Sarah woke on the morning of Midsummer with the feeling that something was about to change.
That was true, of course. Midsummer marked the longest day of the year, the beginning of the harvest season, the day to give thanks to the Fae, and the turn back toward shorter days and longer nights. It was a joyful day, celebrating the sun and the early gathering of food, flowers, and herbs, living things that began the cycle of abundance and harvest. It would be a day of celebration in the village, extending well into the evening, and even the villagers’ wariness of herself and her brother David might be expected to thaw.
Still, something felt different. She just wasn’t sure what.
Sarah swung her feet to the floor with a sigh, her thoughts turning sad as she began to dress, pulling on a light cotton print dress and an apron, and pinning her hair into a neat bun at the nape of her neck. This marked the sixth Midsummer that she and Davey had been alone, six years since their parents and brother had disappeared. Sarah missed them every day, and she knew David did as well.
The disappearance of their family had also been the beginning of their strained relationship with their neighbors. The Jacobs had always been here as protectors, and up until six years ago, the villagers had trusted them to treat illness, to recover lost animals, to bless the crops, to bring the love and protection of the God and Goddess as well as the Fae. Once their parents and Les had disappeared, however, that trust had been tainted with suspicion and hesitation. Some thought she and David were being punished for some failing toward the God and Goddess; those who were more sympathetic believed that perhaps their family had been kidnapped or killed by human hands. The worst belief was that she and Davey had done the killing themselves.
Regardless of which belief they harbored, the villagers kept coming to them for help, but most came with fear, or downright hostility, where there had been none before. Sarah knew that she and Davey both carried the quiet ache of that loss.
She padded out to the kitchen on silent feet, greeting their calico cat, Apollo, with a smile and a scratch behind his ears.
Looking around their sun-drenched kitchen, Sarah began to feel cheerful again. It was a beautiful day, and she was in the same space where her father had carefully taught Davey how to identify the various energies around them, how to speak (silently or not) to the animals they shared the land with, how to ward against and banish evil. And it was here that her mother had taught her how to grow things, how to heal wounds, how to create tinctures and potions that would help the villagers, how to communicate with and encourage the protection of the Fae, how to celebrate the sabbats and be a figurehead for the villagers. There had been Jacobs in this house for five generations, and Brigid willing, there would be more.
Sarah began to assemble the dry ingredients for scones, and before long she heard Davey come in and begin washing up.
“Morning, sis,” he said warmly, squeezing her shoulder as he went to get plates from the cupboard. “Happy Midsummer.”
“Happy Midsummer, Davey,” she smiled. “Everything all right with the animals?”
“Oh, they’re on cloud nine,” he said with a grin. “It’s a beautiful day, they’re well fed, they’re milked, they’re grazing. There’s nothing wrong for them today.”
“Good,” Sarah answered. She slid the scones into the oven and began cracking more eggs into a bowl. “Did you . . . feel anything, while you were out and about? Anything different?”
Davey frowned at her as he set down the plates and cutlery. “Everything feels a little different at Midsummer. Energy is always stronger on a solstice, and especially on this one. You mean something wrong?”
Sarah shook her head, with a small frown of her own, as she whisked the eggs together with milk, salt, and pepper. “I don’t know what I mean. Not wrong, really, just different.”
David gave her a keen glance; he knew from long experience not to doubt her intuition. “Well, solstice is always about seasonal change, Sarah. Maybe you’re sensing something that’s coming.”
“Maybe,” Sarah acknowledged. She poured the eggs into a pan and began to scramble them, and shot a quick smile at her brother. “There’s no use in fretting about it. Whatever it is I’m picking up on, we’ll know when we should. There are a million things to do this morning to get ready, and today is about happy things.” She divided the eggs onto two plates, added some early wild strawberries on the side, and pulled the scones out of the oven. David had wisely brought out clotted cream, butter, jam, and honey, and so they sat down to a midsummer breakfast that was more than worthy of the holiday.
“Do you need help putting up things around the house?” David asked.
“I don’t think so,” Sarah answered. “I’ll call if I do, but I think I can manage. And I have to leave gifts for our faerie friends. Once everything is done here, we can go into the village.”
“Not that they’ll be happy to see us,” David sighed. “But yes, we should. And they’re expecting you for the bonfire and the blessing.”
“Both of us,” Sarah amended. She reached over the table and squeezed his hand. “We do these things together, Davey. That’s our duty, even now. Even still.”
“I miss them,” David said wistfully. Just for a moment, Sarah saw all of the sorrow that Davey normally tried to hide.
“Me, too,” Sarah whispered.
After they had finished eating, David went to the fields to see what might be brought in from their early crops, to grace the table for the solstice. Sarah took out a set of small glazed bowls, ones that fit in the palm of her hand, and distributed several things among them: milk, honey, a piece of scone, and small, glittering pieces of quartz she had found along the creek. She placed all four bowls on a tray and covered them, then added a length of ribbon and her garden scissors, before setting the entire thing by the door.
Before she went outside, she took out the cinnamon broom she had made especially for the solstice, with its fragrant bristles woven with flowers and ribbons flowing down from the handle. She hung it carefully over the doorway, to sweep away any bad energy before it could enter the house.
Picking up the tray, she went out to the garden. She paused a moment to look back at their stone house. Old yet cheerful, and surrounded by sun and flowers, it looked as though it had grown in its spot and intended to stay. The sight reassured her; there was no sense of foreboding here.
In the garden, she carefully cut a bouquet of fresh blossoms - daffodils, bleeding heart, purple iris, yellow evening primrose, and pale blush-colored peonies - before tying them together with the ribbon she had brought. She then took the tray to their ritual circle, under a large old oak at the back of the garden. The circle, and the pentagram within it, was outlined with stones and naturally covered in moss. It was large, about six feet in diameter, allowing multiple people to stand in or around it.
Sarah took off her shoes and stepped carefully into the circle, not wanting to damage the moss. Murmuring blessings and prayers of thanks as she went, she placed one of the four bowls at each of the lower points on the pentagram. Quartz for earth, scones for fire, honey for air, milk for water. This left the flowers for the top point. Once the circle and blessings were complete, Sarah simply stood in the center for a moment, taking a long breath.
Ordinarily, David was much, much better than she at feeling most energies and otherwordly creatures, yet Sarah had felt a connection to the faeries from a few years before menarche, and her mother had taught her how to ask for their blessings and keep their favor. Faeries were mischievous but appreciative, and powerful protectors if they so chose. The Jacobs’ home had always harbored them, and Sarah always left them gifts on the sabbats, and whenever she felt moved to do so. They were always gone the next morning.
Since the loss of her parents and Les, there were two faeries in particular who seemed to hover around her and David. There were always others, but Sarah felt this pair more often than any of the rest, and her sense of each of them was distinct. She would find cracks in the walls that had mysteriously disappeared, fences mended that David hadn’t had time to get to, flowers renewed that had been in danger of dying. Sometimes even their crops were kept safe while those of others failed, and they were able to feed their neighbors who otherwise would not have had enough. Sarah was unsure why these two spirits were so protective of her and her brother - perhaps their loss made them more in need of protection? - but she was always profoundly grateful and tried to thank them for it as best she could.
Sarah turned her face upward, still standing in the middle of the circle, and let the shifting energy of the solstice dance along her skin. She could almost touch the faerie realm today.
“Thank you, my friends,” she whispered. A warm breeze caressed her face and blew through her hair, and Sarah smiled.
Just as she set one foot outside of the circle, someone spoke.
“Surely you won’t have us go away again, without saying hello?”
Sarah started in surprise, and whirled - and then went completely still.
Standing in the middle of the circle were the two most beautiful beings she had ever seen.
They looked nominally human, though Sarah knew that they weren’t. Their skin glowed with a faint luminescence, and under the female’s curly red hair, Sarah caught a glimpse of a barely pointed ear. The male had brown hair with lighter threads running through it, and warm brown eyes that matched the amused quirk of his lips. The female was smiling, too, and Sarah momentarily lost herself, looking at both of them. They were unearthly.
Sarah swallowed as the word went through her head. Unearthly. Otherworldly. She must tread carefully.
“You are,” she breathed, “you are the faerie friends who have helped us?”
“We are, Sarah Jacobs,” said the faerie woman again, her smile growing wider. “You have always been good to our people, and kind to us in particular, and so my brother and I wanted to offer thanks, on this solstice, when it is easier to appear to you.”
“It is I who should thank you,” Sarah managed. “You have been so kind to Davey and I, helped us in so many ways - especially recently,” she added sadly. “It has been hard for us, being alone, and your presence has always given me comfort, and hope.”
“That’s good to hear,” the man said softly, smiling truly this time. “It was meant to.”
“What shall I call you?” Sarah asked slowly. She deliberately did not ask for their real names - they already knew hers and David’s, which was dangerous, but if they had wanted to be malevolent, they had already had plenty of opportunity.
The man grinned at her in approval. “Well played, Sarah,” he chuckled. “You may call me Jack. There are many clever Jacks in your human stories.”
“And you may call me Katherine,” said the woman, grinning as well. “There are many Katherines in your human history, most of them smart and ambitious. I admire them.”
“All right then. Jack and Katherine,” Sarah repeated, returning their kind smiles.
There was a sudden bang from the house, and Sarah felt Jack and Katherine go on alert; she herself turned, looking for her brother. David came running through the back door and down the garden. He must have been running clear from the fields; he was drenched.
“Sarah!” he called, his voice urgent and worried. As he neared, Sarah saw him take in the two figures behind her, and his posture stiffened even more as he ran, every particle of energy in him screaming protectiveness.
“David!” Sarah exclaimed, moving swiftly toward him. “It’s all right. They’re not a threat.”
David met her a few feet away from the circle, grasping her hands and looking her up and down. “You’re okay? They didn’t hurt you?” he panted anxiously. The worry in his eyes broke Sarah’s heart; she couldn’t bear to think of him being alone.
