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A Faerie's Will

By Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

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I watch the mortal with curious gaze. Our queen wants him- she has seen him many times in the woods before- and we are now sent to fetch him for her. The princess leads us, and we wait for her to choose the moment to reveal herself to him. While we wait, I watch. The mortal looks to me as all other humans do: dark and solid, like stones of the earth. His hair is thick and black, and his gaze is focused on a dark book in his hands. He walks in the forest’s shade, calm and thoughtful as he reads. I do not understand why he is special to my queen, and I search for a reason she would choose him among all the mortals.

I do not come to a conclusion, interrupted as the princess moves, and we follow without a word. The mortal seems to sense us, and he glances up from his book. A moment later it falls from his hands, his eyes growing wide as they focus on the princess standing before him. The rest of us encircle him, so he cannot flee, but he does not try to do so. Instead he stares at the princess, his mouth open and his eyes round with shock and awe.

“Greetings, Mortal,” the princess says, her smile sly as she looks at him. She is very beautiful, with ethereal, shimmering wings, pale skin, and long red hair, but there is more than that that startles him. Faeries are not like mortals; there is a lightness to us that this mortal cannot possibly have seen before in a living being, as if we are made from light and wind rather than flesh and blood. It is no wonder he is afraid, and steps back as though he would run. The princess laughs at him and steps closer. “Do you know what I am?” she asks playfully. He shakes his head, trembling, and steps back again. “I am a faerie,” the princess tells him. “Our Queen has seen you often in these woods, and you have found favor with her.”

The mortal says nothing, and the princess laughs again, amused by his silence.

“Have you nothing to say, Mortal?”

“What do you want with me?” the mortal askes, and then cringes as the princess begins to laugh again.

“I want nothing, Mortal. It is Our Queen who holds desire, among us. She will have you for her own, to be her lover, and has sent us to bring you to her.”

“No.” The mortal shakes with fear. “Please, I- I can’t.”

I am confused by his statement, and tilt my head to peer at him differently. Of course he can. He cannot stop us from doing Our Queen’s Will. I do not know much about humans, but I think this one must be very silly to believe he can disobey so great a being’s command.

“Princess, we tarry too long,” one of my fellows scolds, and the princess’s smile falls.

“Silence him,” another of us agrees, “That we may complete our task. Our Queen does not Will us to wait.”

They are right. We were not sent to talk with the mortal, but to bring him. I look to the princess, who pouts, but she knows we are correct, and she gives a sigh. “Very well.” She reaches for the mortal, who gives a cry and stumbles back. We catch him from behind and hold him, though he struggles against us. Foolish mortal; we are stronger than he.

“Please, wait,” he begs as the princess laughs at his efforts and comes nearer. “Please!”

“She will not harm you,” I say. “Only take your voice.”

“That is right,” the princess giggles, and her fingers rest a hair's breadth from his throat. The mortal stills, bracing himself as if her touch will burn him. “And what good will your voice do you now, Silly Mortal?” She smiles slyly at him, amused by his fearful trembling. “I cannot disobey My Queen. She will have you.”

He closes his eyes, waiting for her to silence him, but she doesn’t. We wait too, watching her. Why does she not do it? We must bring him back to Our Queen, and her games with him are foolish.

“Well?” she asks, and the mortal opens his eyes to look up at her. “Why do you not answer my question, Mortal? Tell me, what good will your voice do before the Faerie Queen? What will you say to her?”

The mortal swallows and I am curious to hear his answer, though I know we should not wait to hear it.

“I- I will beg her to spare me,” he says, and we all stare at him with wide eyes. It is impossible; none ask anything of our queen. We only obey. The mortal is very foolish to think such a thing. I wonder why my queen wishes to have so foolish a mortal as her lover.

Then the princess laughs, louder than before, and her hand draws back from the mortal. He gasps, and rubs his throat where she would have touched him, his eyes on her as she continues to laugh, spinning and flitting in her amusement. “Very well, Mortal,” she says at last, suddenly pushing his chin up so he will meet her eyes. “I will leave your voice, for I wish to see what the queen will do when you say this to her. But you will swear to be silent until she speaks to you, so it will be a great surprise.” She set her finger on his lips to symbolize silence. “Understand?”

“Princess,” one of my fellows protests, “Our Queen wishes him to be silent!” But the princess waves her words away.

“She did not expressly command me to cast the spell,” she says, and returns her attention to the mortal, who is watching the exchange with a look of terrified resignation. “Mortal. Do you swear it?” she asks him, leaning in near his face.

The mortal nods, his lips pressed tightly together. He is still trembling, but he does not try to flee when the princess flits away from him again, laughing gleefully.

“Come then,” she says, and the mortal nods again, almost imperceptibly. He steps after her as she flies deeper into the trees. We go along with them, and the mortal’s gaze flicks to us as he walks, his head bowed and his shoulders tight. It is a pity he should enter our world so afraid, and I wish he would be happier. He is honored by being chosen; it is strange to me that he is displeased by it. We take hold of his shoulders soon after we begin to move, to bring him with us as we slip beyond the mortal plane, into the faerie realm. We are in the same woods as before, but everything is lighter now. Finer, brighter, and more beautiful. Each dewdrop is a diamond, and every leaf has a silver sheen. I relax, glad to be back where I belong, in My Queen’s realm, but the mortal seems to shrink in on himself, his eyes wide at all the splendor, but not pleased by it.

We reach the Faerie Queen’s camp, though she is not here, and the princess tells the mortal to wait while she goes to her. Then the princess flies from sight, and we release the mortal, standing around him in a circle but not touching him any longer. He is Our Queen’s now, and it is her Will that only she touch him. He stands still, looking around at the fey who dance in rings, or fly in and out with food and flowers, all laughing and singing with the mesmerizing mirth that only faeries display. Perhaps now he will be glad to be here, I think, for many mortals have happily sung and danced with the fey for centuries because our world is so beautiful.

There is a bright light, and the dancing stops. The faeries all kneel as our queen appears, the red-haired princess at her side. The mortal shields his eyes from the light, but he does not back away as he did before the princess, even as he looks on the queen of all the fey-people. She is very tall, and pale and gold, and she is very, very beautiful. More than her beauty though, is her power. She radiates majesty and terrible strength, and her presence makes all of even the faerie world seem dull and silly in comparison. Great wings beat slowly behind her, and they give an extra beat as her eyes settle on her mortal. A smile slides over her features.

