Chapter 1: Prologue
Do you like horses? I swear, they listen more than people do. I help out at a stable near my house and it's amazing.
Ever ridden before?
When Evelyn Flynn (though she preferred Evie) returned home with her father from Albion, she hadn't really thought about what would happen afterwards. There hadn't really been any need to. Eriu and Dag Dia - two of her closest (and only) friends were always there for her. Dag Dia was always at the stables waiting for her and Eriu often swung by to pick Evie up and they'd go into town or to the movies.
But, every once in a while, Eriu would be unavailable. Sometimes Evie could go spend time with her dad, but he was pretty engrossed in his physical therapy lately, and she more often then not spent time with Dag Dia. She had friends, she had two loving parents, she had a whole world of magic and adventure that was just for her, but -
Evie was lonely.
One day in class, she was doodling in the margin of her reading book (A Tale of Two Cities) when the bell rang, signalling the end of the day, and the start of spring break. The usual scuffle of shoes and books being shoved into bags ensued before a loud BANG cracked through the air. Twenty-some twelve-year-olds froze.
"Now that I've got your attention," Ms. White said with a cool smile as she put down the chalkboard eraser, "I'd just like a moment of your time to hand out your vacation assignments."
"Aw, c'mon teach!"
"It's nothing you can't handle," the teacher replied firmly over the wails of her charges. "First, a short essay discussing the themes of A Tale of Two Cities. Minimum, two pages. Second-" she reached into her drawer and pulled out a packet of large brown envelopes. "This will count towards your final grade at the end of the year. In here-" she wriggled the packet in her hand, "is an email address of a boy or a girl in another class in Europe. At least once a week, you have to email them and keep them up to date. As most of you are going to the Oak, you'll no doubt be aware that there's an exchange program in your Sophomore and Junior years. These students will be coming here and you'll be going to them, should you choose to participate in the program."
White Oak High, affectionately called 'The Oak' sat right next door to White Oak Middle school, known as 'The Acorn' by everyone in Cedar Creek.
"Do we get to pick who we email?" Billy asked, pushing his glasses back into place.
"No, it's completely random. Who you get is who you email. No swapping," Ms. White said sternly, glancing at Brittany who pouted and tugged at her braids in annoyance. "Now, I think I've held you all back long enough. Line up and take an envelope before you leave. And make sure you email your pen pal! I will be checking with their teacher before break is over."
Evie packed her books and took her place at the back of the line. While her face remained blank, she wondered if her pen pal would be nice. Would he or she like horses? Would they like her?
"Here you go Evie." She was startled when Ms. White pressed the envelope into her hand. "You were daydreaming again, weren't you?"
"Er, yeah. Sorry Ms. White," she muttered, her cheeks burning.
"It's all right. You head on home and say hi to your dad for me, 'kay?" Ms. White smiled, waving a hand at her. "Go on, get."
Smiling in return, Evie dashed out of the classroom and emerged from the building, squinting in the bright afternoon sunshine. Spring break meant more time at the stables with Dag Dia and Eriu, more time with her dad, and...
She glanced at the envelope in her hand, hope blossoming in her chest. Maybe she'd be able to make a friend after all.
The fragrant air of the garden drifted in lazily through the open window, the rainshower only a few minutes prior enhancing the scent. After sitting in a hot car that reeked of artificial pine spray, Lia James was more than happy for something more pleasing to smell. Her sea-green eyes shut as she stood at the kitchen window and took a deep breath. For her, the garden always smelled -
"Did you say something, pet?" her grandmother asked as she set down the tray of tea and biscuits.
Turning at the sound of the familiar voice, Lia took her seat at the table again. She'd been looking forward to this trip for weeks, and now she had the chance to spend the whole weekend with her grandmother in Scotland. She'd always hated her father's job, but now since he'd be going up to Scotland at least once a fortnight (and disliked the idea of a babysitter), and taking his only child with him to dump at his mother's. For him, it was free childcare, but for Lia, it was to spend time with her beloved Nana.