“I’m fine,” she reassured him, hugging him swiftly. “I’m fine, Davey, I promise.”
She took his hand and led him back toward Jack and Katherine. “Davey, these are the faeries who have been watching over us. They have asked to be called Jack and Katherine.” Her emphasis on the word ‘asked’ was barely there, but David heard it. He assessed their guests, his face guarded.
“Your worry for your sister is admirable, David, but we’re not here to hurt you,” Katherine said softly, holding out a placating hand. “Jack is my brother, too, and I would never want anything to happen to him.”
“Forgive me if I find it a little hard to take that on faith,” David said tightly. “I’ve already lost three quarters of my family.”
“Why do you suppose we’ve helped you for so many years?” Jack said gently.
“And we’re here to help you again,” Katherine added. “We wish to help you repair your relationship with the village. Yours and Sarah’s.”
“And why would you do that?” David asked bluntly.
Jack’s eyes narrowed. “You might want to think before you speak.”
David scoffed. “I’m not afraid of you.”
Sarah caught his arm and dug warning fingernails into the soft flesh on the inside. Antagonizing the faeries who had been their friends and given them so much assistance would not end well.
Jack studied David for a moment, seemingly caught between anger and amusement. Amusement finally won, and his eyes crinkled as he laughed. “You really aren’t. That’s refreshing, if a little unwise.”
“Let us help you,” Katherine entreated again. “You have been good and kind and loyal to us your whole lives, and we want to do this for you. Imagine what the townspeople will say when you come to the Midsummer celebration with two fae on your arms,” she said mischievously.
Sarah relaxed enough to smile. “That would be quite a sight,” she agreed.
Katherine and Jack both stepped carefully out of the confines of the circle, and David’s expression turned thoughtful.
“You didn’t come out of the circle until now,” he observed.
“No,” Jack said, and his saucy grin was back. “We wanted to make sure we were welcome.”
Katherine took Sarah’s hand, and Sarah gave a soft sigh as warmth washed over her.
“ Oh ,” she breathed.
Katherine reached up with her free hand and tucked a piece of hair behind Sarah’s ear. “Let your heart be easy, Sarah,” she said, and the warmth in her eyes was unmistakable. “We are here out of affection.”
“I believe you,” Sarah answered, squeezing the hand that still held hers.
“We should go see what we can find for your table, and retrieve whatever you have already collected,” Jack said, clapping David on the shoulder. Sarah smiled; he was an odd mix of reserve and playfulness - perhaps quick to be offended at what he perceived as an insult to his station or traditions, but also quick to be affectionate and lively.
David looked for a moment as if he would object, but a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he took in Jack’s eager face, and finally he nodded, inclining his head toward the gate. The two men strolled companionably toward it, and were quickly lost to sight.
“You have decorating and a dress to finish, do you not?” Katherine said gaily. “Lead the way. Many hands make light work.”
“I need to hang up the apples for the birds, and put more flowers up,“ Sarah said as they walked back toward the house. “And then harvest the herbs; there are so many! It will be a good year for healing, I hope.”
“You have the touch with herbs and flowers, Sarah,” Katherine said admiringly. “Your gardens are always so beautiful.”
“I’ve had a little help, I suspect,” Sarah said, raising an eyebrow at Katherine, and the faerie laughed.
“Only a very little, and usually when you had been too busy to tend to something. The plants feel your love and care, Sarah - I just give them a small boost when needed.”
Sarah opened the door into the kitchen, and Katherine looked around in delight as they went in. “I have always loved your family home. Because you and Davey and your parents keep the old ways, it is always a welcoming place. It’s wonderful, seeing everything from your perspective like this.”
“I’m glad,” Sarah said softly, as she took out the seeded apples she had made for the birds and began gathering their hanging ribbons into bunches, to make them easier to carry. “My parents taught us how to make it so.”
Katherine’s expression sobered. “You miss them.”
“So much,” Sarah admitted, her voice wavering. “So much, Katherine. The villagers say such awful things, and it’s terrible just - not knowing. Having no answers.”
Almost before Sarah knew she had moved, Katherine was embracing her, wrapping her arms around Sarah from beside her and resting her chin on Sarah’s shoulder. “Have hope, Sarah,” she murmured. “They may yet come back to you and your brother.”
“Thank you,” Sarah whispered. “I do hope, or I try to, but - thank you.”
Katherine gave her one last squeeze of silent sympathy, then took up one of the bunches of ribbons Sarah had in her hands, each ribbon holding an apple covered in peanut butter and seeds and nuts, making a feast for the winged occupants of the Jacobs’ land. She smiled.
“Let’s get these hung up for our feathered friends, shall we? We can gather your herbs after that, and then I am going to help you dress, and the villagers are going to see a Sarah Jacobs they have never seen before,” Katherine promised, her eyes sparkling with delight.
The two women went back outside, and it was quick work to find low-hanging branches in the trees that surrounded the Jacobs’ yard. As Sarah and Katherine hung up the apples, birds began to flock to them, making bright splashes of color in the trees and filling the air with a riotous chorus of chirping.
Sarah surveyed their work with a smile. “That ought to keep them happy for the time being,” she chuckled.
“Indeed it will!” Katherine laughed. “And they know who brings them such richness; they won’t ever hesitate to come back to a place that gives them such abundant nourishment.”
As they approached the house again, Katherine put out her hand and laid it on Sarah’s arm.
“Wait, just a moment,” she said. Sarah watched as Katherine closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and made a slow circle with her hands. The hairs on Sarah’s arms rose as she felt magic flowing past her.
Katherine opened her eyes again, and clapped her hands in happiness. “There!” she said, gesturing toward the house. “Perfect.”
Sarah realized that she had been so caught up in watching Katherine that she hadn’t paid any attention at all to whatever effect the faerie woman’s magic had created, and so she turned her head, hoping Katherine didn’t notice her burning cheeks.
The entire house was festooned with flowers. Katherine had created garlands that draped over the windows, and wreaths that hung on the windows and doors, all made of the beautiful flowers of early summer. A soft golden shimmer seemed to come off of the flowers, making the house look even more homey and enchanting than it normally did.
“Katherine,” Sarah gasped softly. “It’s beautiful.”
“Just a bit of faerie magic and glamor, but I defy any of your neighbors who might try to say that your home is not safe and welcoming now,” Katherine said with glee, and just the smallest undercurrent of vicious satisfaction. Her eyes flashed, and Sarah was reminded again of how powerful the woman next to her was.
“Come on!” Katherine said, grasping her hand and pulling her toward the herb beds next to the house. “Let’s harvest your herbs and get them tied up, and then hopefully David and Jack will be back.”
The next hour was full of talk and laughter, as Sarah and Katherine cut bunches of thyme, lavender, rosemary, St. John’s Wort, yarrow, marigolds, mugwort, and roses. Sarah had known that the herb garden was particularly abundant this year, but even she was astonished at the amount, as the plants curled themselves naturally around her fingers and Katherine’s, and as they cut stem after stem of perfectly blooming herbs, herbs that would see Sarah and Davey through the long winter months as they were used for both magic and healing.
Sarah couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed so much; Katherine was naturally merry and seemed to enjoy making her laugh, a thought that made Sarah’s heart speed up. Their hands brushed as they reached for string and scissors to tie the bundles of herbs, and tenderness and magic went racing through Sarah’s veins with every light touch. It was comforting to have Katherine there and feel that she had a friend and confidant, that she wasn’t quite so alone.
“How did you know?” Jack asked David curiously, as they walked back toward the fields David had left so precipitously. They had picked up a pack basket for Jack and additional hand baskets as they went past the house, and David found that Jack was an easy companion to have, once he got over the initial shock and strangeness of seeing him at all. “We were in the circle, and you don’t usually venture there without Sarah. How did you know?”
David might have been insulted, a few minutes earlier, but now he was only amused. His mouth quirked in a half smile. “You and Katherine have been with us for - what, almost two decades? And more often, since my parents and Les disappeared. And you don’t know how I knew?”
“We are not there every moment of every day,” Jack said dryly. “I have seen you constructing the protections for your home, but I doubt I know every single thing you have done to try and keep yourself and Sarah safe.”
David’s smile faded. “Yes, well. I did do more - after everything,” he said quietly. “Come here.”
David led the way, silently, to the edge of the field they had just reached, past the many neat rows of plants that were tall and green and healthy. As they reached the end, David gestured to what seemed to be a windbreak, or perhaps an animal deterrent - a hedge of blackberries with wild plants in between, that lined the entire edge of the field.
“I don’t quite have Sarah’s touch with herbs,” he said. “But what do you see? Or - is ‘feel’ a better word, for you?”
Jack gave him a quick smile. “‘Feel’ is probably the better word,” he agreed. He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. “Blackberry bushes - angelica - sage - asphodel - caraway - betony - clove - coriander - rosemary.” His eyes opened again. “It’s literally a protection hedge.”
David nodded. “For a start. It rings the entirety of our property.” He moved closer to the hedge. “Touch, just above the top of the blackberry plants. It shouldn’t hurt you; it wasn’t you I was trying to keep out.”
Jack reached out and tentatively touched the air above one of the bushes. Seemingly out of nowhere, the air sparked, and a golden wall shimmered for just a moment before disappearing again.
Jack looked at David in surprise, and David gave him a satisfied grin. “Do it again. Look at me this time.”
Jack again touched the air, keeping his eyes on David, and the same glow that had briefly revealed the magical ward flared along David’s skin.
“Impressive,” Jack said softly. “I didn’t realize you’d learned how to do that.”
David shrugged. “‘Learned’ might be overstating it a little. It’s all energy. Figuring out how to link the ward alerts to my skin wasn’t actually that difficult. The difficult part was figuring out how to keep the wards from interfering with our ceremonial circle,” he added, and he gave Jack another wry little grin. “I had to make them indifferent to each other, basically, but I still wanted to know if something happened in the circle itself. So anything within the circle has its own color - green.”