“Well done,” she tells the princess, but her gaze does not leave the mortal. “He is a perfect love.”

The mortal shudders at her words, but he does not flee as she comes to him and traces a finger over his jaw. He is tense as she studies him, and thoughtfully plays with his lip. At last she nods, pleased by him.

“Your tent is prepared, O Queen,” a faerie says, and the queen takes her mortal by the wrist.

“I will go in with him now,” she says, and lets her hand trace down his arm a moment before turning to draw him away with her.

“Wait!” the mortal begs, tugging back, and our queen turns with wide eyes to look at him. Behind her, the princess frowns. He broke his vow: Our Queen has not yet addressed him. I frown too, displeased by the broken promise and by My Queen’s displeasure. The mortal trembles under the queen’s gaze, and he speaks quickly. “P-please, Your Majesty. I beg you spare me-- let me return to my world. I do not belong here, in this place. Please.”

I cannot tell if he is so foolish as to think she will do as he asks, or if he is only too afraid to be silent longer. My Queen stares at him as though he had become another being altogether, before her very eyes.

“You speak,” she says.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” he says, his voice quiet. He lowers his head, unable to meet her gaze longer as she scowls at him, and we all draw back, wary at her anger. She turnes to the princess, who stands behind her still with glittering eyes and a mischievous smile.

“You were to silence him,” Our Queen says.

“The mortals win love with words and silly promises,” the princess giggles. “Holding hands and whispering flatteries by moonlight. He begged to speak to you: Why not play their love game? I hoped to watch you win his heart. Your lovers are always dull to me.”

Our Queen hesitates. She is still displeased, but the princess’s challenge seems to intrigue her. She faces the mortal, who has been watching with fear. He steps back as she glides closer to him, but she sets a hand on his shoulder and he becomes very still. Her fingertips brush over his lips again, and then play in his hair. At last she lets go of him, and he gasps as though he has not been breathing.

“Very well,” Our Queen says, looking down at him. “You shall stay here, Mortal. And I shall play your game of love. You will come into my tent with me when I have acquired your affection in return. Do you understand?”

The mortal wavers, swallowing nervously. “I… I just want to go home,” he says, but Our Queen’s gaze hardens and he flinches back.

“No,” she says.

The mortal lowers his head and gives a small nod of understanding. I see a tear glisten on his cheek, but he quickly wipes it away. My queen’s gaze flickers to me for a fraction of a second, and I focus entirely on her.

“Tend to him,” she says. “He will have anything he wishes in my realm.” And then she turns away from us all. There is a light as she begins to walk, and when it fades she is gone again.

The princess rolls over through the air in her laughter. The mortal stumbles, trembling again, and I move to his side.

“Well,” the princess laughs. “You spoke to her, Mortal!”

“Yes.” He blinks rapidly, perhaps in shock after seeing one so majestic as Our Queen. “I spoke. I… I’m not sure it did much good.” he looks at the place our queen had been standing, and I see that he is still shaking with fear.

“She listened to you,” I say, and he starts away from me, where I stand so near him. “She will win your love now,” I explain. “She has not done this for any other lover.” I curtsy to him. “I must tend to you, now.”

He hesitates, looking at me with wide eyes. He ignores the princess, still laughing just behind him.

“I must find you a place,” I say, and the mortal takes a deep breath of our air. Resignation paints his face, and he nods to me. I lead him away from the princess, to a spot not far from my queen’s tent, where he can sit atop a fallen log until we fetch him a tent. He sits and looks down at the silver-green grass, and I study him curiously. I still cannot see anything special about him, and I cannot understand why he does not wish to be Our Queen’s lover. She is special and beautiful. Is that not what mortals seek in their women?

The mortal looks up at me, and he is displeased to see me still there. His expression is wary.

“I must tend to you,” I explain, to calm him. “What do you wish to have?”

“Nothing.” He looks away. “I need nothing, thank you.”

I stare at him in surprise. He wants nothing? I see his hands squeeze together, and he is staring at the ground again. He does not look happy.

“Do you want food?” I ask.

“No. I couldn’t eat now,” he says. “I- I dropped it!” He looks at his hands, startled by something, and shakes his head in frustration. “Of course I went and dropped it… clumsy, useless….” he buries his face in his hands.

“Dropped what?”

“My- my book,” he says, and pauses, looking up at me. “My book. Can you get it for me? I must have lost it when I first saw you, in the forest.”

I nod, and then I am gone from his sight, back in the mortal plane. I fly to the place we found him, near the forest’s edge. The black book is there in the grass, laying open where it fell. I pick it up and look at the words on the page, curious. Why does he want this book rather than food or drink? In large writing, I see the words, “2 Kings”. I am surprised. I did not realize the mortal was a king. Or perhaps he serves one. I did not know any mortal kings were nearby, but that is not surprising. My Queen is not concerned with any realm that is not hers, and so neither are her faeries. Still, I am pleased by this clue. I hope he is a king: then I will understand a reason he is special.

I leave the mortal world quickly, relieved to go and give the book to the mortal who waits in ours. He is where I left him, still wringing his hands and ignoring the fey who dance around him. I go to him and stand, waiting. It takes a moment but he glances up at last, and jumps when he sees me there.

“Faerie! I- I didn’t see you. Forgive me.”

I give him the book and he clutches it as though it is a great treasure.

“Thank you,” he says softly.

“Who is the king?” I ask him, and he looks up at me.

“What?”

I point at the book. “Your book says two kings, but you are but one; who is the other?”

For a moment he looks at me, then at his book. “Two…? Oh,” he seems to realize something and gives a little smile. “Second Kings. You misunderstand, Faerie. I am not a king: this is the Bible. It tells me of kings and prophets from long ago, and about God.”

“Oh.” I am disappointed. “Why do you want it then?”

The mortal seems taken aback, and looks at the book in his hands. “It helps me know what to do. What is right. This book will tell me the truth.” He glances around, as if he thinks we are all lies he should not believe. I still do not understand, but perhaps only mortals can understand such things.

“Do you want food now?” I ask him.

“...yes. No,” he frowns. “The stories say one shouldn’t eat fey-food. It wouldn’t be safe.”

