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Waelon and the Weed-puller

A wylie faerie aristocrat becomes curious toward a Sighted mortal

Part One

“Does iron really burn you?”

Waelon swiveled his head to look down at the tiny human girl as she stared up at him with big, unblinking brown eyes.

“You see me,” he stated.

The girl nodded thrice, her caramel-colored locks bouncing around her face. She could not have been older than eight. “Does it hurt to touch it?” she asked.

Waelon rotated himself where he sat on the edge of the stone wall, so he fully faced her. “Someone taught you about us. Your grandmother, perhaps.”

“No, just the books. The pages are missing sometimes, and the smell makes me sneeze, but I wouldn't give them up for the world.” She tilted her head, a wrinkle appearing on her freckled forehead. “Do you not like questions? The books never said anything about that.”

Despite himself, Waelon began to smile. “Did your books tell you what we do with people who see?” he inquired.

Another three-fold nod. “You put their eyes out. I've always wondered what it's like to be blind.”

Waelon gazed down at the small girl like a lion might peer down at a scraggly kitten romping between his front paws. “You are a strange little mortal,” he observed. “It's no good having such enormous eyes if you can't see with them. I will forget about your sight this time.”

She meandered over to a nearby flower bed and crouched down among the daisies. “It must be easy to forget, with all that time you have. I wish-” She stopped, her thin lips sealing up. After a moment she said, “I should be careful with those words, shouldn't I?”

“Just because you wish something doesn't mean I'll grant it,” Waelon said, amused.

“Oh, you probably would,” the girl sighed, leaning over the flowers to yank a weed out of the earth. “Only it would be the very worst form of the wish. Isn't that right? Those are the sorts of tricks you like to play.”

Waelon slid off the wall and strode casually over to the flower bed, his shoes crunching on the gravel road. “You know quite a bit about us, don't you? That's dangerous. Maybe I'll whisk you away to Faerie instead of putting your eyes out.”

“No, thank you,” the girl said sweetly. “I like it here.”

Waelon convinced himself he was bored with her and vanished. He waited for her to look up and realize he was gone, to stare forlornly down the road with a wistful look on her tiny, freckled face. She didn't. She went on pulling up weeds out of the garden.

Part Two

Eleven years later, Waelon almost didn't recognize the little weed-puller as he watched her sitting cross-legged on a park bench, flipping through a small leather-bound volume with fading cherry blossoms embossed on the cover and spine. Her attire was casual, almost boyish. Her hair fell loose around her shoulders, tousled by the afternoon breeze, and her forehead bore that very same crinkle of curiosity, as though frowning hard enough would help her to understand better. She paused in her reading to scribble down a note in a thick, well-used journal which sat open on the bench next to her.

Casually, deliberately, Waelon strolled over to the bench, the pedestrians hurrying by on the street taking no notice of him, some passing right through him as though he were made of mist.

He stopped directly in front of her. Once again, he waited for her to look up and notice, but just like before she gazed intently down at her work.

With a grin, Waelon said, “It does burn.”

She jerked her head up as if startled from a doze, and locked eyes with him. She looked around and behind her to see if he could have been addressing someone else, but there was only herself. “Oh... I beg your pardon?” she said.

“It burns,” Waelon repeated. “The iron, that is.”

She stared at him for a long moment, bewilderment deepening the wrinkle in her brow. “I'm sorry?”

“You asked me a question, and I have answered it,” Waelon explained, as though it made all the sense in the world.

She let out a breathy laugh. “But, I didn't ask you anything,” she retorted with a dubious look.

“I think you'll find that you did, actually,” Waelon replied, “quite a while ago, while you dragged weeds up by the roots and did your best not to make a wish.”

Her smile faded as confusion again clouded her features.

At that moment a sweaty jogger ran through Waelon, his being rippling with the disturbance.

She froze, caramel eyes the biggest he had ever seen them. That was saying something.

His grin broadened. “Remembering now, are we?” He shook his head like a reminiscing grandparent. “My, how you've grown, little weed-puller.”

She stood abruptly from the bench, the leather-bound book slipping from her fingers and clattering to the pavement.

Waelon stooped and plucked it up, straightening as he read the title. “Andrew Lang. Gotta love the classics. Tell me, how many of these stories have you memorized?”

She stared speechlessly as he flipped through the weathered yellow pages. She couldn't seem to make up her mind over whether to be fascinated, surprised, or utterly terrified. The latter seemed to be winning over.

“Don't tell me you convinced yourself it was a dream?” he scolded, inspecting a fading illustration of faeries dancing under a full moon. Still she did not speak. He flicked his gaze up to her. “Come now; you owe me your eyes. The least you can do is be polite and make a decent reply.”

