Alida sat on her blanket, her wings folded.
The bed was far too big for her.
It had been built for a grown-up human to sleep in.
The old man had told her that.
She didn’t know his name.
She had no idea why he had lifted her out of her soft faerie’s-nest bed and brought her here so long ago.
The wagon wheels had bumped over the rutted road.
They had passed through two towns at night, the last one at the bottom of the hill below the castle. Both had been silent, the windows dark, everyone asleep.
The man had been very careful not to hurt her or scare her on the journey.
He had spoken quietly, kindly, as the horses galloped in the moonlight.
He hadn’t told where he was taking her. But he had promised that no one would harm her.
And he had been right—no one had.
Alida remembered seeing the castle guards as the old man led her through the wide halls. But no one had so much as spoken an unkind word. No one had spoken to her at all.
The old man had carried her up the long, twisting stairs into the tower.
He had bent down to kiss her forehead, then he had gone, locking the door behind him. Alida had heard the heavy wooden bar slide into place. It had been dark—she couldn’t see how small the chamber was that first night.
She had been frightened, but that had passed. She wished she had asked the old man whose castle this was—which nobleman owned it. But she hadn’t thought of it until much later.
Alida missed her family very much. At first she had cried almost every day. But she knew that weeping would not help her make her way home. And so she stopped.
She watched the seasons pass, and she waited.
There was nothing else she could do.
There was a small, barred window near the arched ceiling far above her head. The glass was thick and dirty. But she could see that the sky was deep blue today.
She loved to watch the clouds sail past.
Sometimes she could see the moon.
The chamber was chilly sometimes, but not really cold. It was small, but it was big enough for a faerie. She had grown in the sixty years she had been locked in this chamber, but she was still a child.
Faeries lived much longer than human beings, and they grew much more slowly. But even if she lived to be almost three hundred years old, like her grandfather had, she would never be taller than a seven-year-old human girl.
There was a narrow crack in the stone wall, just wide enough for tiny wisps of wind to sneak in, just wide enough to see out. Peeking through it, Alida had traced the seasons.
Sixty summers had come and gone.
Just as many winters had passed, icy, dark, and deep.
And now spring was near again.
She would be able to see the flowers blooming soon.
Alida slid off the bed and walked to the wall.
She laid her cheek against the cold, gray stone, then turned her head, squishing her nose a little, squinting one eye and closing the other.
It took a little while to find the perfect position, but once she did, she could see through the crack in the stone. There were tall trees, and a narrow road.
Once, she had seen unicorns on that road, galloping, their heads high, their manes streaming out behind them.
Today there were castle guards walking past, far below the tower.
Their armor was shiny.
Their backs were straight and their tunics were blue and red.
Alida stared past them at the thin slice of woods and meadow—the only part of the world she could see. She could imagine the smell of the dew, the sweet, soft petals of the flowers that would come soon. She smiled. The trees were budding.
Sometimes, if she pressed her ear against the stone, she could hear woodpeckers tapping, hawks calling, and meadowlarks singing.
And if she stood in just the right place, if the day was bright and sunny, if she turned her head perfectly and squinted hard, she could see a little way down the road.
She didn’t know where it led. She had no idea where she would end up if she walked down it. Home?
Oh, how she missed her family. She missed magic. Her older sister would be able to fly well by now. Terra would have been practicing all this time. She would be weaving through the oak forest, higher than the birds, and much more swiftly.
Alida stretched her wings. Any faerie child could rise off the ground. But learning to fly well took a lot of practice. She had just been learning to glide down from the top of the huge egg-shaped rock at the far end of the meadow.
She was sure she wouldn’t be able to do even that now.
Alida took one more breath of the cool, sweet air, and then went to sit on the edge of the bed again.
She smoothed her dress. Her mother had made sure that it would grow with her, and that it would stay clean and fresh.
Her mother could work perfect magic of all kinds.
So could her father.
Alida often dreamed about the faerie lights flickering in the night. In her dreams she could hear the breathy voices of faerie flutes on the still summer air.
She blinked back sudden tears.
Someday, somehow, she would find her way home.
She climbed back onto the bed and refolded her wings. Then she just sat still and waited for the day to pass.
© 2010 Kathleen Duey