This is silly. Our food is not dangerous. But if he does not want it…. “I can fetch human food for you,” I say. The mortal looks up at me, surprised.

“You can?”

I nod eagerly. “Mortals live everywhere. I can go to them and take food for you.”

I am surprised when the mortal sighs and shakes his head. “I don’t want you to steal it, Faerie.”

“Why?” I ask. Does stolen food not taste the same? I do not understand.

“Because it would be wrong.”

“Why?”

His fingers grip the book. “Because it takes what is someone else’s without care for them. I would far sooner eat fey-food than stolen food. I… I suppose I must eat, sooner or later.” His grip on the book tightens and he swallows, staring at it. “Tell me, Faerie, how long do you think your queen will keep me here?”

“I do not know. Sometimes mortals leave after a night and think it but a dream,” I say. “Sometimes they stay in our realm and dance for a hundred mortal years.”

“A hundred years.” He closes his eyes. “A hundred years.” He is displeased again. Tears form in his eyes and he turns away from me. “All right, Faerie. I will eat your food. I don’t know how much harm it can really do.”

*******

The mortal is reading his book again. He has been here for many evenings, and each evening My Queen brings him gifts, or takes him walking with her in the Faerieland forest. Then she asks him to go with her into her tent.

The mortal always tells her no.

I still do not understand him. He sits on the ground by his fallen log, though he now has a tent he could rest in, and all My Queen’s gifts to him are pushed aside into a pile. The book is ever in his hands. I sit on the log and watch him, that I might tend to him when he wants anything, but he does not often wish me to get him anything. Once he asked for a blanket, but did not like the smooth, faerie cloth. He would not use the human blanket I stole for him until I went back and left a coin for the humans I took it from. Now it is pulled around his shoulders as he studies his truth book again. A sigh escapes him and he looks up at the sky, through the canopy of silver leaves above us. Then he looks over at me.

“Don’t you get bored, watching me all the time?” he asks.

“No.”

“But don’t you have anything else to do?” He presses, and I tilt my head to one side, trying to understand.

“My queen wishes me to tend to you,” I say. “So I do.”

“Then there’s nothing else you wish you were doing?” he asks, looking past me at the other faeries dancing together. I shrug.

“It does not matter what I wish to do. I have no Will to do it; I do nothing unless my queen commands it.”

The mortal is curious, and lowers his book. “What do you mean?”

“I do nothing but My Queen commands it,” I repeat. “She wishes us to dance and play, and to bring back stories of pranks, and so that is what we do. But she wishes me to tend to you now. I can do nothing else.”

He is surprised, and looks at my dancing fellows with pity. “You do nothing at all for yourselves? Ever?” he asks. Then he frowns. “But the other faerie… the one who laughs all the time. She let me keep my voice for her own entertainment. Wasn’t that disobeying your queen?”

“She is a princess,” I explain. “She has some little Will, and can act for herself at times. But she cannot disobey. If My Queen had spoken the command to silence you, even the princess could not have hesitated.” I beat my wings thoughtfully. “My Queen need only desire an action for a common faerie like me to obey, for I have no Will at all.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” the mortal says, though he sounds saddened by it. “The princess… She's the queen’s daughter?”

I laugh. “We are all the queen’s daughters, Mortal.” He looks confused, so I explain. “The common fey are the children of the Faerie Queen and King.”

“There is a king?”

“Yes,” I say. “The princesses and princes are the faeries born with a human parent; that is why they have some little Will of their own.”

The human shudders, clutching his book tighter. “Then, there have been others like me,” he says. “Other human lovers.” He looks unwell, and I feel worry for him, but surely he is all right, for no human can grow ill in our realm.

“Many of them,” I tell him.

“Oh.” He looks like he is thinking, so I am quiet. After a time he looks up at me again. “You said your father is the Faerie King?”

“Yes,” I say.

The mortal looks past me at the dancing faeries again, frowning. “I haven’t seen him… or any male faeries, I think.”

“The male faeries dwell in Our King’s court. They will come when the moon is gone from sight in the mortal world, once a month, and My King will go into Our Queen’s tent with her.”

The mortal shivers, and he still looks ill. “Tell me, Faerie, what does your king think of… of the queen’s lovers, and the princesses?”

This is a silly question, and I giggle. “I do not know. I obey my queen’s will. Only the males know such things of Our King.”

He frowns at me. “But does he never say anything about it?”

“Why should he? When the moon is full and Our Queen goes to his court, she sees his lovers, and says nothing.”

The mortal’s eyes clear. “Oh. I see.” He takes a breath and opens his book again. “Thank you.”

I do not understand. I have done nothing for him today. “Are you well?” I ask. He blinks and looks up at me.

“What?” he asks. I repeat my question, and he looks at me with curiosity. “You’ve never asked me that before. Only if I want anything.”

I am embarrassed. “You look unwell.”

“I suppose I am.” He swallows and my eyes widen.

“You are unwell? How? What will make you well?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t think you can fix this, Faerie. I’m scared and I miss home.”

I try to think. “Why?”

“Why?” He looks exasperated. “Because I’ve been kidnapped and trapped in a strange place, Faerie.”

“But it is a beautiful place.”

He glances around. “I suppose so.”

“It is.” Frustrated, I try to explain to him. “It is silver, and powerful, and beautiful here! Mortals always seek these things. You find them valuable.” He should not want so badly to leave.

“Valuable,” the mortal echoes. “Yes, many of us do. But if everything is valuable, it loses its value.” He shook his head. “I just want to go home.”

I am very frustrated. I cannot take him to his home- it is not My Queen’s Will. “What else will make you well?” I demand.

“I can’t think of anything else,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

My wings beat and I stare down at him. He is sorry? I do not understand, and this upsets me. First he thanked me for no reason, and now he says he is sorry as if he should have thought of something for me, when I am here to serve him. He looks concerned, up at me. Am I upsetting him? I frown and he shakes his head.

“I don’t understand you, Faerie,” he says. “I’m sorry if I am making you unhappy; I didn’t… I didn’t think I could.”

“I am here to tend to you,” I say. “You are confusing me.”

The mortal studies me. “I’m sorry. What did I say to confuse you?”

“That you are sorry!” I say, and he draws back. “Why are you sorry? I do not understand!”

He is surprised by my outburst, and his eyes are wide. Then he looks away from me and my wings beat in panic. I did not mean to yell at him. I have upset him- this is not My Queen’s Will! I try to think of a way to undo my mistake.

