‘She will be our guest.’
Issy dared lift her gaze a fraction to view the elfin king. He sat on his carved oak throne, his leafy crown decorated with yellow, purple and pink wildflowers, high on his head. His white hair rippled in silken waves, long enough to drape over the arms of the throne. Butterflies and tiny birds fluttered about him while tiny woodland animals rested or played on the spreading velvet of his cloak which cascaded down the steps of the dais.
‘She will be our guest,’ the king said again, ‘for three days and … three nights.’
His voice was even, but Issy wondered at the pause. Her questioning deepened at the tense silence of the gathered courtiers. Instinct warned her she should not have come.
Banished by the faeries for daring to mix with human children – not once, but several times – Issy had floundered alone in the Great Forest for weeks. She spent her days avoiding the nastier of the wild creatures, and foraging to stay alive.
In the dark hours of the night, restless dreams troubled her, of being chased by faeries grown monstrous in looks and intent, wanting to tear her apart. Tossing in her sleep, Issy became a monster herself, to battle them. Each morning she woke, cold, shivering, tentatively feeling her arms and legs before opening her eyes, terrified of touching scabby scales instead of silken skin.
Her growing loneliness and terror had pushed her to seek a new home in the kingdom of the woodland elves. They had no reputation for welcome, yet it was here or suffering in the Great Forest.
‘And after that,’ the king was saying in his stern tones, ‘her future will be decided.’
A test. The muted whisperings of the courtiers fell on her ears like warning bells. What could this test be?
‘Well? Do you accept?’ The king glared at Issy from under thick white brows.
Issy lifted her chin and met the king’s glare. ‘Yes, Majesty, I accept.’
Soft gasps all around, more mutterings. The king, however, smiled, and his smile held warmth as if offering reassurance.
‘Brave faery.’ He snapped his fingers and a tall, beautiful elf stepped forward, curtsying. ‘Take her to the guest chambers and prepare her.’
With no word, the lady glanced at Issy, beckoned and walked steadily down the long aisle of the throne room to the great double doors.
Issy followed. Horrified murmurs accompanied her. ‘Run,’ they urged. ‘Leave while you can.’ ‘Do not dream,’ they warned. ‘Dream only good,’ they told her.
Dream? Memories of her monster nightmares filled her head. She shuddered.
‘Yes,’ the lady said.
They had reached the doors. To Issy’s left lay the corridors which would take her to the inner halls of the great palace. To her right, the passage leading to the outside.
‘We are what we dream.’ The lady walked quickly towards the inner halls. ‘Come, it is late already and you must be ready to meet your future.’
Find Cheryl’s flash fiction and short stories, including audio versions of some, here!