witch King did something to him; killed a part of his brain. His need for revenge is beyond simple pride, at this point. He has come to think of the Cowan realm as an enemy. This is a war to him, a battlefield to be conquered, even though the opposing forces are ignorant to the fact that he, or the war, even exists. Centuries have passed in the Cowan realm, as their time advances more quickly than ours. No one remembers the Fairy King who could not better a Witch King after agreeing not to use magic. There are no enemies there to pursue.
How did I suddenly become a key figure in this prophetic nightmare? I have my own grudge against Cowans, as irrational as it might be. As much as I do not want to be Dagda’s savior, I want to be a savior for the Cowans even less.
My parents were fast asleep when thieves set their house on fire. It was my screams that woke them; the smoke had reached my room first. My father rose to check on me, discovering that his home was being devoured by a raging inferno. An inferno too far advanced to be doused with magic. Opening the window of my second story bedroom, he dropped me out onto the ground. It was a fifteen foot drop; I broke my ankle. My father then went in search of my mother, but was not able to save her, or himself. They both perished in the flames. Their bodies were found huddled together in the corner of their bedroom where the flames had chased them; where the smoke had choked them.Isla came for me that night. She had foreseen the fire, but her vision had come too late to warn my father. It was only me that she was able to save. She returned with me to the Fairy realm and has taken care of me ever since. I truly owe her my life. I simply did not know that the cost would be so high.
“You look deep in thought, cousin,” Kegan says, strolling towards me on the path through the forest that leads to his home. “I came to see if you were up for a rematch.”
Half of my mouth lifts into what I hope resembles a smile. “I am afraid you will need to find another sparring partner. I will soon be taking a journey from which I will not return.”
He laughs. “Right, and I will be hand-fasted to the next full-blooded Fairy I meet. Come on. If you are so scared that you will lose, you need to come up with a better excuse than that.”
“I am afraid it is not an excuse. Isla has asked me to travel to the Cowan realm to save it from destruction. I will be leaving tomorrow. I was coming to say my goodbyes before I am sent off.”
Disbelief washes over his face, chased off by shock, which is chased off by comprehension. “You are serious?”
“As much as I would like to say I am not, if only to get that morose look off your face, I am serious.”
“Nothing can be done?”
“Perhaps if I talk to Grandmother?”
Kegan is more like a brother to me than a cousin. We may fight, and argue, and constantly try to best the other at everything, but no amount of this lessens the bond between us. I will truly miss him.
“If Tabitha was unable to talk sense into her, I do not hold out hope that you will.”
I turn and we start walking back towards my home without speaking. The silence between us is an usual thing, and it is wearing on my soul. “At least your chances for hand-fasting will be increased with me gone. Females will finally have to look at you, instead of me.” Ow. It really hurts when we punch each other in the arm, but I still laugh.
“It is your full-blooded status they value, cousin. Not your looks or charm.”
I chuckle. “There may be some truth to that, but nevertheless, it is me they desire.”
Kegan rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “Your feast of modesty fills me to the brim. I may have to stop somewhere along our way and throw up, though, as it is not easily digested.”
Again, I cannot help but laugh. Kegan and I could be twins. Our fathers were identical twins, and we both resemble them with our tall lean forms, inky black hair and the vibrant green eyes of the Fae. Based on looks alone, he is correct. We would be on an even playing field. It is only Kegan’s Cowan blood that makes him less appealing.
“If Grandmother cannot be swayed, perhaps she will allow me to accompany you.”
I shake my head. “I appreciate that, cousin, but it is bad enough that I am forced to walk this path. I will not willingly bring you along to suffer the same fate.” He does not look pleased with my answer, and we walk the rest of the way in a silence heavier than the last.
Entering the kitchen once more, I see that Tabitha has been busy. She has a small bag on the counter in which she is putting Fairy darts from a batch she recently made. She makes them when needed from the plants and flowers she grows in her garden, and they are the strongest poison in the land of Fae. A lethal weapon if used in the extreme.
She looks up when we come in. “I have packed several of these, and you are not to hesitate to use them. I, for one, would not mind if Maurelle is to be the one to have a couple of these flung at her. It is disgusting the way she has been sniffing around you these past several years. And now this.” She shakes her head in disgust.
