I haven’t posted in awhile. Actually, I haven’t posted all summer. Summer is hard for me–many people get seasonal depression in the winter, but I . . . I have to be unique. I get seasonal depression over the summer. Maybe it’s the sun or the heat or the long days and short nights (I blame my vampire blood), but I become apathetic and everything becomes lackluster and doing anything is a struggle. This includes writing. I’m still deep into rewriting my first novel and was over halfway through when June stopped me dead in my tracks. I’ve only been able to get back into writing the past week or so, and that’s when I got this finished. It’s still rough, but it’s a fun little piece with a teenage girl and faeries. It’s only a little slice of the main character Jack’s story, but the beginning of the girl’s. I thought I’d share it–both as a celebration of getting through my Summer Writer’s Block and because as rough and ungainly as it is, I rather like it.
“I’ll let you go, but you be quick, Rowan,” her papa said. “I want to make it to Delwyne before sunset.”
“I’ll be back before you have a chance to blink,” she laughed . . . And she was half good to her word, she was gone before he had a chance to blink. He gave an exhausted laugh.”Where does she get that energy?” he said as he leaned against his wagon and packed his pipe with tobacco.
Rowan bounded across the fields of heather. This was the first time he papa let her go with him to the Hollows, and the first time she saw the Faerie Tree. She was determined to be swifter than a trout, for she didn’t want it to be the last time. They didn’t see it on the way to the Hollows, for her papa took the main road, but he promised her he would take the old road back home just so she could see it. Once they got on to the old road, she kept watching, craning her next left and right, afraid to miss it in the forest surrounding them. “You won’t miss it,” her papa assured her, but she found it hard to believe him for the forest was so thick, the trees so tall, how was she going to see it? “Trust me,” he kept saying. “Trust me, you’re not going to miss it.”
He was right. As they came out of a little gulley and the cart crested the hill, she saw what he meant. “That’s it,” she said when she saw it. “Mm-hmm,” he agreed.
The forest continued around and ahead of them—a mix of birches and pine, but ahead of them, towering above the forest, was a tree unlike any she had seen before. Taller than any redwood or evergreen, it could have been the tentpole that held up the sky.
“That’s it,” she whispered in awe.
They came to a crater and the landscape drastically changed—gone were the evergreens and birches, replaced by the heather fields of Manusande Moor. The road continued down the crater side on a slight grade. As they descended, Rowan noticed the light, change as if dusk had settled early, and felt a tingle in the air—a static-y feeling the way the air feels during a thunderstorm. Her poppa seemed to notice, too, for though it wasn’t cold he shivered beside her and tugged his hat down lower. For as little use as her father said it got, the cobblestones of the road showed not a crack nor any divots or wear. Nothing grew between the stones—they looked freshly-laid.
“Well, shit,” exclaimed her poppa. Rowan smirked for her father rarely swore, and quickly apologized whenever he did—he must really be impressed if he doesn’t notice me, she thought. “I didn’t remember it being so beautiful. Maybe we’ll come this way next time.” He gave her a wink. He slowed the wagon down so they could appreciate the scenery.
That wasn’t enough for Rowan. She felt ready to explode with excitement. “Can we stop?”
Her poppa glanced at her and then the moor and then the road and then back to her. He tilted his hat back and rubbed his head. The few wisps of hair remaining perked up. He gave her a pensive look with his lips drawn tight and his head cocked to the side like a poorly-made scarecrow. “Well . . . .” He drawled, trying to hide his smile.
“Thank you, poppa,” she said. “Thank you.”
The wagon stopped on the side of the road.
She went straight for the tree, leapfrogging over rabbits to startled to run, and sprinting across the stream, for she had no time to waste. At any moment she might hear her father holler and then all would be over—her only chance to see a Faerie tree and perhaps one of the Green Folk themselves dispelled by the spell of her poppa calling her back to the cart. Not that she believed she would see one of the Green Folk—she knew that they had left the world and had either gone the way of the dragons or were as real as vampires or trolls . . . but, extinct or imaginary, she still hoped. She had grown a little too old to really believe in magic and the mystic, but she still hoped to experience a little magic and mystery. Hoped to catch a glimpse of gossamer wings or glittery cheeks or however their glamour manifested.
