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Graceless
By Stina S.
age: 15
California

What do you know of us, tiny human child?

As Annor slowly regained consciousness, the first thing he was aware of was a throbbing pain in his side. The second was that someone was talking.

“He’s human,” the voice said. “Do you know what that means? Something’s wrong. They always show up when something’s wrong.”

“Not necessarily,” a woman’s voice replied. “People stumble through now and then. It doesn’t really mean anything. He woke up.”

The two people turned to look at Annor as he sat up. They were easily the strangest people he had ever seen. The woman had dark brown skin and brown hair that was tangled with leaves and twigs. The man’s curly red-gold hair was neater, but he was covered in green spiral tattoos.

“Who are you?” Annor asked.

You must know nothing to think us rough and wild.

“My name is Cuillean,” the woman said. “I’m a Dryad. You know what that is?”

“Dryads are tree spirits, wood nymphs,” Annor answered. Cuillean laughed, and the sound was that of wind moving through a forest.

“So few people do these days; that knowledge is quite impressive. What are you doing here, human?”

“My name is Annor. I’m not here on purpose; I don’t even want to be here,” Annor paused and looked around. “Where is here, exactly?”

“You don’t know?” The man asked suddenly. “This is Tír na nÓg; Magh Ablach; Faerie. How can you not know where you are?”

“I don’t even know how I got here,” Annor snapped.

“Oh, the usual way, I expect.” Cuillean shrugged. “You just walked in.”

“Uh-oh,” the man suddenly said. “We’ve got to get back. I’ve been gone for two days already. Oberon’s going to kill me. Why don’t you come with us, Annor?”

“Whoa, wait a minute. Oberon? You’re Puck!”

“Robin Goodfellow at your service.”

You see our homes abandoned, and think them palaces of ancient kings.

They walked steadily through grassy plains that Annor swore changed colors. Puck and Cuillean were engaged in an animated conversation, although they never actually said anything. Puck was gesturing furiously in the sign language equivalent of shouting, while Cuillean was responding with rustles, creaks, cracks and other sounds that trees make. They had been arguing, or whatever they were doing, for the past two hours.

“Where are we going?” Annor asked. His side was hurting more than ever, and he wanted to know how soon they would be able to stop.

“Tara,” Puck said, “the hill of kings. Oberon’s court lives there during the summer, just as your kings used to rule from there. We should be there in two or three hours.”


You see our hopes immortalized, set in great stone rings.

Annor didn’t even make it to one hour. Twenty minutes later, he collapsed mid-stride. Cuillean spun around and gasped softly.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she and Puck knelt down beside him.

“I don’t know. My side really hurts.” Before Annor could say anything else, Puck pulled his shirt off. Cuillean inhaled sharply.

“That’s a nasty cut,” Puck said. “How did you get it?”

“I don’t know. It just hurt when I woke up.” Annor winced as Cuillean touched it softly. She and Puck exchanged a worried look, then she glanced down at Annor again.

“Puck, do you have a knife?” she asked suddenly. “I can heal him if we get to the Stones.” Puck handed a short knife to Cuillean, picked up Annor, who had passed out, and headed off to the hill where the Stones stood in a massive circle.

You see our art, strange spiraling designs,

Puck set Annor down in the center of the ring of immense standing stones and Cuillean sat down beside him.

“I’ve summoned an Aeriad. I need you to tell him what’s going on so he can relay the message to Oberon.”

Puck nodded and walked over to where the Aeriad hovered, barely visible in the shadows.

Cuillean carefully pulled Puck’s knife out of its sheath and looked down at the unconscious human in front of her. She inhaled and drew the knife across her hand. Sap-like blood ran from the cut and she gently wiped it across the slash in Annor’s side. His wound began to heal, and she carefully bandaged her hand.

but even those who made them did not recognize the signs.

Annor didn’t know what was happening, but he did dream of what would happen soon. He saw flickering shapes that twisted into spirals and loops. He suddenly realized what they meant, and what was going to happen to Faerie.

“Now what do we do?” Puck asked.

“Wait patiently for Oberon to do something,” Cuillean answered.

“That’s so boring,” Puck complained.

“Even though you never have to wait long.”

Puck and Cuillean jumped as Oberon appeared behind them.

“Was Tempest telling the truth?” Oberon asked as he settled down on a tumbled stone. “I certainly hope he wasn’t. Is this the human he mentioned?”

“Annor, yes,” Cuillean said. “And yes, the Aeriad was telling the truth, or at least as much of it as we know.”

“That’s bad. That’s really, really bad.” Oberon stood up and started pacing. “Are you sure he didn’t get stabbed before he left his world?”

“Positive,” Puck replied. He sounded strangely tired. “If he had gotten hurt before, he would have known where it came from. As it is, all we know is that something here did it.”

Oberon sighed and stopped walking.

We slipped into the past after the graceless fall from fame.

“So, we either have a monster loose, or we have a traitor.” Oberon groaned. “What can we do about this?” he asked himself. He paced for a moment more and then was struck with an idea “Cuillean, can you call a Moot? We need all the representatives here. Puck, summon the court.”

“It’s going to take days to assemble everyone for a Moot,” Puck complained.

“Um, Oberon?” Cuillean sounded uncharacteristically nervous. “We don’t have that long.” He gave her a questioning look and she added, “Uh, look behind you.”

People had appeared behind him as he paced, and were now cautiously advancing with weapons in hand.