She drew a long breath. “You're real.”

“Statement of fact,” Waelon observed. “That's not a bad start. Go on.”

Her eyes searched the sidewalk below her feet. “Ah... You're actually real. What happened all those years ago. It wasn't a dream?” She looked back up at him with those big eyes.

Waelon could feel her urge to run. Any living being who had a sliver of an idea of what he was would want to run. Not that it was possible. Her fear had petrified her to the spot, making it impossible for her to-

She snatched her bag off the bench and bolted off down the sidewalk.

Waelon blinked. The pages of the book fluttered in the sudden breeze.

“That wasn't supposed to happen,” he said, looking after her shrinking form. He could have stopped her in her tracks with the bat of an eyelash. All he would have to do was snap his fingers, and she would have been at his mercy, unable to go anywhere or do anything unless he willed it.

But, he realized with a curious tightening of his chest, that wasn't what he wanted.

He watched as she veered around a corner at the end of the street, vanishing from sight. She was the one who had left, and he was the one looking forlornly after her.

“That isn't how things are supposed to be,” he informed the empty air. “You were supposed to be awe-struck.” Waelon tore his gaze from the last place he had seen her and stared at the little book in his hands. Almost unconsciously he flipped to the very first page. In the top right corner, a name was scrawled in careful, swirling script.

Joanne Blythe.

“Joanne.” The name drifted in the air before him. He set his jaw. Sliding the leather-bound book into his coat pocket, Waelon turned to trudge down the street in the opposite direction she had fled but paused.

Her journal still sat open on the bench, pages dancing lazily in the gentle wind. He stepped closer and reached to pick it up. His finger grazed a nail buried in the wood, the contact burning him so coldly it felt like fire. Waelon snatched the journal up quickly and moved away from the bench, wagging his offended finger in the air. He found himself wishing she, wishing Joanne could have been there to witness it, so she could see for herself that iron really did burn him.

The journal joined the Lang volume in the darkness of his coat pocket, and he walked on.

Part Three

January 7th, 1998

7:32 am

I had the dream again last night. It was particularly vivid this time around, as though I were watching it on television. Only I was on the television, right there among the daisies with that voice speaking behind me.

The voice was the only dim thing about the dream. It's been fading over the years, and sometimes I worry that soon I won't be able to hear it at all. I'm not sure whether to be happy or horrified. This is part of growing up, isn't it? Or maybe children are the grown ups who hear and dream. Maybe we slowly become deaf and dreamless with age.

Maybe the real me is dying on the inside.

The entry had been recorded two years ago, and no mention of the dream or the voice or the feeling of dying had appeared in the journal since.

Waelon shut the book softly and absently wound the tattered ribbon bookmark around one finger as he gazed off over the city. The sunset view atop the downtown art gallery was a spectacular one. The horizon was a furnace that spilled its blazing coals over the city, giving everything an orange tint.

He found himself wondering how those caramel eyes might shine in such light.

Twelve days had passed since those few minutes at the park bench. Waelon had alternately read the journal and the copy of Andrew Lang, paying particular attention to the notes scribbled in the margins. Her favorite parts. Her least favorite parts. The parts she wished would come true in real life. Joanne had left little bits of her soul alongside each fairy tale.

Waelon read more of the journal than he did of the Lang, however. Where the margin notes were peepholes into her existence, the journal was a window. Compared to himself, she didn't have much of a life to speak of, but she certainly made the most of it. She volunteered at a daycare every other week. She liked tea and old books and pocket watches. She was scared of heights. Her favorite season was autumn. She wanted to go to Ireland someday. And, as the latest entry in the journal informed Waelon, she visited the art gallery once a month with her book club.

Sitting on the roof of a three-story building, staring down at ever-changing crowds for the better part of twelve days gives you a lot of time to think. Waelon spent half of that time telling himself how stupid he was, how the Court would laugh at him if they knew what he had been up to lately.

With a wan sigh, he glanced down at the street.

Joanne was strolling down the crosswalk toward the art gallery.

Waelon sat up a little straighter.

She was surrounded by a group of chattering girls, most of whom carried to-go coffee cups and large handbags. She wore a lacy jacket over a light summer dress and little white sandals, her hair wound up into a loose but becoming knot, all quite contradictory to the attire he had seen her in last. Waelon doubted she would be able to run very fast in those shoes.

The group climbed the broad marble steps and disappeared into the gallery, entering a door directly under Waelon's perch.