“Please be there . . . Please let me something . . . Anything . . . .” She whispered as she approached the tree. When she drew within twenty yards of the tree she came to a halt and took off her shoes. The buckles on them, she couldn’t remember if they were iron or not, and didn’t want to risk frightening off any faeries, so shed them and left them in the lee of a large stone. She checked the rest of her clothes—looking for any stray brooch or bell or button that might keep her from her dreams. Barefoot, she raced to the tree, her excitement and awe making her oblivious to the thorns and stones in her path.
From the road, the tree dwarfed the moors—the heather resembled the moss growing at the base of a birch or cedar. When she reached the foot of the tree, she felt no bigger than an ant. It was bigger than she imagined—wide enough that walking around it would easily take five minutes, and she barely reached the base of the trunk standing on her tiptoes. The roots were as big in diameter as her whole body. It smelled of rose and the musky vanilla of a Meerstane pine, but most marvelous of all was the music. She heard the music—a hint of music, faint notes no louder than susurration of a summer breeze through rye fields. Faerie music, she hoped, though she knew it was probably the song of a woodsman poaching or a ranger patrolling. The music grew louder as she drew closer to the tree, and she could make out some of the lyrics—something about a woman and rubies and rust and sand. She saw no one beneath the tree. Whoever’s playing must be on the other side . . . Unless the music’s coming from the tree itself . . . It is a faerie tree, after all . . . I’ll take a quick peek, and then hurry back to papa. On hand and foot, cat-like, she scaled one of the roots to the trunk.
She arrived at the trunk feeling like she had climbed the whole tree, and slunk against the trunk to catch her breath before circling it to find the source of the music. The road from where she sat was so distant, cutting across the land like the horizon, and her father’s wagon so small, no more than a shooting star. Can he see me? I bet I look like a buckthorn caterpillar inching my way along. I wonder when he began smoking . . . Mama smokes, too . . . Rowan stood and started her way around the tree. She stepped from root to root as if they were stepping stones in a river. When will I begin smoking? Will I just know? How do you know these things anyway—do you wake up one day and wonder where your pipe is, or does it come over you slow-like . . . Like growing up? Sometimes I wish I could get it all done at once . . . I’m not girl . . . But I sure don’t feel like a woman . . . Growing up is a real pisser . . . .
She continued around the tree—the music grew louder and she went slower until, as she climbed over a particularly knotty and large root, she froze. Rounding the tree, she had seen below her the flowers of the moor, but clambering down the root, she saw something moving—someone moving. She hoped the music drowned out any bit of the squeal that might’ve escaped her stifling of it. It wasn’t the tree—it was someone, but was it a faerie? She pressed herself as flat as she could against the knots and the bumps of the trunk, and wriggled to the edge for a peek. From the voice, she guessed that the someone below her was a man, and not an ordinary man: he looked as if had come from the tailor, for his fine breeches and shirt showed neither stain nor spot nor any wearing or fraying, and his leather boots appeared to have been just put on, for no mud or leaf frosted the sides of the soles, let alone any kind of scuffing, wrinkling, cracking or any kind of wear. Unless he came barefoot across the moor with his boots in his backpack, only to put them on here to play music . . . Maybe he did . . . But the hat on his head stood in stark contrast to his clothes: it was a sorry excuse for someone in such well-made clothes to be wearing—water-stained and faded, with much of the shape—if it had any to begin with—long gone. The brim of the hat drooped, and there was a hole in the crown—a perfect mousehole. The brim and the angle of the head obscured the face, but she didn’t need to see him to know what he was. It was the hat that raised her suspicions and made her think that he was more than he looked. It stood out to her just as much as if he had goat legs or bat ears or his body was covered in rabbit fur . . . No man dressed so fine would ever wear something so shabby as that hat—why, none of the tramps or ragmen from Skillington to Emerath would wear something so stained and raggedy. A scarecrow would find a way to shake it off on the stillest day . . . .
