When she awakened, the world was alive.
First and foremost, Mother was there. For a long time, Mother was the world. When Mother wept, it was the saddest world, even though she was still there. When Mother laughed, everything was right. When Mother raged, it was a frightening place. Mother could do everything.
Except have back he whom She had lost, but she didn't understand that yet. Nor how he returned and went away again. Nor that he was her Father. At first, she only knew that Mother wanted him and he was away, loving somebody else. She did not understand how somebody could not love Mother, but then, she didn't know much which wasn't Mother.
With time, more things became part of the world.
There were the fens. The fens were cool and misty and filled with life and shadows and noises. And waters. There were waters in the rivulets leading to the great water which she could feel but hadn't gone to see, and waters in ponds and marshes. Waters in the earth, waters in the air.
Mother stayed near the waters because there were some she cared for who were part of the waters; she stayed near the waters because it was where she belonged. When the wind scattered the mists or the day burned them, it almost frightened her, but then she wanted them back, wanted them very much, and then one day they returned. Slow, cautious tendrils of them snaked over the surface of the fen, writhing in the mid-day heat, but even as her eyes widened in surprise, she called to them, and they came. She had only watched and listened and gone places before.
Now she was doing, she was calling them, and they obeyed. Gently they embraced her, until she was wrapped in them, protected from the day, and they fed on her and on the water beneath her feet to resist the sun.
Mother's eyes were still visible through the mist, as though she were standing beside her. A thrill of fear shot through her, but Mother smiled instead, faint and sad and proud.
The waters were alive, and so were the mists, and they were hers. Mother did not have to say it. She knew.
Other things were alive, too. Little things which were too small to see, and other ones she spent nights upon nights watching, because they, like her, preferred moving in the dark. And things which hunted other things, the sparkles of life brighter in the hunt, both the hunter and hunted, and when blood spilled, its sharp scent cut through the marsh and mingled life with death.
She knew what life and death were from those things. She knew the two constants of her world, even though she did not know the names for them.
There were also big things which were alive. Bigger than her, even bigger than Mother. None of them acted as though they were bigger than Mother, though. Hunters or prey, they never did. Not even the ones who were too stupid for their own good.
Those made her laugh. Whether they tried to do something, again and again, or they lost their lives because they didn't know better, they made her laugh.
When her laughter rang over the stale waters and the moving ones, Mother smiled again, and stroked her hair. The caress soothed the urge to laugh, somehow. That was when she learned that laughter meant pain, too, mixed with the mirth.
Everything mixed with everything else. It was how the waters worked, and it was how life worked, too.
Some of the life which populated the fens she now roamed freely was different. Some was connected to Mother, and those she loved without questioning. But there were others. Like a very young fox, orphaned and alone and lost, who was so very cunning and clever that she returned to watch him every evening. Sometimes it took her a full hour to find him, and that made the little fox that much more remarkable. He grew into a beautiful adult, his coat glowing in the moonlight. Every so often, he would come to her when she sat with her bare feet in the green-tinged pond, and he would watch her, in return.
One night, he brought her his young ones. Two among the kits were more alert, and they were giving their father an interesting run. Another one padded over to her and curled up to sleep with its soft fuzzy furry back against her thigh.
She wept the day when the fox died, his infected wounds filling the air with a sharp, sweet taste of sickness.
Mother asked why she didn't help him.
She started to answer that she did not know how, but that wasn't right. She had known how, or could have known.
But the clever fox had been aged, and he had done well protecting his family. He might not be able to do it again, even if she healed him the best he could be healed.
"It was his time to go, Mother."
Mother smiled sadly. "And yet you grieve?"
"It is the only thing I know how to do, after having known him. Do all things die?"
"You will learn. But we don't die. Not grow old, and not die."
She thought on that, and then looked up. "Then he will live as long as I do, won't he? Because even when his family are gone, I will still remember him."
"Yes, my Luidaeg. You will remember."
And the sadness in Mother's voice almost meant more than learning her own name.
One day Mother said they were going elsewhere, and they did.
