It was a dying wish. The Duchesse of Piques was over seventy years old, having outlived her husband by several years, but she seemed even older in her weakened state. She had never recovered from losing her child in her youth, the young heir snatched by the fée while out in the woods on the day of Springfinding about fifty years past. She had never lost hope either, though along with that she gained anger, grief, and fear that she carried for the rest of her days.
So, in these last of those days, a plea had been given and the order spread: Find Félicien by any means.
In reply Elwin made his way into The Duc’s Forest. Many entries into Faery opened in these wood, and it was where the young Félicien had been taken from. Usually private land, those caught on it without permission lost almost a year’s wages, it was with Her Grace’s blessing that he set foot in one of the best wood in the realm. What he did not appreciate was that the wood was private for the safety of those who would venture in and not for noble’s greed.
He left his dogs behind with the chief huntsman, who had not wanted to let Elwin off work, but as it was the duchesses’ desire there had been no choice. The huntsman had managed to claim that the dogs were Elwin’s to train, but not to take, and so he would have to make due on his own, perhaps thinking it would deter him. It did no such thing. In a pack Elwin carried traps and a spare set of clothes, some twine, flint, and a couple of knives, enough that he could survive in the woods by himself for a few weeks. Even if it would have been easier with a hound, the late spring would mean there was much to choose from in both flora and fauna.
Finding the heir would a great boon and mark to his name, he would be able to do whatever job or task he pleased for coin and not be under the watch of others, but he thought that unlikely given all the time that had passed. This was more a vacation of pleasure and adventure.
He hiked deep into the woods until late afternoon, enjoying the day and the forest until he found a spot to set up camp near a river. He would have enough time to catch some fish for dinner and turn in for an early night before beginning again on the early morrow. The trees were thick and in some places it was hard to see the sky or even work out where the sun shone from. He could follow the river for a time and he would make sure to find a clear patch of sky for tomorrow night to check the stars.
A cool wind sent a shudder up his spine as he brought out his fishing equipment. He felt as if eyes were watching him, and so along with the net and rod he brought his favorite knife to the edge of the riverbank- a gift from his father, made more for a fight than for utility. The feeling did not lessen, it only intensified, and he left his net and rod out but returned to his chosen spot to build a fire and begin building a crude shelter. It should not be a cold night, but that wind’s chill has sunk into his bones.
By the time he was finished it was close to dusk. He returned to the river but froze when he saw someone sitting in his place. A boy, Elwin’s fishing rod in his hand and several dead fish on the grass beside him.
“There was a fish on the hook, I took it off and then you caught another one. Or, well, I did. But I’m not hungry and you’ve been walking all day, so you can have it.” The boy spoke without turning around.
“Oh, thank you,” Elwin replied. Had this boy been the eyes he had felt? A curious child had put him on edge. With a laugh Elwin sat down beside him. He was young, a dozen years at most, wearing clothes that were a bit too pristine for where they were in the woods, and a little too fine as well. But their value did not seem to matter as the boy’s feet were already in the water, the ends of his trousers soaked.
“I have not checked the net,” the boy continued. “But the fish are usually too smart for nets here. Maybe you’ll catch some overnight though.” He pulled at the rod and another fish joined the rest on the grass, trying to throw itself back into the water but being too far away.
“Why are you out here all by yourself?”
“My mother is around,” the boy replied. “We live nearby. And even if she were not, I am old enough to be by myself.”
Perhaps he had not wandered straight into the heart of the woods but was near a village? If the Duc’s Forest was open perhaps he was not the only one who ventured in.
“And how old are you?” Elwin asked. Should the boy be even thirteen he would not think it very wise to let him wander far.
“I don’t know, exactly,” the boy replied with a shrug.
“You don’t know?” Elwin repeated.
“I have been here for quite a time, you see, years and years and look, I’m still quite small!”
The chill returned. Had he walked into Faery without even realizing it? And this boy, if he lived nearby, then he was fée.
“I would like a small favor for helping you fish,” the boy said after a moment.
“I do not have much I can give you. Though with the amount of fish you are catching we can certainly share dinner.”
“No, thank you, I am not hungry.”
Elwin shrugged, standing up to go and start putting the fish in a bag. The latest one was already dead. He would have to cook them quickly, the older ones had been laying out for quite a bit.
“What do you wish?”
“I want to keep what is in my pocket.”
Elwin paused in putting the fish in a bag. His net was still tied to shore and the rod in the boy’s hand.
“Well it is in your pocket. Surely it is already yours?” he asked carefully.
The boy placed aside the rod and stood up, brushing his pants before pulling out Elwin’s favorite knife.
“How… no, return that to me!” He had thought perhaps that boy had taken the hook or some of the wire, but his knife was precious.