“You said you have no Will,” the mortal says softly. I look to him.

“Yes.”

“Then you want nothing but to obey your queen and tend to me, yes?”

I nod, curious again, though my heart is still beating fast. Why does he say such obvious things to me, when I have already explained them to him? The mortal nods back to me.

“I know I’m not making that easy,” he admits. “I don’t want to be here, and I don’t want many things. Since all you want is to bring me things, I must be making you unhappy by doing and asking for so little.” He looks at me with a curious expression. “That is why I’m sorry. Do you… understand now?”

I do not, but I am not upset anymore. “But I am only a common faerie,” I say. “You need not care that I am unhappy.”

For some reason, he looks sad at my words. “I care if anyone is unhappy, Faerie. And… you were unhappy, weren’t you?”

“I was,” I admit. “I am not now.”

He smiles, and his smile is nice, though tired-looking. “Well, I’m glad you’re not unhappy anymore.”

I am still curious, but he goes back to his book, so I am quiet. For a long time, we are both silent. I see him begin to squint as the world grows dimmer. In the Faerie World there is no sun to be seen, but when it sets in the mortal world, ours grows dim as well. Soon the Faerie Queen will come to see her mortal lover.

The mortal lets out a sigh and lowers his book. He must not be able to see it in this dark, I realize. I flit off the fallen tree and to the faeries who dance together. Glowing orbs, like giant fireflies, float easily around them, casting shimmering light ofer their dancing forms. The princess who always laughs stops dancing as she sees me take an orb, and the other faeries twirl around her as if anything not moving with them does not exist. She watches as I bring the orb to the mortal and set it in the air over him. He looks up at me, surprised by the light.

“So you can read,” I explain. He blinks, and I frown. “Does it not please you?”

“No, it does,” he says quickly, smiling at me. “I just… you haven’t gotten me anything unless I asked for it before, so I wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.”

“You want to read,” I explain, and he nods.

“Yes, thank you.”

There is a bright glow and I sense My Queen. I bow with all the other fey, and she appears, as radiant as she ever was. The mortal looks ill again, and sets his book aside, leaving it open where he was reading. He stands to greet the queen.

She wishes us to continue as we were, so the dancing resumes. I sit on the log again, watching My Queen as she steps over to the mortal and holds his hand. He looks very displeased, but greets her politely.

“Are you happy to see me, Love?” she asks him, smiling and looking through her lashes at him. I know she is very beautiful, but her mortal looks away from her with a grimace, and she scowls. “You are not. This displeases me, Mortal.” She runs her fingers through his hair, and he stands very stiffly. “Do you not find me beautiful?”

“You are stunning, Your Majesty,” he says. His voice is not happy, but the queen smiles brightly. I wonder if she knows how much she is displeasing him with her attentions.

“Come,” she says. “We will walk together tonight, and sit high in the branches of an oak, beneath the moon, where you will desire to kiss me.”

The mortal swallows, but does not answer. He takes My Queen’s arm when she offers it, and they walk into the trees together. Soon they are beyond my sight.

“The Faerie Queen and her mortal, sitting in a tree,” The princess laughs, fluttering over to me. “Can you imagine, fey-girl? Do you think he will kiss her tonight?” She rolls over in the air with her laughter. “Oh, this lover is such a fool!”

I do not think he will kiss her. I look at his truth book, still open on the log. My eyes fall on a part that is creased, like he rubbed it without care to keep it smooth. It says, “Whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.” There is more, saying this adulterous man will be wounded and dishonored, and will not rest content though he is given many gifts. This is very odd. I look to the pile of gifts the mortal has pushed aside. Does he rest content? I know he is not wounded, and we only honor him here.

“Princess,” I say. “What is adultery?”

She frowns at me. “A human concept. Did the mortal say it?”

I show her the book and she giggles. “What is it?” I ask her.

“It means this book tells him not to be Our Queen’s lover.” She laughs again. “I wonder if she will win him anyway, or give up and just take him. I cannot wait to see.”

*******

In the mortal world, the moon cannot be seen tonight. Male fey fill the queen’s court and dance with her daughters. Our King is not here yet, but Our Queen is here waiting for him, standing by her tent. The mortal is watching the males dance, and he has put his book aside today.

“Do you want to dance?” I ask him.

“No. It’s just odd to see men after so long.” He looks to My Queen again. “When will your king come?”

“Soon.” I look to him, curious. “Do you fear him?” His truth book is so fearful, threatening to wound and dishonor.

“A little,” he admits. “But I’m also… curious.” He swallows. “I want to see how your queen acts towards him.”

“Why?”

He hesitates. “I wonder how they feel about each other,” he tells me. “They both keep lovers. I… I wonder if they can still treat each other like they’re in love. Or if they even try.”

I do not understand this, but tonight I do not ask him, because I am looking at the male faeries, who are dancing along with the females. They dance the same way, yet they are different. I have never quite understood them, except that they serve the king. I wonder if Our Queen understands them, and knows what exactly is different about them.

One of the male faeries leaves the dance, and the laughing princess goes with him. They stand together and speak, and the princess points to the mortal, laughing as she always does.

“Faerie,” the mortal says, and I see that he has shrunk back, further from the dancing. “That faerie man, with the princess. Is he a prince?”

“Yes,” I say. The mortal stares at the prince, who looks at him in return. “Does he displease you?” I ask.

“Not… exactly.”

I frown at the prince, wishing he would go away so the mortal need not see him more. I would tell him to rejoin the dance, but I know that is a silly desire: he is a male, and a prince, and even if he were a common female he would not have to obey me.

“Faerie,” the mortal says, “Are there other princes and princesses?”

“Of course.” I point to a faerie girl in the dance, who alone among them does not smile. “She is a princess. And she.” I nod to an older faerie, though I know the mortal will not know she is old; faeries age in spirit, not in body. “She is also a princess. And he, and he, both princes. And him, there.” I turn to look at the mortal, who is quiet, watching the faeries around him. “Why do you want to know?” I ask.