Luidaeg had wandered the marshes as far as she had felt like, but they were always that. Fens. The weather changed, sometimes to suit Mother's mood, and sometimes hers, when it was a very strong mood; the light changed less, although there were times when it was lighter, and day, and times when it was night. She had only heard Mother talk about the sun or moonlight, though, and now she wondered if she would see them now.
She held Mother's hand and walked with her, to the further reaches of the moors, where ferns loomed together to create a perpetual darkness, different from night and also calling with its own kind of song; she would remember to return to them when they came back. Because Mother did not stop here, but walked on into the darkness, and Luidaeg walked with her until the edges of thing around them blurred, quickly, sharply, and she had to fold in two with the dizziness of the transition.
Because they were no longer in the fens. It was quieter here, emptier.
"Where are we, Mother?"
"This is one of the Roads. It is ours to walk, and you will know it when you know more; for now, you may come with me when I set on it."
"Road to where?"
"Where I first grieved, my Luidaeg."
They walked in silence as she considered the meaning of that. "Grieved for what?"
The sadness in Mother's sigh was deep enough to bring tears to Luidaeg's eyes, and yet it was short of the pain that the word grieved had held.
"It is not merely you and I, my Luidaeg. There is somebody I love, and you were born out of that love, you and others who have come, and others who are yet to come."
Luidaeg asked, "Is that my Father?"
"Yours, aye, and the father of many. His name is Oberon."
The sound of his name alone sent a thrill of rightness down to Luidaeg's bones, she smiled. But, "Where is Oberon, then, Mother?"
"The King is away for the Summer. He has somebody prettier to keep him company when the skies are warm."
"She must be very cruel, then, to take him away from you." After a moment, she added, "And she cannot be prettier than you." How could anyone be? Luidaeg wanted to reach up and run her fingers through the silken black hair rippling down almost to her own fingers; she would, when they returned home. Not on the Road, it felt wasteful to spill time for mere joy, here.
Mother's laughter was laced with tears, and so was her voice, quiet and soft. "Cruel and beautiful, and yet for all of that, she cannot keep him more than I can. He tires of her and returns to me. But the first time, I did not know." Her words quivered, like a delicate latticework of leaves at the slightest of touches. "He was gone, and all my love turned to pain. And I wept. And from my tears they were born, even as I was carrying somebody else. My firstborn daughters."
There was a curtain by the road, and mother turned to her, reaching one hand, less clawed than Luidaeg's own, more beautiful, to lift it.
"So I have sisters?" Mother smiled and pressed her other hand on Luidaeg's back, and so she stepped across, under the curtain.
And yelped, covering her face with both hands, curling down and trying to shy back into the shadow. "Too bright!"
"Don't fight it, Luidaeg," Mother's voice was soft, but firm. "This is the sun, and it rules in many places where you will need to go, and it has beauty and makes beauty like no other thing. It is bright and warm, and it is a friend. Don't fight it and it won't hurt you." Familiar hands stroked her hair until she stopped shivering, then gently pulled her hands away from her face. "It will be well. You are already stronger than the sun, although now you know it, you will know when it comes and goes, as every one of us does."
"I don't like the sun." She would have stomped her foot, if it didn't hurt so much.
"But you may. Just try, please? Open your eyes, and see."
And ever so slowly, the Luidaeg did.
The brightness was hurtful, indistinguishable at first, like staring into a big great white-yellow wall of impossible sameness. But finally it started receding, Mother's words making her stubbornly push against the wall until finally shattered in glittery reflections and she was standing...
... someplace else.
Some place which was very far from the fens; so far that she couldn't smell even a hint of them, other than on Mother and herself. She could still smell the Sea, hear its call, but it was from a different direction, and there was so much new between here and there.
Up ahead of them, there was a tree. Unlike the ones she had known from the marshes, it spread out rich and cheerful, young fresh leaves and blossoms - blossoms of impossibly tender pink - turned up to drink in the sun with joy and love. The tree bloomed, and it smelled delicate and beautiful, and its roots drank deeply from the ground, and it taught her how the sun could be a friend, just as Mother said.
