Of Leaves of Gold and Petals Red: A Faery Tale
3. What Rough Magic
The weeks passed; the snows fell and melted, and fell again. Finals came and went, the holidays flew by in a colorful blur of lights and music, and the spring semester had begun and was now well under way. Janet found herself carrying a double load, coursework for her classes, and her own private project, hunting for something, anything, that might provide the clue she needed. Her pregnancy was certainly starting to show; so far, to everyone but Deborah she'd somehow managed to pass it off as the inevitable consequences of so much starchy cafeteria food - but she knew that she was rapidly running out of time.
There has to be a solution, I know there is, she found herself thinking, over and over. Fate wouldn't have brought the Faery and me together otherwise, I'm certain of that. I just have to see it. Why can't I see it? It's probably something right under my nose...
Actually, it turned out that the solution was just above her nose - on her bookshelf above her study desk, to be precise. Most of the other freshman had taken their first semester texts to the campus bookstore to re-sell them, but Janet had decided to hold on to hers for a bit. She hadn't chosen her major yet; some of those books might be useful later, and she was not so short of money that she couldn't afford to keep them for another semester or two. One day, reaching up to grab a book, she somehow managed to tip the shelf - and the whole mass of books came tumbling off, landing in a disordered heap on the floor. So, it's going to be one of those days, she thought resignedly as she knelt to pick them back up. First it's the books; next, it will probably be the hard drive on my PC crashing... And then she stopped, hand hovering over one book that had landed face up and open - her copy of "An Anthology of Classic Fairy Tales," which had somehow managed to land with the pages turned to the very beginning of one of the few stories Professor Bautista has not chosen as an assigned reading. "Tam Lin," the title said. Could this be a sign? Janet wondered. I've spend so many hours poking through those musty library stacks; is it possible that what I need to discover has been sitting here in my dorm room all this time? Ignoring for the moment the remaining books spilled across the floor, she sprawled out on her bed and quickly began to read.
* * * * * * *
The snow had completely melted, but the weather was still raw, and Janet shivered as she walked along the path. Her hands were tucked away under the green cloak - perhaps not the most practical garment for this time of year, Janet conceded, but having worn it the previous two times she had made this journey, she felt strangely loathe to part with it now - tightly grasping the basket she carried. She'd underestimated how much her pregnancy would slow her down, saying to herself that she wasn't that large yet, which was true. But large or not, she found herself tiring more quickly now, and had had to stop and rest several times along the way. Now she looked at the sky in mild alarm. It was growing late - and she wanted to be in the clearing well before the sun went down, she had preparations to make if she was to rescue her Faery...
I suppose I should set up next to the rose garden, she decided when she arrived at last. At least the thorny branches might serve as crude weapons, if her plan failed. Who am I trying to kid? she admitted to herself as she began to sweep the rotting leaves aside, baring a large area of moist earth. If this doesn't work, I'm dead - or worse than dead. It will work! It has to! God wouldn't be so cruel...
Once she'd scraped a large circle of ground reasonably bare, she walked over to the basket she'd set down earlier, and brought it over to center of the circle. From it, she drew out a stoppered bottle, carefully uncorked it, and poured its contents along the edge of the circle. Then she placed the bottle back into the basket and drew out a necklace. Janet gently touched the silver cross dangling from its chain - a gift from her now-dead grandmother, it had been - then suddenly slipped the necklace on over her head. Well, she thought, I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Now there's nothing to do but wait.
Earlier, the sun had seemed to be racing towards the horizon - now, it barely crawled down from the sky. Move, damn it! Janet demanded. I'm nervous enough already! As the light began to fade and the shadows started to lengthen, she began to look around to see if her Faery was anywhere in evidence. No sign of him yet. Signing, she decided to sit down for a while - it had been late each time he'd come to her before, perhaps he couldn't appear before the witching hour arrived, or something? Cinderfella, who stays trapped inside a pumpkin until the stoke of midnight, when he's transformed into a Faery again? She found herself grinning at the image, trying to imagine him folding that long, lanky frame into one of those giant pumpkins she'd seen at the county fair. Not very likely, she conceded, but it is an amusing thought.
The hours slowly passed; the heavens went from indigo to deep black, and the stars wheeled slowly overhead. Janet began to grow alarmed. Perhaps her Faery didn't know she was here? She stood up again, and began to look around. Still no sign of him. "Hey," she began to shout, then stopped. I don't even know his name! she realized, startled. Assuming, of course that he even has one; surely even the Fey Folk have to have names? He deflowered me, I'm carrying his baby, here I am standing out here in this freezing weather, risking my life (or at least risking pneumonia) to save him from his evil Mistress - and I don't even know what name to call him by! Janet, my girl, you're definitely certifiable. She took a deep breath, and shouted again, louder this time. "Hey, Mr. Faery - I'm over here! Come out, come out, wherever you are! Hey, Faery, get over here now!"
