Children tend to embrace the world around them as it is presented - with wonder and delight at each new discovery. For example, an adult views dandelions as pesky weeds, but to the young they are golden flowers that greet the sun and hide from the night, transforming as if by magic into wishflowers that can be blown into the wind. Everything is new, and anything can be celebrated.
When told that she was in another world, however, Abbie did not react with joy and delight. She stamped her foot. “Take me back home right now,” she said firmly to the boy with the pointed ears.
“I cannot!” he exclaimed, reaching for her hand. She pulled away from him, splashing backward into the water as he grimaced.
“If the pond is a gate, then I’m going back home,” Abbie said, trying to sound mean in order to hide how scared she was feeling. “You’re going to help me!” she said to Foster, who shook his head emphatically. Sammy lay panting on the bank of the pond, looking back and forth between the two youngsters like he was watching a tennis match.
“Oh no. No! I cannot help you. The Queen watches - I mean, she probably already knows you are here - but she watches the Gate.” As he spoke he gave the word a subtle emphasis that indicated this Gate had a capital letter and was Important. “You cannot go back though an unsanctioned gate anyway.” Foster’s knees buckled, and he sat down heavily in the ferns beside her dog, the color draining out of his tanned face. Sammy sat up, shoving his cold nose into the boy’s face and giving him a friendly lick.
“Sammy, come here,” Abbie ordered, still shin deep in the water. The Jack Russell ignored her, continuing to try to lick Foster’s face even though the boy had buried it in his hands. She sighed, exasperated, and splashed back to dry land, flopping wetly down on the other side of her dog. “What did you mean by an, uh, ‘un-sank-shunned’ gate?”
“A gate opened beyond the ken or purview of the Queen,” said Foster, muffled by his hands. He looked through his fingers at her, saw the look on her face, and lifted his head. “Gates are controlled by the Queens. You are not allowed to open one unless you are granted permission.”
“Can’t I just go back through?” Abbie hugged her dog, closing her mouth tightly against his persistent and happy licks.
“No. Well, you could,” Foster allowed. “I would have to open it again, and I am not sure how I did it in the first place. But!” he said quickly, “Going through a gate without the blessing of the Fae, to return home… you could end up a hundred years in the future in your world. It is a tricky magic and I am not good enough, even if I were allowed to do it. Which I am not.”
Abbie’s mouth turned downward and she looked away from the older boy, across the pond. “How do I get home, then?” Before he could answer, she rounded on him, “You brought me here, you have to help me get back. You’re responsible for me.” Sammy barked at the change in her tone, and she soothed him by ruffling his ears.
“I am,” Foster agreed, though he looked a little green at the thought. “You could, could, return to the world through the main Gate, in the Queen’s palace, in the center of Summer. Otherworld is divided into Summer and Winter -”
“Like Fairyland?” interrupted Abbie. “I’ve read fairy stories before… is that, is this where I am? The Fairy Kingdom?” He’d mentioned the Fae, earlier, but it hadn’t clicked until now. “Summer’s Queen is Tita - ow!” Foster clapped his hand over her mouth before she could finish, silencing her with terror in his eyes.
“Do not speak her name! You will draw her eyes!”
Abbie stared at him, her own eyes wide. “Okay,” she said, pulling his hand from her face. “Sheesh, sorry.” She looked around them with new appreciation.
Foster smoothed down his leaf shirt, his eyes a little wild. “The Gate you need is in the center of Summer, and this is the height of her power. You will not get there unseen, and if you are found…”
Abbie waited for him to finish, but it appeared he already had. “...if I’m found, what? Won’t...won’t she let me go home?” Her lower lip trembled.
“Maybe she would,” said Foster, morosely. “But it will be over my dead body.” It wasn’t a threat, just a plain, and sad, fact. “More likely she will make you one of her servants, to serve her forever, and ever. And ever, and ever, and ever,” he continued, lying down in the ferns and staring up at the blue sky. He was doomed.
She reached over and grabbed him by the shoulders, shaking him. “We can’t just sit here, waiting for her to find us!” Abbie got to her feet, and Sammy jumped up, barking excitedly. “You did it once already, maybe you can learn how to do it again, and, like, not send me a zillion years into the future.”
Foster sat up. “It takes years to master one’s magic!”
“Well, I’m not staying here for years,” said Abbie. “C’mon Sammy.” She started marching off toward the treeline, bees flying up from the wildflowers as she waded through them.
“You do not know where you are going,” called Foster, plaintively. The girl didn’t stop, continuing her stubborn barefoot walk, dog running in circles around her. He sighed, pushed himself up to his feet, and ran after her. Catching up, he said, “You are heading toward the goblin swamp.”
Abbie stopped walking, narrowing her eyes. “Are goblins nice?”
“Not even to other goblins,” Foster said.
“Are you a fairy?” she asked, turning to him.
“No, fairies are little,” he said, indignantly. “I am an elf. Guardian of the forest, remember?”