“I… no reason,” he says, and he looks away. I am confused; he has never acted without any reason before, though his reasons are hard to understand. But I do not have time to think on it, for there is a bright light and I sense Our King arriving. The dancing stops as everyone kneels, and the mortal shades his eyes from the glow. And then the light fades, and the dancing resumes. I feel My Queen Will me to join the dance as well, and leave the mortal alone. I hesitate, sad to leave him when he is a little afraid, but I go and join the dancing without a word anyway. My Queen curtsies to Our King, and he bows back. As I twirl, I see Our King pause to glance at the mortal, who ducks his head beneath his gaze. Then both of my rulers go into the tent and I do not see them again until the sky grows bright.

*******

After the king leaves, My Queen’s mood becomes foul. She glowers furiously when the mortal sets the jewel she offers him on his pile of gifts, thanking her quietly and looking away.

“What do you want in your love?” she demands, but the mortal only flinches away from her and tells her he is sorry. She storms away, fog fuming out around her in her anger, and the laughing princess giggles and zooms after her. The mortal lets out a long breath and sits down again, rubbing his face with a long sigh. I wish I could say something to him to please him, but I can think of nothing when he is so unhappy in our world, and I cannot bring him back to his home. I do not think anything else would make him happy for long.

“Faerie,” he says, and I snap my attention to him.

“Yes, Mortal?”

He looks down at himself. “Are you happy here?” he asks. I start.

“I-I do not understand your question,” I apologize, and he nods.

“Sorry. I mean…” he looks up, towards the rest of the camp. “Are you happy with your life here in your queen’s court? Obeying her, and… I know you aren’t human. But you can be unhappy.”

It is odd, I realize. I do not think I was ever unhappy before tending to the mortal. Not really, as I have been sometimes with him. But I do not think I was truly happy either, most of the time. The faeries are not meant to be happy, we are only meant to obey Our Queen or King’s Will.

“I… I don’t know,” I say. “Do you want me to be happy?”

A smile twitches on the mortal’s lips and he nods. “Yes, I suppose so.”

I nod back, making my smile bigger. “Then I will be very happy,” I tell him, and his smile grows a little more.

“‘That’s good,” he says. “You certainly deserve it… Faerie.” He frowns. “Do you have a name? I keep just calling you faerie, but…”

“What is a name?” I ask him. He blinks at me.

“I suppose that’s a no, then,” he murmurs. “A name… well, it’s something you’re called, to differentiate you from everyone else.”

That would be a silly thing for a faerie to have, and I laugh a little. “No, I do not have one of those,” I say. “It would do no good. I am exactly like my fellows. Or, close enough that distinguishing us is silly.”

“Oh.” He glances away from me, and I feel a pang of sadness that he was no longer smiling.

“Do you have one?” I ask, and he brightens a little.

“Yes. My name is Edmund,” he says. I blink at him.

“Edmund,” I try. I like the sound of that name, though I do not understand it. “What does it mean?” I ask him. He hesitates.

“I don’t… actually know. It’s just a name.”

I look at him. I do not understand him, but for a moment I do not mind. I do not know why My Queen chose him among all the mortals, but I like him, and I am glad he is here.

Except that being here makes him so sad.

“Edmund,” I say, and he looks up at me. “Why can’t you be happy here?” I ask. He blinks at me.

“I…” he looks around the camp. “There’s a lot of reasons, Faerie. This place is too much for me, and I miss my home.” He squeezes his book, and I look down at it. I feel a burst of anger at the book.

“Does your truth book tell you to be unhappy here?” I ask, and Edmund hears my anger. He looks up at me with surprise.

“The Bible? No, not… exactly.” He hesitates. “Faerie you aren’t even really happy here, and this is the only home you’ve ever known, isn’t it?”

My anger cools as I realize he is right.

“And I… I can’t help thinking about my home,” he goes on. “You told me that people can spend a hundred years here. Even if your queen eventually lets me go, everything… everything could be gone by the time I return. And they probably think I’ve been killed, or run away from home, or… something.” He shudders, drawing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them. “My Bible helps keep me sane, and strong,” he murmurs. “But it’s not why I’m unhappy.”

I fidget, thinking on his words. I cannot imagine what he says. Perhaps only humans can. “If you go into the tent with My Queen,” I say, “Will you be more unhappy?”

Edmund shudders. “Yes.” He looks towards the tent. “Besides the fact that I… I might rather die,” he says softly, and I cannot tell if he speaks true or not. “I also… when your queen has lovers, new princes and princesses are born. I don’t want…”

“You don’t want children?”

His face grows red. “No, not that. It’s just that I don’t want them to be trapped here. The princesses are so miserable… I haven’t really seen the princes, but I assume they’re the same.”

I am shocked to hear this. “They are unhappy?” I ask, and Edmund nods. “How can you tell?” I demand.

“The princess who always laughs is bored and petty,” he says, glancing around for her. “Motivated by nothing but momentary amusement at the cost of the people around her. The other princess you pointed out to me, in the dance, hasn’t smiled once since then, and the last one hasn’t moved from that spot since I first came here, and her smile is… she looks like she’s contemplating murder.” He shakes his head. “Tell me any of them are happy, Faerie. Go ahead.”

I frown at him. “You wish me to lie to you?”

“I wish to go home,” he says. “Barring that, I… I don’t know.”

“... I cannot take you to your home,” I say. Edmund hides his face in his knees.

“I know,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

And once again I sit, shaking my head because he is, for some reason, sorry. And I want so badly to help him, but I can do nothing. I feel I must burst with pain from it.

*******

The sun darkens and brightens again, and yet another day passes as our other days have. The sky grows dark, and the queen rises from her bower where faeries have been telling her tales of pranks they have committed. Edmund doesn’t notice right away, his gaze firmly on his book. I tap his shoulder to warn him, and he looks up, seeing the queen waiting for him, and jerks to his feet.

“Your Majesty.”

She glares at him and he swallows, his face pale. “Will you go in with me tonight, Mortal?” she demands. Edmund trembles, and shakes his head. I can sense that this answer is not My Queen’s desire, and that she is very, very furious. All the faeries are shying away from her rage, but Edmund stands still, holding his book tightly. Behind the queen, the laughing princess lets out a giggle, and I feel my queen’s rage burst. She reaches out and snatches the truth book from my mortal. He looks up at her with panic, and she tears the book in two, tossing it at his feet without a word. There is a bright light, and a moment later she is gone.

Edmund stands still for a moment. Then he kneels to pick up his book, and I see his hands shake. I come to help him, and he gives me a wavering smile in thanks.