And suddenly, she felt it - that sharp rush of terror she'd felt the last time she entered these woods. The Faery Queen, the Mistress of the Woods, the Blair Witch - whatever - was moving, and it was definitely headed her way. Her heart began to race, and she hurriedly wiped her hands clean of sweat on the fine wool of her cloak. Whatever happened, she knew, she mustn't lose her grip...
And suddenly he was there, seemingly coming out of nowhere. "How do you do that?" she asked him as she took his hand and pulled him into the circle, then threw her arms tightly around him.
"What are you doing, woman?" the Faery sputtered. "Have you lost your wits? Little one, She is coming here - run and hide while you still have the time to escape!"
"Hold still!" Janet commanded sharply as the Faery began to struggle loose. "I'm not going anywhere! Listen to me - I know what I'm doing, I know how to get you out of here. I found out from an omen. But I've got to hold on to you to save us all - so stop fighting me!" To her surprise, he did stop, and looked at her with a strange expression on his face. "That's better," she said.
"An omen," the Faery breathed softly. "Such things are very rare now; seldom do the Valar reach forth to touch these faded lands, and of the One I dare not even speak... Perhaps you did receive such a gift - but can either of us be sure? How do you know that what you're planning to do will work?" he said, more calmly now. "Listen to me; I know more of such things than you can possibly understand. This is too dangerous to you. Leave me here, and save yourself while you still can."
"No," Janet replied. "My baby needs a father, and I need a husband - or at least a reliable babysitter while I'm in class, and they're not easy to find. So I'm staying until you can come with me. Besides," she said as she looked over his shoulder at the dark shape slowly emerging from beneath the trees, "it's too late now." She felt her Faery stiffen in her arms as she uttered those words, and clung to him all the tighter.
No to silver, no to cold iron - but a big can of Raid might just have done the trick, she thought, half hysterical, as she watched the disgusting creature come forth. She'd been expecting something similar to her Faery, a glittering, pale, deadly woman, a Queen - not this monstrous, bloated spider. "Go away," she tried to shout, but the words came out more like a squeak. "He's mine now - and I won't give him back!" She felt the Faery shivering in her arms.
*Will you not?* a soft, repellent voice whispered within her mind. *And how will you prevent me from simply plucking him from your arms?* The creature swelled in size and moved closer, two of its dark, gangly legs reaching out towards them - and then it stopped abruptly, and the foul voice in her mind hissed in rage.
"I'm not the one who will stop you," Janet replied. "I don't have that kind of power. But the One who made me, and Who died to redeem my sins, does. The circle's drawn with holy water; you cannot cross it. Now, go away!"
*Perhaps I cannot cross - but my slave can, and will, when I call to him,* the horrid voice said. *Long ago, he turned his back on his Creator - and so he was given to me to be my toy, a damned thing, forgotten by his Maker. Come, little smith, my forger of tidbits, it's time to return to my side. I promise I won't hurt you too badly for this transgression - provided you pleasure me tonight. I know how much you hate that...*
Janet felt the Faery's trembling becoming more violent, and she squeezed her arms around him as tightly as she could. "Don't listen to her," she whispered into his ear. "I've got you now, and I'm not letting you go anywhere. She can do nothing to you so long as you stay within the circle."
*Can I not?* the voice whispered again. *Perhaps I can no longer compel his will, which I did not fashion - but I constructed that body he now wears, molding it from the raw earth. My power flows through his veins; we are connected through the earth itself on which we both stand, he and I. His form is still mine to shape, and mine to hurt. He will come to me in the end, to stop the pain - and you will be helpless to prevent it.* The hideous spider swayed gently, rocking back and forth as though weaving a web of air - and suddenly the Faery in her arms screamed in agony.
"Stop it! Stop hurting him!" Janet shouted back at the spider, as she rocked the screaming Faery in her arms like a child. "It's pointless - you can't have him back, because I won't let him go. Give it up, and go away!"
*You cannot keep what you cannot hold,* the spider replied. And then it was Janet's turn to scream in terror, as the form in her arms suddenly dissolved; the figure of the not-quite-man flowing into a huge snake. A rattlesnake, Janet thought in terror, oh my God, she's turned him into a rattlesnake! The snake rattled, hissed, and struck, narrowly missing her face; struggling mightily, Janet managed to keep her hold on the supple body, sliding her hands up the rough scales until her grip rested just below the snake's head, and she could control it. "You lose, Ugly!" she shouted. "I can hold this, all night if I have to! I'm not letting go!"