In mid-thought she fell. He leaned back, and she would’ve caught a glimpse of his face as she craned forward, but too far forward she craned and got more than a glimpse. His guitar spilled onto the ground as she landed in his lap and they blinked at each other. The man didn’t seem a bit surprised to find a young woman dropping from the tree the way an apple might drop from an apple tree. He seemed to have the breath she lost from fear and embarrassment, for, shaking his head, he laughed.
“Oh,” she gasped. He smelled of Douglas fir and peaches and papa’s whiskey on a cool summer night with the fireflies weaving drunkenly over their heads as she and her sisters gazed up at the stars and listened to their parents drink and talk and babble with the brook that ran in back of their house. Her cheeks reddened and her eyes went rabbit-wide as she stared up at his face. “I’m so sorry—I didn’t—” She struggled to get up, like a fish a-ground trying to flop its way back to water.
“Well I think you did,” he said, and laughed again. He slid his hand from under her head down to her shoulderblades and helped her sit up. She sat in his lap her face inches from his fumbling for what to say or do. He appeared to be older than her eldest sister, but nowhere near her father’s age, and as handsome as any man or faerie she had imagined. His hand rested on her back, and she felt the warmth of it through her blouse. “I heard you from the other side of the tree,” she said, trying to sound casual. “It was lovely . . . What were you playing?” And you’re a Faerie, aren’t you? You’re real—they’re real. You’re a real faerie! She wanted to add, but held back for the moment, unsure of the proper etiquette for approaching the Fair Folk and not wanting to scare him off.
“Once you trade places with my guitar, perhaps I’ll play the whole song for you, and then we’ll see how lovely you think it is.”
“Oh, right,” she blushed and with his help clambered out of his lap. She handed him the instrument and sat down in its place. She watched him strum his guitar, and then start tuning it. His hands were slender, his fingers lithe and strong and reminded her of her mother’s, but free of callouses and scars and wrinkles. She rubbed her hands together in her lap and felt the lanolin softness of childhood already giving way rough patches. “So what are you called, and what brings you here?” he asked.
Bewilderment and then suspicion played across her face. She had heard the stories of what witches and faeries could do if they possessed your name. Enamored she may be, but not witless. She quickly stood up and curtsied, replying “You may call me simply, my lady . . . And I am here to . . . Pay my respects to the lady of the tree.”
Did he smirk at what she said? She swore she saw a smirk dart across his face as he finished tuning his guitar. “Well, milady,” he replied, his fingers tickling the guitar strings. “You may call me Jack. How serendipitous that we should meet like this, for I too am here to pay my respects to milady Gabrielle . . . Now,” he played a few notes and then stopped. “You know, since we’re both here to see Lady Gabrielle, let’s go in to see her now.” He gave her a wink and then sprang to his feet.
“Would you like to open the gate, or should I?” He asked as he fastened his cloak and tossed a scarf around his neck.
Rowan blanched. Open the gate? How? Why, she would have an easier time knocking the moon from the heavens with a cattail. She studied the tree—from its root tips to its many-limbed bower towering above them so high it could have been the sky—and saw no hint of a gate, nor any way of opening one. Was a word or a spell required? A symbol traced upon the bark, or a song? A knock, or a pattern of raps? She clenched and unclenched her toes as she puzzled over the answer, pulling up the moss in tiny clumps of velvet. Then the answer struck her—it was so simple she laughed. “Why don’t you open the gate, Jack.”
“It would be an honor,” he said and bowed. He strapped his guitar on over his shoulder. Nimbly, in a short succession of steps he bounded up the roots to the trunk and faced the tree. Rowan watched with curiosity as he fiddled with something on the tree, but his body blocked her view. What’s he doing? With a mischievous smile, he twisted around, holding something up. It was a ribbon red as a Meerstane wine.
“And there we are, milady,” he said. She stared up at him, a little disappointed and unimpressed. She expected something to happen . . . In the stories, something always happened—an archway formed from the wood or a shower of glitter as a rainbow appeared and faeries of all sorts waited on the other side . . . At least a tingle that put all uncertainties to rest. Her certainty certainly unraveled as the ribbon waved in the air and the tree remained tree-like, without anything of a gate about it. Jack became just a man, still a handsome and talented man, but no more a faerie than anyone else fairy-touched.
