What does it feel like?
“What?” The puny girl was talking again. Arlyle had to crane her neck up to look at the small girl-thing. This was the height of indignity for the death goddess. Being only three and a half feet tall simply would not do.
However, it did not seem like that would change any time soon. Since being released from her clay prison, Arlyle was stuck tiny. She was barely dark, dressed up in a brown tunic and pants with a skull crown that barely fit. And the girl had called her cute.
Arlyle needed to slaughter something, and soon.
The Scourge of Darrenfell. She corrected her own thought patterns. If she could not remember her own title, none shall. And as the cutest little death goddess of vengeance, she needed to get her titles straight. No, she was just a death goddess of vengeance! She was not cute, and little was only temporary!
Curse you, adorable Bethany!
The blonde girl stopped in the middle of the forest path. “Are you ever going to answer my question?”
“No,” Arlyle muttered.
“I don’t know the question,” she quickly corrected. Bethany sighed, putting as much exasperation her eight-year-old frame could muster.
“What does it feel like?”
“What does what feel like?”
“You know,” Bethany waved a hand at Arlyle. “Being all godlike.”
That question threw the goddess for a loop. She had never considered it. she had always been immortal, and meant to be a goddess. Right? Right. She didn’t know why she was right, but she knew she was.
“Where are we?”
“Stop changing the subject…” Bethany trailed off, and realized that was a good question. Where were they? Bethany tried to figure that out while Arlyle (the Scourge of Darrenfell) considered the weight of immortality.
First off, they were on a forest path. Cobblestone paved, and most likely close to something important. It was late for Bethany, later than lunch and tea time. But not quite late enough for the sun to start coming down. It was a lazy time.
Maybe if they backtracked. Bethany and her goddess had been having tea. Then they wanted to go and do something fun before bedtime, but hadn’t had a chance to really think about ideas. Not hot enough for swimming, too hot for skating. Were they meeting someone?
“Fairies!” Bethany shouted. “We’re on our way to meet the fairy king.”
Arlyle rolled her eyes. The fairy king, if he was still there, was snooty. He liked the sound of his own voice, the blood red suit of his dress, every part of him was formal and exuberant. He’d want to make this a celebration.
“We’re going, right?” Bethany hugged Arlyle close, something she knew the goddess both hated and loved. “Please tell me we’re going!”
“We’re going.” Arlyle struggled out of the vile grip. She had to concentrate, and no amount of fluffy embrace would distract her from her goal.
“How do we get there?”
Arlyle waved her hand through this world, and searched for the next.
“We’re going to Fairy Land,” Arlyle muttered. She grabbed the girl and flung them both forward into the unknown.
Flying was new to Bethany. The girl screamed, her hair bouncing across her face. She gripped Arlyle’s hand tight, and tried to catch the worlds they passed through.
They did not fly through air. Arlyle had no time for such a thing as space. Instead, they flew between space, falling through the cracks of reality. Spheres of worlds passed them by, little bubbles that almost splashed at Bethany’s outstretched hand.
Arlyle searched for Fairy Land. It was supposed to be shinier than most others, a bit more sparkling. And there it was, tucked away between magic and whimsy. She centered their path, and plunged straight in.
“Hang on,” She called out. This was not going to be as much fun as Bethany had hoped. But at least she wasn’t going for a hug.
They burst through the bubble. The two girls tumbled to the ground. They looked up into greens and pinks. The colors faded, and the world was brought into focus. A forest, this time brighter and more…alive. Everywhere had a shine, and a crispness in the air.
Bethany stood up, and saw fairies. Fairies of all shapes and sizes. Big ones that soared like eagles. Some littler than a hummingbird. Made of every bright and twinkling hue. They flit around the two, curious.
Bethany waved her hand. “Hi fairies! Can you take us to the Fairy King?”
One fairy, a male by the name of Sabletoe, looked down at the little ones. He was one of the larger ones, about the same size of Arlyle. However, his lithe figure and noble attire of turquoise to match his color made him appear taller.
He examined the girls, with only a small measure of disdain. “My name is Sabletoe, baron in the Fairy Court. Who are you two? And why do you want to see the Fairy King?”
“Because he’s the Fairy King,” Bethany said. Surely that was explanation enough. She pointed to herself. “My name is Bethany. I am eight years old, and my favorite color is gray.”
Gray? That was unusual. He turned to the other figure, curious.
“You are human, I assume. And this personage?”
Arlyle glared up at him. This was stupid. She had just tumbled across several planes of existence, had sparkled mud in her crown, and was crankier than normal. And now…fairies, trying to get information from her.
“Where is the Fairy King?” She asked.