"It's so green here Nana," Lia smiled, taking a biscuit from the tray. "Not like back home."
"Aye, it's been a 'Fairy Spring' round here."
"What do you mean?" her granddaughter asked curiously as she poured a large dollop of milk into her tea cup.
"Ah, it's one of the saying's in these parts, when the wee fairies were busy earlier than usual. Your plaits are all crooked - was your father tying them with his teeth this morning or what? Let me see there..."
Taking a sip of milky tea, Lia allowed her grandmother to unbraid her hair and tug a brush through it.
"What d'you mean, Nana? Daddy says there's no such thing as fairies."
She didn't have to look as she could tell Nana got that look in her eye; all cold and frosty like she'd turned into the White Witch from her Narnia books.
"Your father's a wonderful man my love, but he's a twit when it comes to some things," Nana said sagely, her fingers flying with ease to plait her granddaughter's hair into two neat braids. "Just because he's never seen a fairy in his life doesn't mean they aren't as real as you or me. In these parts, you should always believe in what you see and what you can't. It could save you when the time comes..." She paused, her hands stopping their movements as memories that were best left forgotten rose in her mind's eye.
"Nana?" Lia asked, a little scared when her grandmother trailed off.
"Just one of the tales you hear in the Highlands, dearie," she soothed, continuing. "Now, tell me about school. What did you do this week?"
That night, as Lia was playing around on her father's laptop, an email popped up addressed to her. With a smile, she clicked on it and read it eagerly, almost falling over herself to tap out a reply when she had finished. Her father appeared when she was half-ways through.
"What are you doing, Lia? You should be in bed," he scowled.
"School project daddy. I'll be done in a few minutes," she assured him, still typing as he huffed.
"One minute," he allowed, disappearing into the ensuite. Her little fingers flew and she clicked 'send' before her father emerged from the bathroom.
"I'm done!" she hollered. "Night!"
Not hearing a reply from her father (and in all honesty, not really expecting one), she closed the laptop and skipped down the corridor to her room, dressing into her pjs and brushing her teeth in record time before diving beneath the covers.
She fell asleep that night with a smile on her face.
I love horses! I've had a couple of lessons, but my parents got fussy when the horse threw me off. It wasn't his fault, and I was okay, but they haven't let me near one since. You're really lucky!
People do listen, but horses don't talk stupid at you.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
I'm going to be spending a couple of weeks with my mom in the summer. I'm pretty excited, but I won't be able to email until I come back. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that she lives in an area with zero coverage. No internet, no phone calls. I love visiting my mom, but I kinda wish she lived somewhere with wifi.
How's everything going with you?
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Majesty?" the Dannan asked cautiously. "The princess would be most upset if she knew of this."
"I'm quite sure, Tien." The Queen of the Dannan glanced around the throne room - finally restored to her family's seat of power, thanks to Evelyn. The clean-up job had been gruelling but entirely worth it; now tapestries hung from polished stone walls, jewel-bright fabrics hung by open windows and there were fresh flowers everywhere. Best of all, that hideous chair that Eeren had erected had been dismantled and disappeared without a trace.
Seated on her throne, the Queen nodded. "After all she has done for us, this is only the beginning of the Dannan's repayment to Evelyn. Each time I have spoken to her, she has mentioned this friend from across the sea. I just want to be certain she means my daughter no harm."
"Of course, ma'am."
Though what harm this child could wreak is beyond me, the Dannan thought, though she stayed quiet.
"And under no circumstances are you tell anyone of this," the Queen ordered, her voice gentle, but firm. "It is for my ears only."
Tien nodded. "How long do you wish me to watch this child?"
The Queen shook her head, the golden ornaments on her crown swaying gently with her movements. "As long as she is in Evelyn's life, she is to be treated with caution. Now, go swiftly Tien. Evelyn will be arriving soon and I wish to enjoy my time with her."
