(c) Nin Harris 2008–
Thick, wide basil leaves hid a small, pointed, malicious face. The antennae on her head whirled busily as she listened. The wolf-maiden Tarme, she of the tawny fur and voluptuous torso had strayed into Nemus Animae. For what purpose, oh, for what purpose? The Flitterer knew not, but information was her especial skill. And it promised to be profitable, once more. The Wild Huntsman was still abroad, and he had noticed her acumen, at last! Time there was when she would have been the Huntsman’s quarry. Had he not chased her away from the Titian One’s court? But what’s done is done, what’s in the past should remain solely in the past, whispered a sycophant elf in her ear. Gold for you, the elf said. Safe egress into the great Faerie beyond, freedom from this isle of exiles, wouldn’t that be a relief? The Flitterer’s antennae whirled; she readied herself to do what she did best.
The furry maiden sat upon an up-ended barrel, her fingers tweaking at petals of the torch ginger blooms in a nearby patch. Her eyes gazed this way and that through the dark of the grove. Who was patrolling the borders of the haunted woods if Tarme was here? The Flitterer inched closer, and closer still, hoping to get a better vantage point for the conversation that was about to occur. Poking her head through the unchecked growth of wild lemongrass, the hard blades poking into her sides, she hoped this would provide her with the information she needed to get away from Yrejveree.
She was dead. She had to be. A great whooshing sound and then, darkness.
Dead. Deader than dead.
Some bad thing had captured her. What? Who?
The Flitterer stared up into Heaven.
Fangs met her eyes, glinting.
“Hello,” the wolf-maiden said.
“Hillo,” she wheezed.
“Welcome to Silva Atra,” Tarme said. A look of wicked amusement passed over her feral features.
The Flitterer got to her feet, and tried to discover if anything had been broken. Nary a thing. Nope. She shook her head, and wiggled her ears. She touched the tip of her pointed nose with a finger. Then two fingers. She pulled the messy fringe that fell over her eyes. Scalp worked. She didn’t feel dead. The Flitterer looked around. She was surrounded by ghostly, white-barked trees; dying leaves were a carpet beneath her feet. Wispy fireflies hovered in swarms. And the hairy maiden looked very pleased with herself. Dreadful smirk that. She hated.
“Kidnapper, ye hairy brigand!”
“I would rather consider it a counter-recruitment, my dear. And I really wouldn’t recommend going back to Nemus Animae, even if you are perfectly welcome to leave, right now.”
“Faerie Lord’ll fix ye!”
“Faerie Lord was going to have your bones ground, my dear. He knows you’re a mole for the Huntsman.”
The Flitterer tried to whirl her antennae, but then discovered they would not work. And she was in Silva Atra, the haunted woods. Maybe, even if her limbs seemed working, she was still dead. Dreadful fear, this. She must ask.
“Am I dead?”
“You may well wish you are. But worry not; your antennae will work again, soon. And then you will be quite aware that you are, indeed, alive!”
“Huntsman’ll need me. Huntsman’ll fix ye.”
Tarme laughed, a short, lupine sound.
“For someone who fancied herself a future position as intelligence officer in the Titian One’s court, you’re not awfully bright, my dear. Huntsman’s done for.”
“Gone. Kicked out of the isle!”
“No more Wild Hunt?”
Oh dear, oh dear. Exciting happenings. She was not privy! Worst than being dead!
“Who kicked the Huntsman out and why?”
“They tried to take over Nemorosum Somnium. The forest spat them back out. And the dragons were waiting. Gone!”
Tarme grinned at the little faerie.
“And now, I have a job for you, my nosy little thing.”
Tarme nodded. The Flitterer’s expression grew cunning.
“Information on exactly how the Huntsman was vanquished.”
The Flitterer’s eyes gleamed. But no, not to be cheated out of wages! Information was nice, but not enough. Wages must be had. Sweet things too!
“Bearing my protection so the irate members of the Faerie Court will not abuse you?”
The Flitterer considered this, but was yet unwilling to concede.
“And there is a nice little house for you of course. Prettily decorated to suit your faerie needs. And a title. How would you like to be Silva Atra’s Spy-in-Residence?”
Well now, this sounded nice. Very, very nice indeed. A house! She had to sleep on branches in the Faerie Lord’s bower, out of everyone’s way so she would not be kicked or cuffed. But still, “Not enough!”
Tarme sighed in exasperation and tossed her something. She caught it.
“Have a honeycake then, you greedy little thing!”
The Flitterer mumbled and munched. Honey was good wages. Sweet honey from bees fed on clover. She licked her lips. Very good wages indeed.
“I accept your offer,” the Flitterer said with all the dignity she could muster.
“Good. You may start right away. Here, wear this.”
Tarme placed a small, elegant amulet hanging from a thin necklace of moleskin leather over the faerie’s neck.
“This bears my mark of protection. You will not be harmed. I require you to enter Nemorosum Somnium to discover something for me.”
“The dreaming forest? One that chased out the Huntsman? One that has gone angry and mad? One that has leafy group-mind?”
“That one. I need for you to find me someone. A dragon. A very important dragon.”
The Flitterer’s antennae came back to life at this very moment, but it made no difference. She slumped. Her iridescent wings drooped.
Tarme’s voice was a lupine whip that set her spine ramrod stiff.
“Can I see my house first?”
The Flitterer’s voice lifted hopefully.
“More honeycakes, maybe oolong tea too?”
“You have had enough wages, you greedy thing. Get to work, now!”
The Flitterer raised her wings half-heartedly and pushed herself into the sluggish air of Silva Atra. Happened it was a mystery the hairy maiden wanted her to solve. Almost good enough to be killed for. But dreaming forest, please, should not kill her. The Flitterer increased the speed of her wings. She whizzed in between the trees that bordered both forests.