"Ah, the cherry blossoms." The tears were almost faded from Mother's voice; like everyone, she loved the tree. Encouraged, Luidaeg let go of her to run and press her hand to the trunk, then reached to run the tip of her claw over a single pale petal. "You can touch better if you pull the talon in; fingers are even better suited to gentle touches like this."
Luidaeg frowned at her, nodded slowly, looking at her own hand and thinking how it would look without the claw, until the curve slowly retracted. Mother smiled; yes, she was doing right.
They spent hours in the shadow of the cherry tree, learning small things about small animals who lived under it, about how to change how she looked, and about the sun and what it meant. To the plants, to the living things that weren't fae, and the living things that were. "There are different kinds of us, my Luidaeg. And more kinds will come, and they will have different purposes, and the purposes of those who are already here will yet be revealed. All has its place, and all fits together."
"You as well. You, and me, and Oberon, and those who are yet to come."
Luidaeg listened, and remembered. And then Mother took her hand again, and led her to the lake near the the cherry tree, and there she saw her oldest sisters.
Undine, Mother called them. And they were made entirely of water, even when they took a shape or changed their shape as she could. Dark hair like Mother's, only it did not curl unless water buoyed it, and delicate, drawn-up features. They were smallish, barely bigger than her and smaller than Mother, but so elegant in the way they moved, like a stream tripping down silvered rocks on its way. One of them appeared from each stream or pond surrounding the tree, and even some further away; they shifted and bubbled, trying to come closer to Mother, laughing with joy that she was there, and she first understood why the sun could be beautiful. The reflection on the water, shattering in a myriad of colors, made it so. It was still too bright. But her sisters made it less alien.
And she could feel them.
The land here was less marshy; it was dry between the separate bodies of water, and trees and flowers such as never caught on the soft soil she had only known before - nor in the absence of the sun, she thought, from Mother's explanation - took up the spaces. But she could still hear it, the water. The song which her sisters sang when their voices were quiet, she could hear it.
Nobody was paying much attention to her, not obviously, at any rate, and she slipped away from Mother's side. Not far - she wasn't ever out of sight, she didn't think it would be a good idea in a place she didn't know how to get home from - but to the edge of a brook, white foam sprinkling over the rapid motion of the stream. She reached to touch the spray, and smiled as she suddenly could see both ways that the water was - up the stream, where it came from, the deep cool caverns and the chill mountain slopes, and the warmer sun-kissed plains, and then down, to the bigger river, full of so much life, and then the Sea...
Luidaeg had smelled and heard the Sea, before, but her mind had never touched it this way, before. For a moment, it she lost herself in it, knowing it would never let her go, not completely--
And then there was a hand on her shoulder, bringing her back.
A delicate dark-haired figure stood before her. "Please don't do that." Her words were strangely lilted, yet understandable. Also exquisitely polite. "Your touch is very powerful, and I would not know how to teach my waters to be peaceful again when you leave again."
Luidaeg frowned up at her. "I am not peaceful?" After a moment's thought, she added, politely, "I am sorry, I did not know."
The Undine looked at her with her head canted to one side. "You are much like Her, some ways." The dark eyes looked at Mother, and then back, and the motion made Luidaeg aware that Mother was now looking at them and listening, and the fact that she had been polite was a relief. "And yet you are also with power which is untamed yet, power which comes from Him, and you must learn to use it, or it shall use you, and you will be claimed by the waters." The clear voice quieted again, and then added, "And if that happens, much will be lost which lives in the waters. You are powerful, little sister. But you are not always kind."
"When she grows older, things will be done for that," Mother interjected. "There are ways to constrain that power, without depriving her of it. Give her the tools to learn." There was a small jab of hurt inside Luidaeg, because Mother was speaking as though she wasn't there at all. She stayed quiet.
The Undine exchanged looks, then nodded, one by one. "That will be wise," another one said.
