They say no good ever comes of faeries mixing with humankind, and I think that might be true. In any case, there are laws against it for a reason in this land. But time will tell whether the northerners will pay for their transgressions.
I first saw her after midnight when a vicious snowstorm had laid siege to the castle.
"It was murder bringing her out in this," Fothiger muttered, dragging the horses into the relative shelter of the yard.
Harcourt was right behind him, lending his shoulder to the guards heaving the gates shut on the grasping fingers of the wind. "It would have been suicide to stay." He unstrapped a large bundle from his silver mount. "Where's the physician."
"Here, sir." I hurried closer. The bundle unrolled into his arms, revealing a young beauty swathed in furs. White and as still as marble.
I was afraid Fothiger was quite right. There seemed no hope. Even without the sickness hollowing out her cheeks, the girl was stone cold. "Bring her inside."
Harcourt carried her into the keep, following me up the twisting stairs. The fires in the tower room were stoked, water set to boil, the bed lumpy with heated bricks – but I feared it could not be enough.
We waited as the wind clawed at the window panes and howled just above the fingertips of the fire. Possets were brewed and liniments applied. And she surprised me. A little past one, she moaned and dragged her hands away from my chaffing. Harcourt snapped alert at once, cradling her tighter.
"It's alright, little one." And at his voice she stilled and calmed, relaxing back into the furs in his arms.
My fingers at her pulse, my eyes on the rise and fall of her chest, I counted.
"She does much better." I frowned. Her forehead was warmer, but not fevered, beneath my palm. "Mayhap she'll last the night."
He sent me a dirty look and tried to tempt her lips with mead. "And the child?"
My breath caught. I parted the furs and set my listening cup on her belly. A tiny rapid heartbeat twinned her own. "Alive," I managed.
"Is it yours?" I asked.
His brow darkened. "It is the King's."
I looked again at the girl he held so tenderly, and understood the set to his jaw. A King chose, and a lord must obey, no matter his personal feelings. But now Harcourt's King was dead, slain in the wars, and that girl's child the last chance of reuniting his northern country. "I'll do everything I can."
She woke once more during the night, and this time when Harcourt was briefing my lord on the progress of the war in his lands. Her eyes opened a gem-blue slit, and soaked in her surroundings. Her feet kicked free of the blankets, she scuttled away on the heels of her palms til the wall had her back. She crouched there, panting, eyes narrowed at me, but I too was backing away. This was no mere girl. Her glances too inhumanly quick, her beauty even in sickness too strong. A faerie, and a young one to be scared of me.
Harcourt's quick steps came soon after, bursting in the door. He took in the scene at once. "Alright, little one." Edged towards the bed. The faerie stopped trying to climb the wall backwards. "Rest now. You're safe here." He sat beside her and took up her hand, offering a glass of warmed mead in the other. She drank thirstily, allowed him her hand, but kept her distance.
"No wonder she's sick," I murmured. Harcourt's eye pricked me silently. "Her kind can't live on our meat." I tilted my head. "A faerie of the vale, is she?" Her eyes flicked to me and away, faster than a blink; the air vibrated at her warning.
"What do you mean?"
"They feed on nectar. She'll die without it."
The lord paled, staring at me. The wind screamed outside. "It's dead winter, man. There's no flowers for love nor money."
"No, but she might survive on honey. The kitchens usually keep a store."
Harcourt bounded for the door.
The fire crackled.
The faerie licked her lips and fixed her eyes on me. "Can you kill it?" Her voice came slithering, hoarse, so weakened was she. How disappointing that my first faerie outside of books should have lost her fabled voice. She put down the cup and flicked at her belly. "Get rid of it."
She bared her teeth, her voice strengthening. "Not mine. The King's. I never wanted it there."
I approached cautiously, filled with regret at seeing a wild thing so trapped. She picked up my hand. Stroked it. Her hard blue eyes turned to pools. "Please, sir." This time her voice flowed.
"Kayla." Harcourt stood in the doorway, and she dropped my hand. He pushed me aside and placed a pot of honey in her hands. "I shouldn't have left you alone."
Dazed, I wasn't sure if he meant me or her.
"Eat it, little one." His tone so gentle. He took her finger and dipped it, touching it to her lips. Her eyes burned with hunger, but she knew too that feeding her body fed the hated child as well. Her mouth remained still.
"Please, my love," he whispered.
Her blue eyes filled with anguish. She parted her lips.
Harcourt rested his forehead on hers while I stood, blinking.
"Doctor, you are tired. Get some rest."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." I drifted to my bed.
No doubt the Northern King had thought a faerie child would strengthen his throne, and perhaps bring the weight of his kin to their struggle. But the faerie folk were nowhere to be seen that winter. Not to rescue their lost daughter, nor to punish the ones who'd stolen her. This made me think the girl had brought her troubles on herself; falling in love with a human would bring with it what suffering it may, and her kin would only think it rightful due.
The castle was visited only by snow and sunshine, turn by turn. The mountain slopes lay pristine 'neath frosting white, and no wing marred the skies.
But Kayla was not without means. Harcourt nurtured her carefully; her health, and thus under sufferance the babe, grew.
The day came on the first day of spring, a crispy dawn with not a breath of wind about. For all her plaintive cries, the women would not touch her, though Harcourt threatened most dire.
"'Tis unnatural, Sire," they replied, crossing themselves, spines straight, though the faerie's wails shivered the walls. "Your curses are nothing to what we'd garner should we touch that."
Even Fothiger crept away, eyes averted, saying it was women's business through and through.
So it fell to me and Harcourt to wiven her, and as the sun touched the peaks again the babe was born.
"There, Sir," I said, gathering it in a chamois and bundling it into Harcourt's arms. "Take it to the priest and get his blessing before he can think twice."
Harcourt went at once, all eyes on the babe.
The faerie's eyes followed him, darkening at every step. She lay panting only a moment more, then hopped to her feet. She was at the window, peering at the sky, then on the stairs to the roof. I followed.
Clouds scudded the bruising sky as she crouched on the battlements, cupping a starling in her hands and whispering to it. The bird darted away in a burst of feathers.
"Kayla," I said, approaching slowly. "I did as you asked. The babe is gone. Now don't do anything foolish, you hear?" A breeze snuck about our heels. She gazed at the distant mountains. I stepped closer. "Harcourt will not be long-"
"Then I mustn't tarry." She smiled at the setting sun, the first and last smile I ever saw grace those lips. "He'll never let me go."
A cloud darkened in the western sky.
"Kayla, he loves you. You'll break his heart."
The sun caressed her tangled hair. "He has what he wants," she whispered. The cloud grew darker, larger, impossibly fast.
A starling fell dead at my feet, eyes glassy.
A shadow fell over the castle. Two massive green feet ratcheted the battlements. Kayla jumped up and crooned in delight. My eyes climbed up, and up, and finally took in a preying mantis as tall as a cottage. Kayla slipped onto its back. Its wings blurred with a sound like a crosscut saw.
"Kayla!" Harcourt erupted from the doorway. His hands grasped at nothing. "Kayla!"
She spared him one cool, lingering glance, then the air snapped, and they were gone.
Harcourt stared at the shrinking dot near the horizon. We stood on the battlements, the wind hounding us, til the night took everything.
Only time will tell whether Harcourt's child is his curse or his nation's blessing.
This is an entry into the Review Game's April Writing Challenge Contest.
Go to http:/ forum. fictionpress. com/ topic/ 1867/ 726853/ 39/ #2359790 to read the other submissions and vote for your favourites between the 7th and 14th April :)