Finding this girl was proving far more difficult than Tien had anticipated. Humans had come a long way since she had last visited their realm, and she was a little more lost than she'd care to admit. At least she knew what Evelyn looked like, and after a day of listening in at open windows, she soon had the information she needed: her target lived in a little village in Scotland, a place that was, thankfully, accessible for her. One quick trip through a fairy-ring and she was in that wild, rugged land across the water. Then it was only a matter of time until she found out which of the neat little cottages the girl lived in.
Looking up at the dwelling, Tien shook her dark head. It was a pretty enough home, whitewashed with a blue door, and a garden that would bloom with life during the warmer months. In the icy sleet of winter, the plants slumbered on.
Tien sighed, and settled down to begin her watch.
It wasn't a question. No. This was a statement of fact. Pure and simple.
More laughter, snapping around her like a whip. Lia tried to move, to run, but she was unable to move, held fast by deep, cloying darkness.
You're not here. You're not real!
Laughter was her only answer.
Struggling against the bonds that gripped her, she fought in vain to open her eyes, heavy lids refusing to rise. Unable to move a single muscle, she felt the panic inside her rise as bile into her throat, the urge to scream becoming overwhelming. Yet still she couldn't move – not even to scream, her body immobile as if in death.
Leave me alone!
The scent of lilies engulfed her until she thought she'd suffocate from the sickeningly sweet smell.
Never, dear girl. You are mine. Mine. Liiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaa…..
Blearily, Lia cracked her eyes open to find the comforting warmth of her grandmother's cottage instead of that horrible, oppressive darkness of her dream. She was lying on the ancient leather couch in the sitting room, an overly plump cushion beneath her head and a thick quilt tucked around her.
Turning toward the voice, Lia's blurry eyes registered wispy silver hair, gentle green eyes hiding behind thick spectacles.
"Welcome back," the owner of the green eyes said in an amused voice. With a shaking hand, Lia rubbed her eyes and looked again, this time seeing an elderly man with wavy silver hair and a gentle smile stretched to the pale green of his eyes.
"Hello, Lia. I'm Doctor Campbell."
"Is she okay?" Nana asked worriedly, wringing her hands together. "Should I take her up to the hospital?"
Shaking his head, Doctor Campbell smiled and began packing up his bag, giving Lia's arm a pat.
"Naw, she'll be fine. Nothing a good night's sleep and homecooked meals won't fix," he replied, before fixing Lia with a stern look. "Now, this won't do. Scarcely eating. Living on sugar, then not sleeping properly - it's no wonder you fainted! You're not to go scaring your grandmother anymore, young lady! I want you eating proper meals and sleeping at proper times. Understood?"
"Yes, Sir," she muttered, running a hand over her forehead. She watched as Nana showed the doctor out, her fingers absently picking at a loose thread on the quilt. Frowning with worry, her grandmother perched on the couch next to her, lightly patting her face with a damp cloth.
"You gave me quite a fright, pet," the elderly woman said softly, her grey eyes narrowed with concern.
"I'm sorry, Nana."
"It's all right." Nana stopped fussing and looked at Lia, her lips pursed tightly as she surveyed her grand-daughter. "I know you've had to cope with a lot of changes lovie, but I'm worried about you. Ever since-"
Lia flinched. Her grandmother watched her with worried eyes before a thought entered her mind.
"Did you know that this house is built on a ley line?"
Bemused, Lia propped herself up on her elbow.
"Ley line?" she repeated.
"Yes. It's a line of power, loosely translated. Humans are supposed to avoid building on them, as ley lines attract the Fair Folk."
"Exactly pet. But our ancestors were stubborn and they built this house, against all advice. None of them, you see, believed in any of that 'superstitious nonsense', as they called it. Well, for a time everything was peaceful, but then their firstborn went missing. One moment he was in his cradle and the next, he'd vanished. There was talk that the fairies had taken the mite and were going to leave a changeling in his place, which made everybody mighty anxious. But your great-great-great-great-grandmother Sarah was a wise woman. She made offerings to the fairies, asking for protection and forgiveness."