"If you need help, little sister,"
"or if you need teaching, little sister,"
"or if you need healing, little sister," the voices seem to be coming from all around, mixing with the song of the waters and strengthening it, making Luidaeg dizzy,
"come to us," they somehow finished in chorus.
And Mother's arms were holding her, and she buried her face against Her. "Rest now, my Luidaeg. Sleep, my child."
And she did.
When she awoke, she was home.
In the years that followed, Mother took her other places, too. To see other sisters. She had never asked herself where Mother went when she wasn't there, while the Luidaeg was exploring or busy or too tired to stay awake; but now she was beginning to have some idea. One evening as they were walking back the road, she suddenly became afraid - what if she needed Her, and Mother wasn't there? But Mother said that whenever Luidaeg called for her, She would return, because her children might be in different places, but if they needed her, there weren't nearly that many of them to ignore their call. The smooth, melodic words soothed the alarm, the worry.
The day after, she thought about trying if Mother would come. Not because Mother would lie to her, but because she was still afraid, a little. But she reconsidered. If Mother promised something, it would be truth, and anything else was too terrible to contemplate.
She did return to the Undine, trying to learn from them, although even while she could hear their song, she couldn't repeat it, so many of the delicate ways in which they changed the world around them were not accessible to her.
Others of her sisters were sometimes closer to her and taught her better. She was learning, slowly, to question good and not from Annis; she was learning, slowly too, to tend and heal and care, from Annie. She didn't know why their names were similar and hers was different, either, or why they were so different from each other and she was alike to both. But she learned. And she grew. Slowly; many generations of the family of foxes passed, and many seasons changed. She grew nearly as tall as Mother, but time was passing, and she was changing.
And Mother was always there when she needed Her to explain.
Luidaeg learned the seasons in many different places, and she learned the sun and the moon and the stars and the twilight. She knew the rains and the snows, and the way different trees shed their leaves on the waters, and the way to be which was best for the place and the weather she was in.
She learned, and did, and did more, and she didn't know if that was right or wrong, but it was.
Luidaeg was brushing Mother's hair, one evening as the weather was growing chiller, when He came. He simply stepped out of the road, and he was splendid.
He was tall, taller than anyone she had seen, except for that one bridge troll youngling that Mother had shown to her once, but He looked nothing like that; He was beautiful in the way Mother was, and yet very different, sharp features and compelling air which exuded power and energy so strong that it was almost palpable.
Luidaeg had heard the word hero, before, as somebody who accomplished great and impossible things; now the word filled with meaning, fleshing out as He strode towards them, eyes soft and at the same time commanding.
"Maeve," He said, and bowed.
Mother rose and curtseyed her greeting in return. "My Lord." Her voice sounded different, an added bright sound to it like the whisper of frost crystals on the branches of a tree when the wind stirs it on a clear, sun-lit winter morning, and when Luidaeg looked at her face, it was transported. She had seen Mother smile, and even laugh; but until this evening, she had never seen her happy. The wisdom and the sadness were somehow still there, but the dark eyes were bright and content, and the rich mouth was soft, calm, smiling. She hadn't named their visitor, but Luidaeg understood. It could only be Oberon, her Sire.
As His eyes moved to herself, Luidaeg lowered herself into a semblance of Mother's curtsey, although hers was infinitely less graceful. And Oberon smiled, a simple expression and yet profound, reaching the depths of his look, and she felt the warm approval spread through her like one of Annie's soothing balms.
His eyes returned on Mother. On Maeve, the name fitting and intertwining of her knowledge about Mother.
"I need to talk with you; something important has occurred."
"And you shall stay with me, after?"
"As always, my mysterious Queen. This is your time."
Mother almost pouted, but then contained the expression, reaching to place Her hand in His. "Even if you will go away again, I shall come, as many times as you need me."
"And I shall always return to you."
Mother bowed Her head, and then looked back. "Luidaeg..."
"I shall be well, Mother. There is plenty yet to learn."
Oberon smiled at her once more. "And maybe one day you will join me in My Hunt, or perhaps in your Mother's."
Luidaeg thought a moment, then met his eyes. "Perhaps. But only if you hunt in the waters."