“So when you saw the green show up, earlier -” Jack began.
“I knew it was something in the circle,” David finished. “But the frightening part was the strength of it - I’d never seen the wards light up like that before. I can only assume that’s because you and Katherine have never actually appeared in this form before. That must take a tremendous amount of magic on its own.”
“It does,” Jack acknowledged. He looked back at the herbal hedge, touching the air a third time, and the wards lit up, golden once more. He looked back at David. “It might not seem so to you, but that is incredibly impressive, David. Especially for a mortal, witch or no.”
“Thank you,” David said. He ran a hand through his hair, debating how much to say. “I’m glad for the skill, but hate the reason behind it, if that makes any sense.”
Jack reached out and touched his arm. “It makes perfect sense.”
David gave him a nod of acknowledgement, but carefully changed the subject. He didn’t want to dwell on that, especially not today.
(And if Jack kept looking at him with sympathy , of all things, he was going to forget who he was dealing with, and that would be very, very bad. Jack was beautiful, almost painfully so, but David needed to remember that he was also powerful. Faeries were not safe in any sense of the word, no matter how friendly.)
“Come on,” he said, waving toward the field. “We should see what we can find - there's lots of produce, right now. We’ve already had some nice early crops.”
Jack looked as though he might say something else, but changed his mind, and simply inclined his head in agreement.
David led the way to where he had dropped his own pack basket, earlier, already about half full with fresh lettuce and kale and cucumber.
“We’ll have a good meal tonight,” he said. “More people to share it with, too.”
Jack looked over at him, reaching at the same time to begin pulling up some carrots. “Kath and I will have better people to share it with.”
David frowned as he began to work alongside Jack. “Do you hate your own world so much? If you and Katherine are anything to go by, it must be very beautiful.”
David blushed as he realized what he’d said, but Jack just smiled at him, then frowned as he thought about what David had asked.
“It’s . . . complicated,” he said finally. “Our world is a beautiful place, yes, but our brethren are - sometimes treacherous. There’s a reason your people have kept all of their warnings in the stories about us, Davey.”
It was David’s turn to grin at him. “You haven’t called me that before.”
To his delight, Jack’s cheeks reddened. “I’ve heard Sarah call you that so many times. Must have slipped out,” he said, too casually, focusing more intently on pulling the plump, multicolored carrots from the ground.
“I don’t mind,” David said, still working at the carrots and trying to look casual himself.
They picked in silence for a time, leaving the carrots and moving on to strawberries, before David spoke again.
Jack turned to him, confusion on his features. “It’s the solstice, Davey - it’s like Kath said, it’s easier -”
“No, I know that,” David interrupted. “But you’ve had years , Jack. Why now?”
Jack’s face become troubled. “I can’t tell you that.”
David tightened his lips in irritation. “Can’t or won’t?”
“I can’t ,” Jack said, quiet desperation in his tone, and he reached out and wrapped a hand around David’s wrist, surprising him. “It would be too risky for all of us, Davey. Can you trust me when I say that Kath and I are here because we want to be here? That we really are here to help?”
David watched him for a long moment, his instincts warring with the feelings in his heart. Jack’s brown eyes were boring into him, pleading with him for understanding, and he was, in the end, no match for that look.
“I shouldn’t,” he said at last, “but I do.”
Jack smiled at him in relief, and it was like the sun coming out. “I shouldn’t either,” he murmured, “but I definitely do.”
And when Jack leaned over and kissed him, David happily surrendered to it.
To hell with safety. Kissing Jack felt like coming home.
Just as they were finishing the last of the herbs, Sarah heard a hail from the edge of the backyard. She and Katherine both turned their heads to see David and Jack returning with full baskets on their backs and in their arms, overflowing with fruits and vegetables of all kinds. They were both smiling, and to Sarah’s joy, she could feel her brother’s contentment, an utter contrast to his sadness from the morning.
“Sarah! We’ll have a gorgeous table for the solstice!” David called. “There was more than we needed; we can even take some to town with us.”
Sarah got up from her knees, and Katherine followed suit, both of them brushing off their hands and standing next to the neatly piled bundles of herbs.
“And,” Jack said as they came closer, “a gift from our friends the bees.” With a flourish, he held out a small glass jar to Sarah, filled to the brim with light golden honey. “For the most beautiful flower in the garden.”
Sarah laughed at him, even as her cheeks turned pink. “Flatterer. But thank you; finding honey isn’t always easy.”
“It isn’t flattery if it’s true,” Jack said sincerely. “And there’s a fine hive on the way back from your fields, in the hollow of an old oak.”
“I’ll have to remember that it’s there,” David said from behind them. “We can harvest more of the honey at the end of the summer.”
“That would be nice,” Sarah said, looking over at her brother. “Honey trades well, and it would be wonderful to have a steady supply.”
“It would,” David agreed. He looked at the piles of herbs at their feet, and then turned to Katherine, smiling. “Seems you both have been busy, too. Thank you for helping Sarah.”
“It was a pleasure,” Katherine said, smiling back. “And we should all get ready to go, if we want to be on time for the village festivities.”
“Are you two sure that’s . . . a good idea?” David questioned. He looked from Katherine to Jack and back again.
“David, you and Sarah are important to this village, even if people have begun to fear you,” Katherine said. “And even if your neighbors are afraid of us as well, do you think they would dare to say anything?”
“They’ll wish they hadn’t, if they do,” Jack said, his ever-changing visage turning dark. “They should know better than to insult those who protect them.”
“They are afraid, and we can’t give them any answers,” Sarah said softly. “When our family disappeared, it made them fearful - and us, too, honestly. You can’t blame them for that.”
Jack turned to her, his expression softening as he saw her distress. “You humans are capable of so much feeling,” he murmured. “Such depths of emotion, in such short lives. Your compassion does you credit, Sarah - even if it isn’t always deserved,” he added.
“I think the point of having compassion is that it isn’t always deserved,” Sarah said, touching his arm lightly. “What kind of protectors and healers would we be, if we only helped those who deserved it?”
“Sarah’s right,” David said, coming to his sister’s defense. “We protect this place because it is ours, and because these people are ours to protect, not because we expect anything in return. That isn’t our way.”
Jack’s lips twitched. “Our faerie court could stand to learn some things from you both.”
“Much as I appreciate the discussion in ethics, and I do,” Katherine said, her tone warm yet teasing, “can we get a move on, please? Jack, you help David, and Sarah, come show me this dress of yours.”
“Yes, ma’am,” David said, grinning at her, and Katherine laughed before pulling Sarah toward the house.
“I promised to make you gorgeous, Sarah Jacobs, and I am not going to break that promise - not that I’ll have to work terribly hard.”
“All right, then, if you insist,” Sarah said, her cheeks pink again. “But you overestimate my importance in this, Katherine - it’s a blessing for the village, yes, but there are many other parts of the celebration.”
“But why should your part not be as beautiful as you can make it?” Katherine asked rhetorically. “And why shouldn’t you impress them, you and David both? I am sure you always look your best - I just want to have some fun with it, and really awe everyone.”
They reached the door to Sarah’s bedchamber, and Sarah led the way inside. Her dress was hanging by the mirror, a pale yellow gown that she had sewn herself in the preceding weeks, and she went and took it off its hook.
“Well, see what you think then - just give me a minute to get it on,” Sarah said, and she hurried behind the large screen in the corner of the room. It only took her a minute or two to change, and pull her hair down, and when she stepped out again, Katherine gasped in delight.
“Oh, Sarah, it’s stunning!”
“I’m glad you think so,” Sarah said, smiling, standing in front of the long mirror and smoothing out the dress’ folds. “I loved the color - it felt so perfect for Midsummer.”
“It really is,” Katherine agreed. The dress had small cap sleeves and a v-neck, not too deep, and then hugged Sarah’s torso in a fitted bodice until it fell in a full skirt to the floor. The pale yellow fabric set off Sarah’s skin and the lighter shades in her hair, and the overall effect was lovely.
Katherine came up behind Sarah and set her hands lightly on Sarah’s shoulders. “I really don’t need to do much at all,” she murmured. “You’re so beautiful already, Sarah. What if I just -”
And Katherine made the same slow, circular motion with her hands that she had before, only this time Sarah felt the wave of magic settle over her, and her eyes fell closed as she absorbed it. When she opened them again, it was to see Katherine’s smiling face - and herself, transformed.
Her dress was now iridescent, glittering softly as she moved - and indeed, her very skin seemed to glow, not with Katherine’s translucence but with a golden warmth, as if the sun had somehow been woven into the very fabric of her clothes and the cells of her body. Her hair fell in soft, heavy waves down her back and held the same glow. There were live buttercups and daffodils clinging to her hair, her bodice, and her skirt. Finally, on her forehead and upper arms were painted reddish-brown spirals, the ancient symbol of the sun’s journey and the cycle of life and death.
Sarah pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to take it all in. “Katherine,” she whispered. “I don’t even recognize myself. How did you do it?”
“Faerie magic can do much, Sarah,” Katherine replied gently. “But a great deal depends on the person to whom it is given, as well. It is the beauty of your own inner nature that you see; I just helped make it visible.”
“I - that’s not easy for me to believe, but - thank you,” Sarah murmured. “I’ve never looked this beautiful in all my life.”
Katherine wound her arms around Sarah’s waist from behind. “I am sure you look this beautiful every day, to those who know you best,” she said. “And oh, Sarah, I wish that I could take you back with me! You would look like this whenever you wished.”
Sarah shook her head, trying to still the flutter of her heart at the feel of Katherine’s embrace. “I wouldn’t know what to do with such a gift. I am sure your world is beautiful, though,” she said, slightly wistfully.
“Oh, it is,” Katherine said enthusiastically. “Though not as different from yours as you might think. There are light and dark sides to all places and creatures. And speaking of which, I need to measure up to your beauty, on this Midsummer day!”
