There is a fairy sitting in Till’s pub. Well, technically, it isn’t his pub, but it might aswell be. It’s the heart of this village, his village, his charge. It beats calmly and regularly, with stories of bliss and heartbreak told by it’s regulars to the bartender, who polishes glasses with a checkered cloth and listenes with an absent smile under light blue eyes. He’s the son of a son of a father who build this place, with a small brewery next to it that is now closed down and just serves as museum on the art of fermenting malt.
Today, it’s threatened to be poisened. Poisened by the insatiable hunger of unseelie, the blatant greed for foolish things and frivolity.
The temptation of Faerie always feels good at first. It will make a heart beat faster, pump more oxygen and happy chemicals. Until it doesn’t, and then the heart falters. Mortals have tried to imitate how it feels. They’ve come close a few times. They call it Cocaine, Amphetamine, Heroine or Meth. Only all of those are a lot less dangerous.
The mortals won’t recognise anything odd about the fairy. A young man, perhaps a little too pretty, nursing some wound over a glass of Schneider’s best white wine. He’s new here, but sometimes tourists end up in here despite the grimy, dirty look of the place. Maybe they think he’s seperated from a family he can’t get along with, while they soak up sun at the beach. Perhaps he’s on holiday here with his girlfriend, and they had a fight. Maybe they have broken up.
Till can feel the specualtion about the man in the whispers of the regulars, but ultimately they don’t pay any real attention. If they would, perhaps they’d notice how his hair sometimes glows brightly, only to shift back into artificial black again. Like silver, tarnishing in record time.
Till says goodbye to Dirk, the automobile technician, and orders dark beer from the Bar. Schneider pours a perfect foam cap for him, and writes it down on his tap. Then he asks if Till can have a look at his boat. He promises that he will, and Schneider crosses out what he just wrote.
Till slaps a heavy hand on Pedder’s shoulder, the old drunk who murdered his treacherous brother with an axe. He’s relented so many times, and yet it is never enough. Everybody in town loves Pedder. His brother was wrong, his slip up in self defense, as far as everybody is concerned - everyone but Pedder himself. That’s why he comes here every night and gets horrendously drunk.
Between the burly man and the fairy is an empty bar stool and Till takes it. Sitting next to Pedder is very inconspicuous. Everyone here takes turns sitting next to him for company. It’s what you do, in a town like this. His town. The one he has sworn to protect with his life and, if he has to, his sanity.
“There is nothing for you here,” Till tells the fae man, and he lets the earth song sneak into his voice, a dark growl the mortals won’t be able to hear.
The fairy snarls back without looking at him. His jaw juts out and his nose wrinkles, and for a moment Till thinks he will bear his fangs, undoubtedly hidden under blackish lips. He can’t completely hide the black blood of his kind, no matter how hard he tries. Then he relaxes.
“Don’t worry, Wulver,” the fairy says, not unkindly. “Nothing is all I am asking for.”
“I know your kind,” Till says, far from satisfied. The fair folk don’t come to the Median without reason. He’s never even seen one here before, not even smelled one since he’s taken up residence as a guardian here decades ago when he was barely out of the youngling stage. He’s fought fae in the war, vicious fighters who will play dirty. But he’s also faught next to fae. It’s infinitely better having them on your side. And yet, that was years ago now, and these days it’s alot more likely to fight against fairies than with them. Especially unseelies.
“I know how you poison the mind of the innocent. You promise them moonlight and stardust, you promise them glitter under the light of the fireflies, and don’t tell them they need the rhythm of the sun rising and falling. You make them dance to music until dancing to music is all they can think about, so they keep dancing until they dance on bared bones and you use their blood to paint your lips. You promise them love, whisper sweet words into their ears, and you discard them, leave them behind with hearts so broken they will never heal again while you search for the next pretty mortal that will fall into your bed. I know you. You are merciless.”
