The Faery Ring

August 2, 2008
The Faery Ring

Peter scowled and kicked the pebbles of the creek bed, skittering them in all directions. He muttered under his breath as he made his way slowly down the bank. The younger one’s always have it so easy, he thought. Mother would never get mad at Lucy—she’d never think her baby would do anything wrong.

Peter had been in a foul mood since breakfast and it hadn’t improved as the day progressed. Everything seemed to be going wrong and he was supposed to be on holiday! He had been in the other room, reading, as usual, when Lucy had come in and started pestering him to play with her. “Oh, brother, please,” She’d begged. But he had snapped at her to go away and leave him alone.

Mother had been outside in the garden when Lucy arrived, flouncing out of the house in her pretty blue pinafore, pouting and crying that Peter was not being nice. She was his younger sister and Mother’s favorite. He had watched the whole thing through the sitting room window. Of course there had been a confrontation, and of course Lucy was in the right. And now here he was, kicking pebbles petulantly and muttering under his breath. He sighed heavily with frustration and gave the earth one final kick, but instead of the dry skittering or the mute plunk stone meeting water, a delicate ping rang through the glade.

The ferns on the bank waved lazily in the slight breeze and their lacy shadows danced across his face. A slight twinkling at the base of a rotting stump caught his eye and he knelt in the dry laurel leaves, hand extended towards the glinting object. The ring was cool to the touch, dull grey and rather boring, Peter thought, but it’s the most interesting thing that’s happened all day. He rinsed the ring off in the clear water of the spring and it washed clean to reveal, not dull grey, but shinning gold. As he stared at the ring in his hands, Peter remembered something from a book he once read: One Ring to Rule Them All, One Ring to Find Them… But that was all just make-believe, just fantasy. That couldn’t be real, could it? That’s just something you’d find in faery tales—but if it was real…Mother would never just believe Lucy again, he thought. There’s only one way to find out, he told himself, and slipped the ring onto his smallest finger. Nothing happened. And it’s not like I really expected it to, but what a holiday that would have been. He sighed again, but the anger had drained out of him, along with the excitement over his find. He regretted thinking those things about Mother, besides, encounters with the Ring of Power never ended well.

It fit well on his finger though, and he twirled it around and around as he day dreamed. He was pulled roughly from his quiet thoughts when the calm forest air was rent in two by the sharp cry of a fox. The call came from nearby. Peter jumped at the sound; it had always frightened him—it was almost human, like a child in pain. Quickly following the cry was the swift, high-pitched twittering of a hummingbird. The sounds died off quickly, however, and Peter gave them no more thought as the forest grew silent once more.

He sat on the bank for what felt like hours, twirling the ring and contemplating its worth. He held it up to the light and it glowed in warm, friendly sort of way. He checked the inside of the band for any markings—some of Mother’s rings had engravings on the inside—but from what he could see, this one had none. It was smooth and bore not a scratch. He held it close to his eye and looked through it and blinked in amazement. He was so surprised he didn’t bother even bringing the ring away from his face. Two figures had appeared out of thin air. They stood on the opposite bank, poised as if ready to fly at each other. But that was not the strangest part. The shorter figure appeared to be a small girl, so small in fact, that she couldn’t have been more than two feet high. Peter was only a short distance away from the two, and he could make out every detail. So it was easy to see that the girl (if indeed that’s what she was) had a pair of papery wings sprouting from her back. They had the same texture and colour as a leaf does after most of it has crumbled away and only the veins are left. The wings stirred in the slight breeze and Peter watched in awe as the scene played out before him.

The other figure was a very tall; very thin man (if indeed he was a man) with a fox’s bottle-brush tail and neat little fox’s feet. But he was standing on his hind legs and holding a needle-like rapier to the tiny girl’s throat. She looked as if she were about to cry and she was speaking so fast her words were a blur as she begged for mercy. It sounded almost like the twittering Peter had heard moments before. The Foxman hissed in annoyance and barred his teeth in a grim leer.

“Pleaseohpleaseohplease, Ramsee,” the girl keened. “I’m sooo-r-r-r-y, I’ll stay away from this part of the woods...I promise! Just let me go-o-o-o.” She burst into tears. The Foxman hissed again and raised his sword.