Above us, the princess laughs until mirthful tears paint her face. “Oh, oh, she is furious!” she calls to us. Edmund looks at the ripped pages of his truth book, but I think he is listening carefully to the princess’s words, though they only mock him. “She will not wait much longer,” the princess warns him, chortling with glee.

“Go away,” I tell her, angry that she is making him more unhappy. The princess stops laughing and lands on the ground, looking at me with surprise.

“What?”

I realize I am being silly. She does not have to obey me. I am not her queen. When I say nothing, she laughs again, and flies away to find amusement elsewhere.

My Queen does not come back that night, or the next. Edmund grows nervous, and I think My Queen must be very angry, or else she is trying to find something grand to win him with. The princess is right, I think. If she tries again, and it does not work, she will not keep waiting. My Queen’s Will is strong, and she will have what she wishes for in the end. Perhaps she will find a love poison to feed him, or simply give up and take his voice after all. A part of me thinks he will be happier then, when he is no longer waiting and afraid, but another part of me remembers that his truth book and his own words say it would be better to die than be her lover.

I have never thought two such different things at once before.

I do not see my queen again until the night when the mortal sky sports a full moon, and we must go to the court of Our King. I leave Edmund alone in My Queen’s camp, for he cannot come with us, and it is Our Queen’s will that we do as we always have on this night, and do not let Our King know she is angry. I am sorry to leave him, but he assures me he will be fine.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” he says with a shrug. And so I go with the rest, and dance with the male faeries. The King’s court is much like the Queen’s, and I have never done anything there but dance or serve.

Tonight, I stop to see a mortal girl, who lounges in a tent, surrounded by lavish gifts and jewels. Male faeries offer her food, and bring her trinkets that only humans make. Our King’s lover, I realize. I am curious, and I leave the dance to go and see her.

“No, no,” she scolds a faerie with a dismissive wave. “This sash is all the wrong shade! I want lilac, is that so difficult? Go and try again, or I shall tell my love how you mistreat me.”

I sense fear in the faerie, and he quickly flies away. I am surprised, for Edmund never speaks so. I had thought all mortals would be quiet, like he is.

The King’s lover gestures to a faerie who holds a cup, and he gives it to her, letting her drink the fey-wine with relish. Then she tosses the empty goblet, laying back on her fine pillows and watching the dance. She sees me and raises an eyebrow.

“A girl fey?”

I curtsy to her.

“Well, why aren’t you dancing, then?” she asks, looking me over. “Don’t tell me you’re my love’s queen? You’re not nearly pretty enough. No wonder he wants me instead.”

I am embarrassed. “No, I am only common,” I explain quickly. “I tend to My Queen’s mortal lover, in her court. I was curious to see you.”

“Oh. Has there been talk of me?” She quirks a smile. “My love told me all about the other mortal, of course. He says your little queen can’t make the man love her and is throwing a great tantrum over it.”

I frown at her. “Does the king not silence his lovers?” I ask, for I thought he did the same as My Queen. His lover waves a hand.

“He did, at first. But when he heard of the other mortal, he decided to try this love-winning game for himself.” She brushes at her dress with a frown. “I like to make him think he’s succeeded. Your queen’s lover must be an idiot to make someone like that wait.”

“But are you not unhappy to be with him?” I ask her.

“Unhappy?” The mortal woman laughs, loud and mocking. “Oh, my darling little faerie, you know nothing at all, do you?” She gestures to a faerie again and he hurries to fetch more fey-wine. “Unhappy,” she murmurs, as if I am being very silly.

“Edmund is very unhappy to be in our realm,” I defend myself, embarrassed

“Then he is a fool to show it,” she sniffs. “Just look at me. I make my lover very happy, don’t I? And I have attendants and gifts, and live in luxury like a queen. Happy or not, what does your Edmund get out of throwing a tantrum about it?”

I struggle to find an answer for her. “He does not want anything,” I finally say. The mortal girl gives a snort and drinks another cup of wine. I wait for a moment, but she does not give me further answers. Her attention is turned back to her gifts.

I am disturbed by this conversation: I did not know mortals could be so different from Edmund, and I do not like this one as I do him. I leave her and join the dance again with a frown on my face. I watch the mortal girl when My Queen appears, and I see her shrink back as if she is afraid, but only when My Queen is not looking at her.

At last the light begins to return to our world, and My Queen and King emerge from the tent. They bow to each other, and My Queen strolls away, pausing only to glance at the mortal girl a moment before she vanishes from sight. Our King goes to his lover, and I see that he smiles a smug smile, not at her, but in the direction Our Queen left in.

Edmund is not where he usually sits, when I return, and for a moment I fear he has tried to run away while I was gone. But then I see him, on the other side of the camp, and I fly to him.

“Faerie,” he greets me, smiling.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. I wish he did not have to be left alone so long. “Are you well still? Do you wish for anything?”

“I’m all right,” he says, shuffling his feet in the grass. “I just needed to stretch my legs. And I ate already this morning; don’t worry.”

I blink at him. “Who gave you food?” I am supposed to tend to him. I do not want any other faerie to do it. But he waves me away.

“No one, there was plenty laying around. I just got it for myself.” He begins to walk around the edge of the camp, and I flit after him, feeling better that no one has taken my task. “How was Your King’s Court?” he asks me after a moment. “Did… did the queen show up like she was supposed to?”

I am surprised at the question. “She must. She goes every month.”

“Did she seem… angry, still?” he asks me softly, and I realize he is very nervous. He is not carrying the torn remains of his truth book, but I see his hands clench as if he wishes to hold it tight.

“Yes,” I tell him, because he does not like lies. He shivers, though it is not cold here, and nods in reply.

“I suppose I knew she would be,” he admits. I consider him closely.

“I spoke to My King’s lover,” I tell him. He looks up at me. “She is not like you,” I say.

Edmund runs a hand through his hair, messing it up very badly. “What is she like?” he asks me. I think for a moment and then describe her to him as well as I can. I tell him all she said to me.

“I think,” I tell him, “perhaps it is because she is female, and female mortals are simply loud and cruel.” It is the only explanation I have thought of that can make sense to me. But it makes Edmund laugh a little.

“Humans are just different from each other, Faerie. I mean, there are differences between men and women specifically, but every individual is unique as well.”

