Note: This is my second letter of Advent 2019, but part 10 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.
The boys followed Ansa through a meandering woodland path. Brian tapped Matt on the shoulder and pointed to the map. They were headed away from the map’s arrow. Matt ignored him.
Shielding their eyes, the boys stepped into a sunny meadow teeming with poppies. On the far edge was a castle that seemed impossible: towers and turrets and bridges jutted out in extravagant excess, at angles that defied physics. Earth physics, at least.
On the bank of the castle’s moat, Ansa nodded up at the guard house. The drawbridge lowered. Unseen trumpeters blared an entry song as they approached the castle. Inside the entryway, was a statue of a lady who was guzzling a jar of wine, a jar of water discarded at her feet. Before Matt could properly look around, a cloud of fragrance hit him in the chest. It was unlike anything Matt had ever smelled: earthy and decadent and sweet. It was so mesmerizing that Matt hardly cared about the lightness in his head, or the fact that he had lost his way in the castle’s winding labyrinth.
The halls led into a grand feasting room. Windows and tapestries and torches lined the walls, which soared up so high that Matt could barely see the ceiling. The room overflowed with people who, like Ansa, were tall and slender and beautiful. Though some had grey hair, none looked old—there wasn’t a wrinkle or bent back among them. All wore bright colors and were singing and dancing and laughing. At the head of the group, in a chair the size of a dinner table, was a Faerie man. He wore an enormous jeweled crown, and was guzzling from a stein the size of a barrel. At Ansa’s entrance, he rose with a belch and strode across the room.
“Daughter!” the man cried, giving her a loud hug. Unlike the other residents, Ansa’s father carried an ample belly. A turkey leg and pint never left his hands.
“I found these out in the woods,” Ansa gestured toward the boys. “Travelers from the Outerlands.”
The singing and revelry stopped. Every Faerie eye turned to the Mellema brothers.
“The Outerlands?” Ansa’s father gaped. “There hasn’t been a human visitor to Faerie since…”
“I thought they should stay,” Ansa said. “They could be as great a success as our last visitors.”
Ansa’s father gazed at the Mellemas, an inscrutable look on his face. Matt was just about to step back when Ansa’s father cried out, “Then what are we waiting for? Everyone, let us welcome the Outerlanders to our celebration!”
A cheer bellowed from the crowd. Faerie servants led the boys to a large banquet table.
“So what are we celebrating?” Jer asked.
The Faerie servants laughed away the question. Platters of food stretched as far as the boys could see—everything from pork to pheasant to veal, from fruits to cheeses to breads. And mountains of dessert: pies and puddings and chocolates and truffles and candies and tarts. The food tumbled off the platters onto the floor.
“I don’t know about this,” Brian said. The servants piled heaping portion upon heaping portion on his plate. “It’s breakfast time, and these aren’t really breakfast foods, and I—”
“Just eat it.”
Matt said this without looking at Brian. He was staring at Ansa as she talked with her father.
Music started from the Faerie minstrels. Music that seeped into the deepest parts of Matt’s brain. Matt rested his chin on his palm and gazed at Ansa.
While Matt stared, Brian took a bite of cake. His eyes bulged.
“This is the best cake I’ve ever had!” he shouted. “Jer, you have to try this!”
“In a minute,” Jer said. He was eyeing some Faerie men arranging pins for a game. A ball and mallets were also involved. Jer had to try it.
While Jer learned the rules from the Faerie players, Bri finished the food on his plate and started piling on more. Matt kept staring at Ansa. This continued for…an hour? Maybe a day…a week? Time was irrelevant. The only things that mattered were the games and the food and the Faerie girl, and keeping these things going for as long as possible.
When the sun was set and the windows were dark, Ansa slipped behind Faerie dancers and out of sight. Matt stood in a panic. This was the worst thing that could possibly happen. What was the point of anything if Ansa’s face wasn’t in his vision? Turning from the table, Matt bumped into Brian.
“Where did Ansa go?” Matt asked.
“Who? Oh, the girl. I don’t know. Hey, I’m worried I’m running out of stomach space for—uh-oh…” Brian lurched behind his chair. A sliming splash hit the floor.
“Never mind—problem solved.” Brian went back to eating.
“Jer! Have you seen Ansa any…what’s wrong with your feet?”
Jer, who held a ball in one hand and a mallet in the other, ignored Matt completely while he prepared his serve. He took a couple steps forward, tossed the ball in the air, and sliced it toward the pins with his swinging mallet. The pins exploded. Jer danced and cheered with his Faerie teammates. He would have kept doing this if Matt hadn’t pulled him away.
“What? I didn’t see her. My turn again!” Jer raced back to the game, blood trailing from the unnoticed blisters on his feet.
Matt sighed, and reached for a Faerie cake to soothe his nerves. Walking back to his table, he noticed a silver door which had just swung closed. Matt strode across to the door and threw it open. It led to an outside courtyard. At its center was a lake surrounded by silver trees. Spotting an Ansa-shaped figure along the far shore, Matt started towards it.
He had barely taken ten steps when something white and feathery leapt in front of him. A swan. And it was attacking him.
Matt rolled and flailed and gasped in a blind panic. He was about to run away when a voice called.
“Stop! For your own sake, stop!”
It was the swan.
“You’re from the human world?”
“Yes,” Matt said. “But we’re allowed to be at the castle. Ansa brought us here to—”
“Listen carefully,” the swan said, its neck straining forward. “You and your brothers must leave at once. You are all in grave danger.”
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, The Dance in Cupid’s Alley, 1904