“That’s it?” she asked. She felt foolish and frightened, and wished she hadn’t asked her papa to pull over and let her she the tree up close—if they had remained on the road, it would’ve retained its beauty and mystique . . . Now, she would always remember standing here, staring at a fairy-touched ranger or woodsman or whatever Jack was . . . Staring at an idiot man waving a ribbon in the air.
In the distance a red grouse cried. As if response, she heard her name, “Rowan?”
“Coming, papa,” she hollered. Her papa’s voice swept away the last bits of the illusion she wrapped herself within and grounded her. “Bye, Jack,” she said.
Jack ignored her as he pressed his hand against the trunk. His fingers sank into the bark. The tree shimmered with a million needle-pricks of light as if dusted by snow and the bark swayed under Jack’s touch. Rowan took a step forward. He pulled aside the trunk, and a waterfall of sunshine cascaded down and bathed her in its light.
“You might’ve had better luck with getting it open, milady,” Jack said. Held back by his hand as if it was nothing more than a bedsheet hung out to dry, was the bark of the tree. “The gate hasn’t been opened in a long time, and Lady Gabrielle takes few visitors, so it took a bit more magic to open it.”
“S’real . . . .” she breathed. She took a few more steps forward. She left the light and stopped at the roots and rested a hand on it. It was cool and firm. “It’s real . . . He’s real . . .” she whispered as it finally sank in, and her hope was reinvigorated. She squirreled up the root while Jack stood there with one hand holding open the tree as if it was a carnival tent and he the barker. “You’re real,” she squealed.
Jack shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose I’ve been called worse things.”
“Rowan?” Her name sounded like a pot clattering over the kitchen floor. “Let’s go girl . . . You take any longer, we’ll have to walk back home ‘cause I’ll be eating the horses, I’m so hungry.”
Rowan sucked in her lips and bit down, sealing up her need to scream. There before her beckoned a mosaic path of turquoise and tourmaline and garnet, flanked by lilies and starcatchers and flowers to which she could put no name, dappled by morning sunshine, and perfumed by ripe peaches. Compared to this glimpse, this insignificant sliver, the doorstep to this Faerie realm, every garden she had seen transformed into a scrubby waste . . . And before she has the chance to forget her father and ignore his wishes, he has to call to her and spoil everything. Here was a chance unlike any other, something that would never happen again . . . and there was her papa, who relied on her and would someday be entrusting his entire business with her. Disappoint him . . . For a boy and beautiful scenery . . . Disrupt her entire life for a glimpse of someplace that would probably pale in comparison to her dreams? She curtsied. “As I said . . . Goodbye . . . Jack . . .” Her voice quivered and she brushed back tears. “It was . . . It was an . . . Honor . . . Please . . . Please, give my regards to our Lady Gabrielle . . . .”
Jack gave her a sympathetic look. “It sounds like you’ve got promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep, so good-bye, milady. I will do as you wish.” She stifled a sob and took a deep breath as Jack stepped onto the path. When he was all the way into the tree and about to release the tree trunk, he stopped. “You know,” he said, the bark wavering beneath his fingers. He turned back to her, face alight by the sun and a smirk that suggested some kind of mischief. “Why don’t you join me . . . Come see the Lady yourself . . . Come. See the wonders of her gardens. I promise I’ll have you back before . . .” He scanned the area and then pointed at a blue swallowtail butterfly clinging to the side of the tree. “Before that butterfly flies away. Will you join me?” He extended his hand.
“Yes,” she cried, and settled her hand in his. “Oh, yes. Please.” The goblins take papa, I can’t pass this up. Hand-in-hand they went and the trunk of the tree fell back and became as solid as any other tree.
Rowan and Jack sat on pillows of moss beneath a massive oak, eating the sweetest of peaches. Jack plucked strands of mistletoe from the oaken bower, weaving them with holly and the red ribbon. Across from him Rowan smiled, a thin runnel of juice trickled from the corner of her mouth.