"Did she get it?"
"Well darling, all I can tell you is that this family has been making offerings to the fairies since Sarah's day and we haven't had a spot o' bother since." The lady smiled, seeing the twinkle of interest taking root in her granddaughter's eye. "I can show you, if you like."
Tien watched with eyes bright with interest at the pair that were making their way around the garden. The elder was humming an unfamiliar but pleasing tune, keeping an eye on her young charge who was placing acorn caps at the bases of trees, at clumps of plants and under bushes. Her nose twitched, whiskers quivering with excitement. She could smell sugar and herbs and her stomach growled.
Knowledge of the fae. Not many would be interested in learning it, nowadays, Tien thought with interest. The child shows some promise.
But first, she needed to eat. Spying was hungry work, after all.
5 Years later....
With a smile, Lia finished laying out the week's acorn caps and returned inside, shucking off her coat and making her way to her bedroom at the top of the cottage. She smiled as the top step of the staircase gave its usual groan when she put her weight on it. The cottage was old and 'spoke' often, creaking, moaning and settling as the Scottish weather changed in a flash. She entered her little room, high under the eaves of the cottage. The walls were painted a creamy, buttery yellow, off-set with the white paint of the iron bed. Said bed was covered in a thick quilt, made by her Nana's loving hands. Next to the bed sat a white bedside table, with a small vase of white heather on it. For protection, Nana always said when she put fresh blooms in the vase. She'd have to remember to bring some with her.
As Lia brushed out her hair, she nibbled her lip as she thought about her luggage list. But instead of thinking about the kinds of clothes she was to bring, her mind was filled with iron triskels, holy water, and bottles of sea salt. Not quite what most teenagers would be thinking about.
Oh you know, nothing much. Just normal girl stuff.
I've never been on a plane before. I prefer travelling around on horseback. I'd go to school on a horse if I could.
As she walked into her room, Lia let her fingers trail across the wall. With a soft sigh, she sat down in front of the little dressing table, the room behind her reflected in the old mirror.
Picking up her brush, she began to slide it through the thick curls that framed her face. For several years, ever since she'd come to live with her grandmother, Lia had felt as though she was being watched. She'd voiced her concerns to the older woman, but it had been chalked down to stress and the upheaval from the move. There was also the odd comment from her grandmother's friends that she 'was bound to feel the odd one out' and she was 'at the age where a lass gets self-conscious'.
Lia knew she was right, though.
She had returned home from school one day and when she entered her bedroom, she got the same feeling she always got when she felt those eyes on her. It wasn't until she went to bed that she found them, three small items laying on her pillow – a silver key on a grey ribbon, a sprig of white heather, and an iron hoop with three intertwined circles within the circumference.
Intrigued, she had taken all three items with her to the local library and scoured the shelves until she had an answer. The heather and key were for protection - something she could easily have upon her person. The iron hoop (or triskellion, as she'd learned) was something she could place in her home, to protect herself from dark magicks and ill-intentioned fae. She felt the eyes on her again, but she wasn't afraid any longer. They were kind eyes, watching over her and protecting her. Her dreams of being trapped - of the cloying scent of lillies - had stopped, and she was able to rest easier. Now, however, she was leaving the sanctuary of home to travel across the sea. She was excited beyond belief - she'd been dying to meet Evie for years, and now that chance had arrived - but she was also worried. How could she continue to protect herself without seeming like an utter loony in front of her friend? Evie shared her love of folklore and the fae, but she wasn't entirely sure the Vermont girl quite understood how much of a foundation it had become for Lia. It was her lifeblood, her passion - it got her up in the morning and cheered her through the dark days. Her classmates thought she was eccentric, but she didn't much care for what they thought.
She did, however, care about what Evie thought of her. Very much.
Rubbing the bridge of her nose as she felt a migraine coming on, Lia tried to remember the lore she had spent hours pouring over, searching her memory for anything that might prove useful while she was away.
