|Secret Lake, by Kechake|
The wilds of 'lost scotland'
A deposit of blue clay
"Beware of Fairies"
"Welcome to Inverness, Mr. Cartwright!" he rumbled in a thunderous voice.
William Cartwright, a man of scholarly disposition and slight build, set down his travel case and shook hands with a rotund, red-faced man.
"Thank you for taking me in on such short notice, Mr. McCreary," Will began.
"Tis nothin', laddie!" The man assured him as he gestured toward the waiting cab. "A right pleasure, that's certain! An' please—the name's Ben." The big man folded himself behind the passenger seat of the cab, leaving precious little room for Will, tiny as it was.
"Take us to The Wilds, then!" Ben McCreary asked the driver.
Will felt a small thrill arc through him at the name. The Wilds—it sounded like the perfect setting for the novel he was researching. He pulled out his smartphone and jotted down a few notes.
"So tell me, Mr. William," Ben pronounced the name with only two syllables instead of three, "What is it you'll be wanting to do in our wee town?"
Will watched the packed city give way to rolling green his and majestic valleys as they coasted down the road. "I would very much appreciate as much of the local culture as you would care to show me," he answered with enthusiasm. "You see, I am writing a novel about the age of 'lost Scotland', and The Wilds seemed the perfect place to do my research."
Ben nodded with a wide grin stretching at the sides of his face. "Aye, that she is! Ye had good luck in the timing, I must say—we of Cailleadh Talamh are in the midst of Féile Sióga: the festival of fairies. You'll get a right eyeful everywhere you look, for at least another week."
Will leaned forward and stared in delight out the window. As promised, the whole town seemed to transport them into another realm, as flowers, branches, and vines covered nearly every surface, and swatches of gauzy silk in many different colors flapped gently in the breeze, suspended over every window and door. When the cab turned down a side road and pulled to a stop in front of a quaint dwelling, Will opened the door as a woman in an ample dress, long hair braided down her back, advanced to greet them.
Ben nodded. "That's me wife, Reyna; she tends to take the fairies more seriously than most people ye will meet," he muttered as they both climbed out of the car.
"Welcome! Welcome!" Reyna cried, reaching forward with both hands to grasp Will's. "Oh, ye must be tired from yer journey; I've got a nice stew for ye, and yer room all ready, so just ye follow me, lad!" She turned around and led him through the front door, pausing to brush her fingertips over a symbol painted on the door. She turned and winked at him.
"For luck," she offered.
Will noticed that the woman—well past middle age—wore no shoes. He heard Ben groan behind him, and saw the man doubled over, removing his own shoes. Will felt the burden of instinctive politeness to do the same, but Ben stopped him with a noise.
"Tis only a custom of the festival, everyone removin' their shoes," Ben muttered. "Tis no great offense if ye'd rather not."
Will shrugged his shoulders and decided to let his laces be.
Reyna McCreary led him upstairs to the small garret where he would be staying. Will surveyed the simple bed and small chest of drawers designated for his use. A small window in the gable provided a view of the gnarled elm that spread its branches over the house. Will crossed the room to the window as Mrs. McCreary spoke.
"The washroom is next door—Bear and I use the one downstairs, anyhow..."
Will caught sight of a dry, brown bundle hanging next to the window and reached to pluck it out, but his hostess ceased her chatter with a sharp, "No!"
Will glanced at her in confusion. Her eyes widened to saucer-size as if he'd nearly caused a catastrophe.
"What is it?" he asked.
Reyna didn't answer him directly, but gestured to the door. "Never you mind now; just a bit of herbs to keep out the fairies—I can take them down when the festival is over, but you must not touch them!" Her voice carries a grave weight with it, so that Will experienced a decided aversion to the idea of taking down the weeds. He noticed more of them, tucked into eaves and lintels all around the room. His writer's brain lapped up the idea easily. What a fascinating plot device...
"Mrs. McCreary," he asked as he followed her downstairs, "why is it a tradition to take one's shoes off during the Fairy Festival?"