“T’is a very peachy peach, isn’t it, milady?”
“Mmmhmm,” was the only reply Rowan mustered.
Jack continued weaving and singing. The flesh finished, Rowan popped the peach pit into her mouth and rolled it over her tongue, sucking it to get the last bits. She gazed over the field of bluebells and took a deep breath. The air smelled of peaches and honey. She knew they couldn’t have been here long—they only followed the mosaic path a scant hundred yards before Jack saw a peach orchard off to their right and insisted they gather some to eat. Just beyond the orchard was the bluebell field and the hillock where they sat—but she felt so relaxed and carefree, as if she had been here forever.
“Will Lady Gabrielle be here soon?” So awestruck was she, Rowan had almost forgotten that they were here to see Lady Gabrielle.
“In her time, I imagine, she’ll see us . . . .” Jack’s voice drifted as he focused on a particularly uncooperative holly branch. “She sees us . . . Or haven’t you noticed?”
“What?” Rowan sat bolt upright as if one of her sisters had poured a pitcher of ice water down her back. She glanced around but saw only the flowers and trees and heard only the buzz of bumblebees and the songbirds singing.
“She’s there . . .” He pointed with his chin in so that he could have been pointing at anything in front of them. “In the shadows between the sunbeams . . . a lady with flowers in her hair and the pensive look of an overcast day . . . .” Rowan squinted, trying to see between the sunbeams, but that only smeared the fields of flowers and bring a laugh from Jack. “I’m sorry . . . I’m kidding . . . She’s down past the peach orchard, there where the path forks . . . half-hidden in by the trellis and the roses. She really does have flowers in her hair . . . Calendula, I think . . . And the look of someone who’s just had a very peculiar pair of birds fly into her house and nest on her favorite seat.”
Rowan traced the path through the orchard and along the field beyond to where the path forked and plum-colored roses formed a half-moon under which she guessed was the trellis. She saw no one under or near the half-moon of roses and thought that Jack was joking again when she caught a flash of something . . . Someone . . . A finger tracing an almost-blooming bud, the orange flowers in her hair bright flames, eyes and lips taut as if she was trying to make a hard decision . . . Then Rowan felt something brush her forehead and in the instant she turned her attention to Jack and back the woman was hummingbird-gone and Rowan wondered if she had imagined her.
“Milady of the Green,” Jack said, bowing with an exaggerated flourish. Rowan took off the crown Jack put on her head to examine it. “It’s lovely,” she said. “Thank you . . .” She put it on again. The ribbon strand tickled her ear, sending a shivering warmth through her body. “Does that mean you’re my Jack of the Green?” She asked, doing her best imitation of her eldest sister flirting. Leaning back with her fingers in the moss and her feet soaking in a pool of sunlight, the earthy aroma of oak and the soil freshly-dewed and the sticky-sweet taste of peach lingering on her lips and tongue, intoxicating her, she felt giddy and free and capricious, as if she could do anything.
Jack winked. He took up his guitar, which rested against the oak tree, and strummed a few notes. “I believe it’s time for that song I owe you, milady . . . Something to tide us over until the Lady arrives . . . .”
He played. It was a slow song with a rousing chorus and in a dialect from which she understood one out of every five words, but she loved it. This song was for her. She had never had anyone sing a song just for her—she had her mamma’s lullabies when she was a babe, and her papa’s drunken mountain songs at parties—but no one ever went out of their way for her, so legs crossed she craned forward to catch every note and syllable to savor on the ride home and as she fell asleep that night. He closed his eyes as he sang and played, and she did the same. It was the rustling in the bluebells that made her open them. She twisted around to see what was behind her and she saw the Lady Gabrielle.
She stood where the sunlight ebbed and flowed against the shadows of the bower of the oak tree with her arms folded across her chest as if she was hugging herself, with a queer look that could be a smile or could be smirk. The folds of her dress fluttered in a breeze that only she seemed to be caught in, and she thought she saw one of the petals from the embroidery blow off, curling in the wind until it settled amidst the bluebells. Rowan glanced at her face the way she might the sun: boldly and daring, but also terrified of being blinded. Her palms dampened and her skin tingled as if her entire body needed to be itched.