He raised his face to the murky sky and laughed. "If that is so, perchance it will be I who may be joining your hunt. Be well, daughter of Maeve."
And so she watched her Mother and Father walk into the shadows, and also knew who she was. She was born to Oberon and Maeve, but she was Her daughter.
After a few days' thought, she found she liked it so. Mother loved and loved well, while Father loved and left, only to bring the joy and pain again. Luidaeg thought it better to love well.
Then the day came when Mother took her to the Sea.
They had talked about it before, and Luidaeg had heard its call, stronger and stronger, and Mother had told her that she might be bound to the ocean, so that once she was there, she might not be able to leave again for a while. She had taken her time to make sure the other things she could think of were familiar.
"I can return here, can't I?"
"For a while. Eventually, this place may no longer be, or the Road to it may have closed. Or you may be different enough that you can't find it." She smiled. "But there is much that might happen before such time comes to pass, my Luidaeg. Fear not."
The reassurance helped, but it did not chase all the fear away.
The sight of the ocean did.
They had been walking through thick, salty-smelling fog for a while before they reached it, so she first heard the waves breaking on the rocks, then the song of the waters, louder and deeper by so much than the waters of either the marsh or the lakes and brooks where her sisters dwelt, and only then did she see it. The crashing waves resolved into sprays of foam near her feet, color familiar from the reflections she had seen of her own face most days. There were the waves again, retreating and rushing close again only to break before her, continued, endless, unchangeable and always changing.
Slowly the fog thinned to mist, and the mist burned away until her eyes took in, for the first time, the enormity of the ocean. It went on, and on, and further yet again, rippled and moving and always still, too, but not stationary. Her lips parted as though she could, or should, taste it, rather than merely see and hear and smell and sense it; even Mother's presence fading away from her awareness for a moment, she stepped forward and lowered herself down to her knees, both hands reaching to meet the next wave, grabbing at the elusive water for the moment before it pulled away.
It was perfect. The water in the marshes had always been a trifle cold, the waters in the sunlight always warm; but here, this water, it felt the same as her blood was running, neither too hot nor too cold. And the salty water had a different feel to it than clear, and a few droplets stayed on her skin, collected in the curves of her talons, and yes, she did bring her hands up to taste it.
"It is as though I've never drunk water before."
"Maybe you haven't. Not the water which was meant for you."
"Then why did I grow up there, and not here?" There was no accusation in the question; Luidaeg would never have dreamed of doing that. But she was curious.
"Because not all lessons are the ones that are natural or easy, daughter mine. You know now how to learn, and when it comes to your place in the worlds we have, there is nobody who can teach you. One day, you will teach others; but now, you need to learn."
"I already am..." Yes, she had been meeting all the waves, even crawling forward, until the water lapped her knees on the sharp rocks when it surged towards her.
"What do you know?"
"It doesn't make a difference to It where it is. It reaches all the oceans and all the seas, at the same time. In Faerie and outside it. All of it, one Sea. One Sea which holds all the seas." She looked up. "I can go anywhere. I can think anywhere. How can that be?"
Mother's smile was soft and gentle, but also wise and old; it was the first time that Luidaeg wondered how much older Mother was. "Going everywhere and thinking everywhere and being everywhere, my Luidaeg. And then, one day, doing everything. Everything that you can think of, at least; and everything that you are allowed, but you need not worry about that. Even the Sea isn't strong enough for you to need to." She stepped along the wet rocks, graceful and light, and leaned down to kiss the top of her head. "One day, maybe soon, but not yet."
The song of the waves, of the salt water, was too loud for her to worry, although she thought maybe she should. "How will I know, then?"
"You will know. But you are young, and the young can dance as they please, and then you will know why the limitations are necessary."
"Do you have them?"
Many times did the waves crash into the shore before Mother answered, "Maybe. I do not see enough to answer you." She smiled, one hand on Luidaeg's shoulder. "No matter, not today. Go, play, explore. Reach the end of the world and the bottom of the Sea, and see if you can fly to the stars."
"Or swim to them."
