The journey was almost over.
Ivor and Caeyu looked in the far distance to Fàitois, the grandest dwelling of the Seelie Fae Queen Titania. Excitement was swelling Ivor’s chest and into his arms. Even from here, he could see at the center of Fàitois was Jera, the largest tree in this world and the next, it’s twisting trunk rising out to steel branches which each held different bunches of leaves in varying colors and shapes. Nuts and fruits fell daily to feed the folk that worshipped the land. Her roots waved in and out of the ground to form shelter above and curled below to make burrows. Legend had it Jera was born from lightning that struck a lonely spirit and that she burst from fresh dirt to form the seven rivers that fed her.
Jera was also the most powerful natural source in all the Borealis. Capable to perform miracles even the Fae had never conceived. Or so Ivor’s instincts hoped.
Caeyu felt like chewing po leaves. They were finally here. They hadn’t been in a Fae dwelling in sometime. Wandering through the Aimless lands left her weary. But now? Now she’d take beasts over what might be ahead of them. The connection between her and Ivor was tightening around her neck and shoulders. He was confident, and she hoped he was right.
“Are you afraid?” she asked looking up at him.
“Not yet. Maybe tomorrow when the celebrations begin.”
“The folk song is in three suns?”
She pushed the black vines from her head behind her pointed ear. “What will you do, if this works?”
Ivor was quiet, as he often was, the wind playing with his thick blonde braid. He was covered in grime from boots to nose. The tattered cloak over his shoulders could no longer be identified as blue and his trousers desperately needed patched. She knew he’d never let these gifts go, but she was determined in persuading him to get a new blouse once they were in Fàitois. At least his gloves were clean.
“I haven’t thought about it.”
Caeyu meekly smiled. “I’ll help, whatever you decide to do.” She hoped whatever it was, it would involve settling down. “Let’s hurry, we need to catch the last ferry.”
The seven rivers overflowed often, turning even the hill they stood on to slick mud. Ivor descended to the base in a smooth glide. Caeyu positioned her shell mask before she went down. The mud pulled them in. She was sunk half to her knees before Ivor stopped, still meters away from the water’s edge. She wondered how he was going to do on the ferry.
Her concern doubled when she saw they were going to be riding on something that was hardly a raft. Three other folk were already on board not including the satyr in patterned scarves that was steering. Two squating chaulk with bright blue veins and skulls over their heads dangled their bodies over the very end. And a centaur with a heavy robe stood perfectly in the center.
Ivor waded through the mud much slower than he had to, while Caeyu tried thinking of a way on without exposing her identity.
“High sun, let me help you both,” said the centaur. He jumped into the water and moved across the deep slick ground with easy. “My name is Crayben. Would you like to sit on my back for the ride? It’d be no trouble, no trouble at all, and I’m sure will leave us all more space.”
Caeyu said yes before Ivor could say no. He’d never admit it but she knew they’d both feel better if they were on top of Crayben. Ivor lifted himself easily on the centaur’s back and helped Caeyu up. With no difficulty Crayben got back on the ferry and the satyr pushed off.
“I quite admire your braid," the centaur said to Ivor. "Would you do my hair like that? I’ve never been good at those, my Latima usually does them, but not as much with her pregnancy.”
Ivor started pulling out the chestnut tangles at the centaur’s ends but then dutifully began weaving his hair.
“Will you be keeping the colt?” the satyr asked casually.
“I’m coming to Fàitois to speak to some Fae about the birth. I bet there’s going to good ones, the queen’s court members even. They’ll want to be here for the folk dance.”
“Could always leave it to Jera. A strong boy could work the rivers well,” replied the satyr.
Crayben nodded. “If it’s a boy. A girl I’d rather leave with a Fae.”
Caeyu squinted at the horizon, trying to show her disinterest.
Ivor worked on Crayben’s hair the whole ride.
In preparation for the folk that’d be traveling to the dwelling, extra shelters were made far from Jera’s shade. They found a dreary shed unoccupied. Ivor had slept in caverns with hibernating beasts more welcoming than the pitiful place, but they were tired and didn’t feel like searching any longer for another avaliage lodge. It was suited towards a single occupant, making the two of them feel cramped. The dried sweet grass on their floor had gone stale and stiff and the wood walls were sickly tinged and constantly damp. There was one half wall inside and neither of them knew what purpose it was supposed to serve.