Rowan wasn’t sure if she should say anything or what it should be, and decided to take a deep breath and focus to Jack—she didn’t want to seem rude, but rather than say the wrong thing and offend the Fair Folk, and one of the Court at that, she thought it best to act as if nothing could be more enthralling than hearing Jack playing, which did have some truth. Jack didn’t seem to notice the Faerie Lady—eyes closed, he continued playing. The song steadily picked up tempo as he played so that it ended in a rousing climax that dropped off suddenly with four notes plashing like raindrops atop the surface of a lake. He finished and, eyes still closed, smiled and said, “For you, Milady of the Green. The Ballad of Isobel and Almasy.” From his shoulder hung a wineskin which he took and drank deeply.
“Beautiful, my Lord of the Green, simply beautiful,” Rowan exclaimed. Jack’s song had exorcised the faerie from Rowan’s thoughts, so that it surprised her to hear someone speaking behind her, and at the same time.
“An awesome feat,” interjected the lady with a voice as sharp and soft as a rose. “You played that song with more skill than the songwriter herself. I’m sorry I didn’t hear it from the beginning.” Before she saw the Lady’s face, Rowan felt her eyes burning into her with the pricking clarity of a cloudless Summer afternoon. She felt without seeing the disdain and winced.
Rowan whirled around and soon found her feet, for somehow she knew that she needed to extend every formality and grace to the Lady. Jack nearly spat the wine he drank; instead he successfully contained it by choking it down and coughing. He appeared beside Rowan, hat in his hand, sweeping it before him as he bowed and she joined in a second later with a curtsy.
The intensity of her displeasure passed as quickly as it came, and Rowan saw the Lady smile, thin and fine as a boning knife.
“Forgive us Lady Gabrielle, for we meant no displeasure. . . We have only come to pay our respects, and to—”
“Did I say I was displeased?” She said. Though she wasn’t much taller than Rowan, her bearing made it seem as if she towered as tall as the tree they went through. Gabrielle stared down at Rowan with a glint in her eye of sunlight off snow. Rowan hoped that that was a rhetorical question, because she wasn’t going to answer it. “Play for me.” She plopped down where she stood with her back straight and her hands folded in her lap. “You played for the raff, now me.”
With raised eyebrows Jack rubbed his chin and surveyed Gabrielle. “Certainly, but understand that whatever I play will not compare to the music of your demesne—the bluebells tinkling and the bumblebees hum, the crooning of the firs as the wind sweeps across their branches and the woodpecker’s percussion. The beauty here far overwhelms anything I may attempt.” A quirk of her lips hinted at a smile, but otherwise she remained still. Jack sat back down where he had been only a moment ago and tuned his guitar. Rowan sat to Gabrielle’s right, forming something of a triangle or crescent, and at what she hoped was a respectful distance that also kept just out of the Lady’s arm’s reach and within Jack’s. There was a tension between them, and Rowan could tell there was something more to this than just his playing for her—something was at stake, but what, she wasn’t sure.
Jack finished tuning his guitar and then, picking at the strings, tossed notes hither and thither until, with a wink that could’ve been for Gabrielle or Rowan, he closed his eyes and played. Rowan anticipated a slow and stately ballad or something musically complex, but Jack surprised her. It was a quick upbeat song about a young man taken by the Queen of the Green Folk to be her bride—the kind of mountain reel that infected your feet and legs with the mad desire to plunge into a dance so that the feeling might go away. It was the kind of song to play at a harvest festival or a wedding when everyone at the party was, as her papa said, “solid stoned and whiskified.” It was a commoner’s song filled with ribald humor for rough laughter. Rowan wanted to dance, but the Lady moved as much as might be expected of a stone statue, with only the occasional blink or the flutter of her dress as she breathed any indication that she lived, so she remained seated, the tapping of her foot the closest she came to dancing.