So saying, Katherine stepped back from Sarah and waved her hands over herself, and the white dress she had been wearing became a soft, flowing thing of pale spring green, setting off her red curls so that they glowed like flames. A crescent moon of darker green was on her forehead, and the full moon and twin crescents of the Goddess graced her upper arms in the same dark green. Seeing Sarah’s questioning glance, Katherine smiled.
“The Faeries have a world and laws unto ourselves, but even we acknowledge the God and Goddess, Sarah. We are all part of the wholeness of the universe.”
“Of course,” Sarah murmured. “But - are you not also immortal? Forgive me if that’s a rude question.”
Katherine took her hands. “We are, almost always - though even faeries can die,” she added, a shadow crossing her face. “Only in very particular ways, and it does not happen often, but it happens. However, you are right - mostly, we are immortal, but even still, we are creations and children of the God and Goddess. Our gifts, our magic, our very plane of existence comes from their Oneness. And throughout the centuries, there are always a few mortals like yourself - those who can feel us and grace us with their gifts and their trust.”
Sarah nodded. “It’s a gift I am grateful for. And you - you are stunning, Katherine,” she said shyly. “You are going to turn every head in the village.”
“That’s the idea!” Katherine laughed. “You wait and see how those villagers will treat you now, Sarah. You’ll never hear a cross word from one of them again.”
“Are you ladies ready?” Davey’s voice called from the top of the stairs. “We should get going, if you don’t want to be late for the festival and the bonfire.”
“We’re ready!” Sarah called. She and Katherine swiftly headed toward the door, and found David and Jack waiting for them on the landing. They had their heads together and were talking quietly, both of them relaxed and apparently amused, but they raised their heads as the girls approached.
Sarah paused, momentarily startled, as she took in the changed appearance of the two men.
Jack was dressed in a long leather jerkin, white shirt, and tall boots over dark pants, and the effect somehow made him look both more and less human. His hair hung freely, but fresh oak branches, their green leaves and acorns intact, wound themselves around his arms as though they were vines, and similar branches adorned his boots, around his calves. Far from looking artificial, they somehow looked as though they were part of him, as though he controlled them - which he must, Sarah knew.
Davey was dressed much like Jack, but a full wreath of oak leaves and acorns rested on his brown curls, and chains of oak leaves and acorns circled his wrists and neck. It made him look wilder than Sarah had ever seen her brother look, but it suited him. He seemed, somehow, more comfortable in his own skin, the energy and power he naturally carried flowing more easily from him.Whether it was the faerie magic Jack had surely lent him, or some inner assurance that had come forward with the Solstice, or some combination of the two, she knew not.
It didn’t escape her that their inside hands were clasped together, unmistakably connected.
And then Sarah saw the wonder on Jack’s face as he looked at her, and that same painful flutter in her heart appeared, as it had in the garden with him, as it did when she was with Katherine, and she could not say a word.
“Sarah,” Jack said, and far from sounding saucy or dangerous, as he had heretofore, he actually sounded breathless. “You are a wondrous sight, my lady.” And before Sarah could gather her thoughts enough to reply, he caught her hand and bent over it in a bow, brushing his lips against her knuckles. “It is an honor to see you thus.”
“Thank you,” Sarah managed, breathless herself. “It is really Katherine’s doing - but thank you.”
“May I?” Jack said, offering his arm.
“Of course,” Sarah said. She moved carefully down the steps to join him, but she looked up long enough to realize that her brother and Katherine were caught in their own moment. David was staring at Katherine with much the same wide-eyed adoration that Sarah had seen when Jack looked at her.
Somehow, that such feelings could exist in both herself and her brother did not surprise Sarah. Their - guests? helpers? friends? were magical immortal beings who were known for their power and charisma as well as their playfulness. Nor was she shocked that her own heart could long for both faeries so fiercely. Faeries did not follow human rules; how could her feelings for them fit into narrow human channels?
But for all of their kindness, Sarah did not know what to believe when it came to Jack and Katherine’s own feelings. That they were helpers, and even friends, she knew; she had not existed with them for so long to be unsure of that. But did faeries even feel things as humans did? Jack’s words from earlier suggested not. It wasn’t anything to hope for, certainly. The stories of faeries’ involvement with humans were complicated, to say the least. It was entirely possible that neither she nor Davey would remember any of this, come tomorrow morning.
All of this went through Sarah’s mind in the space of moments. Jack kept her hand in his as they went down the stairs, and Sarah felt Davey and Katherine fall in behind them. They were quickly out the door and on the road to the village, and Sarah stole curious glances at him as they walked.
“You are a strange being, Jack,” she said softly, and Jack chuckled.
“Strange? Aside from being a faerie in your mortal world, you mean?”
“Yes,” Sarah said. “Faeries are not strange to me, at least not as strange as they would be to most. But you are more changeable than your fellows, it seems to me.”
Jack was quiet for several minutes before he spoke, and Sarah began to fear she had offended him, but when he eventually answered, his tone was thoughtful, almost grave. “The faerie world has its own hierarchy, Sarah, and it can be changed with political alliances, with cunning, with strategy. Putting on the face that others need to see can be a valuable skill. It also keeps others uncertain of your true intentions, which is something that has saved me several times. But all of the faces you have seen today are true parts of me, Sarah. I am - unused to being able to show all of the facets of myself to one person. In that way, you and Davey are as strange to Katherine and me as we are to you, I suspect.”
“We have had no one but each other to be ourselves with, for a long time,” Sarah admitted. “To - to see you both, instead of just knowing you are there, and to have you both embrace us as friends, that is strange, yes.”
“But not unwelcome?” Jack asked, and the very shyness in his words was endearing to Sarah. For someone so confident on the outside, even Jack apparently carried some insecurities.
“Not unwelcome,” Sarah said, and she couldn’t help her smile. She tightened her fingers around his. “Very welcome, in fact.”
Jack smiled back, his uncertainty gone, and they walked on in comfortable silence, with Davey and Katherine talking softly behind them.
David was confused.
Because kissing Jack had felt glorious, and right , and how could he feel the same things for two people? While he suspected no one could help feeling affected by Katherine’s beauty and warmth, David hadn’t expected to be hit in the solar plexus by that same feeling of want .
But when he had seen Katherine on the stairs, he had been speechless. And awed. And completely floored by how much he felt.
By the Goddess, Sarah was better at these things. She always had been.
Katherine squeezed his arm, where her hand was wrapped around his forearm. “What’s bothering you, David? Am I such an intimidating conversation partner?”
David started guiltily, realizing that they had been walking and he hadn’t been paying attention to Katherine in the slightest, even though she was the primary subject of his thoughts.
“No,” he said apologetically. “I’m sorry, Katherine; I’m being terribly rude. I’m just . . .”
He trailed off, realizing he didn’t know what to say.
“Conflicted?” Katherine suggested gently.
David finally worked up the courage to look over at her again, only to be met with the same understanding, empathetic gaze she had given him on the stairway. Unlike Jack, whose moods sometimes changed like quicksilver, Katherine seemed to be the steadier one of the siblings. She smiled at him, patiently waiting for his answer.
“That’s a good word for it,” David murmured.
Katherine nodded. “Has it occurred to you that you don’t have to be?”
Katherine tugged on his arm, silently requesting that he stop, and when he did, she leaned up on her toes and kissed him softly. David sighed, wrapping a gentle arm around her waist to steady her, and he gladly gave in to the kiss for the few seconds that it lasted.
When Katherine pulled away and David opened his eyes, he leaned down to press his forehead against hers. “Is this - allowed?” he asked hesitantly.
Katherine gave him an affectionate, mischievous smile. “Do you see anyone stopping us?”
David huffed a laugh, his mouth curling up reluctantly. “You know what I mean. For you.”
“Consorting with humans, you mean?” Katherine said, her eyebrows lifting.
“Yes, in general,” Katherine answered. “Although - not so much at the moment,” she admitted, lowering her voice. “And you and Sarah are witches, which is something else again.”
David studied her. “Is that why Jack wouldn’t tell me why you’re here? Is that why it’s dangerous for you?”
“Among other things,” Katherine said. “Don’t ask me any more, David; I can’t tell you. Jack was right.”
“I won’t,” David promised, kissing her again. “I just wish there was more we could do to keep you safe, Kath.”
Katherine’s eyes widened, and David took a step back, horrified, as he realized what he’d said, using the shortened version of the name she had given, which only Jack had done up to now. “I’m - I’m so sorry, Katherine, I never should have - I didn’t mean to be disrespectful in any way.”
“I know,” Katherine reassured him swiftly, and she reached out and pulled him close again. “It’s all right; I was just surprised. I like the way it sounds when you say it,” she said softly.
“Kath,” David whispered, “I don’t - I don’t understand this, feeling this way, for both of you. And Sarah is - it’s easier for her, accepting what she feels, especially when it comes to your - realm,” he said, hesitating over the last word. “But all of our human rules don’t seem to apply to any of this, and I’m not sure I’d want them to.”
“They don’t,” Katherine said simply, and David felt a weight lift from his shoulders. “Don’t try to fit this into normal paradigms, Davey. Have you and Sarah ever fit - has your family ever fit - the expectations of the rest of your community?”
“No,” David said flatly.
Katherine smiled and ran her fingers through his curls. “Then why start now? And by the way, your uniqueness, the powers you carry, that fearlessness that lives inside you - those things are why you are the protectors of this place, David. The ways you are different are the things that make you perfectly suited to do what you do - though I know it’s been a lonely life, sometimes,” she finished delicately.
“It has,” David said, nuzzling her nose with his. “And I wouldn’t change you and Jack being here for the world. It’s just so - beautiful and surreal.”
“That’s a good way of describing it,” Katherine said, nuzzling him back. “And for what it’s worth, none of this is exactly covered by our rules, either. Fae are not afraid of having multiple loves, either serially or simultaneously - we live so long that how could we not? Even so, Jack and I have had years to watch over you and Sarah, to learn about you, to help you - and still, neither of us expected to care so much for you both. That was part of why we came. We wanted to be able to see you, talk to you, be in your company. To know whether you could care for us, too.”