“Who are you?” Sabletoe responded. The fairies tittered amongst themselves, amused. This steeled the noble fairy. He was not about to allow some girl to dictate terms with him.
Bethany leaned over to Arlyle. “Go on, introduce yourself.” She whispered.
Arlyle shrugged. “Your King knows me,” She said.
Sabletoe almost chuckled. That was highly unlikely. The King had not left Fairy Land for over a thousand years. To think an outsider had personal acquaintance with the King was laughable.
“And who may I say will be coming to visit?” He said.
“Arlyle,” the goddess said. “The Scourge of Darrenfell.”
The fairies scattered. Behind the trees, in the toadstools, far away to the hidden brook. None were there to look at the death goddess of vengeance.
Arlyle looked around, triumphant. That was not a bad response time. Three thousand years of imprisonment (she thought), and still this. It was fairies, but still.
“That wasn’t very nice!” Bethany said.
“I was talking to you, Sabletoe!” Bethany said.
The noble fairy poked his head out from behind an elder tree, mortified. “I? You dare call me, the noble Sabletoe, not nice?”
“Uh-huh,” Bethany picked her way over to him. “You just ran without even saying goodbye. And then you hid, and we weren’t even playing hide-and-seek. And we still don’t know the way to the Fairy King!”
Sabletoe hung his head in shame. Yes, he had heard of the horrors of the Scourge of Darrenfell. The screaming streams, the meadows of malice, a cathedral of cachophonous cries. The goddess Arlyle was one of Fairy Land’s most notorious adversaries.
But to discover that he had behaved in a manner that was not nice…no. He had to take them to the Fairy King himself. And throw himself upon the mercy of his majesty, begging forgiveness and leniency in as eloquent a manner as befit his station.
Sabeltoe straightened his clothes, smoothed his wings, and nodded to the two girls. “Very well. Come along, dear Bethany. Vile Scourge, I hope you burn in everlasting torment.”
He set off towards the hidden castle. “This way.”
Bethany skipped after the noble fairy. Arlyle lingered for a moment, and smirked.
“When I play hide-and-seek,” she said to anyone who might be eavesdropping. “I like to eat what I find.”
“Another time, then.” Arlyle hurried after Bethany. She took a swift solace in the shivering toadstools, and the brook that bubbled and frothed.
“I feel I must warn you, Bethany,” Sabletoe said. “That you are in the company of…”
“My goddess.” Bethany finished. “And she’s the best one.”
Sabletoe’s eyebrow rose. “Oh?”
“She is cute, and knows all about tea. She can take me to Fairy Land, and isn’t afraid of nothing.
“And she’s my best friend.” Bethany finished. “So she’s the best.”
“Is that why you serve her?” Sabletoe asked.
“Is that why you serve the goddess of vengeance?”
Bethany laughed. “I don’t serve Arlyle, silly.”
“Of course,” Sabletoe waved his hand. “But surely another, less…violent goddess might be more suited to a child…”
Arlyle appeared in front of Sabletoe’s face. Her frown made his knees buckle.
“I’m Bethany’s goddess.” She muttered. “The only one. And no one ever forget it.”
Bethany screamed, and pointed ahead. “The castle!”
How to describe the castle? Fairy Land was not just made, or birthed. It was dreamed. A million children built those trees, crafted the sky. They filled the rivers, and placed every leaf on every branch with care. For each and every one of these children, the castle was the most important part.
Close your eyes. Keep one open, just squinting like you want to peek but know you shouldn’t. Think about your castle. Not just your favorite castle, or the biggest, or the best. Make it yours. How does the gate open up? Is there a moat? What colors are the stones, and the roofs?
Keep going. Look at every room. The extravagant throne room, filled with charming courtiers and noblemen. The King, who we still haven’t seen, is seated next to his queen. Their daughters stand. All wait for the two girls to arrive. For you to arrive.
The barracks, packed with the cleanest dirt to make soldiers big and strong. Buff fairies, strong and uncompromising but always willing to help a young boy or girl learn how to swing a sword.
Those kitchens. Roaring fireplace, roaring cooks. The animals rushed in and out. Nooks and crannies for a young one to hide. It was always the best place to smell the food, and to smell it was to taste it. Everything could only be described as yummy.
Still going! The waters of the well are cold. The fires blaze in the night, catching the setting sun. Fireworks every evening, with the fairies matching the flares with their flight patterns. Magic every moment, dreams coming true, if you could wrap your heart around what a castle needed to be for a child, you went there. You knew what it looked like. Describing it any more would be pointless.
Arlyle and Bethany were led into the throne room. The court was a nervous murmur, trying its best to step out of Arlyle’s path and eyesight. She responded by glaring everywhere.
