In a shocking turn of events, I present to you another mid-week bit o’ fiction inspired by a #RueLouPrompts over on Twitter. I’ve been meaning to do another one of these for a while, but good LORD life. Anyway, this was supposed to be a 500 word flash, and then it got out of hand (as all my short fiction loves to do) and lo, it is now a 2000 word short story of a vaguely fantasy nature. I have literally hammered this out tonight and I’m too tired to give this a thorough check before the publishing deadline, so apologies for any errors you might find. Other than that, enjoy!
I was ten when my great-aunt caught me picking flowers from the edge of the forest. She damn near screamed, “Child, stop!”
I dropped the bunch of daisies as she grabbed me by the wrist. Her ragged fingernails bit at my skin as she dragged me away from the treeline.
“Aunty Ruth!” I cried. “You’re hurting me!”
She didn’t seem to hear, or notice when I squirmed. She didn’t even look at me until we reached her cottage. Then she span on her heel and stared at me with her icy blue eyes. “What on Earth did you think you were doing, Iris?”
“You’re hurting me!” I yelled again.
She looked at the grip she had on my arm and snarled. “Better this than a fairy curse.” She squeezed my wrist even tighter. “Don’t you know what they’d do to you for stealing from their land?”
“Fairy Forest isn’t really full of fairies, Aunty,” I growled. “Only little children believe that.”
She practically threw my own wrist at me and then pointed to a stool and said, “Sit.”
I thought about making a run for it. Mum would be furious when she saw my wrist and she’d set Great-Aunty Ruth straight. Then I looked at her face again and saw the sadness, the loneliness. I sat.
She rumbled around in her little kitchen area for a while, then brought me a cool wet cloth for my wrist, and a mug of milk.
“My kettle’s rusted through,” she told me. “Else I’d have made you some cocoa.”
I grunted and took a sip.
She sighed. “Iris, I know you think I’m a fuddy-duddy and that I’ve gone loopy living here on my own, but there really are fairies in that forest.”
I snickered. “Sure.”
She prodded at the little fire withering in the fire place. “Damp in here is terrible,” she hissed. Then she turned back to me. “Did your mother ever tell you why I live alone?” I shook my head. She nodded. “Of course not, your mother thinks I’m barmy, so did your grandmother, but they don’t know what I do.”
I put down my mug and refolded the cloth around my wrist, so the coolest section was touching my skin. “So tell me then,” I grunted, knowing she wasn’t going to let me leave until she had.
“When I was a young woman, say sixteen, I was betrothed to a young man named Nicholas.” She paused at the sight of my raised brow. “Yes, Iris, I was once a young woman. Funnily enough, I was not born an old woman.”
I shrugged. She sighed again.
“As I was saying, Nicholas was a fine young man, the most charming boy you’ve ever met. I loved him very much, and he loved me, too.” For a moment she seemed distracted by the fire, then she cleared her throat and started again. “We met at the town fete, but I didn’t catch his name. But after that, we kept meeting, and kept meeting. I joked that the forest folk must keep pulling us together, and he told me they do that sort of thing a lot.
“Nicholas knew all about the fairies, about their customs and their different species. I thought he was a bit touched in the head, but he told me it was sad not to believe in magic.”
I suddenly snorted. Ruth looked at me and smiled.
“You laugh child, but personally I’ve found it’s far sadder to believe; to know them, and to see the pain they can bring.
“One day, Nicholas and I met by the stream, up near the cobblers, and walked the circuit of the town together. We talked and talked, and as the sunlight began to dwindle, Nicholas asked me to go with him to the forest, so I could see the fairies myself. I agreed only to spend more time with him. He was rather handsome in the golden light of the sunset, you understand. A girl can deal with a touch of madness for a little beauty.
“However, when we got there, though, I’m not sure quite what he did, but with one wave of his hand, a hundred glowing creatures sprung from the long grass.”
“Well that’s just fireflies!” I spat.
She placed her hand on my arm. “Iris, fireflies cannot speak you name.”
I gaped a little. “Then you really are mad.”
She smiled. “Maybe, but they greeted Nicholas. They took the blackberries he offered them and then asked what I’d brought and who I was. Nicholas told them my name and said I would give them a lock of my hair.
“I was in such shock, I didn’t even try to stop them. But, they were polite enough to take a lock from underneath. Of course, they knew that once something’s cut with a magic blade, it doesn’t grow back, you see?” Great-Aunt Ruth lifted her long silver hair up, to reveal a short jagged lock of hair.
I flicked it with my fingers. “They did that?”
She looked surprised. “Yes, child, they did. Then I sat down in the long grass and watched Nicholas play and discuss the day’s events with them. It felt like a dream. Until, I lazily picked a buttercup from amongst the grasses. Then the whole mood shifted.
“Nicholas turned and saw me twisting the flower between my fingers. Just like I yelled at you today, he yelled at me. When I looked up, there were a dozen angry fairies hovering around my head. Nicholas told me to put the flower down, so I did, very slowly.