“This is crazy,” David said, stroking her cheek.
“Maybe,” Katherine conceded. “I don’t forget that this is just as potentially dangerous for the two of you as it is for us. But I think you like a little crazy in your life, Davey Jacobs. I think you might need it,” she said, the playful smile back on her face, and she kissed him once more.
She glanced up the road, where Jack and Sarah had gotten quite a distance ahead of them. “Come on. Let’s keep up; I want to make sure we all get to town together.”
As the four of them approached the center of the village, and the bustle of the market square at the center, the stares began. And the whispers.
Part of Sarah wanted desperately to hide. But as a protector for this place, that wasn’t her job, so she smiled, nodding to those that they passed, and tried to enjoy the fact that the whispers, for once, were surprised rather than hostile.
Jack must have sensed her discomfort, for he kept her hand in a comforting grip and smiled reassuringly whenever she glanced his way. He did his own part to help, too, nodding cheerfully to the villagers, seemingly without a care in the world.
If anything, Katherine and Davey attracted even more attention - Katherine’s fiery hair was hard to miss, and while Davey always came to the celebrations with Sarah, he had never been attired quite like he was now. Katherine, however, was the perfect foil for Davey’s quieter nature - she was unabashed by the stares and mutterings, and seemed in fact to delight in them.
Sarah gave a sigh of relief when they reached Miss Medda’s dress emporium, where Medda had set up a large stall out front for the solstice festivities. Her three tables were overflowing with bright bolts of cloth, fancy lace and ribbons, and beautiful hats. Medda was one of the few people in the village who was truly kind to Sarah and David - she was seemingly afraid of nothing, and treated them more like family than anyone except their parents.
“Hello, Miss Medda,” Sarah greeted her, prompting the older woman to look up from where she was carefully trimming a hat.
“Hello, Sarah honey!” she exclaimed in delight, coming out from behind the booth to wrap Sarah in a hug. “You look beautiful! And Davey! Don’t you look handsome! It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Medda,” Davey answered. “We’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too, dear, but you know you are always welcome, whenever you come in town. I’m glad you’re both here for the celebration; your blessings are always special for all of us. And who are your lovely friends?” Medda asked, including Jack and Katherine in the warmth of her smile.
“Medda, this is Katherine and Jack,” Sarah said, indicating each of them in turn. “And this is our family friend, Miss Medda.”
Jack immediately bowed over her hand, giving her a roguish smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Medda. Sarah and Davey always speak well of you, and I can see why. You are a beautiful woman, inside and out.”
“Oh, I like you,” Medda laughed. “You can stay, you flirtatious rascal.”
“Jack, behave,” Katherine scolded him, elbowing him, and he gave her an almost-innocent expression that made her shake her head. She reached out a hand to Medda. “It’s wonderful to meet you, Medda. Thank you for always being so good to our friends.”
“No need to thank me for that, dear; they are good to me, too, and I never abandon my friends,” Medda said, clasping Katherine’s hand reassuringly.
“I should stay here for a little while,” she continued, “as I haven’t seen half the people I was expecting today, but you all should go on! Mayor Denton is working on the bonfire as we speak.”
“You’ll be at the blessing later on?” Sarah asked, touching her arm, and Medda smiled at her.
“I wouldn’t miss it, dear; you know that. And I have a feeling this is going to be particularly special,” she said warmly. “Now, go get some food and say hello to Denton. And if you see Hannah Seitz, tell her I’ll be bringing some things over for the children.”
“I will,” Sarah promised.
As the four of them left Medda’s booth, Katherine took Sarah’s arm. “Hannah?”
“She’s one of the women we try to help now and then,” Sarah explained. “She’s older than me, though not so old as my mother - perhaps in her mid-thirites? She was married to the newspaper editor here, Carl Seitz, and he was mostly a kind man, if a little careworn and stern, but he died two years ago. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and Hannah is sometimes at her wits’ end trying to care for them. She took over the newspaper, you see, and she does an amazing job with it - she’s more liberal than her husband was, and is good at moving people to action, and getting them interested in the affairs of the town - but sometimes it’s almost more than she can do, running the paper and caring for two children by herself.”
“That must be hard,” Katherine said sympathetically. “It’s good of you and Medda to reach out to her.”
“She loves Medda, but everyone does,” Sarah smiled. “I think she takes me on faith. She’s never been unkind, just occasionally brusque when she’s busy, or trying to corral JoJo and Specs.”
Katherine began to laugh. “Those are funny nicknames.”
Sarah chuckled. “JoJo is really Josephine, and Specs is Friedrich, but he inherited his eyesight from his mother and wears glasses. I don’t know anyone who calls them by their proper names, not even Hannah.”
They were approaching the square now, where a large fountain was surrounded by a stone foundation, and it was just in front of the fountain that a fire was blazing. A dark-haired man, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, was carefully adding brush to the fire that was only mid-sized, as yet - it would get larger throughout the next few hours, as people came in for the festivities and brought their own wood and brush to burn.
The square, fortunately, was large and open - where the stone ended, a large grass lawn took over, allowing wagons to pull in on market days, and having lots of open space for community events. Therefore, the risk of setting fire to any of the village buildings was slight, and several of the community members always had buckets on standby.
As the four of them approached the fire, David hailed its builder. “Denton!” he called.
Denton turned around, laying down the group of branches he had just picked up, and a smile broke over his face. “David! Sarah!” He hurried over to them, stretching out a hand.
“It’s good to see you, Mayor,” Sarah smiled.
“Sarah, please,” Denton objected, “just call me Denton. Or Bryan. I had you both in school, for heaven’s sake - and I was just a kid myself, practically.”
“All right then,” Sarah gave in, shaking her head. “Denton, this is Katherine and Jack. Katherine and Jack, our former teacher and now the mayor of our town, Bryan Denton.”
“It’s good to meet you,” Denton said, shaking hands with both of them. “It’s nice to see Sarah and David with some friends again.”
“Denton!” David protested, embarrassed.
“That wasn’t the right way to say that,” Denton apologized sheepishly, “but it’s only the truth, David. I worry about the two of you, being alone so much.”
“We’re glad to give Sarah and David some company,” Katherine said. “We care about them a great deal.”
Denton gave her a shrewd look. “I’m happy to hear it. Take care you don’t hurt them.”
“ Really , Denton,” Sarah admonished him. “David and I can take care of ourselves.”
“You can ,” Denton said, “but you shouldn’t have had to, not really. And there are still people here who care about you both.”
Sarah gave him a grateful look. “Thank you. That’s nice to hear.”
“I should get back to this,” Denton said, gesturing toward the fire, “but go and enjoy yourselves! We’ll wait until dusk to do the blessing, so you have plenty of time. There’s lots of food and other things for sale, and Sarah, I know several townspeople were hoping to have a word with you about some illnesses and injuries.”
Sarah nodded. “Of course. We’ll be back for the blessing, then. Thank you, Denton.”
The four of them moved away as Denton added more large branches to the fire, walking toward the booths that ringed the green. David and Jack walked ahead a little, stopping to examine the bookseller’s stall, and Sarah paused when she felt Katherine’s arm steal around her waist.
“Your mayor seems like a good man,” Katherine said softly, turning so that she could face Sarah without letting go of her.
“He is,” Sarah acknowledged. “He knew Mama and Papa, before, and he had Les as a student as well. He’s never questioned our place here, or what we can do.”
“So you have a friend or two, still,” Katherine said compassionately.
“We do, and I’m thankful for them,” Sarah said tiredly. “We try to - to stay out of their way, most of the time - they don’t need the suspicions of everyone on them as well - but they are always good to us.”
“It might be hard for you to believe this, but Jack and I are lonely in our world, too,” Katherine confessed. “We hold a - unique position, one that is not always conducive to friendship, certainly not friendship openly expressed. We do have friends, but they have to be careful what they say and do, unless we all happen to be alone.”
Sarah held her breath as she reached out and rested her hand on Katherine’s cheek. Katherine immediately turned into her touch, accepting the comfort, and Sarah’s heart soared, even as it ached at the thought of Katherine’s loneliness.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We know exactly what that’s like, and I wish it wasn’t true for you.”
Katherine’s eyes opened and she smiled, pressing a kiss at the base of Sarah’s hand. “It isn’t true today. I can’t tell you how much of a gift that is.”
“It’s a gift for us, too,” Sarah whispered. She moved even closer to Katherine, sliding her own arm around Katherine’s waist, before bending her head and kissing the other woman tenderly.
Katherine wrapped her arms around Sarah’s neck and pressed against her, returning her kiss in full measure. Sarah gave herself up to the feeling of it, of the soft press of Katherine’s lips against hers, the smell of Katherine’s hair, the feel of Katherine’s skin and body under her hands, and the utterly sweet rush of magic on her own skin as they kissed.
She finally pulled away, breathless, leaning her forehead against Katherine’s. “I’ve been wanting to do that all day.”
“I know,” Katherine murmured. “You being able to feel us doesn’t just go one way. But I wanted you to get there yourself. I didn’t want you to be afraid.”
Sarah shook her head. “I’m not afraid of what I feel. Not for either of you,” she said, kissing Katherine again. “But I was - afraid it wasn’t real, that you couldn’t or didn’t feel the same, that I was making it up in my head. Afraid I wouldn’t remember, once you were gone,” she finished, her voice small.
“Sarah,” Katherine reassured her, taking Sarah’s face in both her hands, “you will remember. I promise. No matter what else happens. And we absolutely feel the same for you, as you and Davey do for us.”
“That’s - that’s good,” Sarah said, managing a smile. “I can bear the rest, then.”
Katherine leaned in this time to kiss her, long and slow. “Don’t lose hope, dearest. There are other sabbats. And we are always there for you, even if we are not in this form.”
