Crimson Grove, Part One
Delia jogged into the forest, smiling as she listened to her mother’s cry to be careful. She was going to play with the fairies, they would keep her safe! Running over upturned roots and thick underbrush, Delia’s slipper-clad feet barely touched the ground as she sprinted past the tall Elms, moving deeper into the Worley Woods. Streaks of sunlight breaking through the thick canopy became fewer and fewer the deeper into the Woods she ran, until she reached a moss covered, sunken grove that seemed to be in perpetual twilight, glints of sunlight from high above flickering like stars in the night sky.
Standing on a boulder overlooking the grove, Delia slid down to her rear, folding her arms around her knees as she stared out over the expanse of crimson that covered most of the grove; blood-red flowers, their petals wide and rich lined the forest floor like a thick carpet. Staring out over the peaceful scenery for a few moments, Delia reached into the small sack she’d slung over her shoulder as she’d left home today. Pulling out a biscuit, hard and cold from the time that had transpired between breakfast and now, she tossed it idly into the air a few times, catching it only to study the crumbing edges.
The flowers rippled, like the surface of a pond you threw a rock into, as the quiet calls of far off birds fell silent. Delia smiled, looking down at the sea of red expectantly.
“It’s okay,” she said, catching the bread in one hand, “it’s just me. Come on out.”
A faint buzzing, like the wings of a bee, fluttered from several points beneath the red petals, glittering points of light glowing from beneath the darkened leaves.
“I brought food again,” Delia said, holding up the biscuit high in the air.
A faint wind blew over the vale, a slight coppery scent filling the air that Delia savored; it smelled so familiar. The shepherds’ daughter could never place where she had smelled the slightly sweet scent before, but the flowers fragrance was something she had smelled before. It was sweet, it was salty… it was something she couldn’t put her finger on.
A small head breached the bed of flowers, black and shiny as if moist from morning dew. The head was dominated by one silvery eye and a pair of pointed catlike ears, devoid of fur. Instead strands of tar seemed to connect the ears to the head, which stretched and pitched as the ears rotated atop the misshapen head. In the perpetual twilight of the grove, Delia could see dozens of glimmering eyes hiding beneath the flowing red petals, watching her.
Winding her arm back, Delia pitched the biscuit out over the grove, smiling as the tar-like Fae buzzed into the air with glistening wings, stretching out three-fingered hands to catch the biscuit, which was half its size, midair. The creature gave a flash of sharpened fangs as it bit into the bread, fluttering slowly back into the foliage below, rending off a piece of crispy bread which it noisily chomped on. Arms stretched out, tiny yellowed bones visible beneath the holes in the tar as they elongated, tearing off small portions of bread as it came within reach. Slowly, the black fairy was engulfed in the sea of crimson once more, the petals parting and flowing around him like the ebb of the tides.
Pulling another biscuit from her sack, she broke it in half and hurled it across the grove, giggling as another of the twisted little creatures leapt into the air. She entertained herself for a few minutes, unloading bread into the grove to the waiting maws of the ravenous sprites, until she came across a strip of cold bacon.
Eyeing it carefully, she pulled it out and sniffed it. She could feel eyes roaming over the strip of meat, practically hear mouths salivating- the sprites were obviously intrigued.
“The stories all say you can grant wishes. Is this true?” Delia asked, finally bringing up the subject matter after weeks of visiting the small folk. She’d discovered the vale nearly a month ago, almost falling from the circle of mossy boulders that surrounded it. She’d dropped her honeyed treat into the grove while regaining her balance, the lemon bar disappearing like a drop of water into the sea. She’d almost gone after it until she’d heard the sounds of the little creatures eating it just below her.
Now, after weeks of feeding them, she wanted to know more about them.
“Answer me or no more food.” She threatened, holding the bacon over the lip of the boulder, dangling it enticingly.
Angry chatter echoed from beneath the red tide, until one lone voice remained. It was thick and heavy, with its words sounding like the bending of wood in a storm. “Food. Wishes for food.”
“Alright,” she said, tossing the bacon out lazily, smiling as three separate sprites leapt out, and tearing into the bacon mid-air while violently scratching at each other with inch long talons. She watched the buzzing forms tumble back into the flowers, their wings clacking angrily, before she continued. “You know of my family, right?”
Hisses and clacks rose from the flowers, the voice finally emerging once again, “Yes…”
“Good. Then you know we struggle to make ends meet. The sheep produce just enough wool to clothe us, and their meat is just enough to keep us fed. Between the animals we raise and the herbs we sell from the forest, we can barely pay our taxes. And now my father has fallen ill.”
The voice, hoarser this time, rasped, “Food?”
Delia grunted irritably and fished out another slice of bacon, holding it above the red field, the wind blowing softly through her hair, carrying the copper-scented pollen with it. The chattering rose in tenor. “I want silver, silver and gold. Enough to pay for the medicine we need to make my father better. Give me this, and I’ll continue feeding you as I have been.”
She threw the bacon down into the flowers to punctuate her statement, smiling as she heard the tiny beings scrap amongst each other, jockeying to get a slice of the salty meat. Scraping her slipper along the mossy boulder, Delia looked down to watch the flowers pitch back and forth, rippling chaotically until the meat was gone. The flowers swayed gently from side to side, their wide blossoms waving over the tiny black fairies.
“Can you give me what I want?” Delia asked, pulling out her last strip of bacon.
“Lower a basket… lower a basket and give us food… you get what you need…” The voice clucked, the sound of rustling leaves telling her that her forest friends were moving to and fro beneath the crimson petals.