Suddenly, I feel like a dog that can’t get another dog to stop smelling my butt. “And Olwyn?” I ask, not able to keep the humor out of my voice.
She waves her hand in the air. “He is nothing. Simply an oaf with overgrown muscles. He would not know how to hurt a fly unless someone stood by his side and gave him instructions. He is nothing but Maurelle’s toy that she lugs around for his brute strength.”
“Tabitha, is there no changing Grandmother’s mind?” Kegan asks, leaning over her shoulder to see what else she is putting in the bag.
Tabitha shakes her head. “That Fairy refuses to listen to reason. Sometimes, I think she has a heart of stone.”
“I prefer to think of it as made of crystal, for it can be broken,” Grandmother says dryly from behind me. Tabitha must have known she was there.
There are very few Fairies who dare to speak this way to Grandmother, as she is the most powerful Fairy in this realm. Which makes her quite intimidating. Tabitha, though, has never let that stop her from speaking her mind. One of the many things I love about her.
“Grandmother, there must be a way to avoid this,” Kegan says.
Turning towards her, I see her eyes are beginning to fill with tears again. Which, by the look on his face, is as much of a surprise to Kegan as it was to me earlier. “This must be done,” she says quietly. “Kallen, I am sorry, but this truly must be done.”
My life is about to go to hell and there is nothing I can do about it. Except be angry and resentful. Two emotions I suspect will make my stay in the Cowan realm even more intolerable. “Then you will have no more argument from me.” Icicles could have been made with these words, as cold as they sounded.
Isla looks like she is wavering, but, squaring her shoulders, she says, “I appreciate that. We will proceed first thing tomorrow morning.”
Kegan looks like he is about to argue, but I shake my head. “There is no point,” I say. I turn on my heels and walk back outside. Kegan is soon to follow.
We make our way down to the sea shore that abuts the house I grew up in, and I let the cool salt water wash onto my feet as we wander along, hoping it will soothe the fire burning in my heart. We walk in silence again, neither of us knowing what to say.
Relieved to see a friendly face as we round a bend, I shout a greeting to Alita over the crashing waves. Tall and willowy with shoulder length black hair and a pretty face, she has been a good friend of both mine and Kegan over the years. We basically grew up together.
Today, it appears she has been walking along picking up shells. She has made a basket with part of her bright yellow sarong that compliments her figure well. I barely notice, as she is like a sister to me. Kegan, on the other hand, has always thought of her in a different light. Unfortunately, his father will not approve a match, as Alita’s blood is more tainted than Kegan’s.
“What has the two of you so out of sorts?” she asks when we are in hearing distance. “I have never seen such long faces.”
“Nothing,” I say, as Kegan says, “Kallen is being shipped to the Cowan realm.”
Shock washes over her pretty face as she drops the shells she was holding in her sarong. “Why would you say such a horrible thing?” she asks Kegan. “It cannot be true.”
I shrug, trying for nonchalance. I fail. “It can be, and it is. I leave tomorrow.” Bitterness litters each word.
“Oh, Kallen, I am so sorry,” she says, rushing over to give me a sympathetic hug. Over the top of her head, I do not miss the touch of jealousy in Kegan’s eyes as he narrows them at us.
Pulling back gently from her embrace, I say, “Perhaps I will be allowed to return some day. In the meantime, my cousin is going to need someone to keep him out of trouble. So, I am begging you to keep close tabs on him. He is prone to disaster as he is somewhat dim witted.” I laugh as I rub the spot on my arm that Kegan just punched.
Alita’s cheeks are a nice rosy color as she peeks at Kegan shyly from under her lashes. Then she turns to me. “Kallen, that was not nice nor fair,” she admonishes, but her face is full of good humor. “I believe more often than not, you have been the one to instigate the trouble the two of you have found over the years.”
“Yes, and you dragged me along as an unwilling partner in crime,” Kegan adds, earning him a disbelieving snort from Alita.
“I believe you both need keepers. Now, I want all the details. Why has this fate fallen to you?” she asks me. She sits down in the sand with her legs extended in front of her and her toes just barely touching the water. Kegan and I join her, sitting on either side of her as she leans back on her hands.
I give her the abbreviated version, and with each sentence, her face becomes sadder. “Kallen, that is awful. Isla is positive this is the only way?”
