This began as a very short flash fiction piece inspired by a story from my good friend Ruth Long in The Fairy Ring Flash Fiction Contest. I was wading through some old files the other day, took this out, expanded it a bit and thought I’d share it with you. A bit of a blast from the past but updated.
The image is one I could not find an attribution for but it is part of the basis for this story so I’ve included it. If anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know. Hope you enjoy…
Ruthie and the Darkening Prince
The Darkening bordered the western edge of the Glade that stood between our world and the other. The gloom hadn’t crept in over time or spread through the trees like some dark malady. It simply appeared one summer day, turning the brightly magical woods to a dimmed and dusky version of itself, the edge of it an invisible line through the woods.
As Guardian of the Glade, it was Ruthie’s duty to discover the cause. For nearly a fortnight she sought high and low but could find no culprit for the strange perversion. That is, until a warrior in barbed armor met her at the border. Silently, he walked in the shadowed half of the wood, mirroring her steps like some dark-natured counterpart.
Impatient, she stopped and turned to glare at him. He stopped in the same breath, turning to observe her with cool disdain from beneath his demon-shaped helm. He was tall and imposing, but she did not fear him for she held the power of the Glade.
“Are you responsible for this?” she asked, gesturing along the line dividing her green bounty from his murky landscape.
The warrior eyed her for a moment more.
“I am,” he said finally. His voice was silken and cultured and laced with a leashed power that sent chills down her spine.
She was about to demand more of an explanation, when he lifted a hand to remove the helm. Alabaster hair cascaded like silk over his sinister epaulets. His tawny inhuman eyes ensnared her, freezing her heart mid-beat.
In that stark proud face, she recognized a boy she had once known. A boy she had loved dearly when she’d been but a child. Before she’d become a Guardian. Before he’d inherited the power of his Fae father.
“My Prince,” she breathed, nodding in deference. She would once have had to kneel, but the Guardian of the Glade bowed to no one. Not even the Fae King.
“Guardian,” he said, tilting his head slightly in return. Then, he said, “I remember you.”
“Have we met?” she asked, taking a step toward him as tendrils of chill mist from the darkened wood crossed the line to swirl about her ankles like a cold caress.
A flock of pixie attendants rushed to her, drawn by the threat of his power. They circled her in a cloud of fervent cacophony, their fear obvious in the earthward cant of their diaphanous wings.
“Yes,” he said. “You stole something from me.”
Ruthie nearly took a step back, shocked that he would accuse her so. “I have taken nothing of yours, my Prince.”
“Ah, but you have,” he said, taking a step toward her. “You stole … a kiss.” A conspiratorial smile creased his cheek, warming his features and peeling back the years to one afternoon beneath the shade of a willow’s cloak. An afternoon she remembered only now.
Her sharp intake of breath confirmed the truth as a long-denied memory burst upon her mind. The press of his lips to hers like summer wine in the cool shade.
The boy prince had been raised in her village. His fair hair and her auburn locks had bounced through the sunshine as they ran in and out of the dappled shadows of the Glade. They had been close as children, too close, taking liberties with each other that were against the Law.
Had he come now to punish her?
“My lord…” she began.
“No, do not fear,” he said gently. “I seek only a small recompense.” He leaned toward her without emerging into sunlight although his face was mere inches from hers. His voice and the unexpected tenderness in his eyes beguiled her and she leaned in to meet him.
“And what penance is it you seek?” she asked, her heart stirred with a heady emotion she was reluctant to name.
“I would like my kiss back again,” he whispered, his eyes on her lips.
His dark yet noble heart beckoned to her, as it always had. The child she had been longed for the innocent rebellion of those bygone days, but they weren’t children anymore. He was a Prince and she a Guardian. What had been only frowned upon long ago would now be a grievous sin. Still, she wavered, tempted to grant him this one small trespass.
Sensing her weakness, the pixies admonished her in a whirlwind of fluttering, their wings like so many butterflies on her cheeks. But she shooed them away angrily. She didn’t need their council. She knew quite well what hung in the balance.
She had taken an oath as Guardian. Her loyalty was to the Glade, and the Glade alone. Her heart and the Glade’s were one and the same. As the neutral border between the Fae and human realms, she could not give that heart to one side or the other. As Guardian, she must refuse him even the smallest of favors, for to grant one would be to endanger the peace that was the Glade’s reason for being.
“What say you?” he prompted into her silence as he lifted a long finger to trace the line of her jaw.
“You know I cannot,” she whispered, her voice full of a longing she had meant to suppress.
His golden eyes roved over her face and came to rest on her lips. “Then, my dear lady, the Darkening will remain until justice is served.”
He stood back from her, letting the cool mist rise between them. It sent chills up her arms as she watched him bow and turn on his heel to stride off into the gloomy woods.
She knew him well enough to know he would find a way to get his kiss in the end. And she wanted him to. But, she had a few tasks she required in return. Her lips curled with mischief. It would be an interesting summer.