The One That Got Away
<Hopefully I’m doing this right and it isn’t too terribly long…>
The humans don’t talk about the Fair Folk they notice, so none of them seem to think about the ones that don’t reveal themselves. We don’t exist - never have, never will.
I’m one of the younger Fair Folk at only 87 years old. My abilities lie in shape-changing and glamours, and I like to blend into the background. Because of this I can ensure that my features are normal; I have the proper parts - no more or less, and my hair and eyes are a perfectly normal brown and green respectively. In short, I look like a normal human girl.
I guess that’s why the actual human girl felt comfortable approaching me. I’d been sitting in the library reading when she walked right up to me and introduced herself.
“Hey, I’m Melody. What are you called?” (No one ever asks what your name is. Answering truthfully would be as unwise as lying. It’s one of the first “customs” that incoming students learn about.)
“I suppose I’m called Siné.” I don’t know what to think of this bold, blue-haired, dark-skinned girl. Her eyes are a lovely shade of blue-grey.
“Neat name. So what’s your major? English somethin’?” She gestures toward the book I’m holding. It’s Shakespeare and I’d been considering Taking it for my collection.
Instead of answering, I shrug. She seems to think that I’m a student, and I’m certainly not going to correct her.
Rather than getting suspicious, she takes it as a yes. “That must be fun! I’m a double major in the arts - Music Theory and Creative Writing.”
Interesting. Such a clever and creative mind she must have… “You write and you compose?”
“Yeah…” She blushes. “It’s really fun but also really stressful. Especially here.”
In the end, we talk until the library clocks have moved forward several hours. The clocks outside have probably marked less than 45 minutes since she introduced herself.
(“Why did you come over anyway?” - “It’s been hard settling in. I’m from southern Louisiana, so I don’t know anyone here. Everyone else is too scared of the… forest… to talk to strangers, but you don’t seem to mind.”)
She invites me to her room when the librarian starts glaring at us.
(“I need feedback on my latest piece. How do you feel about the fiddle?” - “It’s a lovely instrument and I’d be honored to hear you play.”)
I was right, she is very creative. The Shakespeare is back in the library, but some of her sheet music goes missing. The other Fae try to find her, but her room is blocked from Their sight. They’ll just have to be content with listening.
That night, I enroll as an English major and arrange to be roommates with her. Melody’s original roommate gets moved to another building. The humans assume I’m a late transfer, and the other Fae don’t care.
Eventually, she learns enough of the Rules to understand why she still can’t find her music, no matter how hard she looks. After that, it all gets locked inside a hawthorn box with an iron lock within a circle of salt. She tells me this while complaining that she worked hard on that music and it’d be nice if They’d at least left a note or something.
The next morning, she finds a politely worded and complimentary letter on her desk. It has no signature. The music is not returned.
Months pass while we grow closer. I go everywhere with her; we have writing classes together (I try to see what she writes, but the angle is bad), and I wait outside her music classes (at least I can listen to her play). When she goes to a party, I’m always by her side. She dances sometimes, and I’m always watching. Eventually she stops going to parties.
One night she shares her stories with me and I have to fight the urge to Take her as I listen to grand tales of adventure and magic. It’s good that she wears enough iron to stop me.
The other students start to notice that we’re inseparable. So do the Gentry.
The Fair Folk never stopped looking for the musician whose performances hold the entire campus in awe of their beauty. They just could never find her until they saw how I favored Melody. After that, it was a simple matter for them to peel back my protections and confirm their suspicions.
I should have Taken her while I had the chance. I would have taken care of her, given her anything she wanted in exchange for her creations.
The students aren’t surprised when we both disappear one night.
It’s easy enough to find Melody. She’s inside a golden cage in front of the entire Court of Underhill. A Fae made of sharp edges and glitter is using her like a puppet, forcing her to play. Their magic shines like silver threads as it wraps around her hands.
I’m about to act when Melody speaks.
“Are you happy with this? Because this is all you’ll ever get from me again. Old music, old tales. I’ll give you nothin’ new while I’m trapped here.” Her hands keep moving, but it’s obviously only by rote.
The Fae tilts their head. “I could just kill you.” A string of magic twitches toward her mouth before disappearing once more.
“You could. Why should I care? If I stay, I’m dead no matter what.” I couldn’t be prouder or more scared. This could set her free, or it could get her killed. If this goes wrong, I’ll just have to step in like I’d been planning.
“Aren’t you scared?” The Fae rests fingers like knives around her throat. “You’re in mortal peril. Don’t you want to live?” The only thing keeping her alive is the curiosity of Fair Folk.
“Course I wanna live. But I’m not going to get to if I stay. You’ll make me a caged bird; you already have. This’ll kill me as sure as anythin’ else.” Her eyes stay open and unafraid.
With a hiss, the Fae steps back. “You aren’t willing to bargain for your life then?”
“I’m not willin’ to bargain for my death, but I’ll stay where you can hear me if you send me back unchanged. That’s my bargain and it’s the only one I’ll make.” The Court titters.
Minutes tick by as I hold my breath waiting for the Fae’s response. The Court starts shifting - some impatiently, some uneasily. Then, just as I start to think the deal has been rejected -
“I find these terms acceptable.”
I step out of the shadows to guide her back home.
When we come back, there are whispers. They’re shocked that we came back the same as we left; that we even returned at all. Some speculate that we tricked our way out, others that we were never with the Fair Folk at all. No one thinks that it was sheer stubbornness and determination that saved her, or that we weren’t together wherever we were.
Melody never asks why it took so long for the Gentry to find her in the first place, nor how I knew the path from campus to Court. She knows, and all she says is that if I ever try anything she’ll never speak to me again. I accept her bargain, because what else can I do?
Our days return to normal, except the Fair Folk are all terrified of her now. They address her as The One That Got Away, and when she passes by the lesser Fae bow and the Gentry simply nod. Once she loses her iron rings after a shower. For the entire week it takes to find them again, none of the Fair Folk risk being seen by her.
When I finally ask why she was willing to trap herself at the University when she was so against being trapped at the Court, her response is simple.
“I was already plannin’ on bein’ a professor here.” She grins toothily, “I just made them think they got the better end of the deal while giving up nothing.”
My collection is now in our room so she can be the centerpiece. I don’t want to Take her anymore; she’s already mine.