As for Waelon, he sat motionless for several minutes. Now that the moment had finally arrived, he realized he had no plan, no course of action. What exactly had he been expecting from this little escapade? It was an unusual feeling, not knowing what to do where a little mortal was concerned.

“Hell,” Waelon muttered and vaulted himself over the edge of the roof. He landed at the base of the steps as though he had merely stepped down out of a car. Tucking the journal back into his pocket, he took the stairs two at a time and slipped through the streams of people moving in and out of the doors like they weren't even there.

The lobby was surprisingly crowded. It was late, and not even the weekend. Still, the telltale melody of enthusiastic female voices guided Waelon away from the lobby and into one of the featured galleries.

“Modern art,” he grumbled. It must have been one of Joanne's friends who had determined the focus of the group's visit, he decided. She did not strike him as a lover of random splatters and abstract shapes.

For a minute she was nowhere in sight, the clusters of people shifting and blurring together, making it difficult to focus on one person. And then she was there, a bobbing caramel bun in a sea of other faces that he didn't much care about. In glimpses through the crowd, Waelon saw that she held a book. As he watched, she scribbled quickly in it, then tucked it away in her bag.

A new journal, to replace the one I stole, he thought and felt a pang. Technically, he hadn't stolen it, but it still bothered him that she had lost something so obviously familiar and steadfast, like a lifelong friend.

The group of girls had paused, but now they trickled onward to the next work of art, a giant slab of wood with a crude stick figure painted onto it with questionable substances. Joanne wrinkled her nose at it.

Waelon caught himself beginning to smile. He had been right about her artistic preferences.

He followed them around the gallery, never getting too close. He fought back the idea that he had become a lowly stalker, telling himself, that he harbored purer motives. It was like birdwatching; he argued inwardly. He wanted to catch a glimpse of something fascinating and beautiful without disturbing it in its natural environment.

The group meandered through the long hallways for a little more than an hour, talking and laughing, some admiring the pieces, some making fun of them. Joanne, for the most part, was quiet.

Waelon was teetering dangerously on the edge of boredom when he caught the scent. It was a mere thread of odor drifting through the air, but his nostrils stung when he inhaled it. Its owner was close. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. He began to scan the crowd intently. Another waft of the foul scent wandered by but try as he might he could not determine the source. The vile thing hidden among the mortals, a gargoyle or an Unseelie, was doing its best to stay hidden.

Waelon quickly manipulated his own aura, wrapping it close around himself to prevent his presence from being detected, if he hadn't been noticed already. Another strand of scent. It was almost as though it were trying to tease him.

Waelon gritted his teeth and refocused. With a sudden spike of fear, he sought out Joanne in the crowd. He had only looked away for a moment, where had she gone? Her friends were still clustered around a hideous painting, but she-

Relief calmed his throbbing heart as his gaze alighted on her tousled bun. That relief was immediately squelched as he saw who, what was standing in front of her.

To the mortal eye, it appeared to be a tall, strikingly handsome young man with rugged features and perfect blond hair. Under the glamor, however, stood a sickly, bone-thin creature with hollow eyes and a mouth that stretched nearly to its ears.

“Vampire,” Waelon hissed.

From the look on Joanne's face, he wagered that she saw beyond the glamor as well. For the first time, he noticed that she stood beside one of the other girls from her group who had been chatting with the vampire. Joanne appeared to have just interrupted their conversation. Her friend was glaring daggers at her, oblivious to the danger.

Joanne, doing her best to look inconspicuous, touched her friend's arm and spoke insistently. The other girl made a face and protested. The vampire laughed.

Waelon hoped beyond hope that the awful creature would give up on its prey and find a new victim somewhere else.

Joanne spoke again, tugging the girl's arm in the direction of their group. The vampire began to gaze at her curiously. He leaned closer and reached out. Joanne instinctively shied away. A grotesque grin spread over the vampire's real face, as though its head had been cut in two at the mouth. His next words he spoke slowly enough that Waelon could make them out.

"You See me."

Waelon spat a curse as Joanne struggled to keep herself from going pale. She tried laughing innocently, telling him of course she saw him, who didn't? The vampire laughed back. It now ignored the other girl, who continued to glare venomously at Joanne, and sidled closer.

The blood of sighted mortals was particularly delectable to vampires, and this one didn't seem to have a lot of self-control. It would probably pounce and drain her right where she stood, heedless of the churning crowds around them unless she got away.

Waelon saw Joanne's knuckles whiten as she gripped the strap of her bag. For an endless moment, there was only fear in her eyes. Then she straightened her shoulders and dug into her bag. She pulled out her phone, glanced at it, said something to her friend and began walking quickly in the direction of the lobby. The vampire followed her without hesitation, leaving the other girl abandoned and dumbfounded.