"Lia, tea is ready! Have a drop with me before you go," Nana called, the sound carrying well as it bounced off the old plaster and stone walls of the cottage.
"Coming, Nana," she shouted in return.
Lilies. She could smell the lilies again.
Lia opened her eyes. She was in a large, dark hall; the only source of light were from torches set into the walls, casting eerie shadows. A rustle behind her had her turning to see a girl around her own age coming down a long corridor in a pretty dress that had, unfortunately, seen better days. Her feet were bare and her hair was matted and dirty.
Lia frowned. Who was this strange girl?
A person - a male by the looks of it - appeared behind the girl and spoke in a velvety smooth voice that unsettled Lia greatly, but the other girl was practically panting, wrapping herself around her companion as much as she could.
Why couldn't she see the guy was shady as hell? Lia tried to step forward to separate them, but her body refused to move. It was like she'd turned into a statue, and she vainly tried to get herself to move. When she glanced up at the couple again, she saw cold, sinister eyes staring right at her.
Lia woke with a start.
"You all right, honey?" the stewardess asked her. At Lia's nod, she continued, "We're about to begin our descent, so if you could fold your tray away?"
The redhead smiled and sat up in her chair, putting the tray away and checking her seatbelt was fastened. The plane began its descent, eventually swooping in to land with a squeal of tires on the tarmac. The seatbelt light clicked off and the cabin crew were wishing their passengers a safe outward journey. They filed off the plane and headed to the terminal building to collect their luggage. Boston Logan Airport was huge, and after making her way through security, Lia eventually arrived at the correct conveyor belt. Black bags, brown bags, plaid bags and suitcases, rucksacks and golf-clubs, and finally, her new set of floral patterned suitcases came into view. She pounced on them and dragged them onto a trolley before making her way through to arrivals and headed towards the entrance, trying to connect her phone to the wifi - and failing.
Someone jumped on her when she was a few steps from the entrance to the terminal.
"Lia!" a familiar voice squealed in her ear. "Oh my gosh, it's awesome to finally meet you!"
"Nice to meet you too, Evie!" she answered, beaming as she returned the girl's hug. Evelyn Flynn was a gorgeous girl - there was no denying. Golden skin from her active lifestyle, dark chocolate hair that was scraped back into a neat braid and slanted hazelnut eyes, she was exotic, even in her plain t-shirt and jeans. A happy bubble was blooming in Lia's stomach, now that she was finally face-to-face with her closest, if only, friend.
"What, no 'hey' for me?" the man behind them teased, leaning heavily on a walking stick as they turned. "I'm Connor, Evie's dad." Lia seized him up. Tall, with dark gold hair and twinkling brown eyes, she would be willing to bet that Connor Flynn was quite popular with the ladies. She wondered why he and his wife lived separately. Evie had never really explained. She mentally shrugged and smiled back at her host for the next few months.
"Mr. Flynn, it's very nice to meet you," she said politely, shaking his hand.
"And you, Miss James," he returned with a friendly grin. "Come on, the car's just outside."
The two girls grabbed the cases and followed Connor outside to the car, a Volkswagen Beetle in a deep, golden yellow. The two large cases were stuffed in the trunk and the smaller one was put in the back. Lia was about to slide in beside it when Connor quite neatly took her place.
"Uh, Mr. Flynn?"
"It's alright Lia. I know you two girls would love to gossip and I'm well aware of what happens when I interrupt 'girl time'," he joked, making himself comfortable. "Go on," he urged at her still-unsure look.
"Okay," Evie said as she slid into the driver's seat said as he started the car. "Let's go."
The journey from the airport was pleasant enough. Evie was a calm driver, easing her way through the lunchtime traffic with ease before they left Boston behind, heading along the freeway that would take them to Cedar Creek Windham County, Vermont. The talk in the car was lively, touching on several subjects before landing on Ceder Creek.
"How many live there?"
