Title: The Fairy Wife
Notes: Background Doctor/Master, background Susan Foreman/David Campbell. Aralias kindly betaed this for me like three freaking years ago and I took this long to post it because I suck.
Summary: It's a bedtime story about a fairy who loved a man and a Raven who most certainly didn't love a Magpie. Certainly.
All right. Just one story, and then you’re all to bed.
Once there was a man who took a fairy wife. Or, you might say, once there was a fairy who took a human husband.
The fairy woman had travelled here and there and everywhere else for years upon years, accompanying her Grandfather Magpie. Magpie was wild and free and brilliant, and had run away from the people who thought to keep him in a cage; his own daughter would as soon have seen his head cut off to quiet him down. But his granddaughter thought the world of him, and wanted only to see the next stop on their travels, and the next and the next. By the way we reckon years, she was older than your oldest grandmam; by the way fairies count the ages, she was little more than a child, and ought to be in school still. But her travels brought her into this world, and she fell in love. That’s one thing fairies are no good at fighting, no more than you or I.
It began, as many loves do, in pain.
The world had been …
Understand, terrible things had happened, and they will never happen again. But they had happened, and everyone had to deal with them, whether they wanted to or not. And it was that, I think, the great heart of the people showing clear as day as they worked through the dark times, that the fairies came to love. So it was in a broken, hard world that the fairy girl met a mortal man, and there they fell in love, amidst the ruin and the hope.
Her love was a warrior that other men followed, brave and clever and true. She loved him instantly, and after a very little while she liked him as well, and her Grandfather Magpie decided that was as good as it could be and declared they should be together forever. So Magpie ran away, leaving the fairy to do as she would; that a fairy’s forever and that of a mortal man were very different things did not occur to him, but such quick decisions were so much of his nature that his granddaughter could not be angry at him.
As it turned out, Magpie was right, more or less, and the fairy and the brave man made a life together that was as happy as any people deserve. And it wasn’t just their life that they made happy, but that of many others. The fairy knew what the world was supposed to be, because she had lived in times before and after and seen it for herself. The man in his heart knew that he could and should make things better than they were, and the wisdom of his wife guided him. He was a warrior who put down his weapons to build, and took up his weapons again only to defend his home.
They had no children, but because of the things they did many children were born who would not have been, and those children had children of their own. Trees grew where ash alone might have settled, and laughter filled the empty places where only the wind would blow. When the man died, all the children who might as well have been his came to bid him goodbye, but his ancient wife was still the doe-eyed girl he had married. He was buried, in the way I will be, and even you some day, and she knelt by his grave and waited for him to rise up and return to her.
Fairies are made with two hearts, to better bear the pain of their long lives -- but that they can bear it better does not mean that they feel it any less.
This may sound like a silly thing to you, the fairy waiting there by the quiet turned earth, waiting for death not to be. You know that the end comes once for every person, and though we may rise again in some happier place, our bodies stay in the grave.
But remember that she was young among the fairies, and though she was wiser than any woman here she was only a quick-witted girl at home. She did not understand how dying could take her lover forever out of her reach. Her people live for eons before ever Death can find them, and they are swifter and more canny than He. A friend who dies might come to you again, with his face changed for a new one to fool Death into thinking him a stranger, and even those whom Death claims once and for all are not entirely gone.
So she lay across his grave from one month to the next, patient and numb. Above her, the moon waned and died and returned again. Her husband did not.
Some of her friends came to her, afraid that she might decide to go to her husband when he would not come back to her. One wrapped her in a silver cloak, to keep away the night chill and the morning dew. One put food beside her, little sweets and tidbits of the things she liked best, that could be chewed and swallowed without thought. And one sat beside her and took her hand, and spoke softly of little things they both knew until the fairy wife remembered she lived still in the mortal world.
“It’s time to go, love,” said the fairy wife’s friend, when the fairy turned to face her. “You stayed for him, but now he’s gone, and all of us old soldiers will follow him soon enough. But in all my life, you’ve not aged a day, and I think there are more worlds for you to see.“
A true friend is brave enough to speak the truth, even to a fairy. Even when it hurts.