Jack finished. Without ever looking at Lady Gabrielle or Rowan, he set his guitar aside and then pulled a metal flask from the breastpocket of his shirt and drank deeply. Rowan guessed that he drained his flask. Replacing the flask in his pocket, he rose and extended a hand to Rowan. “I believe it is time we go, milady.”
She took the proffered hand and gave a slight nod of her head, “As you wish.” Even when she stood, she didn’t let go of his hand, for something about the place terrified her, the Lady most of all, and she had the sense that, if she let go, she would be stuck here, like a grasshopper in a spider’s web. It wasn’t until she was standing beside Jack that she dared look at the Lady again. Gabrielle remained seated, spine straight and head cocked slightly to the side, with a look as inscrutable as that of a cat’s.
Jack offered his free hand to the Lady. Her hand settled in his with the grace of a butterfly setting upon a branch, and then she rose from the ground. This close, Rowan could see that she was only a couple of inches taller, but she still seemed to dwarf Rowan. Her hand lingered in Jack’s and Rowan felt her cheeks blush with jealousy, and she instinctively squeezed Jack’s hand.
“Please do return again,” she said turning her attention from Jack to Rowan. She plucked one of the embroidered flowers from her dress—a sprig of Baby’s Breath. Out it came, as real as any other flower. She tucked it into Rowan’s crown. Rowan struggled not to flinch as the Lady’s hand came towards her. Jack looked like he was about to say something, but held his tongue.
“Something to remember me by,” she said with a wry smile.
Jack took the hat off his head and put on Gabrielle. He tugged down the brim in the front. “And something to remember me by,” he said. “A keepsake until I return.”
Speechless and puzzled, fingering the brim of the hat on her head, she watched them skip hand-in-hand through the bluebells. Taking off the hat, she held it in both hands with the brim beneath her nose, inhaling the aroma of woodsmoke from near-forgotten forests and hills, as they followed the path and faded into the orchard. As she felt the shudder pass through her realm as they parted the gate and left, she put the hat back on and said “Good-bye,” the words coming out like a sigh.
The smell of the moors greeted Jack and Rowan as they emerged from the tree. As promised, the same swallowtail butterfly clung to the tree opening and closing its wings.
“Rowan?” Her father called. “Rowan? Come on girl, we’re late—If you don’t get back here now I’ll sell you for nothing more than a few snail shells and a pumpkin at the goblins’ market.” It had only been a moment that she was gone, she could tell from the tone of his voice—gruff, but playful, and with a hint of worry.
Rowan squeezed Jack’s hand before letting it go. She wanted to remember his callused fingertips, his delicate but strong hands. She looked up into his face lit up with a cozy, comforting mischief and was ready to say to him, “Take me . . . Take me with you . . . .” She wanted to say, but the words evaded her.
“Go, milady,” Jack said. “Hurry, now . . . You’re needed by the sound it.”
“But,” she stammered. She knew she had to go and threw herself on Jack, latching her arms around his neck, burying her face in his collarbone., and nearly sending them both plummeting from their precarious place upon the trunk. He held her close, and then gently set her down. He got down on one knee and cupped her cheek in his hand. “One day we’ll meet again, milady, but until then . . . You have your crown, Milady of the Green, to remember me by, and I . . . Why, I’ll put you in the stars. Just above the Goblin Parade, I’ll put you—I’ll hang you from the brightest star there, you’ll know . . . You’ll see.” He took her hand, and kissed it. “Now, go.”
Rowan shook from the effort not to cry, and started walking back to her father. She took a few steps, and then turned around when she realized she never said “Good-bye,” but Jack was gone.
She skipped across the field. “Coming, poppa.” By the time she reached her father, the afternoon’s events had taken on the haze of a misty fall afternoon, so that all she did had become a blear of peaches and bluebells, of sunstroked mossy groves and music with the Queen of the Faeries and the Jack-in-the-Green.
She patted the ivy crown atop her head and her heart skipped a beat as she thought of the rough-yet-delicate fingers that wove it . . . Was it really this afternoon? Yes . . . Yes, this afternoon . . . .