Mother departed the Royal Grove of the Fairy King with baby Tiana in her arms in the Month of Full Snows of the Imperial Ostish Year 3247. She once told me that the woods were glistening white in the moonlight and it made her sad to think her daughter would grow up without this beautiful sight.
Fourteen years and two months later, at roughly an hour and a half after evening, on the night of the Full Greater Moon in the Month of Early Flowers, 3261, I returned.
It was brightly lit, and rather than snow on the ground, I was flying over trees covered in verdant new foliage. Most were massive oaks and maples and bitter cherries, a few of them having trunks as wide as California redwoods. I don’t think any of those species can grow that large on Earth.
I always thought Mother was being stupidly overdramatic about her sadness back then. Now that I saw it, I kinda understood what she was talking about.
It was still a half-hour until the appointed time, but this was apparently protocol. I’m lucky I had Serera, an experienced fairy, guiding me, because I had no idea. Naturally, my mortal knight training had only taught me what mortals knew about fairy knight protocol.
We had, of course, passed the Sacred Circle, which lay just outside the Grove proper. But we had already overflown many thousands of acres of Royal Grove.
“Is this still the Royal Grove?” I wondered.
Serera laughed. “We haven’t reached its center yet, child. But that’s a given, considering the center is our destination.”
“Is the Grove bigger than the rest of Tëan Tír?” I wondered
“You do know that, to the humans, it’s an entire canton? Most of Tëan Tír lies on the far side of the Grove. That’s where mortals have their orchards and farms, and it’s home to many fairy groves, mounds and meadows too. You’ve only seen the tip of Tëan Tír!”
I remembered reading once that some of the cantons of Switzerland are larger than Rhode Island or Delaware. But I don’t know if those cantons are individual valleys like this?
Up ahead, a huge hill, or maybe a small mountain, rose out of the sea of trees. As we drew closer, I could see the greater moon reflecting from the water-filled moat surrounding it.
“I don’t know this for certain, Your Highness, but this is probably your birthplace. Some fairy women like giving birth in the woods or the water, but I suspect Deharè would prefer to be indoors. The hill is known as the King’s Mound. The Fairy King’s palace lies below it. And its peak is our destination, the Royal Sword Grounds.”
Like dwarves, greater fairies prefer to live underground, only they prefer subterranean palaces rather than mines and grottos. Most of the other fairies come out of Greek mythology, but if greater fairies correspond to anything in Earth legend, it’s probably the Aos Sí, or Aes Sídhe, the fairies of Scotland and Ireland. I was an English Lit major, but the folklore I studied in conjunction with my major included a lot of information on Scottish and Irish myth. Their name means ‘People of the Mounds’, because they prefer to live under hills.
“They put the sword grounds on top of the palace?” I responded in surprise. “Why?”
“It’s the only place within the grove tall enough to keep the violence of battle above the king’s trees, Your Highness,” she answered with a smile. “We are talking about a place where fairies do battle, you know.”
I remembered the turbulence we caused to the lake below us in Royses, and the distress we caused the wyvern riders at the border.
“Really, there was nowhere else to place a dueling ground here,” Serera continued. “A fairy’s battle of honor must be held at either a crossroads or a peak. It’s a matter of tradition.”
“Doesn’t the tradition say it should be at midnight?” I wondered.
“Heh,” she smiled. “I’ll let you in a bit of wisdom that most people don’t know. It’s always midnight somewhere in the world. Right now, it’s midnight in the western reaches of the Eastern Continent.”
I had to pretend being amazed at that revelation. I mean, to someone from modern Earth, time zones are old news, right?
As we began descending toward the grounds, she grew a bit more serious. “Your Highness, I want you to know in advance that I intend to interfere with any killing blow she attempts to administer.”
“What? You can’t interfere with a duel!”
“She only demanded satisfaction, not a battle to the death. That was not an oversight on her part; it would have been impossible to claim she’d been so slighted with as many witnesses as there were. Her plan is to kill you ‘accidentally’. As your second, I can rightfully stop her.”