“All right then, traitors.” Oberon absentmindedly corrected his earlier statement.

In the years you have forgotten our vision and our name.

Puck and Cuillean stood up and moved next to Oberon, carefully hiding the still unconscious human.

“There is no way this is going to work out well, is there?” Puck asked.

“You might want this back.” Cuillean handed Puck his knife. “Can we kill them or not?” she added unexpectedly.

“They’re not in the circle yet,” Oberon stated.

“Good. Heads up, boys.” Natural magic rippled off of Cuillean and roots exploded out of the ground behind the fairy traitors. The roots caught the attackers and held them fast, except for two who eventually got ripped apart as they tried to fight back.

“Peaceful nature spirit,” Puck commented. “You’ve got to love Dryads.”

We gave up on the future with the loss of hope and grace,

Then, without warning, another group of enemies appeared on the other side of the small hill. Puck was the only person to see them. “Uh-oh,” was the only thing he had time to say.

Oberon spun around and saw a spear flying straight towards him. Then Annor somehow managed to launch himself upright and, for some mysterious reason, lunged in front of Oberon. The spear slammed into his chest and knocked him sideways. Then Oberon’s reflexes kicked in and he sent a blast of destructive magic hurtling towards the person who had thrown the spear.

and suddenly there are no more of our people or our race.

An instant later, a powerful earth magic blasted up around them and destroyed all of the unidentified traitors. Oberon sighed and lowered his hands. Cuillean knelt down beside Annor.

“He’s dead,” she said softly. The spear had ripped all the way across Annor’s chest and his blood was already dying the grass a sickly color. Oberon looked off into the distance and made a decision.

“Cuillean, I need your help. I can summon them all, but I need you to talk to them. Tell them what we need to do. I want you to seal us off. I want this to never happen again. Only you can do that.” Cuillean nodded. Oberon walked to the center of the circle, closed his eyes, and let waves of magic roll off him.

Soon the nature spirits began arriving. First the Aeriads appeared, then the Dryads, then the Naiads, then the earth elementals, and lastly the fire lords. Cuillean explained what they needed to do, while Oberon quietly collapsed.

So we left the world to you, to pay for a race’s crime.

In the deep shadows of a final twilight, Annor stood up and looked around. Things didn’t really look that different, only darker, and emptier. Then Oberon suddenly appeared on Annor’s left.

“What happened?” he asked as Oberon walked over.

“The ancient laws were broken, so the earth magic responded. The laws forbid death inside of the Stones, so they destroyed whoever caused that death.”

“Wait,” Annor took a breath before continuing. “Who died?”

“You.”

“Oh,” Annor looked down for a long moment. Then his curiosity got the better of him. “Why are you here? Did you die as well?”

“No, you were the only one.” Oberon exhaled wearily. “I’m here because, as the Fairy King, I can do a lot of things. Sadly, bringing people back to life isn’t one of them. The only thing I can do now is promise you that nothing like this will ever happen again.” He shook his head and looked past Annor before meeting his gaze one last time. “I’m so sorry.” Then Oberon faded away and Annor ceased to exist.

We’re still the graceless wanderers of hope and love and time.

Oberon was still sitting in the center of the circle of stones when Cuillean and Puck came over to him.

“We’re done,” Cuillean said quietly.

“Nobody will get through any more,” Puck added. “Unless we let them, of course.” Puck, always the trickster, was fully in favor of letting humans in occasionally.

“Not even the occasional lost traveller?” Oberon asked.

“Not until Titania decides she needs a new boyfriend,” Cuillean joked.

“Right, because the whole Tam Lin adventure was so much fun,” Oberon retorted sarcastically.

“Hey,” Puck admonished, “that went pretty well until that Janet girl showed up.”

“Good point,” Oberon admitted. The three of them stood up and Puck picked up Annor’s body, and they vanished from the hill.



Epilogue

We’re still, forever, graceless.

The entire fairy court appeared to honor Annor’s memory. Funerals were rare in Faerie, but people took them seriously when they did happen. Oberon, in a black suit, was staring into the middle distance, just as he had for the past half-hour. Titania was standing silently beside him in a black dress that would make Renaissance girls look underdressed. Her hair, which varied in color depending on her mood, was currently a somber brown and was left loose. Puck was, for once, wearing a shirt and was still crying.

The “whole bloody mess”, as Puck called it just before he burst into tears, was almost over. The Aeriads had done their part in building a cairn over Annor’s body and were now hovering behind Oberon and Titania.

The earth elementals took over and, after a minor earthquake, the rocks of the cairn melted into a massive diamond. Then the diamond sank into the ground and was hidden beneath the soil.

Finally, Cuillean stepped forward. She was wearing a long dress of red and yellow, the Dryad mourning colors, and was carrying a small sapling wrapped in cloth. She knelt down and, at the place where humans would put a tombstone, set the sapling in a hole that the earth elementals had made. She removed the cloth from the infant tree and slowly stood up. As she did, the tree started growing. In seconds, it was as large as its centuries-old kin. Its roots spread out and two twisted into a circle around the place where Annor was buried. Then the bark on its front distorted to spell out, in fairy runes, the words “in eternal memory” and Annor’s name.

People began filing away as it became clear that the funeral was over. Soon, only Oberon, Titania, Puck, and Cuillean were left. The four fairies stood silently, staring at the tree that was now the only indication of the debt Faerie owed. There would never be a chance to repay it, but they would always remember the young human who had died to save them.
 

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