The fairy wife let herself be pulled to her feet, but after that she stood on her own. She kissed her friend on either cheek, and her friend felt warm all over. Fairy kisses are magic, you see, for fairies only give them to the people they hold dear, and once a fairy kisses you, you know that you are loved.
She bowed her head over the stone at her husband’s head, and for the first and last time she cried for him. Fairy tears are magic, too.
And then she went away.
Where did she go? Away from here, is all you and I can know for certain. But many things may have happened. Perhaps --
Perhaps she called to her Grandfather Raven.
A very dark lord was Raven, who delighted in trickery and games of power. His cloak was made of nightmares, and the rustling of his wings was the sound of terror on a thousand different worlds. His black eyes gleamed brightest when he had a new idea for cruelty, and that cruelty curved his beak into a wicked smile. When he hungered, his talons would crush men down to tiny morsels so that he could eat them all up at once -- but then they were such little mouthfuls that they left him still half-starved.
Once he had been a fairy lord, terrible and beautiful and free. He had decided, though, that it was not enough for none to be his own master; he must be master of all. His greed and arrogance lead him into evil, for fairies are not so different from men in how they fool themselves. To his people, his name was a curse, and he was forbidden to walk among them. He was nothing at all like Magpie, for all that they had been mates when the world was young, and raised children in their nest.
But the fairy wife was not old and wise like the leaders of her people, able to judge a lord for his crimes. Neither was she human for all that she had loved one. What humans feared and fled and died from, she might never think was odd.
To her his cloak had always been comfort on a cold night, and his terrible, bloody talons had rocked the cradle that she’d slept in as a babe. When she had been small enough for him to carry, he had often taken her into the high, wild mountains of their home, to look down upon the stars and pick out the ones he would fetch for her some day. The whispering of his wings meant only that she was safe because he would not let her fall.
Even a bad man might love his children, and the grandchild he watched grow.
The fairy cried to Raven, “Grandfather, I am alone, and I have seen time and death triumph over life and love, which among our people may never happen. I beg you, take me to the house of my mother, where I can remember that this is not all there is. I want to walk again among the worlds, not be bound to this one.”
“I cannot take you there, child,” said Raven, “for our people would strike off my head and lock me in a cage for the rest of my lives, and your mother would call it justice well done.”
(Of course Raven and Magpie were nothing alike.)
The fairy was near enough to tears when Raven said, “But I can take you away from here.”
He swept her up in his magic cloak and took her to his home. And they traveled together a little, too, just until she had the time she needed to cry for her husband and his world and all the things she had never quite understood but loved nonetheless. Raven was as restless as Magpie, and flew here and there to see what he could see -- though Magpie wanted only to see and touch and be welcome, while Raven wanted to take and shape and and be feared.
The fairy went with him and thanked him, and little by little she remembered joy as they flew together among the stars. Raven’s visits of conquest were not what she expected, but she had already built one world from the charred ground up, so she gave him some advice on how to rule what he won.
“I’m not sure you get the point of this,” Raven said to her one day after she walked him through a plan on infrastructure and asked him to sign off on the payroll of the civil engineers she had hired.
“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” the fairy said to her grandfather. “But let’s finish up this project first, and then, please, Grandfather, take me home. I love you and I always will, but I need some time to rest and let my hands be still. I’m afraid I’ll become like you and Magpie, never content to let well enough be.”
He huffed and ruffled his feathers, and then preened them down to regain his dignity, but he knew that she was right. “I don’t want you to become like that one,” he said, “even if there’s a chance you’ll become like me instead. I like you as you are.”
He was a clever bird, was Raven, and his pride was a little hurt by being compared to Magpie. So he took her straight home, though he’d said he couldn’t, and snuck in by the back ways til they were just in her mother’s garden. She kissed him once and twice and once again, and grinning like a naughty girl she plucked a feather from his cloak and ran out into the flowers.
“Ow,” said the Raven, and slammed shut the door of his traveling house. And he, and his house, and all his magic vanished again, to find some other world to rule. This time, without civil engineers and budget sheets. Honestly, that child had become a regular accountant, and he hoped that she grew out of it.
And the fairy went home and went to bed, like you all are going to do right now. Go on. I didn’t say that any of it was true. Just that it might have been, and none of that’s a lie.