“It would be good of you to remember, dearest Wren, that this is my part of the forest. And I am not in the mood to dole out second chances to anyone who asks.” Wren’s tears stopped, and she stared at the ground. Her wings fluttered gently and she looked so forlorn and so helpless; Peter wouldn’t be able to bear it if the Foxman killed her. He scooped up a hefty pebble from the stream bank and hurled it at Ramsee. Peter hit the Foxman square on the nose. Ramsee yelped in pain, clutched at his muzzle and whirled on Peter. The boy quailed under his pitch dark gaze. The eyes were inhuman and showed no warmth. The light glinted off them like the reflection from polished stone.
Peter watched in horror as the Foxman approached. A shower of fallen laurel leaves cascaded down the bank behind him like the hem of a cloak. He was lithe and graceful and moved without a sound. Before Peter could blink, the creature had crossed the stream and stood staring down at him. The boy sat frozen on the bank, the gold ring still held close to his right eye. The Foxman sneered, “This was none of your concern, human, but now you have made it so.” Peter gazed up at the fey creature and frantically tried to think. There must be something you’ve read somewhere that’ll help. The Foxman raised his silver rapier, leveling the blade directly between Peter’s eyes. Peter fumbled with his coat pocket. It was like a nightmare—his movements were slow and clumsy. Finally his fingers met cool metal—iron. He’d read it a thousand times—the best thing for protecting against the fey was iron—it burned their skin and the iron key to the front door felt heavy and sure in his hands. He yanked it from his coat pocket and waved it in the Fox’s face. Ramsee hissed and began to back away. Peter rose, one arm outstretched with the key clasped tightly in his fist, the other still fixed firmly upon his eye. He felt braver now, and continued to wave his makeshift weapon towards his enemy. They stared at each other for what felt like ages, until the Fox broke his gaze, snapped his jaws angrily and whirled away.
Peter sighed with relief and, exhausted, turned to face the girl. She fluttered lightly down the bank—much like the laurel leaves had—and smiled hugely at him. Her teeth were thin and sharp; skirts of tattered birds’ feathers swirled about her fragile form. She giggled and her voice was high and bright, “Thank you human. I owe you my life.” Peter looked down at the ground, a blush creeping slowly to his cheeks. He slipped the key back into his pocket and returned her grin. Wren stretched out her too-thin fingers and gently pulled his hand away from his face. He could feel her cool fingertips on his arm, but she had vanished. He heard her gasp.
“What? What’s wrong?” He asked the thin air.
“You found it,” She breathed. “You found the Woodwoman’s ring! It’s been missing for ages. That’s why Ramsee was able to take control of these lands—she’s powerless to stop him without it! And you’ve found it!” She hugged him. His blush deepened. “Oh, we must go to her at once!” Without another word, she began to drag him off into the woods. Peter tried to protest, but his objections were drowned by the whistling of the wind and Wren’s cries of joy.
He felt one further tug on his hand as Wren pulled him to a sudden halt. She pushed him forward, “Here, just in there—Go on now. She’s naught to be afraid of.” He looked back at her desperately, but she just smiled and gave him another shove. He pushed his way forward through the hawthorn—the thorns caught in his hair and clothes, but they did not cut his flesh. He blinked in astonishment when the brambles opened up into a wide clearing. In the center stood a woman; she was wrapped in ragged animal skins and antlers grew from her forehead. She held her arms out wide to him. Her eyes were deep liquid brown and bored into him—he could not have hidden anything from this woman even if he’d wanted to.
“Hello child, welcome. I believe you have found something of great worth to me.” He pulled the ring away from his face—his arm had begun to ache—and dropped it into her open palm. To his surprise, she still stood clearly before him. Her delicate wrist arched and her fist closed around the ring. She beckoned silently to him with her other hand and he followed her mutely towards the creek where it ran through the clearing. She crouched on the shore, her voluminous skirts trailed in the water. With one slender finger, she drew up a single shimmering drop and let it fall onto the ring in her palm. She then placed her palms together, and, closing her eyes, began to murmur words Peter didn’t understand. Her grip tightened and her words grew in intensity until they hissed sharply from between her lips. Her knuckles were white and her broken nails dug deeply into her hands as she twisted her palms together. Peter watched, wondering if he should do something, when her eyes suddenly snapped open. She smiled gently and unclasped her hands. There in her open palms was the ring and its exact duplicate. She held the two halves out towards him, pinched between her thumb and forefinger. “Hold still,” she said. He did as he was asked, still staring openly in wonder. One at a time she placed them against his open eyes and whispered more words Peter couldn’t grasp. They felt cool and soothing—not painful at all as one would expect. She stepped away from him. He blinked, confused. “My gift to you,” was all she said in explanation. “Use it well, Peter.” She began to turn away.
Peter hesitated before asking softly, “Wait…What about your ring…and that Ramsee fellow?” She didn’t speak for a long moment and Peter began to wonder if she was going to answer him at all.

“I have no further need of it, for now I have you.” He stared at her in surprise.


“Yes. I have given you a great gift—you will need it. Now go. You will understand in time.” She turned her back on him and Peter knew there was no point in asking anything further.

He returned to the clearing where Wren waited for him...and he could see her as plain as day. He blinked in surprise and rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. Still she stood before him. She stared at him intently before speaking, “That is a generous gift.”

“Yes, I realize that,” Peter said, slightly frustrated. “But no one will explain what I am to do! I can see you now—that much is plain—but what does it mean?”

“I am not the one to answer that, human, but you can trust that the Woodwoman has her reasons. I suspect she wants you to help us.”

“Me, why me?”

“Why any of us?” She shrugged.

Peter groaned in frustration. “And what if I don’t agree to help you?”

“Then, I suspect, you will have a very boring holiday.” She grinned slyly. Peter didn’t ask how she knew. They always know, he thought, and I’ve fallen into a faery tale.
He grinned wryly back at her and shrugged, “I guess that’s as good a reason as any.” She laughed her high tinkling laughter and took his hand. He stared at her intently, “I’ll help you, Wren. You have my word.” She giggled again.
“You’ve already begun to change…look.” She pulled him down to the water’s edge and they gazed into a still pool trapped between two boulders. Peter blinked again in amazement. His eyes were no longer the boring, common hazel they had been that morning. They had deepened into a rich, earthy amber and a ring of pure gold encircled either iris. He grinned at his reflection. Yes, he thought, this is shaping up to be a very interesting holiday after all.

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