Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I know I missed Friday this week, but I’ve been busy doing Christmas-related stuff. My gift to myself this year was a desk, from which I wrote this little story that is my Christmas gift to everyone. Please read and enjoy this brief treat that I vaguely wish to turn into something much, much longer.
“In the Bleak Midwinter”
The fae man is waiting for me as I step out of the house, as if he knew that sooner or later one of us would come out for their help. I walk past him even as he tips his hat at me. I will not go to him for help even if he begs. Nothing good ever comes from dealing with the Fae.
He hastens to follow, swinging a gold-tipped ivory cane in a wide arc at his side as he says, “A fine evening it is, Miss Francis. If a little snowy, perchance you require assistance?”
“Good evening to you too,” I say politely. “No thank you.”
He probably could help bring little Cousin Rebecca back from wherever it was the tiny fairies have stolen her off to. He probably orchestrated it in the first place. I told Papa that hiring the wee things as decoration for the holiday parties were a bad idea but of course he ignored me. Ms Catherine has him wrapped firmly around her little finger and if she wanted them so that she could pretend that we were like aristos, being the wealthiest and most notable free Black family in London, of course he would waste our money to get them for her.
The fae man does not leave. He says, “But the hour is late, and the night is cold. I’m sure that whatever it is could be accomplished in half the time if you allow me.”
I glance over at him. Despite the chill, which has me bundled in thick woollen, fur-lined redingote, hat and muff, and heaviest shawl, he is in a light coat, with thin gloves and felt hat. As we move past an open pub, light and song flow out and his eyes brighten a summery blue. I know this fae man, Aster, and he even has one of the tiny flowers pinned to his breast. I say, “I will not ask for your help, no matter how much you offer it. Please, let me be sir.”
He steps slightly ahead of me as a group of revellers from another pub stumble into my path. They pull up short, grumpy, but get a good look at his face and hurry away. Englishmen may not like the fae but they know better than to offend them. Me, on the other hand, well, no one cares about offending the Black freepeople.
“Something has happened in your home. I heard the commotion from outside and from the people hurrying away. What is it?” asks Aster.
“My cousin Rebecca has been stolen by the fairies. I told my stepmother that it was not a good idea to rent them out for the party, but she insisted. His Highness, the Regent has them, so why can’t she? And look, she found them for cheap. Only the honeyed wine will be their payment, and still they took my cousin,” I say.
“Are you sure it’s the fairies?” asks Aster.
“They left a trail of wine in their wake from where they snatched her near the fireplace as she slept. I suppose they’re taking her back to their hill for the night but if we don’t find her before morning, it will be all of us in the gaol and no amount of pleading the fairies will get us out,” I say.
The tiny fairies of London have their hills in every park, barely higher than anthills except that they are sometimes decorated with trinkets stolen from humans. The fairies my stepmother found, however, live in an old factory that the Luddites burned just last month and immediately bankrupted the owner. There’s a little girl’s silk slipper placed carefully on the front step before the boarded-up front door. So, my hunch of where they took her is correct.
As I reach for the gate, Aster stays my hand with his own and says, “You are human, and you have nothing to trade. Did you intend to exchange her life with your own?”
“The magistrates would have done so anyway,” I reply. Papa would be accused of murder and hanged. In comparison, my trade would be gentler.
Aster does not release my hand. Instead, he says, “Let me help you. No trade is required.”
And then he releases me and marches into the factory before I can reply. By the time I catch up to him, in the cold, darkness of the factory interior, only just lit here and there by tiny candles the fairies have set up, Aster is standing before a field of fairies with his hands on his hips, and a disapproving frown on his face. Rebecca, still asleep, is a bundle of fabric in the corner. I rush over to her without a thought.
Some of the fairies protest, flying into my face shouting what are surely terrible curses, but I’m suddenly enveloped in a warm breeze, that barely flutters my hem but sends the fairies flying. Aster shouts in the background, “How dare you! I’m not done with you yet!”
Rebecca does not stir as I gather her into my arms. She doesn’t look hurt, but they probably drugged her because she’s deeply asleep. I turn at once and head for the door, and by the time we are outdoors, Aster is with me. He takes Rebecca from my arms and says, “Allow me, dear lady. The night is cold, but together, we shall keep each other warm.”