“Rosa, you’re bleeding. Are you hurt?”

“Oh, I cut myself on something. It doesn’t string like it did, but it just won’t stop bleeding.”

“What did you cut yourself on?”

“It’s a sharp little square with a point on it. It sunk right into my finger!”

“Oh, that’s a hobnail that’s snapped off from the underside of one of my boots. They can be jagged, and cut a flap of skin away. If you put pressure on it like this, though, they soon stop bleeding,  and you are left with a tiny cut you can barely see. It goes away after a day or two. Then you are right as rain.”

“It stung like…”

“A bee?”

“Yes? A bee?”

“Did I ever…”

“I’m actually hurt here.  We could concentrate on my hurt finger.”

“No, no, let me distract you from the pain with a sweet story about…”

“Is it going to be full of puns, because…”

“No, honey, it isn’t”

“Arrgh! Distract me without annoying me!”

“So, your grandmother and I were captured by a faerie queen.”

“Wait a moment.  You’ve told me this one. You escaped?”

“Well, we always escape, don’t we?”

“Yes, you always do, but are you giving me a new story, or an old one?”

“What do you remember of the other one?”

“Not much. Something about turnips and you not giving me a proper story.”

“Well, settle down and listen to the tale of the Queen of the Autumn Forest, For Whom I told Recursive Stories For Three Years.”

“When you declaim, do you need to strike poses like that?”

“Of course. It tells you that I’m about to tell you something Epic.”

“Having your hand up like that means it’s epic?”

“Certainly!”

“If I hold my hand up like this will I be listening Epically?”

“You could try. Tell me how it works out for you.”

“I’ll pass.”

“Settle down or pose epically, but Listen To My Tale.”

“I’m sitting down.”

“For the Dread Queen was a Bee Queen, and she kept us there, telling stories. And the bees did fly through the air as it was filled with my words, and they did make honey from my honeyed words, and did feed it to the maggots of their brood, and they did grow strong. And yet, we sought freedom, but could not have it, for my shoes were lost.

“You shoes which always find you?”

“Yes.”

“Which you have lost again since, presumably?”

“Yes. Don’t worry. They’ll turn up. At worst I’ll grow a new pair. And she did…”

“Grow a pair?”

“Yes.  They are faerie shoes.  You can grow them from a seed.”

“Like a hobnail?”

“Excellent!  Exactly what I was going to say. Keep the hobnail which has tasted your blood, for you have now watered it and it is yours. Plant it in a safe place. In time it will grow into a handsome tree, and you may harvest your own magical shoes, which free you from anything!”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Well, keep it anyway. A bit of iron’s perfect for keeping at bay most faerie curses.”

“Is that the moral of the story? Keep a bit of iron handy?”

“Well, yes…so if you now know the moral…”

“No, no, that’s a useless moral.  I have a bit of iron handy already, thank you.  You need to find me another moral. A better one, please!”

“As the grandaughter commands! The moral is “You can’t see shadows in darkness.”

“That has nothing to do with the story at hand.”

“Ah, but to escape the hive, your grandmother used magic to make her hair very long, and then cut it each day, and hid her blonde locks in the honey. And when we had enough we wove a rope and…”

“That’s silly. Bees smell honey.”

“And yet we escaped! So, you know less about royal faerie bees than you think you do.  For did we not escape, young miss?”

“Yes grandfather.”

“And now, supper.  And never ask your grandmother for honey again. For she loathes the smell of it.”

* * *

“Grandmother?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Your eyes have always been hazel?”

“As long as you can remember.”

“And your hair.  How long has it been blonde?”

“As long as..”

“No! It was gray yesterday!  I know it was gray!  You’re my grandmother!”

“But it really has been blonde as long…”

“No!  I know what you’re doing.  I’ve worked it out. You say your hair was blonde and I forget it was gray.”

“But, child, my hair really…”

“No! If you don’t stop that right now I’m going to drive a nail in your eye!”

“What a terrible thing to say to your grandmother!”

“Well, press it against you skin then!”

“So, you’ve worked it out?”

“You’re a faerie!  That’s why people think grandfather’s a liar. All these women. All these impossible places. They’ve all been you, haven’t they?”

“No.”

“You can’t lie to me. I have a hobnail right here. It’s made of iron. That wards me.  You can’t lie to me while I’m touching it.”

“I’m not lying.  I have, I admit, been many of the women. The places though: he’s really seen them all.”

“That’s a lie. They can’t all fit in one world. He’s been to three different Vencies in just the last week of stories.”

“No, my dear. It’s true. He’s been to all of them, and more. When magi leave the world, they leave bits of themselves behind. All of the bits that caused them pain and anger and grief. They slough the dross of their souls off, and it falls back into the mortal world. Your uncle visits the memories of magi who have passed into Twilight. His presence weaves them back into the world, as dreams and stories and regiones and, sometimes, as real places. He’s a shaman, of the oldest sort.”

“And you?”

“I don’t remember my nature much of the time. He caught me up in his stories long ago, and now, I find no desire to return to my old role.”

“What were you? What faerie blood does my family have?”

“I was the fear of the dark and lonely road, my dear. I was the absence of warmth and comfort and company.”

“So he…remade you?”

“Yes. By accident I think. He had no-one to talk to, so he spoke to the nobody who was there. To me, as I then was.”

“And he knows?”

“Yes. He wears the boots you’ve taken the hobnail from, after all.”

“And this is the truth? By cold iron, faerie, I command you to tell me!”

“All true, Rosa de Marco. Not complete, because his stories wind upon themselves forever, but true.”

“Are you deceiving me?”

“About many things, because of your age, Rosa, Child of the Clan of Marco, but not about my intentions toward the shaman, your grandfather. I note you have asked me far more than the traditional number of questions, and so your regard is causing me harm. Is it to be war between us then, mortal child?”

“Grandmother.”

“Yes, dear?”

“Where’s supper?”

“”Oh, I seem to have burned it. Whatever came over me? Come help me make some more, before your grandfather wakes from his nap.”

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