“Idiot,” Waelon seethed as he watched the creature tail her to the doorway. “Draw it off and be the hero, why don't you?”

He followed several feet behind the vampire; rage barely contained as he fought to maintain the cloak that masked his presence. In moments, Joanne had disappeared outside into the now-twilit city. By the time Waelon had phased through the glass wall she was practically cantering down the sidewalk, leading the undead being away from the masses of people. The vampire had no trouble keeping up.

After two blocks Waelon realized she was headed toward the park, which was a terrible idea. The farther she strayed from large gatherings of people; the more the vampire was tempted to sink his teeth into her neck and suck to the last drop. She probably thought she would be protecting people by leading the creature to an isolated place. That was stupid. The more the vampire drank, the longer it would live, and the more victims it would claim.

The more he thought about it, the more furious Waelon grew. He hated vampires as a rule, but the fact that one would have the gall to go after someone like Joanne.

She ducked around a corner up ahead. The vampire looked up and down the sidewalk. There was no one on the street around them, no one it could see, anyway. It lunged onto all fours and barreled toward the corner, its glamor evaporating.

Waelon ran. He bounded. Every step threw him ten feet, and in a fraction of a second, he was at the vampire's shoulder just as the creature was scrambling around the corner and into the alley beyond.

“Filth,” he whispered in its ear, then seized it by the neck and hurled it into the side of the building next to them. The brick wall spider-webbed with the impact and the vampire let out a hoarse scream. The wall wasn't the only thing that had cracked. The creature crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain.

Waelon turned and saw Joanne cowering wide-eyed behind a trashcan. Both hands covered her mouth. He waved to her, then cursed himself. What a stupid thing to do, especially considering the circumstances.

A guttural shriek sounded behind him, and he turned in time to see the vampire half crawling, half bounding toward him. He kicked it. Hard. It hit the wall in the same place, and this time stayed where it fell.

With a sigh of finality, Waelon turned back to Joanne, who had not moved. Several moments of silence hovered between them.

“You need to work on your acting,” Waelon finally said. “I'm surprised you've managed to stay alive all these years.”

Joanne let her hands fall and slowly crept out from behind the trash can. She stared fearfully at the unmoving body of the vampire, then up at Waelon. “What...was that?”

“Vampire,” Waelon replied. “I don't suppose you've ever run into one before.”

She shook her head. Her brow crinkled with a frown, and then her gaze became accusatory. “Were you following me?” she demanded.

“What?” The question caught him off guard. “Of course not.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Somehow I fail to believe you.”

Waelon rolled his eyes. “Somehow I fail to believe the utter stupidity of some people. What were you thinking, frolicking around with a vampire like you're invincible?” He was startled at his own words. He sounded like a fretful grandmother, not the foreboding fey aristocrat, so many respected.

“What does it matter to you?” Joanne answered indignantly. “What is it you want?”

Waelon opened his mouth, but no words came out. He stared at her for the longest time, her disheveled hair falling from its knot, her face flushed with exertion and adrenaline, her caramel eyes glittering lividly.

Finally, he strode purposefully forward. He could see the effort it took her to stand her ground, her shoulders stiffening. Shoving his hand into his coat pocket, he withdrew the two small volumes and held them out to her. “These belong to you,” he stated.

Startled, she only stared down at the journal and the cherry-blossom embossed book. Her mouth hung open speechlessly.

Waelon felt the corner of his mouth quirk upward. “Or, if you don't want them anymore...” He began to withdraw them.

“No!” Joanne protested, practically diving forward to reclaim her books. He relinquished them without a fuss, watching as she examined them like a mother examines her child after seeing him take a tumble. After a moment, she seemed to remember he was still standing there and looked up. “Thank you,” she said with genuine gratitude.

Waelon allowed his smile to widen ever so slightly. “Really, though, that was an incredibly stupid thing to do. With the vampire.”

Her face became indignant again. “I couldn't just leave Tonia alone with that thing.”

“She probably deserved it,” he muttered. He laughed when she glared at him.

“What...” she began, then drew a breath and went on. “What are you here for?” She had become wary again.

Waelon sighed and held out his arm, bent at the elbow. “May I have the pleasure of seeing you safely home?”

She gnawed the inside of her mouth, and said reluctantly, “I suppose I would be ungrateful if I refused.”

“Abominably so.”