The fairy looks up at him. For a moment the stormgrey of his eyes turns colourless, a sharp reflection of moonlight over endless forrests, of fairy glow in a land where the sun never shines and that is yet blinding to anyone who hasn’t been born there. He looks dangerous. He looks powerful. He might even be gentry. Till hopes he isn’t. Fighting gentry is possible - but not unlikely deadly. Then the impression is gone, and he’s just a young man again, with a tired expression.
“I have no kind,” he replies gently. “Your people have nothing to fear from me.”
He empties his glass and leaves the bar, leaving behind the smell of pine needles and morning dew.
Till looks after him puzzled. Fairies can’t lie.
He empties his beer and then goes outside to track one of the fair folk. It’s easy enough, the sweet smell of him heavy between the salt of the ocean. It means the fairy doesn’t wear a tarncap.
It means the fairy doesn’t mind to be found.
Till catches up with him at the beach. He sits on the sand, feet barefoot and eyes fixed on the horizon. To Till, that Horizon seems very far away. To one of the unseelie, it must feel claustrophobically close.
“If my people have nothing to fear from you, who do they have to fear? I know you people. You cannot lie, but you will twist the truth more skillfully than any lie could ever do. What trickery are you planning?”
The fairy laughs. It sounds like silver, the music of fairy buried in the sound. That laugh alone could lure a mortal into oblivion.
Till can resist it. Somewhere deep inside of him is the legacy of Faerie, too. A drop of black blood mixed with mortal crimson, aeons ago. A gift from Queen Mab, to create a guild of guardians to protect the human world from a deadly shimmer, a precaution before the gates were closed between the worlds. It sounds like a call to come home nontheless.
“I am not tricking anyone, guardian.” The fairy says. “I have come here, because this land is less spoiled than elsewhere. There is less iron in the water. Less poison in the fruits. I can survive here for a time. I came here because of you, although any Wulver would have done so don’t let it get to your head. I have to survive in the Median for a time, and I can survive longer here.”
“You could survive elsewhere,” Till suggests.
The fairy laughs again, and this time the silver in the sound is covered in bitter ice. Then he drops his disguise.
He is beautiful, although that was to be expected.
His hair is moonlight. His eyes are cold steel. His veins show black under transparent, opal skin. He still looks human. He has no tufted tail, no horns, no dragonfly wings. He is gentry. A fairy prince, highborn. Possibly one of the High King’s Brothers. Maybe one of his sons.
He is also a wreck.
His ears are mauled. Where they should be tapering into long, delicate points, perhaps adorned with silver and diamond delicacies, is nothing but an open, glistening wound, a jagged edge straight across the top of his ears. It’s crusted pitchblack with fairy blood at some places, oozing with bluish, infectious puss.
There is a cut over his lip too, and blackish bruises under his right eye. Open skin on his knuckles, and dark rings around his wrists. He looks half starved. Like he’s spend years in a dungeon. He probably has.
“You’re outlawed,” Till breathes in shock, and even though he doesn’t believe in such superstition he signs against the abyss, the way only old women do now.
It is unheard of.
“What did you do?!”
The fairy looks up and meets his eyes for the first time, unwaivering. Foreboding tickles Till’s spine.
“I was merciful,” he says, and his expression is haunted. With regret maybe - or simply sorrow, it’s hard to tell with his kind. It’s dreadful to behold either way.
Till doesn’t know what to say to that, suddenly feeling uncomfortable to pry deeper into the creature’s secrets. He is a soul without kin now, an endangered loner in a hostile world without the option to go home. That makes him his charge, too.
Unfortunately he is also still dangerous.
“You can stay,” he finally decides. “But I will take a vow from you that you will not mingle with my humans, that you will keep to yourself, that you won’t play music to them or speak to them, or snatch their young. You will do nothing to endanger them. You promise me that, and I won’t chase you out of the boundaries of this town.”
The fairy thinks about it, with a dark look and a bitter, lopsided smile.
“What if I don’t?”
“We fight. You might win even. But this is my home and iron isn’t cruel to me like it is to you.”
Till bends and draws a long wolfsteel blade out of his boot. He twirls it between his fingers, slowly, and watches the way those strangely human eyes with the fairy expression follow it with disgust.