“I’m going to hold you to that promise,” Sarah said.
A small child suddenly came hurtling toward them and caught Sarah around the legs, making her stumble and almost fall into Katherine. Katherine quickly caught her arm to help keep her upright, and Sarah looked down at the little offender, who was only six years old.
“Specs,” she said, laughing, “what are you doing?”
Specs looked up at her from where he was hugging her legs, his brown eyes magnified by his glasses. “Hi, Miss Sarah. I’ve missed you.”
Sarah put a hand on his shoulder. “Why thank you. I’ve missed you, too. Have you run away from your mother again?”
Specs shook his head, grinning. “Nah. Ma and JoJo are over there,” he said, pointing, and when Sarah looked up, Hannah was indeed only a few feet away, choosing fruit from one of the farmers, with JoJo at her side.
Specs looked suspiciously at Katherine. “Who are you?”
Katherine grinned, kneeling down so that she was at his eye level. “I’m Miss Sarah’s friend Katherine,” she said. “Would you like to see some magic, Specs?”
“ Real magic?” Specs asked, his eyes lighting up.
“Real magic,” Katherine promised. “You see that daffodil on Miss Sarah’s skirt?” She pointed to one of the flowers right near his hand. Specs nodded.
Katherine waved her hands, and the flower was transformed into a yellow butterfly. It gracefully left Sarah’s skirt and settled on Specs’ forearm.
The little boy stared at it in awe. “How did you do that?”
“It’s one of my special talents,” Katherine said, winking at him. “That little butterfly will stay with you today, if you’re gentle with it. And then it might come to live in the flowers at your house.”
“Thank you,” said Specs, intently focused on the beautiful winged creature. He twitched his arm, and the butterfly rose into the air, then came to rest on his shoulder.
Hannah came bustling over then, with JoJo at her heels. “Specs! You shouldn’t be bothering Sarah and her friend,” she admonished him.
“It’s no bother, Hannah, really,” Sarah reassured her.
“Ma, look what the pretty lady gave me,” Specs said, pointing to the butterfly.
Hannah looked from the butterfly to Katherine, and Katherine smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Hannah. I’m Katherine.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Hannah said. “It’s always nice for us to have guests on Midsummer.”
Something in Hannah’s tone made Sarah almost sure that the newspaper women knew exactly what kind of guest Katherine was, but she was too smart to say anything about it.
Sarah also remembered, in that moment, Medda’s message about clothing and other items for the two children, and told Hannah accordingly.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Hannah sighed. “Bless that woman; I don’t know how I would keep these two in clothes without her, when they go through so much and put wear and tear on everything.”
“Having to be neat all the time is boring,” JoJo sulked. She was ten, Sarah knew, and incredibly energetic. “Who wants to be prim and prissy and never do anything fun?”
Hannah rolled her eyes, but her smile was fond. “It wouldn’t hurt you to find a happy medium, JoJo.”
“Yes, it would,” JoJo grumbled.
David and Jack came back over to them then, Davey carrying two books in his hands. Sarah cocked her head to look at their spines.
“ The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth , Davey? Are we children again?” Sarah teased.
“Maybe,” David said, giving her a half-smile. “I can definitely believe in spirits and faeries today.”
“I should hope so,” Jack chuckled, putting an arm around David’s shoulders.
Hannah raised her eyebrows, but once again she didn’t comment, turning to Sarah instead.
“Thank you for the message, Sarah,” she said, not unkindly. “We’ll see you all for the blessing, then.”
“Absolutely,” Sarah said, smiling at her, and Hannah nodded and left, trying to keep Specs and JoJo from running off as she did so.
Katherine laughed softly once Hannah was out of earshot. “I like her. No-nonsense and practical, and she knows more than she says.”
Sarah nodded, exchanging an understanding look with Katherine. “That she does.”
The four of them spent the next few hours in the square, talking to the townspeople and catching up on any news they had missed, in the flurry of planting and the early harvest. Sarah dispensed frequent healing advice, for everything from colds to bunions, while Davey connected with some of their neighbors who frequently traded with them. The Jacobs had no beef cows, so often they traded extra produce, grain, or milk for winter meat.
There was some hesitation when people saw Jack and Katherine, and indeed, most of the town seemed rather awed even by Sarah and Davey, as Katherine had predicted. There were still plenty of stares and whispers. However, there was much less hostility and much more cordiality overall, and Sarah found it to be the most pleasant Midsummer celebration she could remember without the rest of her family. This was, of course, due in no small part to Katherine and Jack, who kept both her and David laughing, and who maintained an air of protectiveness that did not go unnoticed.
About halfway through their circuit of the square, they came upon a booth full of wooden toys and musical instruments, manned by an older gentleman and a young man. The younger one, only a handful of years younger than Sarah and David, looked up as they approached.
“Hi there, Sarah!” he said with a smile. “Hi Davey! How are you?”
Sarah smiled back; it was impossible not to, when Charlie was so cheerful and kind to everyone. “Hello, Charlie. How are you? Are you going to play for us, at the celebration?”
“Of course!” Charlie exclaimed. “Me and Pa both. We wouldn’t miss it, Sarah.”
The older gentleman smiled a quiet, crooked smile at his adopted son’s enthusiasm, and nodded a greeting at the Jacobs siblings. “Miss Sarah. Master Davey.”
“It’s good to see you, Kloppman,” David said, reaching out and shaking his hand. “It will be wonderful to hear you play again.”
Kloppman smiled again. “Have to get my joy where I can.”
“Kloppman, Charlie, these are our friends Katherine and Jack,” Sarah said, indicating each of them in turn.
Katherine was looking at the intricate wooden toys and delicate instruments in amazement. “These are gorgeous! Do you make all of them yourselves?”
“Aye,” Kloppman nodded. “I’ve always liked the feel of wood in my hands, and I learned how to shape the instruments from my father. The toys, well - I just always liked giving them to the little ‘uns. Turns out they’re worth a penny.”
“He taught me how, too,” Charlie chimed in. “Since I can’t use my leg real well, it’s good to have a trade I can do mostly with my hands.”
“How is your leg, by the way?” Sarah asked gently. “Do you need more of the switchel I made for you?”
“That would be real nice, Sarah, if you can spare some,” Charlie said. “It helps a lot, actually, on the days when my leg really hurts.”
“I’ll make up some more for you and bring it this week,” Sarah promised, pressing his hand.
“Aw, thanks,” Charlie beamed. “I appreciate it.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Sarah said, smiling back at him.
“So what do you play, Charlie?” Jack asked.
“Fiddle, mostly - I’ll be playing that tonight,” Charlie said enthusiastically. “But I can play the guitar a little, too, and the lute. Almost anything stringed - you have to be able to play them some, when you make them. Make sure they sound right. Pa’s the best at guitar, though,” he added loyally.
“Would you play the lute, for a minute?” Jack asked. “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard one played well.”
“I’m not sure if what I can do would count as playing well, but sure!” Charlie acquiesced. He stood up carefully, reaching for a lute that was hanging just a little ways from him, and began to tune it.
Once he was satisfied, he began playing a sprightly tune, one that Sarah vaguely recognized as a traditional melody, and it made her want to dance. Charlie was actually very talented at the lute, though she knew he would never admit it.
Jack listened with a soft smile of pleasure on his face, and when the tune was over, he rested a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “You underestimate your fine playing, friend Charlie. That was beautiful.”
Charlie’s face showed his pleasure at the compliment. “Thank you. Music keeps your heart happy, you know?”
“I do,” Jack agreed. “Thank you for the concert. I look forward to hearing your fiddle playing!”
As Jack and Charlie were talking, Sarah caught sight of the soft glow where Jack’s hand met Charlie’s shoulder, but she was careful not to say anything. They had said their goodbyes and were moving again before she started to speak, but David beat her to it.
“Jack, what did you do?” David asked in an undertone. “To Charlie.”
“Gave him a gift,” Jack replied. “He’s in pain all the time, isn’t he?” he asked Sarah.
Sarah nodded. “More or less, yes. It depends on the day.”
Jack nodded. “I can’t heal his leg; that’s beyond the scope of what I can do. But he won’t be in pain for a day or two, maybe more. Someone with such a glad heart and such a gift for music deserves at least that much.”
“Deserves more, truly,” Katherine added. “But it’s a small blessing that he will cherish.”
“It was good of you,” David said, and he leaned over to kiss Jack softly. Jack gladly reciprocated, and Sarah smiled at their happiness.
The rest of the afternoon went beautifully, in a haze of sunshine and friendly conversation, until they chanced to run into Rev. Snyder, the clergyman of the local church.
The cleric had been walking through the crowd and greeting members of the congregation, generally casting a pall on the merriment wherever he stopped. Sarah saw him approaching and shrank a little against Jack; she tried hard to find good in everyone, but try as she might, she could find no good in the Reverend. He was a cold man, and if Sarah was honest with herself, she was afraid of him.
Jack felt Sarah’s nervousness and wrapped an arm around her, looking down at her in concern, before he noticed the Reverend coming toward them and stiffened.
“Happy Midsummer, Reverend!” Katherine greeted him fearlessly, smiling in a way that should have charmed any living creature. “Have we not been blessed with a glorious day for our celebration?”
“It is indeed a glorious day, Miss,” the Reverend said, giving her an aloof bow, “but one better suited to work and prayer than this heathenish frivolity. God does not give us our days to be wasted in idleness.”
“Do you truly think so?” said Katherine, her eyes narrowing. Sarah felt her skin prickle in warning and held her breath, but the Reverend seemed either immune to or unaware of the danger. “Would you deprive these people of their joy in the sun, and the bounty of nature, and the prospect of a good harvest?”
“The human condition is not one of joy, and God sends us trials and sorrow to keep us from believing so, and to remind us to turn always to him, and away from the earthly life,” Snyder said.
“And who are you to speak for the One who created us all, and to presume you know their will? Who are you to reject the joy and beauty and love that are given to us as gifts?” Katherine said coldly. The pale glow of her skin began to intensify, and Rev. Synder looked startled, then angry.