“He pleaded with them not to be angry with me, not to punish me. I asked him why they would punish me, and he explained, ‘The forest flowers are a part of the land, as are the fairies. When you steal the flowers from the land, you steal a part of them.’
“I still felt like I was dreaming, but I told them I was sorry and the fairies relaxed a little. Nicholas knew they weren’t happy, though, and an unhappy fairy is a dangerous one, so told me it was time to go home.”
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and found myself whispering, “Then what happened?”
She patted my head softly. “Then Nicholas and I continued courting. Nicholas talked avidly about fairy customs, trying to teach me, but when he took me to see them again, they refused to come out until I was on the short grass. From there, Iris, they did look like fireflies, and over time, I think I convinced myself that that’s all they were – that Nicholas was sweet and gentle, and mad enough to talk to the insects. Still, I loved him deeply. And he was so very happy to have someone who didn’t mock him for his belief in fairy folk.
“When he asked me to marry him, I was elated. ‘We should make ourselves crowns of roses,’ I told him, ‘For you are my fairy King, and I shall be your Queen.’
“He laughed at that, and told me it was unwise to use those words too close to the forest, but roses were his favourite flower. ‘The fairies believe they’re the heart of all things,’ he said. So it was set, we would have rose crowns for our wedding.
“We decided on a fortnight Saturday, far enough in advance that our parents wouldn’t be blindsided, but soon enough that we wouldn’t go mad with anticipation. On the day before the wedding, I went shopping for some new gloves and the roses to make the crowns.
“When I got to the market, however, there was not a single rose in sight. The flower-seller informed me that his usual seller had been affected by a nasty blight, so he couldn’t get hold of any roses, not until long after the wedding.
“Disheartened, I bought the new gloves I wanted and began to make my way home. I took the side streets out to the main road, so that I could walk the scenic route. I hoped the sight of the hills and the forest would lift my spirits.
“And it did, because as I neared the bend back into town that would take me past my old home, I spotted a rose bush growing at the edge of the forest.”
“You didn’t, Aunty!” I yelped. “Tell me you didn’t.”
“I did child. I cut myself ten good roses. I felt a little guilty that I was doing something Nicholas wouldn’t like, but the fairies were a dream to me. A touch of insanity I saw one evening and shook off the next. If Nicholas never knew that the roses were from the forest, then nothing bad could come of it.”
I had my hands over my mouth as I squealed, “No, Aunty!”
She looked wistful. “I’m glad you hear me now, Iris, I glad you can see where this is going.” She took a deep breath. “I certainly didn’t and it cost me all the love in my life.” She paused, poked the fire again and swallowed. “When I got back to the house, I took the roses out of my basket and placed them in a jug of water. That was when Nicholas knocked on the door, letting himself in as he had taken to doing. I grinned at him and pointed excitedly to the roses. ‘Aren’t they perfect for our crowns?’ I asked him. He kissed me on the cheek and told me they were almost as stunning as I, which made me blush.
“He asked if I needed any help twisting them and I could think of no better way to spend the day before our wedding that working with him, so I said yes and we set to it.
“We were just braiding roses … but for some reason I didn’t think twice about the thorns. At least, not until one pierced Nicholas’ thumb. The scream that sprang from him, Iris, it was animal.”
“But rose thorns don’t hurt that much,” I whispered.
“Not normal roses, no. Roses protected by fairies, though? Well, as Nicholas said, the fairies see them as the heart of all things. They’re full of pain and blood, and when you’re cut by them, it’s as if all of that spills into you.” She closed her eyes. “And that pain changes a person.”
She stopped speaking for so long I thought she wasn’t going to continue. I knelt on the stone floor and wrapped my arms around her waist. “I’m sorry, Aunty Ruth.”
I felt a weak laugh bubble up her throat. “It’s not your fault, dear. It was very much mine.”
“Did he, did Nicholas die?”
She began to stroke my hair. “No, Iris, he lived. He married and had children. You know his grandson, Ezra.”
I looked up at her. “But why didn’t you get married?”
“Well, when Nicholas pierced his thumb braiding the roses, I jumped and pricked myself, too. The magic of it twisted Nicholas’ heart against me, but tied mine to him forever.” She leant back and pointed to the scar on her index finger. “I could never stop loving him, not even after he passed away. And he could never stop hating me. Not that I blame him. Even if the fairies hadn’t cursed me, Nicholas would have known what I’d done and hated me anyway for betraying him and hurting his friends.”
I smoothed the silver line carved into her skin and mulled over her story.
“That’s why you were mad I was picking daisies?”
“Would they have cursed me, too?”
She squeezed me tightly to her chest. “Not quite, Iris. Daisies symbolise innocence and purity. The punishment’s something far worse than a simple curse.”
“Like what?” I asked.
She looked me dead in the eye and said. “Sweet child, they would have taken you.”
Thanks for taking the time to read this! If you’re new here and enjoyed this story, please check out the other work I have available on the site (here, here, here), and if you’re feeling like a bit of a longer read, you can purchase my novella Moon-Sitting on Amazon.
If you’re old here, how are you doing? Surviving? Hanging in? I hope so. May the random feature image of Kit bring you joy.