“But if you moved too early, you would make it look like I needed your help! That would ruin my reputation as a knight!”
“Even with your reputation intact, you cannot be a knight if you lose your life. I shall insure that my friend has a living daughter, no matter how you feel.”
Below us, I noticed a faint, glowing ring circumscribing the base of the hill. Serera nodded down to it.
“That’s the boundary line. You must keep your duel within its limits, Your Highness. And although the ground rules don’t say so, they prefer it remain above the altitude of the peak, so they will be taking steps to insure that.”
At the peak, a circular stone structure bore two rows of seats on top, which looked down upon an enclosure twenty paces in diameter paved with hard clay. We landed within the enclosed area on the left-hand side facing the royal box. On the opposite side, a small crowd had already gathered, and a number of others were already in the seats. It felt to my fairy senses like most of those present were true fairies.
My fairy senses were also telling me of widespread sources of mana extending far beneath my feet. The tunnels and galleries continued as far down as I could sense.
All the same true fairies I had seen earlier at the sacred circle were present, plus a number of others. Most were giving me stony expressions.
Tenre and a taller silver-haired beauty wearing a mithril breastplate over flowing gnome silk robes appeared out of thin air at the center of the circle.
Serera tapped my arm and gestured for me to head toward them. As we went, Mára and Feraen emerged from the little crowd and approached as well.
As we drew nearer, I realized that the beautiful silver-haired creature was in fact the first male fairy I had ever met. (When it came right down to it, I had only seen foliage, not the green man manipulating it.) The old Tiana had never encountered one either. Mother’s unkind descriptions had left me half-expecting a drooling sex maniac, but this man seemed truly dignified. I mean Movie Elrond dignified, except with Movie Legolas handsome.
Serera stopped and went to her knee three paces from him, as did Mára and Feraen. I nearly did, then decided I shouldn’t, and gave him a token bow of the head and an Orestanian knight’s ‘undrawn salute’. That’s the thing where you pound your fist to your chest over the heart, like you might have seen Roman legionnaires do in movies.
A ‘drawn salute’ is drawing your sword and raising the tip in front of you at a 45 degree angle. You don’t draw your sword around foreign royalty except in war.
Mára turned her head and glared at me. “To your knee, monster!”
“Remain standing, Your Highness,” the man coldly countermanded without hesitation, throwing an annoyed glance toward the green-haired fairy. “I am Gelon, Crown Prince of Faerie. I am told you are Tiana, the loyal servant of my father’s ally in Atius. I will not ask you to show obeisance to another crown.”
Everything was in Dorian from the very start. I would have thought that if we were going to speak Fairy anywhere, it would be in this place…
I replied with a second bow of the head, “Thank you, Your Highness.”
He gave a nod of recognition. “And it seems you have asserted your right to meet your challenger on my father’s grounds, as my father’s grandchild. It was I who recognized that right. I shall relay a report of your combat to my royal father.”
“I am humbly grateful that you have taken notice of this trifling matter, Hânnedo (Esteemed Uncle). I apologize for having annoyed you with such an unwelcome disturbance.”
He pursed his lips and looked at the others. “All of you, rise. My Lady Feraen of the Old Grove, step forward.”
My opponent climbed to her feet, elevating her chin once she was standing. She stepped forward. “I am here, Your Highness.”
“I’m a little troubled over this challenge of yours. This fight is not only fairy against fairborn, it is experienced knight against rookie.”
‘Fairborn’ is an older-fashioned word for a half-fairy. Both ‘fairborns’ and ‘fairlings’ could be called half-fairies in the simplest sense. They are viewed in different lights because ‘fairborn’ children, by growing in the wombs of fairies, are born as magical creatures instead of mortal. So, ‘Fairborn’ refers to being ‘Born from a fairy’, while ‘Fairling’ merely means ‘fathered by a fairy’.
“Your Highness,” I responded. “I am grateful for your concern, but this is not my first battle against a fairy.”
Mára’s mocking laugh rang out immediately in response to my words. “Are you perhaps referring to that little tussle you had with my niece Aenëe?”
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.