Lux hated her father for allowing the fair to come to town today. With her mother still laid out on the table at home and the priest arguing about whether he would allow her in hallowed ground or not.... It was unseemly.
Debate raged as to whether faerie women were children of God who could be given Christian burial. Her father and older brother had been swearing and threatening, away from the priest’s hearing, that the old bastard would soon learn to mind their family better. The De Rue family fought at Hastings after all.
The image that this evoked, of armed men in chainmail, bursting into a church and harming a man of God appalled Lux. But then many of the things her father and brother did appalled her. Her brother was of a different mother to herself, and it had always shown.
Despite his wrath her father had still allowed the fair… There were bells on hats and jugglers, minstrels and fools. The occasional splash of animal torture, which seemed to bother none but her (a mark of her strange faerie blood that caused her to turn from the sight of blood), tinkers were mending pots and pans, telling fortunes and selling cures… Children were running and playing everywhere… As Lux moved through the melee of it, it was as if her mother had never lived.
Yet the townsfolk minded her as she moved quietly through and passed them. These were the simple people who believed she was holy for her visions and because of who her mother had been. Her father and Mother Superior both had other words for what she was.
The people were somewhere between afraid and in awe of Lux. It wasn’t because she was Lux de Rue, daughter of a land-rich knight with aristocratic connections on his mother’s side; -a family who thought they were slightly more important than they really were. No, people were more interested in who her mother had been than who her father was. But none of them for either reason stopped to give their commiserations to Lux for the loss of her mother.
None of the simple folk believed that Agnes was really dead. The body back in the parlour was a ‘faerie stock’ placed there to trick mankind, whilst Agnes was taken back to her own again. Lux didn’t believe that. She knew this death was real enough. The smell of it was in her nostrils still from cleaning her mother’s body.
As she was heading for the tree line Lux didn’t even know where she thought she was going. Just away. Away from the noise made by people, noise that seemed to mock her mother who lay still and grey inside.
It wouldn’t be long before they’d send someone to fetch Lux back and scold her for being out of sight. Yet her older brother Geoffrey had seemed quite relaxed on mead last she saw him. It was he who so often watched her for father.
She was nearly to the tree line when she saw it. Lux had been seeing visions of things that no one else could see all her life, but this was strong. So strong that her heart leapt up in her chest and it was all she could do not to cry out ‘Mother!’ at the top of her lungs.
Forcing herself to walk at a fast but dignified pace, Lux headed rapidly for where she could see her mother standing in a shaft of sunlight, just within the trees. Lux had never seen a ghost stand in the sun like that. Somehow the simple folk were right! Her mother had just been taken by the faeries and wasn’t really dead after all…
Agnes retreated into the trees as she approached but Lux followed at a run as soon as she reached the green shade of the woods.
“Mother!” she cried out softly.
Turning slowly as she shuffled away through the early autumn fall, she came to face her daughter. Lux gasped when she met her mother’s gaze. Agnes was ghastly pale. A thin slither of blood ran from her nose, which she didn’t wipe away.
“Lux, my sweet child,” she said, her voice as flat as one who had never known emotion. Her pale hair was undone and uncovered, disreputably tousled like an unmarried girl. “You should come with me where I go. This world is cruel and its men are made of cold hard iron, where ours are made of starlight and honey dew.”
“But Mumma! You’re not dead! Come home with me. They’re going to put you in the ground soon if you don’t come home. Please!” Lux felt desperate. She loved her poor strange mother and she was also afraid. Without her mother there Father would be crueler to her still. It felt like there would be no one to understand now.
“Look, baby child,” Agnes whispered, her voice full of awe and child-like joy as she raised her skirt. Lux stared in horror as her mother exposed herself. “It’s all coming out now. All of it! All of that human mess.”
Lux covered her mouth with both hands and tried not to make a sound. Wide-eyed she watched blood, shit, and possibly parts of organs begin to clot and slither their way down her mother’s legs.
“It’s for the best, girl,” her mother was saying while it happened. “Can’t enter Faerie with that rot still inside me. No point being ashamed anymore. Humans and their stupid shame…” She crouched down then as if to better evacuate the toxic humanity in her. She made a sound of pain like someone in the later stages of childbirth. Something awful slithered out of her, and then she became nothing but light.
“Mother,” Lux whimpered, falling to her knees. She thought she had reached out to clutch her mother before she disappeared, but all she was holding to her chest was an armful of muddy leaves. Lux threw them from her in revulsion.
Before she could get up she heard a quiet but distinct sound in one of the trees above her. Lux jumped nervously and swung around. There was a young man sitting on one of the high branches, looking down at her. His relaxed posture suggested he’d been there for some time. Getting hurriedly to her feet Lux tried to brush her clothes down, thinking to run. He had seen too much already. Doubtlessly he’d heard the whole exchange and thought her mad. Lux barely noticed him, who he was, or what he looked like, she was too mortified.
“It seems we are stalking the same prey,” the young man on the branch said. He had a strange accent. Not just a commoner’s tongue, he was something strange. She felt immediately uncomfortable and her skin prickled. Something from deep in the base of her skull told her she was in danger because his voice sounded like that.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said stiffly, trying to stop crying and wiping at her face.
He swung his legs down so he was sitting up on the branch. She was able to see that he was wearing greenish brown leathers in a style that reminded her of the tinker men. When she caught a flash of the arrows in the quiver on his back she took a few steps back preparing to run.
She hadn’t been old enough to speak yet when the cautionary tales had started. The tales that involved men who looked like he looked, spoke like he spoke, those stories that never ended well for girls like her.
“You needn’t be afraid,” he said softly, as though she were an easily startled bird or a doe whose trust he wished to win. “I won’t harm you. I see them too, you realize?
The spectral lights, the faerie men and women? I see them, because I am one. And I saw you seeing them.”
“Who are you?” she demanded, crossing her arms and looking sternly at him.
“My name’s Robin.”
“I’m Lux de Rue.”
“Oh I know who you are, my lady.”