At first it seemed like no more than a point of light, high in the treetops, and then it was one of many, gradually drifting closer. A firefly perhaps, or some strange species of moth with large wings that glowed in the night. But soon the outline of a woman was unmistakable, bright as if caught in a bubble of twilight, childlike and pretty, but certainly no child.
She swooped down and hovered in front of Lisa, and in a high-pitched voice demanded –
Lisa had no idea. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t understand you.”
The fairy put her hands on her hips and frowned in thought for a bit, then waved her hands and a glittery shower of stars burst around Lisa’s head. “Can you understand me now, Dragon Slayer?”
Lisa could indeed, though the words spoken were certainly not Tayke. She could remember the Tayke word for yes, but it wasn’t the natural word to say. “Yes,” she said, her tongue twisting about the unfamiliar vowel.
“What are you?” the fairy demanded. “You look like a man, but the maidsilver sang for you.”
“Maidsilver?” The word puzzled Lisa, until she recalled the knight saying his armour had been quenched in the blood of a virgin maid. “The sword?”
“Yes. The metal itself has the strength of steel, but in the hands of a maid it comes alive with powerful magic.”
“Well,” another interrupted, “a woman’s hands, that is. Only a man would distinguish a maid from a woman, as if marriage made any difference.”
“Or sex,” a third one said, and many voices burst into laughter around and above Lisa. “Have you had sex?”
“We like sex.”
“Um,” Lisa said. “Are there any male fairies?” she asked, looking around and seeing only what she assumed were females.
“Not at the moment.”
Lisa shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“We change. As the mood takes us.”
“Sometimes we all change at once.”
“When the leaves fall.”
“Why are you crying?” the first fairy said. “Are you hurt?”
“We can help you,” said another.
“My hand,” Lisa said, holding it up, “but that’s not why I’m crying. My friend is gone. I need to find her.”
“Is she your lover?”
“Shh… They’re just friends.”
The fairy cast another spell that made stars glitter in the air around Lisa’s hand, which immediately improved. “Thank you,” Lisa said. “What is your name?”
They all laughed at that. “Our names are our own,” she said, “but you can call me Acorn.”
“Then thank you, Acorn. Can you help me find my friend?”
“Not without her name.”
“Or a strand of her hair, perhaps.”
“Or the symbol that was burned into her shoulder.”
Lisa looked up, trying to see which fairy had said that, but there were too many of them. “There is no symbol on her shoulder.”
“There is the memory of one,” Acorn said.
Lisa shook her head. “I don’t know her true name. I know her only as Rika. And all I have of her is this.”
There was a collective gasp as Lisa took the book from her bag. “This is her mother’s journal.”
“It is ours!” cried a voice.
“She gave it to us!” cried another.
Acorn shushed them all with a wave. “She gave it to us and we lost it,” she told them. To Lisa she said, “For years we have searched for this book. Not a branch or a leaf has been left undisturbed. A thousand spells have failed to reveal it, and now here it is. Where did you find it?”
“The wizard gave it to me.”
A chorus of horror and whispering fury echoed around her, until Acorn quieted them again. “It was in the Spite?”
Lisa nodded. “Yes.”
Acorn shrugged after a moment’s consideration. “It is here now, and our duty is to deliver it as promised. Fairies, search the forest. Find the girl.”
A hundred fairy lights shot off in different directions, or almost. None went in a straight line, and often they danced about each other playfully for a while before parting again. Only Acorn and a handful of others remained. “Where is Rika’s mother?” Lisa asked.
“She was just here,” Acorn said brightly.
“No, that was in Autumn,” another said. “We danced with her amidst the falling leaves.”
“I heard her song in the valley when the moon was full,” said a third.
Lisa couldn’t help smiling. For all their disagreement, they all believed her to be alive. “What about the Oracle?” she asked. “We were going to see the Oracle. Maybe she can help?”
“The Oracle!” they cried in unison. “Let’s go see the Oracle!”
Acorn laughed. “Yes, let’s. Come, Dragon Slayer. We will light the way.”
And they did, but first Lisa examined the knight and the dragon, assuring herself that both were dead. The dragon, indeed, was nothing but embers, casting a dim orange light across the knight whose silver armour had corroded into rust. The silver sword, however, gleamed as brilliantly as ever, and was cool now to the touch. She could almost hear its maidsilver song as she held it again. “I think I’ll keep you,” she said.