I do not know this word. “Unique?”

“Yes.” Edmund smiles sadly. “I have a sister who’s very quiet and reserved, more like me. So I can say for certain women don’t have to be loud or unkind. She’s…” he pauses, looking away from me. “My sister is the sweetest person I’ve ever known. I hope she hasn’t forgotten me. In some tales, I think that happens.” He rubs his face. “I don’t know what’s real, anymore,” he mutters softly, as if perhaps he does not mean for me to hear it.

“I do not think they will forget,” I say to comfort him. “The princess did not cast any spell on them.”

He looks pleased by this, but he is still not happy. “I hope they can move on, then,” he says. “I can imagine my sister just sitting and waiting for me to come back, but… I may as well be dead, here…” He stops, and I see that he is struggling with something. He wipes his eyes, though there are no tears in them. “I’m going to go sit down, if that’s all right.”

I am sorry that I made him unhappy again. I lead him back to his log and sit down beside him, watching as he curls up like a sleeping kitten. He does not sleep, but lays there with his eyes open and his arms wrapped around himself, for a long time.

“Edmund,” I say after a time. “Does your sister have a truth book?”

He sniffs and looks up at me for a moment, and then he sits up to see me better. “Yes,” he says, and his voice is thin. “She has a Bible. Why?”

“I do not think My King’s lover had one,” I say. “She had many gifts, but I did not see any books.”

He lets out a breath through his nose. “I wouldn’t be surprised. If she’s like you described, I wouldn’t expect her to be eager to get her hands on scriptures.”

“But I thought all mortals wanted truth,” I say. “Is that not why you have a book of it?”

Edmund shakes his head, smiling at me again. “Not all of us. Every person is so different, it’s always complicated how much truth any individual wants. Or how much of anything, really. It’s… very different from the fey.”

Different. I tilt my head as I think on those words. “Is that why My Queen wants mortal lovers?” I ask him, though I do not think he will know either. “Because you are all different from each other?” Our King is like us. All of the faeries are the same.

“I don’t know,” Edmund says. “She doesn’t exactly… talk to me.”

I frown at him. “She is silent during all of your walks in the forest?” I ask, startled. It is no wonder he does not like her, if she will not speak with him.

“No, not silent,” he says. “It’s just that she doesn’t say anything. Her words are all empty. I don’t know her at all, really.”

“Do I say things?” I ask. Edmund smiles at me.

“Yes, most of the time. You ask me things, and get curious, and I actually know your personality a little.” He pauses. “I don’t know if all the faeries are like you, like you say; I don’t talk to the others much. But at least you care about things.”

I am surprised by this. “I cannot care,” I protest. “I do not have the Will to care about things.”

Edmund looks at me for a moment, and I cannot tell what emotion he feels. Then he looks away, and I feel a pain inside my chest, and fear that he is disappointed in me. “I cannot,” I defend myself.

“I know, I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m just… not sure. That’s all.”

That does not make sense to me. I try to think of something that does make sense, so that I will not be so confused. “Do you want something to drink?”

“... sure,” he says, but does not look at me. I am afraid I have made him sad, but I know I cannot care about him, though I want to, because I am not the queen. I am not even a princess. A common fey does not have any Will, and to care requires Will, does it not? The most I can be is curious, sometimes.

Though I have been more things than that, since Edmund came here.

*******

It is that night, after the full moon, when My Queen comes to her court again. She strolls to her tent, and I sense that she is still very angry.

“Lover,” she calls to Edmund. “Come and sit with me.”

Edmund puts his book down. He has been trying to fit it back together as it is meant to be, and is almost finished. When he is done, I will try to seal it together again, though my magic is not great. I see that he leaves it behind with hesitance, but does not think of taking it with him to the queen’s side. Then he strolls to the edge of her tent, and does not go in. She scowls at him, but he does not move.

“You are ungrateful, Mortal,” she hisses. “My husband has a lover who speaks to him, and she says flattering words and lies with him and loves his gifts. You are cruel and vulgar among mortals to refuse me.”

Edmund swallows, and his hands fidget at his sides. “I’m sorry you’re displeased,” he says.

“Come in with me,” My Queen orders. Her mortal clenches his jaw and shakes his head firmly. I sense fury coming from My Queen, and I flit forwards, worried for Edmund. She stands up and hits him across the face, and Edmund falls back with a cry. I fly to his side, panicked. He is hurt, and tears sparkle in his eyes.

“Next sundown,” My queen says loudly, and Edmund flinches away from her voice. “You will come in with me.” A smile twists her features. “If you do it nicely, and say you love me, perhaps I will not punish you for your discourteous behavior.” And she sweeps into her tent, letting the flap close behind her.

Edmund groans, sitting up and rubbing his face. I see terror in his expression, but he swallows and climbs shakily to his feet anyway, before stumbling back to his place and collapsing. I look at My Queen’s tent and I feel fury building up inside me. I did not know I could be angry with My Queen. I did not know I could wish to disobey her Will.

I hate her for hurting him.

Edmund is curled up behind his log, and I hear him crying. I am tempted to stay by the tent and be angry, but I know he is hurting by himself now. Besides, I must tend to him. I walk to his side and kneel down.

“Are you hurt badly?” I ask him. He shakes his head, still covering his face with a hand so I cannot see if it is swelling at all where she hit him.

“Tomorrow,” he whispers. “Faerie… I can’t do it. I can’t fight her anymore.”

I try to move his hand, though I am confused. “You have not fought her.”

“I refused her.” He turns away so his face is farther from me. “I don’t know what to do now. She- I can’t say no unless she lets me. I have until tomorrow, and then… then I…” He chokes on his words, and begins to cry again. I manage to pull his hand away and see that his face is red, and there is some blood there. I gasp in horror seeing it.

“Oooh, is it hurting?” the princess asks over my shoulder, giggling. “Poor poor foolish mortal. You’re such fun,” she snickers, ignoring Edmund curling up and shaking. “Too bad the game will end.” The princess sighs. “You’ll be like her other lovers soon, and I shall be bored again.”

“Please just go,” Edmund whispers to her, and she shrieks with laughter as if that were very funny, rolling away through the air. I frown after her, and take Edmund’s hand in mine. He stares at it, then looks up at me. “Faerie. Can you take me out of here?” he asks softly. I start, drawing back from him.