I nod. “Apparently.” I am still not sure I believe that.
“What do you know about the girl?” she asks.
I sigh. “I know her name is Xandra and she is just seventeen. With her birthday, her magic is now unbound, giving her the power to do as Dagda wishes. That is about it.”
Alita shakes her head. “I cannot imagine you being gone. Life will not be the same around here without you. Who will make me laugh now?” she teases.
Kegan raises a brow. “I believe you are mistaking which cousin actually has a sense of humor.”
She laughs at that. “I believe you are both equally matched.” Turning to me, she asks, “What would you like to do on your last night here?” As the words tumble out, her face sobers once again. “Is there anything, or anyone, special you would like to spend the evening with?”
Alita is always trying to make other Fairies more comfortable. It is her way. But, I shake my head. “The only two I truly care about are sitting here with me. Perhaps a quiet night on the beach, with a fire later?”
She nods. “That sounds lovely.”
“If a tad boring,” Kegan says, but his jest is half-hearted.
“I know,” Alita says. “You can tell us what you will miss the most when you are gone.”
“That is a bit morbid, is it not?” Kegan asks. “Seems a bit cruel, at the very least.”
“Nonsense,” she replies. “It is good to talk about your feelings. And yes, it may be a bit morbid, but why should Kallen not mourn what will be lost to him? Perhaps that will make his journey easier if he acknowledges what will pain him the most.” Kegan rolls his eyes, but he does not say anything else, so Alita turns back to me. “What will you miss the most?”
I push my shoulder into hers playfully. “You top the list.”
She swats at my arm. “Be serious.”
“I am serious. I will miss you greatly. I will also miss my cousin, I suppose, but not nearly as much.”
“What things about this realm will you miss?” she pushes, wanting me to be serious.
I think for a moment. “I believe I will miss the magic, most of all. Living among non-magical beings, I imagine, will become tedious quickly. I do not want to have to hide what I am for the rest of my life. My long, long life in the Cowan realm.”
Alita gasps and puts her hand over her mouth. “I forgot about that. It will be as if you are living thousands of years!”
I groan. “Do not remind me, please.”
“Perhaps that will finally give you enough time to work out all of those character flaws of yours, such as being more personable,” Kegan says with a grin.
“Alita, will you please lean back for just a moment?” I ask. With a little giggle, she leans back far enough for me to punch my cousin in the arm.
“Ow,” he says. “Precisely my point, you are far from pleasant to be around.”
Looking at Alita, I ask, “Do you find me lacking in charm and wit?”
She laughs. “For fear of a giant bruise on my arm, I believe the only answer to that is, no, I do not find you lacking in either.” I grin in satisfaction.
“I believe her answer was coerced,” Kegan gripes.
“By me?” I ask, feigning innocence. “I would never do such a thing.” That earns me a snort from him.
We sit quietly for several minutes before Alita asks, “What else will you miss?”
“I will miss this,” I say with a sweep of my hand, indicating everything around us. “The serenity of the ocean and the mystery of the forest.”
Kegan laughs. “I believe they have oceans and forests in the Cowan realm.”
“Yes, but are they this pure? From what we have learned over the years, we know them to be tainted with chemicals and debris. The forests are rapidly being divested of their trees, soon to be completely devoid of timber.”
“He does have a point,” Alita says. “What else?”
“I will miss not seeing the two of you hand-fasted, as it is inevitable.”
This time it is Alita who punches me in the arm. It does not hurt at all, but I grasp my arm as if she landed a death blow. “You are angry with me for speaking the truth?” I ask, not being able to hold back my grin as her cheeks pink and Kegan glowers over at me.
“You know that could never happen,” Alita says quietly, giving her full attention once again to the ocean.
“I know no such thing.”
“I would like to suggest a new topic,” Kegan says, with an edge to his voice. “We should discuss what neither of us will miss about you, when you are gone.”
I chuckle. “As I am near perfect, that would have to be an extremely short list.”
We fall into silence again. A comfortable silence that is only possible amongst family and good friends. Every once in a while, one of us will speak, but not about anything important. I find a lot of peace sitting here with them. My heart does not feel quite as heavy as it did earlier. I imagine that will change tomorrow morning.