“You might win, but be assured, you’d get bitten too.”
The fairy looks angry. His jaw is moving. But he has no choice.
“I vow it.”
Till is satisfied with that. He doesn’t trust him, that would be a mistake. But fairies don’t lie, the mutilated ears don’t lie, and he believes his story. Still, it’s better to keep an eye on him. He pushes the blade back into his boot.
“I have a cabin by the river. It’s unoccupied most of the time. There is a garden full of food I grow myself and that won’t poison you ... well not as fast anyway. You can stay there for the time being.”
The look he earns from those silver eyes is scorching, full of angry mistrust.
“I don’t need help. I only need permission to stay within your territory.”
Till is annoyed. Helping is his sacred duty, it’s not like he simply can turn away someone who needs it even if he wanted to, not without paying some kind of price, even if it’s just a bad conscience. He also finds that statement dreadfully arrogant. Not that you can expect more from a highborn brat.
“If you were in Faerie, you’d have a thousand years in front of you. Here, you will die. Soon, too. It might aswell be tomorrow. If you’re lucky, you might make it a decade. Unless you have help. Then maybe you’ll make a fee more deacdes. Trust me. You need help.”
The fairy drops his gaze and stares into the sand, head bowed. Slowly he weaves his disguise back together. It looks hard, his hair keeps flickering from black to silver and back again a few times before the black takes over. His skin dulls, from the opal sheen to rosy flesh, and then he’s just a young human again, looking dreadfully lost. Till gives him the time he needs to accept is offer with a single nod.
It takes a long time.
That evening, Till goes to ask the local goldsmith for a needle. Her name is Carola, and she wears flowerpatterend dresses, and many clinkering armrings. It’s not easy, to convince her that she has to make a needle out of true silver, not some alloy that makes the metal harder, like the mortals prefer. In the end she relents, and hammers out a sleek, sharp thorn with a tiny hoop for the thinnest thread. Till compliments her skills and leaves her behind with a generous payment and a blessing to her rose garden.
After, Till head’s into the woods. The transformation is painful, like always, but he hardly feels it anymore. It’s over in a flash, bones breaking and sinew ripping and white hot, glistening pain that he pays no attention to because he already thinks ahead. His human nose can’t track the spiders. His wolfs nose can.
It still takes him hours to find Araneusa and her eight legged offspring. She is the head of the local clan and as bitter and foul mouthed as any old widow. She’s lost one of her legs in the war, and half of her eyes have turned milky and blind over the years, but she’s as big as Till in his wolf’s shape, and the younger spiders fear her vicious words enough to never question her. Till likes her, and he likes to think that they are friends. It still takes a live lamb as a price to weasel a few meters of the finest spider silk out of her. She clicks her jaws in appreciation when he swears he will drop it off the next day.
“What do you need it for, anyway” Araneusa croaks with her hissing old woman’s voice. “What need does a Wulver have for delicate beauty.”
“Patch up a fairy,” Till barks. Talking through his wolf’s snout is always a little awakward. “He is outlawed.”
Eight beady eyes snap in his direction, half of them white. Till can see amusement in the black ones, the kind of humor that usually makes him blush.
“Good,” Araneusa hisses. “It’s about time you found a companion.”
“He’s a brat,” Till says. “Spoiled and arrogant and as miserable as the abyss.”
“Perfect for you then,” she says and waves him off with three legs at once.
The fairy sleeps on the bed Till has made for him out of leaves and a lamb wool blanket. He’s curled up into a tight shape, muscles stiff and tense and undisguised. He jerks awake when the ripple of Till’s transformation cracks like a whip through the room.
“Calm down,” Till says, a little out of breath. He’s forgotten to not pay a mind to the pain. “You’re safe here.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be safe again,” the fairy says tiredly and draws his blanket closer while he sits up. “Does it hurt?”
“Turning? Yeah. Like a bitch.” Till grabs a pair of trousers and gestures at the wooden chair by the table while he puts them on. “Get up.”