*Are you not?* the spider replied, and the snake began to writhe desperately, the head swelling and becoming golden, a shaggy black mane sprouting from the neck, entangling her hands. Limbs sprouted from the scaly body, ending in great velvet paws studded with lethal claws. The lion roared; Janet's hands were no longer wide enough to choke off its air. She had it by the mane, and the great beast pulled back hard and clawed the air, swatting her with its massive paws, trying desperately to loosen her grip - but never actually striking her with its claws. He doesn't want to harm me! Janet realized suddenly. Whatever the creature in my hands may look like, inside he's still my Faery. That spider's hurting him terribly, and he wants to pull free, so he can go to her and make the pain stop - but he won't hurt me to do it. "Two strikes!" Janet called out. "Give it up - no matter what you turn him into, I'm not letting go!"
*No matter what I turn him into? Very well,* the spider chuckled in Janet's mind. *You will have no trouble holding on to his very essence, then...*
And Janet screamed again - this time in pain, as the lion suddenly burst into flames, and she found her hands sinking into a blazing fire. Shutting her eyes, she forced her hands to plunge in deeper, heedless of the pain she felt. There has to be something solid in there somewhere to grasp, she told herself desperately, a fire can't burn on nothing! Finally she felt it, a log, and forced herself to take it into her hands and hold it tight. She opened her eyes - and saw that, despite the agony she was feeling, her arms remained unblistered and her hands unburned, buried though they were in the very heart of the flames. This isn't a real fire, she said over and over to herself, it's just my Faery. It hurts, but it cannot truly harm me. Hang on, Janet, hang on! But the pain continued to grow, despite her desperate chant, and she knew she was reaching the end of her strength at last. The horrible spider was going to win - for she could not hold onto this much longer, and she knew that when she let him go he would leave the circle, and the spider-thing would pluck him away.
Finally, in despair, she began to loosen her grip, desperate to make the agony stop. I'm sorry, Faery, she thought sadly. I've failed us both, and now we're both going to die because of it. I cannot hold onto you any longer - I can't! Forgive me. The spider roared in triumph in Janet's mind - and in that instant, Venus rose over the treetops. The roar of triumph changed abruptly into a howl of pain, and the bloated monstrosity shrank back into the trees, desperately seeking the shadows. The fierce burning in her hands abruptly ceased - and Janet found her arms filled again with Faery. Naked, his eyes closed, a thin sheen of sweat covering his forehead, he staggered and slumped against her. "Rest now," she whispered to him as she saw the first pink rays of the dawn begin to light the eastern sky beneath the brilliant morning star, "I think it's over."
The spider was barely visible now, scuttling rapidly away beneath the thin canopy of the still-bare tree branches. *The hated light is breaking now; you're free to claim your prize. Had I known his love would lead to this, I'd have torn out both his eyes.* And then the horrid thing was gone, and Janet found herself standing in the quiet woods, her lover in her arms, watching the sun rise.
The Faery shivered slightly. "You must be freezing," she said, pulling him closer so she could wrap her cloak around his body. For the first time since he'd regained his form, he opened his eyes, and Janet nearly gasped when she saw the new brightness glittering there.
"Thank you," he said quietly. "I never believed that you could actually do it. You can have no idea of how it feels, after so long in darkness, to be able to stand here in the sunlight without feeling pain, to be able to touch, or not touch, another person according to my preferences, to go where I will... To be free. There is nothing I could ever do that would even come close to repaying you for what you have done for me - " The Faery abruptly paused, seemingly startled. "I do not believe I even know your name," he continued, bemused.
"Well, we're even, then - I don't know yours, either," Janet laughed. "Call me Janet."
He nodded solemnly. "Janet," he said slowly, as though savoring the way her name rolled off his tongue. "Janet. A mortal name, I presume? I've not heard it before."
"Yes," she replied. "And your name is..."
"Fëanor," he replied. "My name is Fëanor."
"What kind of a name is that?"
"A very old one, and one that was once honored greatly among my people before it fell into darkness. It means 'Spirit of Fire' - and if I now blaze again, it is only because of you," the Faery (no, not the Faery! Janet scolded herself silently. Fëanor. I must get used to thinking of him by his name.) answered laughingly.