“I cannot.”

“I know you care,” he says. “Please, I’ll do anything Faerie, just take me home. I can’t stay here any longer.”

I look at his eyes, and I see desperate pain there. “I want to,” I say. I do want to. But I do not move to help him, anyway. Because no matter how much pain I feel, it is still true that I am a common faerie. “Common fey have no Will,” I say. “I cannot act for myself. For what I want. I cannot. I am… I am sorry.” And I feel a tear on my face. Edmund swallows thickly, looking at me. His hands shake and his head lowers. His eyes fall on his broken book of truth, and they widen. Edmund looks up, and his hand grips mine tightly.

“Faerie, does it have to be her Will you obey?”

I am confused, and stare at him. “What?”

“Your queen’s Will. You say you don’t have your own- do you have to obey her Will, or can you choose another to follow?”

I do not know. But I blink at him and think I understand. “Who else could I follow?” I ask him. “She is My Queen.”

“You can have mine,” he says. “Share it. Use my Will… does that make sense?” Suddenly he draws back, looking unsure. “If you share my Will, you can choose for yourself, can’t you? Unless… I don’t know. I don’t know anything, Faerie.” He squeezes my hand softly. “I just want to go home. I’m probably spouting nonsense.”

But it is not nonsense. I understand his idea. “Will you let me share it?” I ask, my eyes wide. He blinks at me.

“If I can,” he says after a moment. “You deserve to choose for yourself.”

I have never deserved such a wonderful thing before. I take a breath and think. “But if you are not here,” I say, and his eyes grow wide, “How will I know what you wish me to do?”

“I- I want you to choose,” he says, but I shake my head.

“I cannot have my own Will. If I try to act on my own, completely, it will not be your Will I use… I think. And then I will just obey my queen.”

Edmund hesitates, looking around us, and sees his Bible. He picks it up carefully and hands it to me. “Here. I’ll leave this with you. I… I can leave.” He wipes the blood off his face and looks at it on his hand. He looks afraid.

I am not certain yet, but I do not want to take away his hope. I look at the book in my hands and remember its words that I read before, and what he told me when I first brought it to him: It tells him what to do. And he wishes to obey it, very very badly.

I wonder if I really can use Edmund’s will. It would be wonderful, and strange. I close my eyes and try to feel his Will.

At first there is only My Queen’s Will, powerful and angry, that fills me like rainwater in an empty cup. She Wills that Edmund stay here, and love her, and go into her tent with her, and never wish to leave. For a moment I feel only her Will, and a small panic rises in me: I do not want Edmund to be trapped here with My Queen.

That is when I feel his Will at last, smaller than My Queen’s but very warm, and somehow it is already a little inside of me. His Will is to be free, and with his family, and for me… to be very happy.

My Queen does not care if I am happy.

I hold tight to Edmund’s hand and suddenly we are in the mortal realm. He stands up with a cry, looking around at the dull greys and browns and greens of the forest.

“I- it worked,” he breaths. Then he turns and embraces me, tightly. “Thank you,” he cries. “Thank you, Faerie.”

I am surprised, and I hug him in return. When he lets go, I point to him the direction he came from when he first found him in the forest, and he thanks me again.

I am glad to see that he is so happy. “I will remember you,” he promises me, and he runs through the trees, towards his home. I feel happy that he will remember me, because My Queen will be very, very angry, and I am afraid of what she will do to me. But Edmund will not forget me. And I will not let her take him away again.

*******

My Queen does not realize at first that Edmund is not here. I put his blanket over some pillows from his tent, which he never used, and she thinks he is sleeping. The look she gives his blanket makes me shudder with fear, but then she goes away again.

She comes back when the night falls, and she calls for Edmund to come to her. She is strong and tall, and so beautiful, radiant with power. I shrink back as I wait, and she waits too. Her brow creases with anger and she calls again, but there is no answer.

“Bring him to me,” she says, her fists clenched with fury, and several faeries rush to the blanket. They cry in surprise when they find only pillows beneath it. My Queen is shocked, her eyes wide. She looks around, as if her prisoner will appear at the edge of the trees. But Edmund is not in our realm anymore, and she sees nothing there but silver and mist. At last her gaze turns to me and she snarls.

“You tended to him. Where has he gone?” she demands of me, stepping closer. “I will have him back.”

I tremble, but I stand up and face her.

“Well? Tell me where he has gone!” She commands, and I feel her Will all around me, powerful like a strong river, to pull everything with it in its path.

“No,” I say, and all the court becomes still. The breeze does not blow. The faeries do not dance. The Queen stares at me as though I have just changed form entirely, becoming some great monster instead of her humble daughter.

“Wh-what?”

“I will not tell you,” I say.

“You cannot disobey me!”

And yet I am disobeying. I smile at her, though I am very afraid. My Queen is powerful, and she will hurt me, but I will not obey her. I have never had such power before. The Faerie Queen sees my smile and steps back, her eyes as wide as an owl’s. She turns to the laughing princess, who had been snickering behind her until I spoke.

“Go and get him back for me!” She commands, and my heart beats fast. I do not think I can defeat the princess, for her power is far greater than mine. “Find him,” the queen shouts, “If you have to tear the world apart! I will not be stolen from!”

I do not know what to do. I step forwards and say, “Stop.”

The Queen laughs, wild and loud. “Stop? Do you think you can command me, faerie? I will have my lover, and I will see you torn to shreds before his very eyes, you filthy, treacherous thief! You- you-” She stammers to a stop as the laughing princess steps past her, expression completely serious for the first time I have ever seen, and kneels before me. “What are you doing?” The Queen screams.

“No common fey can act without her queen’s Will,” the princess says. And the other princesses step forward and kneel with her.

“No princess can disobey her queen’s command,” says the princess who danced with a frown. The Queen steps back, and I stare at the princesses in confusion. I cannot understand. I am a traitor, with the Will of a human. Why do they bow to me?

And yet, all the other faeries come forward and kneel with the princesses, as the laughing princess speaks again.

“To do such things, A Faerie must be Our Queen.”

Other entries by Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

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About Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

Genevieve is an aspiring author who has been dabbling in the arts of storytelling and writing for almost as long as she remembers. She writes mostly in the fantasy genre, and has received an Honorable Mention in the 'Writer's of the Future' contest for her short story 'A Faerie's Will'.

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