"Or swim to them. You know how to attempt that?"
Luidaeg nodded. "I learned with the Undine. They don't always like me touching their waters, but if I am invited, they will help me, too."
Mother's laughter echoed on the cliff behind her. "You know you will touch all their waters when you are in the Sea?"
She thought on that, nodded slowly, brushing a black curl back from her face. "Yes. I know. Some of them might even know, it, too." Suddenly worried about her sisters' displeasure, she straightened her back. "Will they mind? That I am here or where I will go, and that I will touch what is theirs?"
Mother shook her head. "Not here, my Luidaeg. Even when their power reaches here, this will be your realm, in a way, and they have no control over what passes when their waters move beyond their reach. All you would do is yours."
She thought about that for a moment. "Why mine?"
"Because in Faerie, when you are claimed by something, that is your claim on it, too."
"But I don't want to be a queen. That belongs to beautiful you and splendid Father and his pretty summer lady. I am merely Luidaeg!"
Mother looked at her for a long while. "Place your hands in the water, and then try to not think who you are, but who you will be. Not might, not want, but who you will become."
She frowned up at Her, but could see no harm in that, not if Mother told her to. Slowly she extended her hands to the water until both palms were touching it even when the waves retreated. And thought. About who she would be.
What she hadn't expected was that it would hurt, a great vast weight and an even greater emptiness tearing through her, weight of too much time and experience, emptiness of too much loss, too much strength which was never enough, not at the right place and the right time, too much disappointment, and too much grief. But there was more to that. There was a knowledge, a perfect awareness, that children - so many children, so different, she couldn't yet imagine them all - were afraid of the threat of her, and she was the Luidaeg, the sea-witch...
She snapped out of it and gasped. "I don't want to be that."
"It is not a greater burden to bear than others, my Luidaeg. And maybe some things would be worth the price, after all is said and done." Luidaeg shuddered at the thought of all ending. "Think not of that, now. The sea waits for you."
"It may be mine, but I won't be queen."
"No." Mother's rich lips curved up in a deep, knowing smile. "You won't be nearly as powerless as that." She canted her head. "Go."
Soon enough, the hurt of looking through time was forgotten, and so was time itself. There was only the Sea, and the variegated immenseness of it, and the promise, and with what Mother had shown her, there was so much promise, of even more beauty, more knowledge.
She spent most of the next forever learning the oceans and seas. She swam some, lived places, sailed others. She knew the names of whole schools of fish, or went places where even the colors had names she couldn't guess at until she named them. She watched more children of the Lord and Ladies appear, and some of them were fit for the ground and she barely paid them heed, and others came to her. First only the children of the Firstborn, and then their offspring, swimming or walking the waters as they learned to. They all came to her, sooner or later. Pay their respects. Teach her what they could do, learn what she would give them, and that grew with each turn of the seasons.
She saw many seasons before she let herself stay away from the Sea for any extended period of time. Mother had been right. The fens were where she had come from, but they were no longer home, not really.
Mother was. But she had younger children to care for, too, and they were growing and learning fast, too. Not because they learned faster than she had, but time had ceased to have as much meaning as it once had for her, and she had enough to do with herself in that time that the meaning of such periods contracted into rapidity.
And then there was Michael.
Michael was special, because he couldn't see. His eyes were white, white and endless, as her own sometimes were and yet not quite; his couldn't change . And he couldn't use them. But he could use the eyes of others if they were lent it to him. Luidaeg shared sight with him for a while, when Mother was busy elsewhere. But he also was special because he favored children. Children of all kinds, even of the slowly growing human race, who looked almost like some of the Fae but had none of their talents - he said they were easier to share sight with.
And then Michael continued to be peculiar when he fell in love.
With a daughter of Titania.
There were so many possibilities, by then; but that choice made Luidaeg - and many of her other siblings - worried.
She had only known about Titania's children from stories, and from their children, those who wound up in the Sea or at Its edges. Meeting Acacia was... a revelation of its own.