The boy laughed and danced away from him. “A deal is a deal, your words hold meaning among these leaves.”
He had found his way into Faery. He counted his blessing that he had been fairly careful.
“A deal is a deal,” Elwin repeated. “And words hold meaning. I never said the knife was yours, merely implied that something in your pocket would likely be yours, not that it was for certain. Return my knife.”
The boy’s grin faded and he thought about what Elwin has said exactly. Finding nothing he could exploit he stomped his foot and swore.
“Fine!” He held out the blade, handle first, and with a huff added. “But I want your name. I wish to know who tricked me.”
It was habit that made him speak his whole name.“Elwin Pierrick.”
The boy laughed and his good cheer returned as quickly as it had left. “Well, Elwin Pierrick, you should know better than to give me your full name. I shall not be as hasty. But I know my manners and so my name—” he paused here to give his full attention and half a bow. “—is Félicien.”
It was the heir! He had found him. Elwin almost jumped in excitement, the transgression forgotten. It did not matter that the physical body the boy had made no sense, whenever had Faery made sense in the first place?
“Félicien, then, a pleasure! Come with me then. I wish you no harm, but your mother is dying and wishes to see you. She—”
Félicien’s grin and color faded at that and a seriousness that gave way to his true age filled him.
“What do you mean she is dying? Tell me this instant, Elwin Pierrick!”
A magic that he had never felt before wrapped around him, forcing his tongue to move and words he had meant to hold back spill forth.
“The duchess of Piques, your mother, who lost you when you were a child. She is quite elderly now, dying. Your father is already dead. She wishes more than anything to see you before she passes. She has sent an order for you to be found and brought to her. I wish to do this.”
The look of relief was not what Elwin expected.
“Oh,” Félicien said, leaning against a tree. “Oh, good.”
“Good! Your mother—”
“My mother is not this duchesse. Perhaps she bore me, but I do not remember her face or name. I will not leave my real mother to see this false one.”
“Who is your real mother?”
“Her name is not an honor you have been deemed worthy of.”
“Oh, I dare say, Félicien, he bested you with a turn of phrase, I do believe I may be kind enough to share part of my name with him.”
A woman stepped from the trees. She was tall, her dark eyes meeting Elwin’s without having to look up. Light blonde hair that caught all the colors of the forest was tied back in a tail, and her gown was a spotless white with trim of gold. A sword at her left and dagger at her right were her only decorations. They, unlike her clothes, were worn and well used.
“You were watching,” Félicien muttered under his breath and the woman nodded, eyes never leaving Elwin. The chill was suddenly replaced with a warmth and he found himself more terrified and drawn to her.
“You may call me Rhianu. I heard you speaking with my son. He has watched you for most of the day and says you are interesting. You say his human mother still lives and wishes him?”
“Yes, oui, mademoiselle Rhianu. She is the Duchesse of Piques. He was lost almost half a century ago. There has been a task sent, to find him and bring him to her side before her death. I came, more for the forest than the boy, I thought it almost impossible to find him.”
“And yet you are here, not a day into this adventure, and already your prize is before you. Are others coming?”
“Yes. It is quite the talk among those who wish fame or adventure.”
“I found him almost fifty years ago,” Rhianu said. She finally turned to her son and walked over to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “He was lost, wet, having fallen into the river and sprained his ankle. He was crying and cold. Barely more than a babe, he knew his name and could tell me little more. I took him and nursed him, intending to return him, but as days went by I loved him. I decided he was mine to keep if Faery brought him to me. That said, I am certain his parents loved him too. That after all this time she waits and wishes still, I must admire it.”
She looked down at Félicien. “Do you wish to see her?”
“I do not know. Perhaps? I did not know she still lived. I have not thought of those who bore me in many years.”
“At Midsummer, then,” she replied. “So that I do not lose you just yet, little fay. You will decide then and go, but return quickly.” She had forbade him leave until his majority, feeling in her heart that on that day he would leave her for possibly forever, but this would be allowed.
“And you, dear Elwin Pierrick,” she continued, looking up to him. “Shall come with us after dinner.”
“Come with you?”
“Oui. You will stay with us until your Summerfinding, our Midsummer, as a guest. Then after you escort Pierre to and from seeing his birth-mother you may go and do as you please. You say others are coming to take him, then defend your prize.”
There was no magic to make this a command. There was no physical force. He could easily say no and then try and leave, but it was only a little over a month. He had enough supplies that he could live for that amount by himself, why not stay in a home with some comforts while having already finished his job.
Elwin nodded and a then offered a bow.
“If I may invite you to dinner?”
He held out an arm and Rhianu took hold of it.