Chapter One: War in Heaven
The moon glistened over the roof tiles of the stonecutter's spacious house, and a gnome skittered out of the way as the fairy man drifted down into the little front-yard garden lush with midsummer flowers.
Inside, someone backlit by a lamp moved slowly to and fro. The fairy man decided to wait for a few moments and watch. It was she. Her husband had left an hour ago, but up till then, the fairy man had been taking his time, amusing himself from his perch in the oak tree by chucking little pebble-spells down at the garden gnomes. Even now he slowed his approach towards the polished oak front door, and within him anticipation built. Let her wait, he thought. She would appreciate him all the more when he finally did appear.
Now, in front of her door, he didn't knock. Instead, he sent his soft senses adrift through the house and felt her anxious thoughts. She was just about to put out the lamp and retire to bed in defeat. She thought he'd forgotten her. I'll put an end to her desperation, he resolved.
It had been three months since the fairy man had first come upon the stonecutter and his wife in their little clearing outside the village too small to be called one, just southwest of Rennes. Close to the edge of their orchard began a vast forest with many trees never cut, under whose bracken lived small and secret things not often seen by human eyes.
The stonecutter's wife was fresh and young, a strawberry blonde with peachy skin and just a hint of plumpness around her breasts and middle. The fairy man knew all of her sad story; hadn't she told him often enough? The stonemason was old, sour, and gone for weeks at a time on commissions in Rennes and even Paris. As much as his pretty wife would have liked it, for the stonecutter and his bride there would be no fine house in the city. The husband preferred this remote country outpost because company other than his own tired him. He had liked the soft sounds of the woods when he had chosen this obscure clearing to build a house for his wife. Neither hunters nor woodsmen came to this spot, as the forest was rumored to be haunted.
The fairy man also knew, because she had told him numerous times bordering upon the tedious, that her husband was one of the few who would take a fatherless girl without a dowry or anything to recommend her. Except for her silky skin, her lover thought, but he knew full well with the human folk how long that lasted. Not long at all, but enjoy it while you may.
So the fay man shifted his appearance until he almost resembled a young student with curly red hair and a long, pointed nose. It was too bad about the hair; it made him conspicuous among the man folk, but it couldn't be helped. His overly long and delicate hands hesitated for a moment on the door-latch. Perhaps this should be the last time he visited the mason's wife. She was developing a tendency to weep, was getting a bit fat, and there were far more fishes in the sea than of which even he might dream.
He rattled the door latch softly. The servants, he knew, slept in the back of the house, and the mistress was liberal with wine on the nights she expected him. When she opened the door and saw him, she pulled him in, away from any spying passers-by. She yanked the curtain over the window, lowered the lamp, then flung herself at his flat chest, and began kissing it with greedy hunger.
"When is the old cuckold returning?" he asked, as eager hands pulled on his coat. "Careful, there, do you want to sew buttons?" he complained. Not that any of his buttons needed sewing, ever, as they would regrow when needed.
"Tomorrow morning," she replied, and what she did with those little pink hands was nice, very nice indeed, and he almost began to regret the thought of leaving her.
They went into the master bedroom. On a curved sleigh bed, he slid into her smooth wet compliance. Then he stopped with a shock, all his senses trembling, and lost his composure almost to the point of abandoning his human shape.
"What's wrong?" she murmured in complaint.
There was someone else there in the room with them, a third. He could sense it with the tendrils of awareness which rose from him like invisible smoke. Not the husband, and not, thankfully, his fairy wife or one of her spies. It was a child. He sent an inquisitive offshoot of exploration out and up into his mistress. As far as he could tell, the child was not one of his. A human child it was, newly planted there by the stonecutter or some other man. As it was long before the time of quickening, she didn't even know it was there, asleep underneath her heart. Nonetheless, a human child it was, one which had been bathed in a fay's presence these past months.
He thought of removing himself from her eager body, but thought, Why should I? It's only a human superstition that my presence in there would hurt the watery little thing. Perhaps he might even come back later after it was born, and take it as a present to his wife. On a whole shelf in their home under the mountain sat row after row of dull-eyed changelings, inert and stupid. It had been a long time since he'd had the chance to swap one of their leathery carcasses for a warm, wiggling human baby, and his palms itched with anticipation at the thought. Perhaps his wife would accept it as an offering of forgiveness.
Therefore, when he noticed the mason's wife looking up at him with alarmed eyes, he smiled and reassured her, "It was only a noise," which made her double her efforts to regain his interest, and then the fairy man thought of nothing at all for quite some time.
In that black space just before dawn, the moon moved low into the bedroom window, and the fairy man realized it was far past the time to disentangle himself from his mistress. She stirred and muttered in her sleep as he gently removed her arm from his chest. He felt apprehensive, as if someone was watching them. In particular he did not like the way the moonbeams danced on the window curtains, and how the curtains' soft muslin fabric moved in the absence of any breeze. When the moonlight clotted into a soft cloud in front of the curtains, he knew there was going to be trouble.
The soft white shape took on a form. From the congealed air in front of the curtains emerged a tall figure with weaving, waving hair and a face waxen, pointed, and pale. "My love," the fairy man began, "Wait. There is a child."
The fairy man's wife looked scornfully at the young woman snoring gently on the bed. "But not yours."
"It could be."