After a moment's hesitation, Joanne slid her arm into his, and they moved to exit the alley. As they passed by the sorry heap of the vampire's body, she hesitated once more. “Shouldn't we do something about that?” she asked.

“I'll send someone to clean it up,” Waelon answered, guiding her out onto the starlit sidewalk.

Several steps went by wherein neither of them said a word.

Surprisingly, it was Joanne who broke the silence. “You'll forgive me if I don't recall your name.”

“Waelon,” he answered.

After a few more steps, she commented, “That's a very faerie name.”

“Thank you. I rather like it.” He stole a furtive glance down at her. There was an atmosphere of awe and disbelief about her, as though her mind were still processing everything that had happened.

“Are you going to kidnap me?”

He looked directly down at her in amusement. “How bold you are,” he observed with a chuckle. “Exactly like the first time I laid eyes on you. Your eyes are bigger now, though.”

Joanne began to blush.

“And no, I'm not going to kidnap you,” he went on. “You like it here. You told me so yourself.”

She didn't answer, and she didn't stop blushing. Her arm was rigid against his.

“Are you frightened?” Waelon asked.

“A little.”

“Would it make you feel better to know that I am Seelie?”

She pondered this. “A little.”

Waelon huffed in mock exasperation. “How about this. I give my word to the King of my Court to do you no harm, render neither spell nor curse against you, nor lead you astray from the realm of the living.” He lifted his eyebrows. “Savvy?”

She gazed up at him, her lips pressed together. “Okay... But,” she seemed bewildered, “that is an oath of the High Court. Doesn't it need to be sealed with-”

Waelon swooped down and kissed her. As their lips met, a bubble of warmth expanded inside his chest. He felt as though he might drift off the pavement like a hot air balloon.

Joanne squeaked against his mouth; her hands braced against his shoulders. Automatically he circled one arm around her waist to keep her from pulling away. She squeaked again.

After a moment that could never have been long enough, they broke apart. Her blush now covered her entire face and neck, and her eyes were so big they could have held the night sky and all its stars.

“What did you do that for?” she stuttered in a quivering voice.

“For the oath, of course,” Waelon said, then gave her a serious frown. “One does not simply go about making oaths and not sealing them, you know.”

At an utter loss for words, Joanne stood there, growing redder and redder with every moment that passed.

“This is what happens,” he said in a confidential whisper, “when you are curious, Joanne Blythe. It all started with that one little question eleven years ago.”

Joanne's shock transformed into bubbling anger. She scrunched up her face. “You don't seem very Seelie to me,” she snapped.

Waelon tilted his head back and roared with laughter. “How right you are,” he agreed between waves of mirth. When he looked down at her again, he knew his eyes were twinkling. “You asked what it was I wanted. May I ask a favor of you, as payment for the debt you owe me?”

Joanne was more guarded than ever. If his arm had not still been wound around her, she probably would have backed away. “That depends on what it is.”

“I want to show you the city,” he said.

Joanne raised her eyebrows skeptically. “I think I've seen it already.”

“Only from the ground,” he smirked.

A wild, unstoppable fancy had seized him. Before she could open her mouth to protest, he had swept her up into his arms, and they were soaring over rooftops. Joanne's arms twined around his neck as if of their own will and she gave a cry. The sound was instantly whisked away by the roaring wind. Waelon laughed. He couldn't remember the last time he had laughed so much in one evening.

They glided along in a gentle arch and then alighted on the roof of the Paxton office building, one of the tallest buildings in downtown.

“I thought you couldn't break an oath!” Joanne wailed in his ear.

“You have come to no harm, I have cast no spells, and we are still in the land of the living,” Waelon pointed out. “You're just being silly. Look at this view!”

She was glaring at him, the look edged with sudden realization. “You read my journal, didn't you!” she cried.

He shrugged heartily. The movement jostled Joanne, causing a cascade of hair to fall across her face. “I couldn't resist,” he confessed.

“Please get us down,” she said in a slight whimper.

Waelon looked at her slyly. “How much is it worth to you?”

Joanne scowled. “What do you want?” she asked through gritted teeth.

“Your stellar company,” he answered with a brilliant smile.

The look on her face displayed utter bewilderment. “But why?” she whispered.

Waelon fought the urge to kiss her again. “Because...you transfix me quite.”

She swallowed. “Jane Eyre.” Her voice was no more than a puff of air.

“Spot on. Do we have a bargain, then?”

She gave a final terrified look down at the city around them. “Alright. It's a deal.”

Waelon grinned, feeling happier than he'd been in decades, and leapt off the edge of the roof with Joanne screaming in his arms.

This, he thought to himself, is the start of something absolutely marvelous.

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