Ivor slid his herb box off his shoulders and used the duffle bag on top of it as a pillow. Throwing his sweat and mud covered blouse across the shed he told Caeyu goodnight and rolled over to sleep.
Caeyu sat in the shed’s entrance. She was ready to turn stray folk away incase they arrived later than them. After a few hours she dug through the herb box to find po leaves. She grinded them down in her mouth and sucked on their flavor. The moon was moving too slow and there was too much to think about. Disguises for the next few days, preparations to be made. She wanted to find a way to call Lufa, but knew only Ivor could do that.
As confident as he was about his plan, Ivor wouldn’t call his guardian.
Unable to be still any longer she began walking through the huddled boxes. When she found a decent amount of free space and made sure no one was watching, she dived into the dirt and disappeared.
Ivor woke up to the smell of sausage. Curling towards the aroma, his nose twitched in excitement. The grass stuck to his skin and had left criss cross impressions all across his back. Caeyu was five feet away cooking something in his pan while a stack of meats lay on a plate with a warm bundle of green stalks. He flopped over and started shoving the sausage into his mouth with one hand and held the stalks in the other.
The Elf looked down at him in disgust.
“You need to stop doing that.”
“Mm?” His eyes were still heavy with sleep and remained euphorically closed.
“Eating as if it were a hobby! You can’t keep gorging yourself once a day and starving the rest.”
“I’m not starving.”
“Your size tells me otherwise.”
“I can lift a rock the size of you above my head. Food isn’t going to make me grow taller.”
“How would you know if you’re not trying? I made you a pan biscuit and I specifically went out to find berries to make jam to put on it for you. You best eat the whole thing.”
She huffed and pushed her vines out of the way of her mask’s eyeholes.
Ivor finished the last sausage and would gladly eat one of her giant pan biscuits. Her jam was a perfect balance of tart and sweet over the flakey layers of hot bread. He wanted to crawl back and sleep in the corner after he ate this. Caeyu’s cooking was the closest thing to home on the road as he knew it and he could never thank her enough.
While he ate she went out and grabbed two buckets she made the previous night. It was a short walk to the river and back. Folk were preparing to enter the dwelling by finding ferriers or making their own boats. If they were planning on walking they would have started some time ago if they wanted to be there when the festivities began.
Back at the shed, Ivor had rolled over on his stomach in front of the empty pan. Without a second’s hesitation she dumped half a bucket cold river water on his head.
Ivor’s spine sprang up like a wild cat.
“Hehe, scrub up, and give me your clothes. You won’t get anything at the market for less then eternal servitude looking like that.”
Ivor stripped without complaints knowing she was right. It’d might be worth contracting a Fae to fix him up if the price was fair. His attire had certainly seen better days.
From his herb box he added some aries fatty oil to help get the deep grind off his skin and added some dried eve petals for a light spring scent. He would need all the help he could get when the heat drenched him in sweat by midday and the smells of the dwelling began sticking.
While Ivor scrubbed his skin from blotchy brown to a warm tan Caeyu did what she could to his dressings. They only had a few extra patches and no string. She only had the vines from her head to hold it together for now.
Being put back together clothed and clean, Ivor only looked marginally better.
“What do you have to trade?” she asked
“I’ve prepared some blood. I also have the harpy feather and some of my brothers’ baby teeth.”
“Will it be enough?”
“To get close to Jera? I’m... Prepared to give something greater, if it comes down to it.”
“Lufa will be furious with you.”
“It’ll be worth it. The folk dance is the only time Jera will-”
“Have the power of a God," Caeyu rolled her eyes. "I understand. But you’re not valuing your own life.”
“My life is dedicated to finding the cure. If there’s anything after that I’d consider that luck.”
She clamped her mouth shut. She hated this part of him, the human part. “New clothes first?”
He nodded. “I’m due for a new wardrobe.”
“And a haircut.”