Janet looked into his eyes again, seeing him clearly for the first time, sensing the flames leaping up behind those glittering grey orbs, hot and eager - and suddenly pictured in her mind her own face, dull eyes so different from his glittering ones, her skin blotchy and rough next to his pale perfection, her coarse hair the color of dishwater in contrast to his silky raven locks. Spirit of Fire, Fëanor - I will turn him into his very essence, that's what that spider said. What would a living flame ever see in a clod of earth like me? That spider was right - I cannot hold him. I have no right to hold him -I can see now that it would be a monstrous wrong to bind such a one as this unwillingly to my side. After all, our joining was mutual. I chose it, even more than he did - it's only right that I should suffer the consequences of my choice in the end, Janet decided sadly. "I think it's time to go now," she said.
"Where are we going?"
"I'm going back to my dorm. You - well, how could I know where you might choose to go? You said it yourself - you're free now. Go where you will," Janet replied quietly.
"You mean you do not wish me to stay with you? To help you raise our son?" Fëanor responded, puzzlement in his face.
"I told you, you're... Wait a minute. 'Our son'? Not 'your son'?" Janet felt her heart leap; it took a great deal of will to calmly ask the next question. "You mean you want to be with me? Even though I can't make you stay?"
Fëanor nodded, then gently placed his hands on Janet's round belly. "Surely you did not think I would abandon my wife and child to such a harsh fate as the one you previously described to me?"
"My wife," he said... He actually called me his wife! I don't believe it. "You don't have to marry me, you know," Janet forced herself to say.
"By my people's reckoning, we are already married. I know it is not the same with yours," Fëanor said, "but that does not matter now. I am an Elda, and will hold to the ways of my people, so in my eyes you are my wife. And I would very much like to stay, if you will let me do so, and raise my son. It has been a long time since I've held an infant in my arms; one of the simpler pleasures in life, true, but often those are the most satisfying in the end. And I am mortal now, in a manner of speaking. Ungoliant's - the spider's -" he explained, seeing her confusion, "hold on me may be broken, but the poison she injected into me so often during my long enslavement has done its work. Without her magic supporting it, this body will fade rapidly, and fail - and I will be a naked spirit again, doomed to face Mandos' judgement for a second time. Janet, I did great evil in my past. Will you not help me to balance that with at least a little good? Please - let me stay."
"You mean Ung... Ungla... that spider's poison is still inside you? That you're going to die soon?" Janet exclaimed in horror. "Then all this was for nothing!"
"No," Fëanor responded firmly, "that is not true. Yes, I will die very soon - perhaps in 70 years, certainly no longer than 100 - but that is no matter. The time I have left is more than enough to do what I need to do before I face my judgment. And I have been dead before; I know what to expect, and so it does not frighten me as it does you. What matters now is not my coming death, but what I do with what is left of my life."
"You've been dead before? You're not just making up tales?" Janet looked at him with wide eyes. "You really are a Faery."
Fëanor laughed, and at the sound of his voice Janet suddenly felt her own heart lighten, and she found herself laughing alongside him. When she finished, she reached up and stripped off her cloak. "Here," she said to him as she handed over the cloak. "Slip this on. I know it's too short but I can't take you into town naked. I think before we go back to campus, I'd better stop and buy you some proper clothes."
"Then I can come with you? You will let me stay?"
They walked together slowly beneath the trees, down the now-familiar path. "You said 'my son'," Janet remarked after they'd been walking for a while; she could see the edge of the forest a short distance away. "How do you know that our baby is going to be a boy?"
"My children are always boys," Fëanor replied simply.
"You have other children? You've been married before?"
"Yes. Long ago, before I died for the first time. Seven sons," he said sadly. "All lost to me now. I don't want to lose this one, too."
"You won't," Janet promised. Seven sons. Of course, that would be the number - he is a Faery, after all. "I guess we should start thinking about names."
"Is there any name in particular you favor?" Fëanor asked.
"Allen," Janet said. "If it is a boy, I'd like to call him Allen. If that's O.K. with you."
Fëanor nodded silently, in wordless approval. They'd finally reached the end of the path; Janet reached over and took her Faery's hand into her own, and together they stepped out of the dappled woods and into the bright, clean sunlight of the mortal world.
This story is actually an adaptation of the old Scottish folk ballad "Tam Lin," which describes a mortal woman's struggle to save her lover from the clutches of the evil Fairy Queen. There are many different versions of this old ballad, and I've quite liberally borrowed from many of them. To learn more about "Tam Lin," I highly recommend checking out www.tam-lin.org A heartfelt thanks goes to Dwimordene for providing both the link and the original idea that lead to this story.
Janet's baby's name: "Allen" is of Celtic derivation, and means "handsome one." It somehow seemed an appropriate mother-name for Fëanor's firstborn son by his second wife...
This story was first published in November, 2002.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.