The fairy follows his motions with attentive eyes while he prepares hot water and clean cotton sheets. The spider silk and silver needle sit on a bed of moss and glisten in the low light of the candles.
“How do you know so much about us?” he asks, while Till threads the silk through the hoop of the needle. “Not everyone knows about spider silk.”
“I fought with a seelie in the war. He was a pain in the ass. Always criticized my orders, never shut the hell up. He had terrible hair and was a head too short. Insufferable, could never stop being tactile and clingy, but came up with the stupidest, bravest tactics I ever saw. He got blown up by a mortar, but he was the best second officer I ever had.”
Till waves away the sharp, painful memory of Paul with an impatient motion and gestures at the fairy in front of him to drop the blanket away from his neck. “I’m out of cloves. I’m afraid this is gonna hurt.”
The fairy nods, but then holds up a hand to stop him. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Allright. Go ahead.” He closes his eyes.
Till works as delicately as he can. He’s patched up enough people during his time, but he’s not a nurse, and he inwardly winces each time he wipes away the dark, crusted blood at the top of delicate fairy ears. His patient doesn’t move, but he squeezes his eyes shut tightly and his lips into a thin, sharp line. His hand grips tightly into the wool blanket, knuckles jutting out sharply.
He starts whimpering at the last stitches of the first ear, soft miserable sounds that escape him despite fighting it with admirable bravery. Half way through the second ear, he turns his head away with a whine and asks for a break.
“It’s not gonna get any better. Best get it over with quick,” Till says sadly, but lets him go for the time being and searches his cupboard for the peach liquor he’s gotten as a gift from a tourist once. It’s organic, free of human poison, and hopefully won’t kill his fairy on sight.
“All fairies are tactile,” the creature in question explains, while Till pours him a cup of rose golden liquid. “We’re not like you median folk with all the awkwardness around touching someone. We hug, we kiss, we have sex. It feels good. We need it. Why wouldn’t you.”
“Oh, I don’t know, because it’s sort of intimate to shove a tongue down someone’s throat.”
“So is sewing someone’s ear close,” the fairy says and downs the liquor in a single gulp.
By the time he is done, the fairy is drenched in sweat. The smell of it fills the room, heavy like moss after rain. His lashes are glued together but his face is expressionless when he gets up shakily.
“Thank you. Till.”
“You should get some rest,” Till says and turns away so his patient won’t see the pity in his eyes. Somehow he doesn’t think he would like that.
Till watches his fairy sleep fitfully. He can’t truly imagine what it feels like, to be homeless. Without kin. Without hope. He wishes he could get him back home, but they cut off his ears and it’s a death sentence. Till is glad he found his way here, to his village where he can protect him. It gives him something to do. He remembers Araneusa’s word’s with a smile.
Till watches the way the fairy hugs himself tightly in his sleep. He understands the need for being tactile better than he has let on. The Median is a cold place, humans always are a bit strange with their awkwardness and their many, complicated social rules. How sorrowful, to be banished here from the eternal joy of Faerie and it’s beautiful sound. Till thinks he has to find a way to let him have music without killing anybody. It’s going to be a task, but he likes those.
Till slides in behind the fairy under the wool blanket and draws him into a tight embrace. Fairy eyes fly open, a panic filled silver stare.
“Shhhh,” grumbles Till, and the earth song in his voice makes it a soothing sound. “You’re safe here. As safe as you can be, anyway.” The fairy relaxes against his chest, eyes falling shut again. He still smells like pine needles and morning dew and Till’s hands turn to paws in search of fairy skin out of instinct. When he finds it, it’s softer even than spider silk.
“Richard,” the fairy says quietly. “My name is Richard.”
“That’s a mortal name.”
“I will die in the Median. Soon, too. I might aswell carry a mortal name.”
“I think I will keep you alive, for a while. It’s what I do,” Till says, and let’s the transformation ripple through him. It hurts, but it’s a relief as well, every time. Like taking off a costume.
He closes his wolf’s eyes and feels after long, elegant fingers stroking and gripping into his fur.