She blushed a deep and rosy pink. "Eh? The shoes, you say?" She glanced at her bare feet, pulling at her skirts in an apparent attempt to hide them from view. "Well, that's just an old superstition; a fairy will try to lure away during festival season, see—but if you aren't wearing any shoes, then the cold of the wet grass will wake you up and you won't be in their power."
It sounded so simple and straightforward when she described it. Will shook his head. He could tell he was going to have trouble telling fact from fairy tale here in such an enchanting place—or perhaps jet lag might have something to do with it. He sat down to dinner with the McCrearys.
"Bear was telling me—" Reyna began, but Will coughed in confusion.
Reyna laughed. "Oh, law! That's just me name for Bernard here," she patted Ben's shoulder. "Normally goes by Ben—I'm the only one who calls him Bear."
Will smiled knowingly. "Because of his growling voice, right?"
"Nay lad," Ben himself laughed. "Tis because of my rich pelt!" He rubbed the coarse, dark hair of his head.
"Ahem! As I was sayin'," Reyna repeated, "My husband tells me you'll be wanting to see the festival tomorrow."
Will nodded eagerly. "Oh yes! I would love to see something like that."
"All right then, it's settled." Husband and wife nodded.
Will stayed up to chat with them until he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. His hosts bid him goodnight and Will wandered up to the garret and fairly dropped into bed.
The time difference still managed to get the better of him, however; it seemed only a few hours later that Will popped wide awake in the still, dark room. He tried rolling over and closing his eyes, but his body had decided that it wasn't going to sleep any longer.
Something tapped on the window. Will tensed; the tapping came from just outside, and he could make out the light of a round lantern. Brimming with curiosity, he stood and moved closer to the window. By the light of the lantern he could make out the form of a young girl in a long white dress. She beckoned to him, smiling at him. Will became acutely aware of his pajamas and his bare feet, and mused how silly he must look to her. Digging in his suitcase, he found a sweater and pulled that on over his pajamas.
The girl knocked on the window again, beckoning more insistently.
Will finally made the decision to unlatch the window and open it, even though the movement dislodged the sachet of herbs from its corner. It wasn't as if any fairies would come climbing through the window, anyway.
The girl smiled at him from her perch I the tree branch. "Hello," she said.
"Hi," Will stammered. "Who are you?"
She traced her finger over the rough bark. "Treenia," she answered. "Are you coming?"
Will squinted at her. "Coming where? To the festival?"
"The festival—" Treenia hesitated, but Will couldn't tell if she was asking or stating it. "Yes," she answered, grinning and picking up her lantern. "Come on! Quickly!" She began picking her way down the bark.
Will Cartwright had to admire the way the girl's bare feet seemed to find purchase in the bark. He shook his head and automatically went back for his shoes. From somewhere, Mrs. McCreary's voice rang in his mind: "Fairies lure people away if they're wearing shoes..."
Then again, he knew that the climb would be more painful without them. If he saw any fairies, he could always just slip them off again. Will grabbed his shoes and slipped them on.
Treenia waited in the grass when he finally made it to the bottom.
"What are we doing?" He asked, but she only laughed and grabbed his hand.
"Come on!" She took off running over the dark expanse of grass before them.
"Where are we going?" He tried asking her. "The festival is back the other way!"
Finally, Treenia slowed to a stop. "We aren't going to the festival," she answered, crouching over something and setting the lantern in the grass next to her. "At least, not the human one."
Will detected an area in the darkness that wasn't grass. It was lighter in color, and it looked smooth.
"What is that?" He asked as Treenia made as if to out her hand into the substance. "Is it a deposit of blue clay, all the way out here?"
Treenia's delicate fingers played over the surface, and Will's eyes registered a subtle shift. In the space of a blink, he discerned a second Treenia, staring up at them from inside the hole—no, not two Treenias; the second one was merely her reflection, on a greenish-blue, glass-like surface.
She smiled. "It's not clay," she murmured. The strange girl bolted upright and grabbed Will's hand. "You're going to be my guest at the Festival of Mortals!"
Will hardly had time to comprehend before Treenia—the fairy—stepped forward and dropped into the magic portal, dragging him through it behind her.
Previously in This Series: