I knew my friend pinned his hopes on a future that may never be, a future as fragile as a bird’s nest in a hurricane. But Darius had always followed his own path, and I could do little to sway him.
If only he didn’t ask so much of me. But he couldn’t ask anyone else, as I remained his only friend while he slept, visiting him in his dreams.
“Your bride yet lives,” I muttered as I joined his side. A human for a bride. Preposterous. But whenever I questioned him, he spoke only of dreams or the wind. “How a creature can be so intent on its own destruction, I shall never understand.”
“Her own destruction,” Darius corrected me gently. “Thank you, Orlando.” He always smiled when I spoke of the little beasts, whether it was his future queen or her rabid wolf pup of a littermate. But he had always smiled at things no one else found joy or amusement in.
“I’m grateful you’ve not seen fit to invite them here in quite some time,” I said, flexing my wings. “But why do your wings only manifest when she is present?”
“Vanity,” he admitted. “I want her to see me at my best. The way I once was, the way I hope to be once more.”
“Vanity, Darius? From you?”
“Aren’t we all a little vain?”
I tried to resist the urge to tame a flyaway lock of my beautiful hair. “Regardless, I see no reason to impress a human larva. And you never so much as utter a word in front of her.”
“Child,” Darius said. “Not larva. And that’s exactly why I can’t talk to her. She’s like a sapling who must grow sturdy roots on her own; I can be no more than a breeze whispering through her new leaves…”
He gazed out toward the hazy landscape, his attention drifting. “She wasn’t supposed to enter my dreams, Orlando. I only wanted to check on Pen, but then she found me and took control, bringing her sister with her. And then she found me again and again.” To my bafflement, this proved reason enough for him to smile at me. “She has the makings of a future queen.”
Darius had tasked me with protecting this so-called queen and her littermate from afar, a duty I performed in the guise of a human: loathsome and demeaning, but sadly necessary. Did Isla feel the same when she and Darius were banished from the realm of the fae all those years ago, forced to wear such glamours permanently?
However, more often than not, it was the larval queen who watched and followed me.
I began to dread the unmistakable sound of that offensive human footwear. Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop. Never a moment’s rest…
I could recite from memory over two thousand bird songs and speak at length with squirrels and foxes of the changing seasons. But I hadn’t the first idea how to communicate with the flaxen-furred runty weasel that plagued my every waking moment.
Her sire and dam appeared adequate by human standards, and she even had a sharp-fanged littermate to occupy her time. So why follow me to the ends of the island and back?
“Stop following me, weasel,” I commanded once, attempting a straightforward approach.
“But you’re my favorite.”
“…Your favorite what?”
“My favorite-favorite,” she said, as if this were comprehensible to human ears. And to think I’d once thought snails to be the worst conversation partners!
“I refuse. Now why don’t you go smell that flower over there…?” The creature did seem passing fond of flowers, the only point in her favor.
“I love you, Mr. Landon.”
The very words made me shudder, but then I remembered that she also professed love for ladybugs, dandelions, thirty-seven different clouds, and a seaweed-encrusted bucket that washed up on shore.
Her misplaced affection would’ve been burden enough even without the accidents to contend with.
Pitiful creature, with no survival instincts to speak of. One day I took far too much pity on her and carried her to relative safety, away from boulders, open water, and cliff faces, an act that soon proved to be a terrible mistake.
“You’re like a prince,” she breathed in my ear.
“I am no such thing.” At best, I would be a duke someday, but I hardly expected a human larva to grasp even the basics of fae court politics.
When I set her down, she beckoned me closer, giving me no choice but to bend down to her level. “Mr. Landon,” she whispered–loudly, as she did everything else. “I have to tell you a secret.”
Her whisper increased in volume, if such were possible. “I’m going to marry you.”
I recoiled with the fury of a bolt of lightning. “Take it back,” I hissed. Not only did the prospect thoroughly disgust me, but she was meant for another.
And so I learned the ways of human larvae. Children. But larvae eventually progressed past the pupa stage…
Had she ever so closely resembled a weasel?
I wanted to tell Darius that his bride had achieved a tolerable sort of metamorphosis.
But I hadn’t heard from Darius, not in quite some time. I knew something had been wrong when his dreams changed, when the tower within was replaced by crumbling ruins.
“I can’t hear the wind,” Darius murmured. “I’m losing control of my dreams. I don’t know what to do, Orlando.”
I laughed, though it lacked the sweet sound of a true fae laugh. “As if that’s ever stopped you before. Won’t you be the next king of the fae?”
“I don’t know,” he said softly. “I don’t know anymore…”
Not in all the years of his rest had I heard him speak in such a manner. But soon I no longer heard him speak at all, his dreams closed off to me. That had been…how many years ago? And yet I chose to stay among the humans and the vampires on this accursed island. Why?
To watch over his would-be queen, a queen he may never need…?
The old queen of the fae had recently faded from our realm, her essence reabsorbed by the Mother Tree, under which Darius now slept. (Or rotted…?) I should’ve returned to the realm of the fae, partaking in the scheming and backstabbing that inevitably followed an empty throne.
Perhaps I could’ve served as duke to another enterprising king or queen.
And yet I stayed here. Speak to me, Darius. Tell me what to do, you who would be king. My friend was kind and gentle, an anomaly among the fae, but even he had secrets, secrets he kept from his only friend, secrets I wished he’d reveal to me now.
“Don’t you want to swim, Mr. Landon?” his future queen asked, after wandering to an algae-studded pool–a potential place for her to drown. I barely paid any mind as she divested herself of her shoddily woven human garments, instead surveying the murky depths of the pool.
“I do not.” Water reminded me that my human glamour lacked wings.
She closed the distance between us. “Are you sure?”
I swallowed and made another attempt at proper human conversation. “I need to tend to…a shrub. Immediately.” I fled.
From then on, whenever she sought me out, I fled yet again–or hid, when haste alone wouldn’t serve me.
How long did I flee…? Where was Darius? Why wouldn’t he return to claim his bride?
Eventually, she stopped searching for me–until one day when she caught me entirely by surprise.
I tried to avoid meeting her weaselly gaze.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Landon,” she said, her voice as welcome as sunlight peeking through a passing cloud. “You don’t have to hide anymore. I’m leaving.”
“…Leaving?” I didn’t understand.
“I got into my first-choice art school,” she said. “It’s far away from here, so you’ll have the island all to yourself again.”
Don’t go, I wanted to tell her. But why? Why shouldn’t she go?
“Farewell,” I said instead.
“That’s all you have to say to me, Mr. Landon?”
“That’s all,” I repeated.
Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop. Again the familiar sound of her footwear filled me with dread…but this time, she walked away from me.