(c) by Kelly Shew
“I cannot believe they stuck me with you, of all faeries!” Fatina threw up her hands as she fluttered in the air. “Even Arcus the Dunderhead would be better than you!”
Nibale flew up to meet her. “It’s not like I’m happy about this either! Do you think I have nothing better to do than drag around a Papinae on this mission? I hope you can keep up, because I will not be held accountable for your failures!”
Both faeries hung suspended in air as they glared at each other. The Grand High Faerie Council had decreed a hunter from each tribe would be assigned the task of locating a rogue faerie who was ignoring the Age Restriction.
A thousand years ago, the Council determined that, if allowed to continue hunting unchecked, faeries would soon eat themselves out of existence. Were younger faeries easier to catch? Absolutely. They weren’t old enough to have learned any survival tricks. They were needed to continue the line. What would the faeries do when they ran out of food? It was decreed that faeries could not hunt anyone under seven seasons in age.
Recently, young faeries had gone missing. Twice now, a nursemaid had been found dead in the woods. As guardians, nursemaids were the only faeries who had lifetime protection from being hunted. Due to the very long life cycle of faeries, nursemaid positions were extremely hard to come by. Early on, it was suspected someone wanted a position with the nursemaids. With the discovery of another missing youth yesterday, it was clear there was a rogue.
Eolin, a tiny faerie of the Pleinette tribe, spoke up. “Can we put aside our differences? The sooner the search over, the sooner I don’t have to be near you two. Let’s find the rogue faerie, turn him in for sentencing, and forget we ever had to spend time together.”
“I can if she can.” Nibale jutted his head in Fatina’s direction.
”Well, then, why are you two sitting there? Let’s go to the site of the last find, already!” Fatina turned and flew off.
They caught up with her just before Futinard Hill, where the last body had been found. The body was there still, awaiting the investigation. Afterward the body would be donated to the young ones in the nursery. It looked much like any other body after it had been fed on: crumpled on the ground, with body parts in unnatural positions. Normally, faeries cleaned up after themselves, usually by donating any remains to the nursery.
Eolin landed on the hill. “Not much was eaten…what’s the point, then? The organs are still here, thigh meat is still here. Anyone see a finger? He’s missing a finger.”
“Maybe the attacker got scared off before he could finish,” Fatina suggested as she scanned the area.
Nibale returned from a search of the perimeter. On his face was a look of disgust. “It’s obscene to attack a young one this way. Has he no morals, that he would prey on one who cannot defend himself?”
“Maybe he was bored,” Fatina said. “Or so hungry he couldn’t control himself. Look. The young one’s band is missing.” Young ones were supposed to wear a red band around their arm to signify they were not yet to be considered prey. “And he’s older looking. Maybe the rogue didn’t realize this was a young one.”
Eolin signaled to the guard that he could move the body. “We’re not going to get anything else out of him. At least he was found in time so we can still give him to the nursery. Hopefully, this will be a lesson to the other young ones to leave their band on at all times. Now, we should go interview our witness.”
“Witness?” Fatina asked. “There was a witness? Who is it?”
“Yes, Old Alice. We better get there soon, before she goes to bed for the day.”
Old Alice slept most of every day, and she was the devil to try and wake up if you needed her for something.
The flight to Old Alice’s took them past a pond, where several ducks were gathered. One of them was keening over the body of a dead duck stretched out on the ground. As the trio of faeries watched, other ducks came. They took the grieving duck away, and covered the body with brush and ferns.
“Ugh! Would you listen to that? Like she never thought he would die? That is why you never get attached to anyone.” Eolin could barely contain her disgust over the public display below.
“I think it’s kind of sweet,” Nibale and Fatina said in unison. Surprised, they stared at each other for a few moments before Fatina went on. “I would think it’s very comforting, knowing you have someone to depend on.”
Nibale added, “Someone to share your troubles with, someone to help you hunt, someone to help keep you from being hunted…”
“It’s weak and degrading! Like the two of you!”