Jack’s embrace was suddenly gone from behind Sarah, and in the space of a breath he was in front of the Reverend, his skin blazing with a whiteness that would have been blinding without the light of the late afternoon sun. He took Snyder by his shirtfront, lifting him off his feet effortlessly.
“You do not know who walks among you, you foul-mouthed fiend,” he growled. “Learn to listen before you speak.”
And he dropped Snyder on the grass like a sack of potatoes, his chest heaving with anger. The Reverend scrambled to his feet and clearly attempted to shout - but no sound came out of his mouth. The cleric clutched at his throat, trying to speak again, but there was only silence.
“Learn some humility - and until then, stay away from those who love and understand the God and Goddess better than you,” Jack commanded, and the reverend scuttled away, still unable to make a sound.
“Good riddance to him,” Jack muttered, before raising his voice to address the nearby townspeople, most of whom wore shocked stares after witnessing his altercation with the Reverend. “Do not let cruelty masquerading as piety convince you that you do not deserve the beauty of the earth, and the joy of life, and the love of one another. These are the things that make life worth living.”
Hannah, who was part of the crowd of observers, unexpectedly spoke up.
“I’ve never liked that man from the moment he set foot in this town,” she said decisively. “So for my part, I thank you for your blessings and your protection.”
“I second that,” Medda said from behind her. “It’s a blessing all by itself not to have to hear him speak!”
Katherine smiled kindly at the two women. “You are very welcome. But it is really Sarah and David who are here to protect you, and we are here to protect them, and make sure they are loved. Magic has a hard time flourishing when one is lonely.”
“Does that explain why this is happening?” David asked carefully, and Sarah turned to look at her brother. She had been so focused on Jack and the Reverend and Katherine that she hadn’t been paying attention to him.
He was glowing. And not in the way that he sometimes did at home, working with energy that danced along his skin, but more like Jack and Katherine glowed, from the inside out.
“Davey!” she exclaimed worriedly, hurrying over to him..
“I’m all right, I think,” he said, looking at his hands in wonder. “It’s a lot of energy, and I think I just - absorbed it?” he said, making it a question and looking to Jack and Katherine for confirmation.
“I don’t know,” Jack said slowly. “I’ve never seen something like that happen before.”
“Sarah,” Katherine said quietly, and Sarah looked over at her. “You have it, too.”
Sarah looked down at her own hands, and the golden glow that Katherine had bestowed upon her earlier had grown brighter - like David, coming from the inside - seemingly without her even being aware of it.
“Well, that’s new,” she murmured.
“Try something,” Katherine suggested. “Like I did earlier with Specs. Just - see what happens.”
Sarah plucked one of the soft live buttercups off of her skirt, and held it in her palms, closing her eyes as she concentrated. She felt the flower shift in her hands, and as she opened her eyes, a yellow wagtail chirped a happy song at her before rising into the air and landing on Katherine’s shoulder. Katherine stroked the little thing’s feathers with her fingers, cooing at it delightedly.
Sarah let out a brief, startled exhale, both delighted and incredulous that it had worked. She turned to David.
“Now you,” she said with a smile, and David shot her a grin before twisting one of the acorns off of his crown and holding it in his hands. His hands glowed, and when he opened them, the tiniest, fuzziest baby rabbit Sarah had ever seen nuzzled its nose along Davey’s fingers. Davey set it down gently on the ground, where it promptly hopped over to Jack. Jack picked it up carefully, cuddling it close to his chest.
“I have no idea what this means,” Jack said softly, “but it’s amazing.”
“I think it means we’re yours,” Sarah said, resting a hand on his arm. “Magic and all.” She reached out to Katherine and David with her free hand, and they immediately drew even closer to her and Jack, finding places to rest their hands so that all four of them were connected by touch. “Shall we all go perform a blessing?”
Many of the people who had witnessed their altercation with Reverend Snyder and the aftermath followed them to the fire, keeping a respectful distance between themselves and the quartet. Sarah put an arm around Jack’s waist as they walked, and he put his arm over her shoulder, so that they were pressed closely together.
“Jack,” Sarah murmured, “will the Reverend get his voice back?”
“That depends on him,” Jack said darkly. “If he can’t talk, maybe he will learn to listen. Learn some empathy, and to appreciate the gifts he is surrounded by, instead of actively destroying the joy of others.”
“You were so angry,” Sarah said softly, turning her head to look up at him. “Why? Reverend Snyder is not a good man, perhaps, but however misguided his beliefs, I think he does believe what he says.”
“The more fool him,” Jack said fiercely. “Believing that cruelty and sadness are somehow the natural order of things only gives him leave to create more cruelty and sadness. He delights in it. And you were afraid of him,” Jack added, halting their progress to pull her even closer and stroke her face. “I could feel it, as clearly as if it were my own fear. Anyone who can make you afraid, Sarah, must truly be a terrible person.”
Sarah nestled her face into his hand, her heart beating madly. This was the closest they had been all day. “You overestimate me, Jack, but thank you. Snyder does make me profoundly uneasy and afraid, I admit.”
“You will never have to be afraid of him again. I promise you that,” Jack said, and then he smiled. “And I really don’t think I do overestimate you, Sarah Jacobs. I don’t think it’s possible to do that.”
A smile broke over Sarah’s face in return as she looked up at his sparkling eyes. “Flatterer.”
Jack leaned toward her until his lips were just an inch or two from hers. “I told you before,” he murmured, “it isn’t flattery if it’s true.”
He kissed her, then, and Sarah thought she might melt from the gentleness of it. Jack’s lips were soft, and he cradled her as though she were made of china, despite the strength she could feel in his embrace. His magic felt like the sun itself, and Sarah sighed, stealing one arm around his neck as they continued to kiss.
At some point, Sarah registered a soft glow behind her lids, and opened her eyes.
“Jack,” she breathed. “Look.”
Jack pulled slowly away from her, opening his eyes as well, and Sarah watched the wonder in his face as he saw the golden, glittering streams of magic surrounding them.
“You could have done that earlier,” Sarah said, keeping her face close to Jack’s.
“So could you,” Jack returned, but Sarah heard the undercurrent of nervousness in it, and put a hand in the hair at his temple.
“Kath said earlier that she was waiting for me to come to her, to make that decision myself. I think I felt the same way about you. I wanted you to be sure that you wanted this.”
“Sarah,” Jack said softly, “I have wanted to kiss you since the moment we saw you this morning. I have always wanted this. There are just so many things -”
“ - that you can’t tell us. I know,” Sarah finished for him.
Jack nodded. “I worry. About both of you. For both of you. I don’t want either of you to be hurt because of us.”
Sarah kissed him again. “None of us can control that. Not really. We just get to choose whether or not to love each other, and once we choose that, how we care for each other. And if today has proven nothing else, Jack, I think it has proven that we have all chosen each other.”
“And so now we love each other, the best we can,” Jack concluded, and Sarah nodded.
“Exactly,” she smiled.
It occurred to her, then, to look for David and Katherine, and as she turned slightly in Jack’s arms, she realized they were only about a dozen feet away, both smiling and waiting patiently.
“It’s about time you two got to that,” Katherine teased.
“I really wonder if the same thing happens when you and I do that,” David said, half-humorously, and Katherine winked at him.
“We’ll have to find out. But I suspect that any pair of us kissing, now, would create a similar effect. I don’t understand this yet, but it’s clear that our magic recognizes yours, and vice versa.”
They all linked themselves together again, with Sarah and Katherine in the middle and Jack and David on either end, and walked the last bit of distance back to the center of the town square. When the four of them reached the bonfire, it had, as Sarah knew it would, grown exponentially larger. The pile was easily three times as big as it had been earlier, and flames reached a good fifteen feet into the sky. The villagers always brought any cleared brush, dead trees, or other old wood to contribute to the fire, for it was considered good luck to burn old things and start anew, with new purpose. There were also tables and tables of all kinds of food, dishes full of fresh vegetables, poultry, fresh herbs, berries, honey, and everything else that was starting to grow and grace everyone’s tables with summer abundance.
The villagers surrounded the fire on all sides, and there was a palpable feeling of expectancy, even of nervousness, that ran through the crowd. Sarah knew that a fair number of people had seen what happened with Reverend Snyder, and those who hadn’t seen it would have long since heard. If they didn’t manage to convince the village that they were here as protectors, and were not people to be feared, the entire scene could become very ugly, very quickly.
Sarah squeezed Katherine and Jack’s hands, then let go, stepping forward and reaching for David, who also stepped forward and took her hand. This was their ritual to perform, and hopefully their community to heal, together.
“Friends and neighbors,” Sarah began, “we gather here today to celebrate the longest day and shortest night. The sun shines down upon us in its full glory, life giving and purifying. At the Summer Solstice we celebrate not just the Sun, but the fey and other unseen who share this world with us.”
“This day we seek the blessings of both as we observe the Summer Solstice,” David chimed in. “We call to those Seen and Unseen, the Fey who would willingly join us in our rites. The earth is full of others, beings who think and live much as we do but exist just outside of our ordinary understanding. In our history it has been said that if one wished to visit the realms of the Fae, all they had to do was walk around a faerie hill three times, stopping to knock the third time. That would open a door into their world, a space full of magic where time moves much differently than in our own reality. Tonight we don’t seek to visit the realm of the Fae, but we do seek their blessings. Midsummer provides an opportunity for us to acknowledge those who live beside us and thank them for sharing this world with us. It’s also a chance to ask for their blessings and perhaps a touch of their magic in our own lives. Honor to the Good Folk for being a part of our celebration!”
Sarah was acutely aware of Katherine and Jack behind them, and she knew David must be, too; her skin sang with their energy and magic as well as her own. David had come as close as he dared to identifying them and thanking them, without actually revealing to the townspeople who they were, and Sarah could feel their affection and approval in the magic that embraced her.