Abbie frowned, trying to think, but her thoughts were hopping all over the place. “My dad is really smart. I bet he can find a way to get me home…?” Foster was shaking his head. “No?”
“Your parents will not even know you are gone,” he said. “Old magic, some of the oldest, is woven into the gate spell. Those who stumble through from the world into ours,” he sounded like he was reading from a textbook, “are copied, leaving a changeling in their stead. The changeling is just like the person they have replaced, but -” he stopped abruptly, before continuing on. “They are like a... reflection of you. Since you are not gone, your parents will not look for you.”
Foster’s face brightened. “But, you can stay with me. You are right, I am responsible for you. And there are other humans here, too! You will like it here.” He jumped out in front of her, blocking her way. “You will not like it with the goblins, they are not close, but… probably best to go a different way.” He hesitated, studying her face. “Why are you crying? Do not cry!”
“I’m not crying,” Abbie sniffed, a big fat tear rolling off the tip of her nose. “I just wanna go home, and you’re being very confusing.”
“Come on,” he said, pulling the human girl close in an awkward hug. “I will show you something that will make you happy. But stop crying.” Foster looked around worriedly as Abbie sobbed into his leafy shirt. Tears might attract the wee folk, and then they’d have no end of nonsense. He had enough trouble already. “Please?”
She nodded, his shirt surprisingly soft against her damp cheek, and pushed away from him. “O-o-okay,” Abbie quavered, wiping her eyes as Foster smiled encouragingly and pointed to the west. Was that a flicker of wings behind her? Just his imagination. He willed it to be so, and took her hand, pulling her along into the shade of the trees. “What kind of magic do you do?” she asked, following him because she didn’t know what else to do.
“Forest magic,” he said, picking up the pace. “Do you always ask so many questions?”
“Yes?” Abbie said, struggling to keep up with the elven boy. “Especially when I meet an elf in the woods.”
“Fair enough,” he said, practically towing her along behind him while her dog ran alongside. “Oh, no.”
“Oh no?” She bumped into him when he abruptly stopped, and looked around. All she saw were trees, and some dragonflies. Abbie had a pang of fear at the thought of losing the pond - her only connection to back home, and her parents.
“Wee Folk,” Foster groaned, picking a daisy from the forest floor and turning to face the dragonflies. Abbie’s mouth fell open as she realized the dragonflies weren’t insects at all, but tiny people with translucent wings. They flitted between the trees, the dappled sunlight reflecting from their iridescent clothes, and Foster pulled her behind him, brandishing the flower like a rapier.
“I wanna see,” she complained. “Are those fairies?”
“Unfortunately,” her companion said. “They are attracted to wild emotions and curiosity. We may never be rid of them if you keep asking questions.”
Abbie ducked a bit and peeked out from under his armpit as the largest of the little fairies drew near. He was holding a twig in his hand and had an adorable acorn hat. “Is that cherry?” muttered Foster, but he said clearly, “Halt! I am a Guardian and you may not harass me or my charge!”
Sammy barked at the Wee Folk, but Abbie grabbed his collar before he could run after them. The fairy hovered like a hummingbird, his wings buzzing as he regarded the three creatures in front of him. “I am Table,” he proclaimed regally, his voice small but not high pitched. “We only wish to play. Put away your flower!”
“Put away your stick,” replied Foster. “Do not think I do not know what it is.” Five or six other fairies clustered around the first, and Abbie watched them with wonder.
Table drew himself up to his full height of about eight inches. “I will not release my staff. Why, you might as well ask me to cut off my arm! But your flower, you will not need it.”
“I like this flower,” retorted the elf. He raised it a little higher in warning as one of the Wee Folk looked about to flank him. They returned to a single group, settling in the lower branches of the nearest tree.
Abbie giggled. “Is your name really Table?”
“Abbie!” said Foster, exasperated. “Do not encourage them!”
“My name is Table indeed, fair maiden,” said the fairy, giving her a bow from his spot in the tree. “This is Fork, Door, Roof, Curtain, and Rug.” Each of the fairies bowed in turn.
“They are not allowed inside,” said Foster. “Over time the Wee Folk have become overly fascinated with things that are inside houses.”
“I think they’re cute,” said Abbie.
“They are pests,” the elf boy said. “They will be starting with riddles soon, and - no that was not an invitation!” he said loudly as Table perked up at the mention of word games.
“We only want to play,” said Fork, or maybe it was Rug. She turned a cartwheel and Abbie clapped with delight while Foster sagged as he realized he would no doubt lose this fight. Perhaps they could get away from them before it would turn to night? Though it appeared the fairy magic was already in effect, turning even his thoughts into a rhyming dialect!
“Stop that!” he said, “You are an annoying little gnat!”
“Foster,” Abbie protested, but whatever she was going to say was lost as a wolf howl pierced the forest. Sammy whined and pressed himself against her legs, and the fairies scattered like leaves in the wind.
A second howl joined the first, from a different direction. Foster handed Abbie the daisy. “You are going to need this.” He grabbed her hand and they started running.