The queen and princesses all smiled at the goddess. They were each on the plump side, and content with such.
The king leaned forward, a smile on his bearded face. He straightened, and finally stood up. Standing well over six feet tall, and with a weight that more than matched it, he towered over the entire court. He was dressed head to toe in white and bright red, his cloak hung upon the throne. With a booming laugh, he bound down towards the goddess.
“Arlyle!” He shouted. Oh, no. he wasn’t going to…yes. He hugged the death goddess close, and would not let go. She squirmed in his grip, sweaty and too immense to escape. This was worse than Bethany’s hugs.
“Unhand me!” She finally shouted. Even through his arms and doublet, the King heard her. The King set her down, and nodded.
“Welcome back, Scourge of Darrenfell.” He said with a bow.
“Thank you, King Kringle,” she returned the bow.
Kristoffer Kringle, king of the fairies, smiled. “Come in, come in.” He swept the two girls into the room. The court pressed closer, interested. Their King was jovial, even more so than usual. And the vile enemy had made no move to kill anyone yet. This required examination.
King Kringle jumped back up to his throne. He kissed the queen on the cheek, and lauged. “My wife, the lovely Queen Gilda Kringle.”
“She is so cute!” One of the princesses rushed towards Bethany. “Your curls are absolutely amazing. And those dimples!” The youngest princess scuffed her knees on the tiled floor. Bethany smiled, and fell into the offered lap.
The middle child rushed up to Arlyle, and bowed. “Please forgive my sister Bruntilda,” She said. “She is only five hundred years old.”
Arlyle shrugged. “Bethany seems to like it.”
“MmHMM!” Bethany agreed.
“My name is Sava,” The middle daughter continued, ignoring the interuption. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Scourge of Darrenfell.”
“It isn’t.” Arlyle looked up at King Kringle. “But you should at least say the same to Bethany.”
Sava started to smile. The King’s frown made her pause. Gilda’s kick in her rear made her bow to Bethany. “Forgive me, Lady Bethany,” she said. “I welcome you to Fairy Land.”
Bethany reached up and patted the princess on the cheek. “It’s ok. I like Fairy Land.”
“Bruntilda,” Kristoffer said. “If you would like to show Bethany around. I am sure she would love to see more of Fairy Land.”
“Nah,” Bethany said. “I’d like to stay around while you talk with Ari.”
King Kringle smiled. “It’s not exactly the kindest words, Bethany. Arlyle and I have much to discuss, and not all of it will be pleasant.”
Bethany frowned. “And who are you, exactly?”
Kristoffer laughed. “Well, King Kris Kringle of the fairies is only one of my names, young lady.”
His eyes twinkled. “I’m also known as Santa Claus.”
Bethany tilted her head to one side, and then another. “Who?”
The fairy court burst into laughter. Even Gilda managed a smile. Who was Santa Claus, right. Next they were going to ask what was the globe of light in the sky.
Bethany looked at Arlyle. “Why are they laughing?”
Laughter soon died down. The red king wiped tears from his eyes, and looked at the two girls. He frowned. “You, you haven’t heard of me?”
Bethany shrugged. “Sorry.”
The King withdrew, turning towards his throne. Gilda stood up, and clapped her hands. “Clear the court!”
In a flash the royal family was alone with the two girls. Gilda laid a hand on her husband. He stayed silent, confused. His hands shook. The beard drooped.
“A child,” he whispered. “A child doesn’t know me?”
Arlyle stepped up, and looked at the eldest daughter. “Don’t talk much?”
“Ari,” Bethany chided. “Don’t you see that King Kringle is sad?”
“I don’t know.” Bethany looked up at Bruntilda. “Why?”
“My husband,” Queen Gilda interrupted. “He relied for many years on the belief of children. To see it gone, that is both unusual and heartbreaking.”
“Does she believe in anything?” King Kringle asked. “Is there anything the children believe in, if they do not believe in me?”
Bethany pointed at Arlyle.
“You?” King Kringle picked up Arlyle by the shirt. He held her in one hand, his face as red as his doublet. “A child believes in you?”
“Remove that hand if you want to keep it, Kringle,” Arlyle warned.
The eldest daughter moved forward, sword in hand. Gilda had to restrain her, pulling the princess away. “My name is Gift, Scourge of Darrenfell,” she said. “Let me give you my blade.”
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Bethany stood up. “What’s the matter with all of you?”
“Little girl, you do not understand what you believe in.” Kringle’s hand tightened on the goddess’ shirt. “Before this…cuteness, the Scourge of Darrenfell was something to be feared.”
“And what were you before, Fairy King?”
