Well that stung. Not even the tiny fae recognized my magic anymore. I’d muddied the waters of my soul too deep. Not-unicorn. I swallowed hard and looked away from the small fluttering wings that chimed like bells in the breeze they created.
“Have you been following us?” I asked.
“Yes.” The tiny Being didn’t even try to deny it. Fae were capricious, tricky, but they did not lie. Not outright.
“Why not?” So it would not lie but not tell the truth then either.
“Are you alone?”
“You are with me.”
He’d heard more bells than just one tiny fae’s wings could make. There were many. So where were they? Still on the road? Behind us? Before us? What mischief were they planning?
Because that was their whole existence. Mischief. What trouble could they cause, who could they annoy most in their immediate vicinity?
Unfortunately, today that was us. Oh, happy day.
Why did we keep going from the frying pan to the fire then jumping right back into the pan to serve ourselves up to the capricious gods of trouble? Karma, bad energy, pissed off a witch in a past life… I seriously did something wrong somewhere or sometime.
And my loved ones were suffering for it.
“Are you the only ones following us?” Some of the tiny beings were winged. “Or don’t you know because you are only capable of hiding here in the woods?” I hid my smile at the scowl that crossed the miniscule lips, turning them down. His arms crossed.
“Of course we know. We can avoid humans on the road.”
Ahh, so it was humans. That was the sound before the bells. The strike of shoes on stones, horses. The metal ring was different from Londe’s hooves; that must have been what woke me, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
But was it the Duke’s men? Or someone else? There was no way to tell without waiting to see them. Better to just avoid them altogether.
I faded backward through the bushes, making no noise as the branches slid past my body. The fae had disappeared, but as soon as I reached the spot where Londe had hidden, my eyes widened. At least a dozen of the tiny fae were all around him.
They were petting him, two were plaiting his mane and tail, and one was flicking away little burrs from his sides.
“They said they’d help us!” he exclaimed eagerly.
“Shhh.” Several hushed him.
I rushed to his side. “There are humans on the road. We need to go. Your coat and horn is too distinctive.”
“Not a problem.” The same tiny fae, his blue and white wings flapping in the air with rapid beats, hovered near us. “We have protected him.”
The braids in Londe’s mane and tail held small objects; I looked closer. Acorns, amber, Anise… the combined magic urging me away from him nearly made me sneeze. I backed away. Protection against psychic attacks, physical harm, and warding off the evil eye; they were the magical gifts of the fae tied to mortal emblems and freely given. It was powerful magic.
“Why would you help us?” It was outside of their nature to do things without recompense. Or was this a trick? I narrowed my eyes. My magic, compared to theirs, even with Londe’s… it wouldn’t be enough.
“A gift, for this day and night! We travel, make merry, gift those Beings and humans who are our friends. You did not try to harm me, or grow angry when I refused your question.”
I shrugged. “You’re fae.” One could not force the fae, not even one of the tiny Beings.
He grinned and several others cheered, scampering about on the ground, Londe’s back, and in the air. “We’re fae, we’re fae, come to make merry this day!”
It had taken me all this time to realize they were in colors green, red, gold, and silver. Glitter dotted their skin, and some carried branches of evergreen and bright red berries with green leaves tucked into their hair.
“Oh…!” Now it made sense. Time ran differently in the fae realm than it did here, and their magic let them choose. The fae were celebrating their midwinter.
“Merry tidings! Gifts to bless and keep you safe!” One tiny fae woman said, her wings chiming like the highest, purest of bells as she flew up to me and tapped me on the forehead with a branch from her hair.
No. Not just the forehead. I closed my eyes, feeling the aching chasm deep into my soul, the answering twist from the horn sheathed along my back. She’d touched the spot where my horn had been sheared, the magical connection broken. I held in a sob.
Then a nose nuzzled my cheek. I reached up and held onto Londe’s neck, needing to hide my face for a moment. “It’s okay,” Londe soothed me.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered in a broken voice. All this, it was all my fault. Our damaged bond, the missing foals, the magic gone and all that had changed inside me.
“Stop. I’ve never blamed you. We will get the foals back in time, and we will find a way to fix your horn.”
“We can help!” came a chorus of voices.
I looked up, still not sure if we could trust them. They were behaving so oddly for their kind; fae just didn’t offer up magic and help for nothing. Whatever they were getting out of it had to be big, even if I couldn’t figure it out yet.
“Nothing you do can harm me or Londe, or anyone as a consequence,” I warned them. “Agreed?”
“Agreed!” They rose up, dancing and flying around us, the bells growing louder and louder, until I grew dizzy. I closed my eyes, grunting as my stomach churned, and a loud crack broke the air, the concussion knocking me into Londe.
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