As Eolin flew off, Nibale and Fatina looked at each other. Fatina said, “I never knew you felt that way. I thought you were like all the rest: ‘Look at me! I’m a man! I don’t need anything else!’”
“Well, it’s not something I advertise, but yeah, if the right faerie came along, I’d be OK with sharing a nest with her. We should probably catch up with Eolin.”
When they flew off, Fatina looked at Nibale a little differently.
As they drew closer to Old Alice’s nest, Fatina dropped behind.
“What’s the holdup, slow poke?” Eolin had as much patience for others as she did compassion.
“I have a cramp in my wing. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Go on ahead!” Fatina landed.
“I’ll stay with her, make sure she’s OK,” Nibale said. “Get to Old Alice’s before she goes to bed. We’ll be there soon.”
Eolin grunted and flew off. Nibale thought he heard her say something that sounded like ‘dead duck.’
Nibale landed next to Fatina and offered to look at her wing. After a thorough inspection, he said, “I can’t see anything wrong with it, but maybe we should walk for a while and give it a chance to rest.”
“OK, sure. Are you sure you don’t want to go on ahead? I’ll catch up as soon as I can. Really, you don’t need to wait for me.”
“I don’t mind. Eolin will probably do better talking to Old Alice without me there. Old Alice still hasn’t forgotten the time all those years ago I ruined her nest trying to catch a stray ball. When I was going to be with the two of you, I thought I’d be safe. I don’t think I want to risk it with only one bodyguard.” Nibale grinned.
As they walked along, they found they both liked reading and campfires. They had the same opinions when it came to how the Council was governing, but differing thoughts as to how someone should be elected to that position. Time sped as they walked and chatted and soon it was dusk. They were nearly at Old Alice’s nest.
“I wonder what’s going on up ahead?” NIbale could see flickering lights as they neared the village. As they rounded the bend, they saw about fifteen faeries standing outside Old Alice’s.
“There she is! Get her!” Eolin pointed dramatically at Fatina. “Keep your eye on her! She says her wing is hurt, but I bet it’s a scam!”
“What? What is going on?” Fatina looked around frantically as faeries surrounded her.
“Old Alice saw you, Fatina. She saw you with the young one. Game over. Take her to the Council!”
As the horde ushered her toward the clearing where the Council held meetings, Fatina desperately scanned faces of the faeries surrounding her. Her gaze landed on Nibale, who regarded her with a hurt expression. She tried to reach out to him, but he pulled away. The faeries parted, and she was left alone in the center of the clearing.
“Fatina, you have been accused of hunting young ones. There is a witness who saw you perform this crime. How do you plead?”
Fatina took a moment to scan the faces of the Council and the others. “I plead not guilty! The witness in question is old and easily confused. What proof other than her failing eyes can she give that would condemn me?”
The Council Elder, Ratosh, looked to Old Alice. “Well, mistress? Have you any other proof?”
“I do! After she felled her prey, I saw her take the band off his arm and put it in her pouch. Check her pouch. If the band is there, she is guilty!”
“Fatina, please present your pouch to the Council at this time so that we may inspect its contents.”
She had gambled and lost. All she could do was remove her pouch and hand it to Ratosh.
“The first was an accident. I didn’t know until too late! The first bite– the meat was so tender and juicy and fresh! After that, I can’t explain it– it was like an addiction. I couldn’t stop! I’ll get help, I promise. Assign a guard to me, to keep it from happening again. I’ll do anything you demand.”
“All faeries know the penalty for hunting young ones. We do not make exceptions. Fatina, you are found guilty of hunting the young ones.” Ratosh held up the red band for all to see. “As set forth in the Age Restriction a thousand years ago, the punishment is death, the sentence to be carried out immediately. May your soul find the peace in the afterlife that it could not find here.”
Trapped in the ring of advancing faeries, Fatina knew she had nowhere to go.
“Noooooooo! I cannot let you do this!” Nibale broke through the ring and ran to her. He placed his hands on either side of her face.
Fatina gazed into Nibale’s eyes. He would save her!
She heard him say, “I could have loved you!” The last thing she saw was a tear running down his face just before he broke her neck.