“We call to the Great God this night of longest day,” she continued, picking up where David had left off. “Join us as the Sun, fiery Lord of the Heavens who blesses our land with the sunshine that makes our world grow! Join us as the Creator who joins with the Great Mother to bring forth new life! May your purifying light and fire bless us this night and drive away all that is negative in our lives.”
“We call to the Great Goddess this day of shortest night,” David said. “Join us as the Moon, cool orb of the night-time sky who lights our way and adds to our magics! Join us as the Great Mother who brings forth new life from the eternal womb! It’s your touch that makes the blossoms bloom and the crops ripen with grain! May that same touch reach us to drive away any sorrow and sadness that doesn’t contribute to our lives.”
“The time of waning is now at hand, the days grow shorter, but the Summer is just beginning,” Sarah said in closing. “With the blessings of the God and Goddess and those Seen and Unseen, let your heart be light and your spirit filled with joy as we revel in the joys of Midsummer!”
As Sarah finished speaking, the fire flared higher, and what appeared to be several hundred fireflies emerged from the flames. As the bright specks moved away from the fire, they gradually grew larger, until hundreds of palm-sized faeries were flitting among the crowd. There were cries of awe and delight from the villagers, and gurgles of happy laughter from the children who were present.
Katherine came up behind Sarah, kissing her shoulder before putting an arm around her waist. “It’s an illusion,” she said with a smile, “but a beautiful one.”
“It is beautiful,” Sarah breathed. “So are you.”
“You’re glowing again,” Katherine observed softly. “You and David both. It’s - enchanting.” She reached out a careful hand and traced the spiral on Sarah’s arm with her fingertips. “ You are enchanting, Sarah Jacobs. And mysterious, because I don’t know why this is happening.”
Charlie’s fiddle suddenly cut through the chatter, followed closely by Kloppman’s guitar. Another cheer went up from the townspeople as they formed lines for dancing.
Sarah smiled and leaned in to kiss Katherine. “We don’t have to know why right now. It is happening, and that’s enough. Come dance with me.”
Sarah took Katherine’s hand and pulled her toward the crowd, finding them spaces in one of the lines. Sarah caught sight of Davey and Jack as well, farther down the row. As the villagers began to whirl through the steps of the dance, Sarah let go of everything but the love in her heart, the magic in her body, the touch of Katherine and Jack’s hands on her own, and her brother’s laughter ringing in her ears - the first real laughter she had heard from him in years.
The dancing continued on and off for hours, until Charlie and Kloppman’s fingers were so tired and sore they had to stop playing. The townspeople were full of food and warmth and laughter, and the fire still burned brightly into the night sky, a tower of warm flame that was a beacon for the blessings of summer and the harvest to come.
Sarah and Katherine had danced together, and with Jack and Davey, until they were breathless with laughter and happiness and until their feet were crying out for rest. They had shared some food and drink from the well-laden tables, and then ended up standing next to the fire, curled up in each other’s arms with their heads next to one another.
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Sarah whispered. “I know you do, but I wish it wasn’t so. Or that we could come with you.”
Katherine pressed a kiss to her hair. “I feel the same way, dearest. But you don’t really wish to come with us, do you? You have work to do, here, and I think your relationships with the villagers will be easier, now.”
“I hope so,” Sarah agreed. “And there is always work, yes. But it has been so - wonderful - not to be so alone. And to be able to see you, and speak with you, and do this,” she whispered, kissing Katherine’s cheek.
Katherine turned toward her, then, taking Sarah’s face in her hands. “You still won’t be alone, dearest. I promise. Jack and I will have things to do in our home as well, so you may not see us or sense us for a little bit, but we will be back. We couldn’t stay away from you if we tried, now, I don’t think. Whatever has happened between all of us, however our magics have linked themselves, it is rare and precious even in the history of the Fae. I told David that there was danger in this for all of us, and so there is - witches and faeries falling in love is not usually condoned, in our world. Humans and fae falling in love is complicated enough, and usually does not end well. But neither have I heard of anything like we’ve experienced today. Even witches who have a connection with the Fae, as you do, do not usually channel our magic. We can help them, and we do if they are respectful, but it’s nothing like this.”
She pressed a kiss to Sarah’s forehead, and then the tip of her nose, before kissing her lips. “For what it’s worth, I do wish we could stay here with you. Our world is beautiful, and we have power there, but it is complicated and not entirely safe for us, right now, and we have no way of knowing if that will change.”
“Try to stay safe, sweetheart,” Sarah murmured, putting her arms back around Katherine and nestling back into her shoulder. “I know that’s probably a lot to ask, all on its own, but do try.”
“We always do,” Katherine said, tightening her own arms around Sarah’s waist. “And now we have even more reason to be careful.”
On the other side of the fire, David and Jack were quieter, but no less intertwined. Jack stood behind David with his arms wrapped around David’s waist, and David’s hands were resting over Jack’s, as they stared at the fire together.
“Thank you, for today,” David said eventually, his voice low. “It’s nice to be seen, for once. To feel so loved.”
Jack turned his head and kissed David’s temple. “I feel very much the same.”
“You’ll come back?” David asked. His hands tightened even more around Jack’s fingers, as if he could keep him there through sheer physical strength.
He felt Jack nod against his hair. “As soon as we can, though I don’t know when that will be. Kath thinks - and I think she’s right - that we’ll have to. Aside from everything we all feel, the fact that our magics have connected, bonded, whatever it is they’ve done, means something. And we’ll still be with you, Davey,” Jack reassured him, leaning down to kiss his cheek. “Not in this form, but as we always are. As much as we are able.”
David turned in Jack’s arms, so they were facing each other, and put his arms around Jack’s neck, leaning their foreheads together. “I’ll miss you.”
“And I you,” Jack said, kissing him softly. “But we’ll be together again. I promise.”
When the fire had died down so that it was only about two feet high, eating through the last of its fuel on top of a pile of coals, the four of them, by common and unspoken consent, began to walk back toward the Jacobs’ home. The pale light of dawn was just beginning to steal across the sky, when they reached the garden and the circle that would send Jack and Katherine back home.
David drew Katherine into his arms, holding her close, and she placed a hand over his heart. “You are stronger than you realize, sweetheart,” she murmured. “Don’t forget that. And you are loved - so loved.”
“I’ll try,” David whispered. “Don’t you forget, either. Keep yourself safe.”
And they clung together, kissing fervently in the few moments they had left.
Sarah, meanwhile, approached Jack with caution - the look on his face made her heart ache. She laid one hand on his arm and the other on his cheek, and he closed his eyes at her touch.
“You don’t have to be afraid for us,” she reminded him. “We love you. It’s our choice, and we can take care of ourselves. You take care of you , until we see you again. I don’t know what dangers the two of you are facing, Jack, but take care of each other.”
“I will. We will,” Jack said hoarsely, opening his eyes and gathering her hands in his own, kissing her fingertips. “We will have time, Sarah - more than a day, love. I promise you that.”
Sarah’s eyes were shimmering with tears, but she managed a smile. “I know. I trust you.”
Jack kissed her then, and Sarah lost herself in the feel of him for long moments, until Katherine’s gentle touch brought them both back to earth.
“We have to go, Jack,” she said softly. “It’s time.”
Jack nodded, giving Sarah a last warm look and squeezing her hand before letting go. Katherine pressed a kiss to David’s cheek and also gave his hand a final squeeze before reaching for Jack. The two faerie siblings joined hands and climbed carefully into the center of the pentagram.
Sarah reached for David’s hand and held on tightly, and David returned her grip, as if they were anchoring each other to earth, and preventing each other from flinging themselves after Jack and Katherine.
The first red streak of the sunrise appeared over the horizon, and Jack and Katherine began to glow, their own light and magic surrounding them, and Sarah and David’s skin glowed in answer, their magic shimmering together. Sarah almost gasped with the force of it; it was stronger than anything she had felt that day, and David’s grip on her was so tight she knew he was barely staying upright.
“We love you, my dear ones,” Katherine said, smiling as her outline began to fade. “We are with you every day.”
Jack’s face was more solemn, but his eyes were warm. “Be brave, my loves. We will come back to you.”
The glow around the two faeries intensified until, with a sudden flash of light, they were gone. Sarah felt most of their magic go with them, and she pressed a hand to her chest, trying to breathe.
David staggered, and Sarah instinctively steadied him, catching him in her arms and letting him hang on to her while he regained his balance, both magical and physical.
“All right?” she murmured, running a hand up and down his back.
“All right,” David gasped. “It’s just - so much.”
“I know. And I’m sure it’s even worse for you than for me. Take as much time as you need,” Sarah said soothingly.
Davey hung on to her until his breathing evened out and his legs steadied, and he gave her a gentle hug in thanks.
“That’s going to take some getting used to, if it happens every time,” he admitted quietly. “And I don’t know how any of what we do is going to feel now, without them here.”
Sarah put her arm around her brother’s waist and laid her head on his shoulder. “They promised they would be back, and I believe them. Even if we can’t see them, they’ll be here. We’ll find a way.”
They stood in silence for a moment, looking at the sun slowly illuminating the pentagram and the garden, until Sarah spoke again. “We’re going to get our hearts broken, you know,” she whispered.
“Probably,” David agreed softly. “But would you change it?”
“No. Not for a moment.”
“Neither would I,” David answered, smiling at her. Sarah saw the sadness in it, but the sincerity and happiness as well, and found that she could smile, too. She hugged him more closely.
“We still have each other, Davey,” she reminded him, and herself. “And we are loved. And there is always hope.”
They held each other as they walked back home, together.
Sarah and David’s blessing at the fire is taken/adapted from this lovely Midsummer ritual by Jason Mankey.
The tune that Crutchie plays on the lute, in my head, is “ The Most High and Mighty Christianus The Forth, King of Denmark, His Galliard ” by John Dowland (performed by Sting). Rather a long and pretentious name for a lovely tune!