The family looked at the girl. She thrust her chin forward. “What were you before you were the fairy king?”
“Something that people needed,” he answered. “And when she did…what she did, I was needed elsewhere. Here.”
Bethany grabbed Arlyle, and pulled her down. “Ari isn’t like that.” She dusted her goddess off.
“You don’t even know what she was like before.” The King said.
“I know what she is like now.” Bethany said. “And you’re letting her go.”
After a long silence, Arlyle was let down. She considered killing the entire family, and perhaps even all of Fairy Land. It seemed familiar. But Bethany wouldn’t like it.
The princesses returned behind the thrones. Queen Gilda helped Kringle back into his chair. Tears strode down his face. He made no attempt to wipe them away.
“She believes, Arlyle,” He said. “She truly believes in you. Do you know what that means? Do you even grasp what a gift has been given to you?”
“More than you know.” Arlyle looked Bethany over. This wasn’t a good time any more. Bethany had started to tremble, she was either scared or dismayed. Fairy Land wasn’t all that the girl thought it was. This was going to take more than even five tea parties. She might have to even hug Bethany herself.
“Why?” The King looked at Bethany. “She has done great evil, Bethany. This creature standing next to you is not just some little friend with powers. She is exactly what she says. A death goddess, reveling in vengeance. The Scourge of Darrenfell, and lands uncounted.
“Why believe in this?”
Bethany screwed up her face in thought. She had the answer in her head, but the words were not coming out just right. It needed to be perfect.
“Ari is…mean.” She nodded. “Arlyle, the Scourge of Darrenfell, yells, and pouts, and steals all the cookies when I’m not looking.”
Arlyle nodded, this was all true.
Bethany looked up. “You say that Ari has done a lot of bad things.”
“Tragedies you cannot comprehend.”
“I know tragedy, King Kringle,” she whispered. “More than you realize.”
She brightened. “But Arlyle can be kind. She wants to be good, occasionally. She has shown me things that I never could have seen before. I can be here, with all of you. It was supposed to be a lot more fun than it turned out to be.”
Kringle hung his head.
“But more important, most important.” Bethany hugged Arlyle. “This is my best friend, and the best person ever for me. She is mine, and no one gets to tell me any different.”
This time, Arlyle accepted the hug. She might have even returned the gesture, though she would swear she was considering strangling the girl to escape.
The King was silent for a moment, and snapped his fingers. A box appeared in his hands, and he stretched it forward. “You came to meet the Fairy King, you get a present.”
Bethany squealed, and rushed towards the throne. She tore open the wrapper, and stopped. She picked up the present, and looked at the string of bells.
“Let them ring,” He said. She shook them. The sound was light, a cling that echoed across the hall. He nodded towards the box again. “And just in case the nights ever get too cold.”
Bethany gasped, pulling out a bag. She opened, and squealed again. “Candied chestnuts!”
She ran into Kringle’s arms. She smiled. “I’m sorry I said mean things, and argued with you. You’re probably a really good King for the fairies.”
King Kringle laughed. “I hope so.” He looked at Arlyle, who was busy skulking towards the exit.
“Scourge,” He said. Arlyle turned towards the King. Her tongue was poised to be stuck out.
He held out another present. “This one’s for you, Arlyle.”
“The Scourge of Darrenfell.” She said. But she opened the package. Shredded the wrapping paper. Conjured a wind to scatter it across the hall.
The goddess picked up a black orb. It looked familiar, but why a rock?
“Coal,” Kringle said. “Usually a punishment for bad behavior. I’m keeping my eye on you, Scourge of Darrenfell.”
This time the tongue did come out. Kringle laughed. “But if you give it some time, a little care and affection, there might be some beauty held within something so dark.”
Arlyle stuck the coal in her pocket. “Well, we have to go.”
The King nodded, and stood. “Farewell, Bethany. May your goddess be just as you say.”
“She’s going to be even better.” Bethany replied.
“One can only hope,” Queen Gilda said.
There were ways to drag out this goodbye. But neither Arlyle nor Bethany could find a better way to depart. They left the castle behind, towards Arlyle’s exit.
“He’s nice,” Bethany said.
“Supposed to be,” Arlyle responded.
“What was he famous for, again?” Bethany asked.
“Heck if I know,” Arlyle said. “Something about these gifts, giving them to people.” She felt the piece of coal weighing down her pocket. “Must not have been that important.”
Bethany looked at her bells. Rung them once again. Let the sound fill her, giving her a giddy sense of exuberance, of life. She wrapped them around her arm. And followed Arlyle out of Fairy Land.
Must not have been that important.
copyright 2016 Jack Holder