Not that she didn't like Michael's lady; complicated and sharp as the Dryad was, there was a love in her heart for growing things, and while they did not agree on many things, Luidaeg had a common language with her. But Acacia was woven with lies in a way Maeve's children never were, and there was a cool harshness that Luidaeg couldn't understand.
Yes, she worried for her baby brother. But she also used the opportunity to study her half-sister. And the more she knew, the more she realized that this way lay madness. Not soon, not quickly, and not by any choice that Acacia could make, because she did love Michael back.
Luidaeg had to question what her half-siblings who didn't have growing things to care for and learn love from would be like. But, as Michael settle into his own islet and his face glowed with gentleness and love, she settled.
The blow came from a different direction.
She had returned to the Sea for a while, her worries appeased, and was learning about the coldest reaches, where the waters met the permanent ice, in the mortal world and in the realms of Faerie, when it reached her. A feeling of thorough wrongness, of wrenching grief. And though Mother was far, far away, Luidaeg knew it was Her grief that she felt.
The Roads were dark and cold when she walked them, but they were the fastest way to reach Her.
It was Annis, her black robes spread like the petals of a flower unknown in Faerie, the silver and iron blades still piercing her body. Maeve wept, and Luidaeg wept with her, because her sister was gone, forever, and that was not supposed to happen. They should live forever, whatever that brought, and this abomination was wrong. Annis's youngest daughter crept closer to the still body and laid her head on her mother's lap, but there was no response.
In time, Mother stirred, her eyes deep like starless night when she looked over. "Tell the rest of you, please." And then, as She picked the tiny shape away from Her dead daughter, She added, her voice sharp as newly shattered shells, "and find whoever did this. I will care for them."
"Yes, Mother," was all Luidaeg could say; it was enough. She set on her way to fulfill the requests, both, immediately.
He was a young and perky scion of Titania, aspiring to be called a son of Oberon, his sharp features stiff with pride at his deed; she turned his blood to salt water with a thought and stood over his writhing body until the last spark of self-awareness died in the pale violet eyes. A twist of her hand, and the salt water exploded, tearing the smooth skin to shreds as it found its way out. She drained every last drop of moisture from the flesh.
And after that, she burned him.
Whoever might have looked for him never found him; she made sure of that.
But Maeve's tears rose again, and again, and when kind, beautiful, gentle Annie was cut down, Luidaeg's rage rose in truth.
There was no hiding place far enough or deep enough, nor hidden enough, where those who considered hunting Maeve's children a sport could be spared of her wrath.
Three days and three nights she sought them out, until her hands were red with blood, and she thirsted.
And on the fourth morning, Oberon stood before her, blocking her away.
He watched her a long time, still. "You are no longer the waif who curtseyed in her Mother's wake, awed and loving."
They were your children, too."
"And so are those you now destroy."
"Let me pass." The thunder of the tidal wave overlay her words; she cared not.
Luidaeg didn't hesitate; she pushed at him. Tried to push him away.
But surely as her power was infinitely greater than the abilities of those she had been hunting, His was infinitely more than hers. She beat against Him like a moth against the wall of a paper box, like a predator fish trapped in swift-growing coral. Without a hope of winning her way through.
She pushed all the harder for that.
Until his power changed, pure and inexorable, and commenced to delineate a box around her, slow but inexorable.
"Daughter of Maeve," His voice held thunder and wind and starlight, fire and ice, and all she could do was stay still. "Here I bind your power. You may not harm the children of Titania, or their descendants. You may not grant your aid to those who would. Your power, now mature, will be bound by rules. All that you do comes with a price, and the one who asks for it needs to pay the price. You deem what the price is, but it must be fair."
Tears were falling down her eyes, thick and hot. "And what of Her children, Father? They can kill us and make us suffer, and I can not raise a hand against them?"
His eyes turned golden, and his chin lowered a mere fraction of an inch. "They will be bound by my rules, too. I will not have my children kill each other. Find other ways to resolve your differences!"
And he was gone.
Luidaeg fell to her knees, the sharp, impossible chill of her chosen road digging into her skin, and wept black ice.