Tithe for the Autumn Flowers
By Ronel Janse van Vuuren
Flecks of rust on the autumn flowers told her a story she didn’t want to hear. Mae closed her eyes tightly, but it didn’t help. Visions of what had happened there filled her entire being.
Two powerful Fae clans outside of Faerie had fought about the ownership of the land she was walking upon. Swords had removed heads; arrows had found their marks from afar; Fae blood had flowed over the entire valley.
Mae shuddered. She tried hard not to hear the battle cries and sounds of war or smell the blood. She concentrated on where and when she was.
Dahlias, cosmos, asters and heather along with other autumn flowers looked like they were part of a painting done by a disturbed soul. The marks on the autumn flowers were proof of the violence, magic and blood the plants had absorbed.
Tears flowed silently over her cheeks. The souls of the dead were still captured on the heath. Not even Ankou, King of the Dead, had braved this valley.
The sky was steel grey. Another reason other Fae didn’t dare go there. Mae sobbed. The iron smell of blood drenching the ground burned her nose.
Pain shot through her and she unleashed her tears and anger.
Green and purple lighting carved through the steel grey sky. Wind roared over the heath without touching the cursed flowers. Not even the lighting could get close to the flowers. Rain fell without reaching the heath – the violence, magic and spilled blood created a barrier against even that. Mae heaved, her heart beat in her ears, and she knew she looked like someone possessed but it didn’t stop her. She was going to use her power over nature and fix what others had broken.
The dead watched her with sad expressions.
Tears flowed softly over her cheeks. And she stopped the storm. They were right: she couldn’t destroy the human realm. It wouldn’t fix anything.
Mae wiped away her tears. With a bit of magic she made herself look like a queen should. Her purple dress flowed behind her and her long sleeves floated in the wind. She knew what she had to do. She allowed her thoughts to become one with the landscape, the magic that flowed through her, the tendrils connected to Faerie – there she found the Faery King, dark and moody. He came alive when he saw her. She wasn’t really there, more a phantom than anything else in his palace.
‘I need your help. And you need mine.’
She pulled part of him to the heath so he could experience it for himself. They weren’t there for long before he pulled back. She knew showing him where she was and how it felt and looked like would be more effective on a being like him than words.
‘What do you suggest, Queen Andromeda?’
She knew that he was serious when he addressed her formally. Besides, there was power in a name.
‘We need to divide the human realm between us. All Fae who do not live in Faerie will have to pay a tithe every seven years to live on our land. Though it sounds awful, it will prevent tragedies like this one.’
‘And what would the tithe be?’
She didn’t like his intrigued gaze one bit.
‘Whatever makes your Court stronger. For mine it would be beauty and art – even if it’s a human providing it.’
‘That can work… I assume it will be one tithe per group of Fae living together? Otherwise it could get, ah, rather bloody every seventh autumnal equinox.’ He grinned.
‘Yes.’ Now no-one could have their freedom because they obviously didn’t appreciate it. Though, there was a part of her that was against this entire idea.
‘With what shall we bind it?’ he pulled her out of her thoughts.
‘Your turn, Ciarán. I provided the item last time.’
He smiled like he was impressed and stood up.
‘Wait for me on the heath. I’ll be there momentarily.’
Mae nodded and returned to her body, pulled all magic back to herself and waited.
It didn’t take long for the Dark King to appear. He held a steel grey bowl in his hand made of metal only found in Faerie. She could feel the bowl’s power. She shuddered.
‘Let’s just say it’s very old and powerful. It’s absolutely perfect for what we want to use it,’ said Ciarán with a twinkle in his eyes.
Mae knew she shouldn’t ask questions – it could only lead to trouble.
They both held the bowl, thinking hard about what it should mean.
Flowers in purple, pink, yellow, bronze, white, blue, orange, in all shades lost their colour and became something that wasn’t even white – just colourless. To show that they were cleansing the valley of all spilled Fae blood – and thus the side-effects thereof – the flowers all became darkest purple.
‘Couldn’t it have been dark red or something?’ asked the Dark King with a pout. ‘It would’ve been better symbolism.’
‘At least we know it is working.’
He sighed and for a moment it looked like he was sad about the whole thing as he watched the dead Fae. But the moment was fleeting and soon he looked like his usual charming self.
‘I’ll go and place this in the Cave of Memories. Do your sickeningly sweet thing. Until next time.’ He bowed slightly and disappeared.
Mae sighed in relief. To be with the Dark King was always difficult for reasons she didn’t want to examine.
‘Finally you made a plan,’ said a new voice.
She turned around and it took everything in her to keep her face neutral. Ankou, the Deathfae that gave even her nightmares, leaned against his abyss black carriage. She hadn’t heard it arrive.
‘Didn’t you bring help?’ she ask suspicious. She knew how many Dullahans worked for him.
‘Not today,’ he answered softly, looking at the souls with a sad expression. ‘There are times only I can help.’
She nodded. Maybe the headless knights were too wild to help these lost souls. Mae watched him as he lovingly led each Fae-soul to his carriage.
Each of the souls smiled at her and left her a white heather bloom as they entered Ankou’s carriage.
Mae swallowed away the tears before emotion could overcome her. She was the Queen of all Fae. Even those who were dead. She had to always appear majestic. They needed stability more than tears.
As the heath returned to the natural beauty it had always possessed – now with a bit of magic – she returned to her own realm.
What do you think of this story? In its Afrikaans incarnation, it won a competition on INK. Are you enjoying the stories about Faerie?