Note: This is my first letter of Advent 2019, but part 9 of me and my brother’s Advent Letters project. For an explanation of the project and to get caught up on past letters, click here.
My Dearest Mellema Cousins,
Greetings from the North Pole! And special greetings to the newest Mellema cousins: welcome, Henry and Holland! Of course, you both are two years behind in this story. But I trust your older cousins will dutifully explain the previous years’ events to you.
Things are going well up here. Mostly. My only real concern is that Avvu has been appointed Assistant to the Mail Room Director. I had hoped this only meant Avvu got a shiny brass badge. But to my dismay, I discovered he is also in charge of the food in the workshop cafeteria. If I have to choke down one more helping of lutefisk, I might just wander into Faerie and never return.
That reminds me—when we last left your father and uncles, they had just wandered into Faerie…
The instant the Faerie air filled his lungs, Matt felt different. But when he tried explaining how, the words all fizzled.
The best he could manage was that this world was more real. More there. The leaves were a greener green than anything on earth. The skies were a bluer blue, and always had a rainbow on the horizon.
Faerie was also more alive than the human world. Flowers grew the size of cars, and trees soared so high Matt couldn’t see their tops. Birds and squirrels scampered along the branches. Stags and hares leaped from hilltop to hilltop. Faires of every color danced and fluttered. Even the distant mountains pulsed with a deep vitality.
The boys wandered idly in silence. It was as if their senses were too full to say anything.
“We should start looking for the Heart of the North,” Jer said at last.
Matt and Brian agreed, shaking their heads back into attention.
“How do we know where to go?” Matt asked. “Erno never gave us directions, and Kanute should have given us his–”
Brian dove into Santa’s bag, and came out with a roll of parchment. When he unrolled it, a drawing of an arrow inked itself onto the page. No matter which direction Brian turned the parchment, the arrow always pointed in the same direction.
“It’s pointing toward the Heart of the North. Magic!” Brian declared, charging off in the arrow’s direction.
Matt and Jer shrugged and trailed after. They followed the arrow throughout the day. As the sun passed through the sky, Matt felt odder and odder for one reason: he wasn’t afraid.
Oddly enough, this lack of fear began to worry him. He was wandering through a strange world on a dangerous mission–why wasn’t he terrified? He remembered old stories of people wandering into the Otherworld. They lost all memory of their past lives, staying trapped in the Otherworld in enchanted apathy. Was that happening to him?
Then a creek burbled. Wind swept through the tree blossoms. He took another breath of Faerie air and forgot his worries.
They kept walking until the sun dropped behind the mountains, and the sky turned a fiery orange and pink.
“We should stop for the night,” Jer said. “I guess this is as good a camping spot as any.”
“What are we supposed to do, sleep on the ground?” Matt asked.
In answer, Brian rummaged some more through Santa’s bag. “Right here!” he said. Brian dumped three sleeping bags, matches, mince pies, and hot cocoa mix.
“Wow,” Matt mumbled to himself. “Santa’s bag really does have everything.”
“What’s wrong with that tree?” Brian pointed to an oak on the edge of their campsite. “Is it dying?”
“It’s just a statue or something,” Jer said.
“Maybe it’s a tree made out of metal. Do metal trees grow in Faerie?” Brian asked.
Jer shrugged. Matt set down his mince pie and left the fire. The closer he got to the tree, the wider his eyes grew. The tree was not dying, and it was not a statue. The tree was silver. A living, growing silver that shined in the firelight. Its leaves whispered in the wind Sparkling apples grew on its branches. Matt was about to pick one when Jer called him back to help with the fire.
Jer and Bri were snoring by the time their heads hit their pillows. Matt stayed awake, transfixed by the swirl of stars. He tried, and failed, to pick out familiar constellations. He wondered how much further they had to walk, and what kind of beings lived in Faerie.
The sweetest, purest music Matt had ever heard. For a moment, he thought it was harps. Then chimes. Then a human voice. He decided the music must be emanating from the land itself, and sank into a deep, comfortable sleep.
Matt awoke the next morning with that music tingling in his head. Jer and Bri were still asleep. Yawning, Matt trudged down to the stream to wash his face. He was just scouting out a convenient toilet bush when his whole body froze.
Against the treeline was a shadowy figure. A human figure. It stood motionless. Watching.
Matt stepped back, too afraid to run for his sword. He was too afraid even to scream. The shadow grew larger as it approached a break in the trees. Matt stumbled toward the camp, waking up Jer and Brian in the commotion. Matt’s panicked finger point interrupted Jer and Brian’s sleepy grumbles.
The shadow was one step from entering the camp. Bri, who had slept with his war hammer, rose and brandished it. Matt was working up the nerve to suggest they run.
The figure stepped into the morning sun. Matt froze again, but for a different reason.
It was a girl. The most beautiful girl Matt had ever seen. Her black hair flowed around her shoulders. Her skin was creamy white, save for rose-red cheeks.
“Who are you?” Jer said, fingers creeping toward his bow.
“I could ask you the same question,” the girl replied. Her voice was deep and smooth like the river.
“You’re a…girl?” Brian asked.
“In a manner of speaking.”
Though her face looked the same age as Matt’s, her silver eyes looked like they contained ages. Matt lost himself in them.
“My name is Ansa,” she continued. “I see you are from the Outerlands.”
“You mean earth? Yeah,” Jer said, backing up.
“How wonderful,” Ansa said. Her grin made Matt hear music again. “You must come to my father’s castle. We would so love your news of the world outside Faerie. The castle is grand, and you would be our honored guests. Do say you will come.”
She batted her eyes. Jer and Bri exchanged looks and took another step back.
“Thanks,” Jer said, “But we’re on a mission to—”
Jer and Bri turned dumbstruck to Matt, who was already walking toward her.
“The castle is not far. Follow me,” Ansa said, turning back into the woods.
Without waiting for Jer and Bri, Matt followed Ansa headlong into Faerie.
Illustration by Ivan Bilibin, sketch for the opera, “The Golden Cockerel”, By Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1909