Nameless in a senseless land
Millions of small bumps and imperfections lived in the earthen ceiling above the bed of the human boy in the faerie court. He had lived there almost ten years and somehow never noticed any of them. Now, as he lay on his back, staring up at them he began to make out patterns and faces in the random array of pebbles and clumps of dirt. One pattern looked like an ugly face, glaring at him out of stony eyes. Another looked like a map of some distant realm. He imagined that this other land was the one he had seen years ago, where light came from above and green covered everything. He imagined the raven that had spoken to him and wondered what mischief he might be up to. His mind wandered, as it often did, to his lack of a name. Sometimes the thought made his insides twist in anger. His fists would clench into a ball and he wanted to hit something. But this time it only left him with an ache in his chest and tears welling up in his eyes.
He threw his feet off the stiff earthen bed. They hit the floor with a jarring thud. His large, shapeless shirt itched uncomfortably. His pants, nearly falling off, felt no better. There was nothing soft here. All was hard and stale, but full of life and often full of indifferent energy. He longed for the warm light he had felt on his skin. He longed for the soft green he had felt beneath his feet. He closed his eyes and heard the wind calling his name, his true name, the name his mother gave him. And he smiled. For one fraction of a second he felt a deep belonging in his chest as it swelled with the tenderness and adventure of the words.
“Starling!” A melodious, almost haunting, voice called. “Oh, Starling! It’s time to get up, you sleepy little chick!”
The boy groaned as reality crushed his day dream. He didn’t bother to respond. He knew the faerie would be in his room in a moment anyway. He clenched his fist. The door swung open explosively. A tall, grey-skinned faerie stood in the doorway. The tail of his black coat reached almost to the ground.
“There you are, Starling! How lovely! I need you to do something for me.” The faerie bent down and held out a bouquet of back-eyed Susans to the boy. “I need you to deliver these to the faerie who took my little pet spider from me.”
After the boy stood questioningly silent for a moment, the faerie clarified.
“He lives in the dark tunnel in the eastern catacombs.”
Wordlessly, he took the flowers from the faerie’s outstretched hand. He knew from experience that it was dangerous to refuse. He felt a small shove in the direction of the door.
“Go on, Starling.” The faerie laughed.
As he begrudgingly obeyed, he thought he remembered something about the significance of black-eyed Susans, but it quickly slipped his mind.
He shuffled down the long halls, finding his way expertly. Right at the eerie dance, left at the door into nowhere, another left at the door that’s always closed, a third left at the statue of an unknown hideous figure, then finally the third right in a long corridor with many dark doors. He knocked briefly on the solid mass of black that passed for a door. He heard no answer. Heart pounding, he pushed into the room.
Inside the room was clouded in almost complete darkness. A pale, hollow-eyed figure stared at him out of the gloom. “Why are you here?” His voice was soft, like the cold autumn breeze.
“I came to bring you these.” He held out the flowers with slightly trembling hands. “They are from my master.”
A skeletal, white hand crept out of the obscurity and took the black-eyed Susans. A small intake of air broke the chilling silence. The black-eyed Susans fell to the ground. “Get out.” He hissed, hiding his face in the shadows once again.
“I-I’m sorry, I was only doing my duty.”
“GET OUT!” The faerie roared.
The boy stumbled out of the room as fast as his terror would carry him. He took barely a panting moment before running back down the winding hallways. Left, right, right, left- His breath caught in his chest and he stopped abruptly, nearly slamming head first into a wall of blackness. Instincts told him to be silent and he obeyed. He heard no noise. Staring into the dark, he realized it was a door. The earth around him whispered a word.
He stared and listened.
The living dirt around him whispered again, the same word.
He repeated it quietly, almost under his breath.
The darkness thinned until he could see through it. A pool lay on the other side.
He stepped through the veil of grey.
The world died away behind him. He was alone with a pool, though whether he was still under the earth or in some other distant realm he could not say. He crept closer to the edge of the silvery liquid. It was rimmed with solid tin. The pool itself was liquid mercury. Tentatively placing his hands on the rim, he leaned forward and looked into his own reflection in the silvery depths.