"Don't I know birth? Don't I know death? How many wombs have I wandered up inside, fixing or loosening the fruit as I will? I can see what's in her womb, and it is not yours. Bathed in your essence, of course, because it glows like a little red candle in the dark. But not yours."
He sighed. "I can get it for you when its time comes. Would you like it?"
She looked at him with haunted eyes full of pain. "Why? So after a year or two it can sicken and die? So after seven years either it can go mad, or I return it to a world it never knew, with all its friends and people gone, and then I can watch it go mad anyway? It's not worth it to me anymore."
She swirled around the room and came to rest near the sleeping woman. The stonecutter's wife stirred and murmured. A faint line of saliva left her mouth and rested like a clear jewel on the pillowcase.
"Don't. Don't take this one. Please."
"It's so disgusting when you fall in love with them."
"I'm not in love with this one. Long ago, yes, you used to long for a child, and I used to fall in love with them. This is different. This child is different. When I was inside of her, I could feel it."
Inside the swirl of his wife a red mist began to coalesce.
This isn't having the effect I intended, he thought. Time to change the approach. "You may have given up on a child, but I haven't. I see these mortals with their own children every night at dusk, when they pull the quilts up to their chins. It matters not to them that in a few short years what they sprout will grow up and become old, or that so many of them will see their own children waste away even before they do. They go on regardless. I want something of that."
"Why don't you join them, then?" she spit out in anger. "There's no doubt some magic that can do it for you. It's not unheard of, you know."
He whirled away, and as the curtains rustled with his motion, the mason's wife opened her eyes. She stared at the fairy woman, rubbing her face and saying nothing. Then she spied the fairy man, and her face clenched into confused concentration. "Dear God," she said in a terrified and dry whisper. "Saints preserve me from the korrigans." She then began to weep.
"Shut up," the fairy woman hissed. "I'll give you something to warble about."
"No!" her husband cried, and to the stone mason's wife, it sounded like the bells that rang on the cart of the gypsy peddler, whose sound shrunk into a distant tinkle as the cart drew farther away.
The fairy woman reached out her silvery, translucent hand and touched the stone mason's wife on the belly. The fairy's silver face pressed close to the woman's, and the fairy woman breathed twinkling clouds into her rival's open, horrified mouth. The woman froze in unmoving terror.
The fairy man shook himself into a swirl of glowing dust, and suddenly he was inside the woman's womb, next to an enormous unformed tadpole all monstrous goggling eyes, a face that was nothing but a few corrugated folds, and more tail than body.
He watched the red blight eat its way into right side of the crumpled flesh that would someday be a face, and crawl slowly over to the left. In a paroxysm of rage he collected all his wit and power, and a fierce gold fire appeared at the edge of the blight, stopping its progress down the cheek.
It was clear what his wife had planned to do. The curse was intended to spread all through the youngling's body, to turn it into a stunted dwarf with a misshapen, grotesque head and face. She wasn't going to kill it at all. In a way, this would be worse.
The tadpole twitched and shook in its watery sac.
The smaller the fairy man became, the more power rushed to his disposal. He could not heal what had already been placed on that little unformed face, but he stopped its progression. Then he made himself smaller still, and the woman's womb filled with a great golden-red light. It bathed the wiggling form from head to tail, and the child became calm.
I wish I knew, as she can, whether it will be a boy or girl. It's still too unformed to tell by looking at it. He shrank himself smaller than one of the embryo's soft and unformed toes, and summoned every power at his disposal. He caressed the twitching form with his vibrations, and as the power left him, he felt himself grow larger and more formed until at last he returned to the stone mason's bedroom. Tall and massive he appeared, and now looked like the fairy king he was. His red flaming hair streamed from his head, and silver and black swirls oscillated within his body. The fairy queen drifted slowly away from the bed.
The terrified woman clutched her belly, sobbing, "There can't be a baby! There can't!" Then she turned to look at her lover and sputtered in horror. "What are you? Are you going to kill me? Blessed Virgin, help me!"
"You should know," the fairy woman said to her, full of spite, "that there's no help for you from your god now. You've put yourself beyond his pale. Now you are ours," and she rushed forth in a white whirl toward the sobbing woman who rocked back and forth on the bed.
The fairy king blocked her way. His red fire made the whole room glow, and the mason's wife stopped crying. "There's a baby? Is it … human?"
"Oh, yes," the fairy woman snapped. "Although I think you'll find it a bit of a surprise."
The white-faced woman just stared.
The fay king swept a wave of his fire around his wife like a cloak. "We're going now," he ordered. "We are done here. I won't return, but you won't, either."
She glared back at him, sending silver daggers of moonlit anger towards the stricken woman and her own glowing husband.
He grasped the fairy queen by her hair, and her head snapped back as he looked her full in the face. "I can defeat you. You know it. I've done it before. You complain about my women. Yet you stalk boys on the night of their first damp dreams, and capture the silvery stains before they hit the sheets. Recall that once I stopped you from coupling with a human fool in the form of an ass. Fear my power, wife. Who rides the wind at night on a clawed horse with fire spurting from his nostrils, ripping the tops off the trees? Who causes the cattle to drop dead at midnight, their entrails hanging out of their split bellies? Don't challenge me on this. We are leaving now."
And with that, the two figures softened and blurred into nothingness, as the moon fled before the advancing dawn.