"In total, about two thousand, more or less," Connor answered. Most live in the town, but a few have settled outside."
As they turned off the freeway, Lia could see mountains in the distance.
"Those are the some of the mountains in the Green Mountains range," Connor said as they sped along. "It's a little rural, but-"
"Rural is perfect," Lia assured. "I grew up in Scotland, Mr. Flynn. I'm not a huge fan of big cities."
"Girl after my own heart," Connor grinned, "Our house is just a little ways outside of town. Evie gets the bus to school, and she usually gets a ride from work back home. I've asked her to use the car, but-"
"We're both paying the insurance, so it's a shared car, Dad," Evie interjected in that no-nonsense way of hers. "Besides, I only use it to get to work on the weekends."
"How out of town is it?" Lia asked.
"About ten minutes by car. There's nothing but woods and mountains around. It's pretty peaceful."
"It sounds great. Is there any wildlife in the woods?"
"Well, there is, but nothing too dangerous," her dad said in a serious tone. "There's a herd of moose that wander about, but the park rangers usually warn us when they stray too close to town."
"I'll keep in mind - no moose in the hoose," Lia quipped, and all three burst into laughter. They pulled to a stop in front of a typical 'suburbia' house in a faded green, with a white front door.
"Well, this is it," Evie said a little nervously as Connor slipped out of the car and went to open the front door.
"Evie, it's perfect," she said, smiling at her friend. Evie smiled back, squeezing her hand tightly.
"Your Majesty, I've returned." The dark-haired fae bowed deeply before her queen. The minute Lia had left her village, Tien had made for the fairy ring, longing to be back in Albion before the sun had set. She had returned to her family, who were overjoyed to see her once again, and after she had bathed and donned fresh clothes, she rushed with all haste to the castle to give her report to the Queen.
"Arise, Tien. I've missed you greatly these past years," the Queen said warmly as the fae stood. "But I would have it be known just what you make of this girl across the sea my daughter has befriended."
Tien wound a long lock of her blue-black hair throughout her fingers, carefully thinking about her answer before she spoke.
"Your Majesty. When I first arrived to watch the girl, I saw a bright, but lonely child. She faced such hardships at such a young age that I was surprised that they did not dominate her life. She is an ordinary girl who longs for a companion. I believe she has found this in your daughter. Her letters from the Princess were the highlight of her day."
"What hardships did she go through, Tien?" The Queen was intrigued, despite herself. Her interest was piqued when the woman before her seemed uncomfortable in sharing the information with her.
"I am not too certain, my lady, but I did discover when she arrived that she seemed to be the target of Unseelie magic." That brought the Queen up short.
"Unseelie? You are certain?" her voice was sharp.
"Yes, majesty. She would have night terrors and days where she couldn't eat or sleep. It got so bad, majesty that I-" she stopped and bowed her head. "Pardon my boldness, but I fashioned her a trisk, and gave it to her."
"A trisk?" The Queen was impressed. Tien and her family were famous for their gift of creating magical artifacts - it was her family's ancestors who had crafted the Dannan treasures centuries ago. To admit to giving away a triskelle - a protective device of such importance that it took a great deal of magic to make one - to a little girl she'd been sent to spy on...the child must have struck a deep cord in the fae, if she were willing to gift her a trisk.
"Yes, majesty. I am willing to face any punishment you command."
"Tien. How could I punish such a kind heart? You gifted this child with a trisk to protect her from Unseelie magicks - why would I be angry? My concern is that she was being targeted by the Unseelie in the first place."
"Yes, majesty." Relieved, Tien straightened. "Shall I summon Erémon?"
"It might be best. I would like his opinion on this." As Tien bowed and exited the room, the Queen was already deep in thought. A human girl, attacked by Unseelie magicks that were powerful enough to warrant strong protective charms? It was most unusual. Her mind was made up.
She needed to meet this girl.
If only we could still do that! But then I suppose it's better we have cars and boats now, huh? I don't think horses can swim that far!