“Rosa”, the letter says, on its outside, “whatever you do, do not break the seal of this letter until you are by the shoe tree, and wearing a new set of unloseable shoes. Our lives may depend on it.”
The letter is sealed with red wax, with the intaglio of de Marco, so the little girl sneaks to the strange, leathery tree. The largest and middle sized shoes are gone. A small pair is ripe, drying in the sun. She picks them, and the sap smells like tar and burning candlewax. She places them on her feet, left then right, and buckles them tight. She looks about, and seeing no-one, she goes to a high rock from where she can watch the surrounding country. She carefully scrutinises the visible land. The birds on the river are at rest. A deer grazes half a mile away in a forest. She judges, and with a decisive twist of her fingers, the seal cracks, and she reads.
“Dear Rosa, do not read this without your new shoes on your feet.
And now, I conjure your promise to be calm, and listen without interrupting. By your promise, and by the iron in the ink of this letter, I command it.
Your grandmother and I are headed to our home outside Baden in the Alps.
You have a choice.
My dear grand-daughter, you are not a mortal girl. You are a faerie. A dreadful and powerful queen of the faeries. It took me three years of stories to make you forget that. It took me another month to convince you that you were twelve, that I was your grandfather, and that your name was Rosa. Every time your real identity stirred, I’d mention women, and you’d put your true nature back to sleep, by saying “Grandfather, remember I’m twelve!”.
It was very difficult to get you to demand that iron bind faeries in this, your sacred place. I planted the hobnail, so that you would cut yourself. Your grandmother allowed herself to be caught. I told you the story about my shoes so that you demanded they come here, to your realm.
And now, your choice.
You can take off your shoes, and burn them, and rebuild your hive of warriors, and lay waste to the farms hereabout again, and perhaps you will fade into Arcadia, or perhaps the Flambeau will destroy you. That’s your nature, and without the intercession of a creative mortal, there would be no possibility you’d choose to relinquish it.
Your other choice is to run away from your role. Your shoes can escape anything. Even who you are.
Rosa: run home!”