The tiny man continued north, deeper into the forest. All of the stories said it was foolish to trust faeries, and they were probably right… but Lucy followed anyway. Though he was probably one-fifth her size, he managed to move through the forest with great speed, enough that Lucy had trouble keeping up. That was partly because she was unused to the terrain and somewhat tired and hungry. Regardless, they did not have to go far before things began to change.
Before, Lucy would have called the trees ‘normal’. Though she did not recognize all of the types, they were of believable sizes and shapes. As they moved deeper, the trees rapidly grew much larger- taller and wider. In addition, mushrooms started to grow to astounding sizes, some of them rivaling the size of normal trees. The diversity of the plants and fungi increased tremendously as well- there were many trees that seemed out of place in a lush forest, thin and scraggly but undoubtedly healthy. The mushrooms- giant and regular- came in many different colors and patterns with spots and lines and other shapes on them.
Lucy was lost in the wonder of the strange forest, and baffled how she hadn’t run across this section of forest in her travels. Had she just stopped a half day or less short of this wondrous place? Then again, perhaps it was only in a small section of forest.
Along the way, Lucy didn’t see any other people beyond the small man, though she thought she saw a few doors leading into trees that implied they were used as houses. They came upon a giant willow tree with branches and leaves hanging down from its tremendous height of at least a hundred meters to nearly touching the forest floor where Lucy walked.
After passing through the curtain of leaves it could be seen that the willow was also dressed up as a house- with not only a door but also windows higher up. The little man went up to the door and knocked. Lucy waited behind him.
As the door opened, Lucy was surprised to see a woman of her size- though the door should have indicated as much. Even though they were the same size, the woman was clearly not a human. She had large translucent wings behind her back and what seemed to be vines braided into her dark green hair. She was also far too thin, seeming like her limbs might snap with any force. First she looked to the small man, speaking to him the same way he spoke, runes of magic appearing as she did so. Then the woman lifted her head to look at Lucy. “Thicket says that you were found lost in the woods.” Though she wasn’t technically lost, Lucy also couldn’t have said she knew where she was, so she nodded. “He says you speak the language of magic- at least in part. Are you a wizard?”
Lucy nodded. “Yes… I studied… with my father and brother.”
“What brings you to these woods?” the woman’s expression grew stern.
“I… was merely passing through. I had to flee from soldiers who captured me.”
“Is that so?” The woman tilted her head, “They must have been terrifying indeed, to send you here. You must have heard the stories of what we do to those who trespass.”
“Yes…” Lucy hung her head, “I did not mean to cause trouble…”
The woman waved her hand. “It must be known that not all stories are entirely true. At the very least, we would not stoop so low as to eat another sapient being. While we kill those who trespass… it is only the troublemakers. Most never even find us. Those who come looking for trouble we get rid of. We just wish to be left alone.”
Lucy nodded, “I will leave, if you’d let me.”
The woman waved her hand, “You may go… but you may also stay. At least, I would like to hear news of what has been happening outside the forest.” She bowed, “I am Tilia, mayor of Briarspring.”
“Ah… I am Lucy,” she bowed in return. As she did so, her stomach growled.
“I could offer dinner, if you would like to stay the night… don’t worry, it’s not enchanted or anything,” Tilia smiled.
“I… would be glad to stay.” Some legends said those who stayed in fairy villages could never leave… and perhaps that would be acceptable.
Dinner consisted of fruits, nuts, and mushrooms. However, they were not all raw, but some nuts were cooked into flat cakes and the fruits were mixed into a salad. The mushrooms were cooked in what Lucy thought might have been butter, though she had seen no livestock as she had approached the village.
Over dinner, Tilia asked many questions about the outside world… including many questions about Scoubar. Lucy didn’t know that much about them, but she told what she did know- they had been invading other nations and capturing female wizards, cutting out the tongues of the men. Tilia also asked about Lucy’s family, and though she was reluctant to speak, she talked about her father, her brother, and her mother.
“Your mother had two children?” Tilia nodded, “That is… slightly rare. We fey folk do not often have many children among us… as we are all capable of magic. We have the same problem that human wizards run into. The soul of the mother and child grow entangled and… often, they do not both survive. The stories of fey folk seducing people and leading them into the woods, never to be seen again… are more or less true. Humans do choose to stay with us- though they may also choose to leave. Even with the occasional influx of children born of humans, our numbers stay small.” Tilia shrugged, “Some say it is because of our ability to speak the words of magic without forgetting them, and that we are either blessed or cursed or both… and others say that it is just the way things are.”
“You… don’t forget magic as you speak it?” Lucy couldn’t help but ask.
“We do not. While you might think that would make us very powerful, actually invoking magic still takes effort… and we can only do so much in a day, like any magic user. There are those among us who are greatly powerful as well as those who are not much better than a hedge witch with a few magic runes she stumbled upon.”
“But you… speak the words of magic like a language, correct?”
Tilia nodded, “It is a language… just one that humans find difficulty in speaking for a number of reasons.”
“… Can you teach me?” Lucy’s eyes lit up. While she knew many words and runes in the language of magic, there were always things she didn’t know how to do or say, and things that couldn’t be accomplished except by convoluted grammar.
“Can I teach you?” Tilia paused in thought for a few moments, “I suppose I could- or rather, you may live among us to learn as you please. If you do so, you must contribute in some way or provide for yourself, as well as abiding by all our other rules. They are as you would expect for becoming a member of any community. There is only one special rule. You must make a magical vow to not lead anyone here with ill intent. I do not sense anything ill from you, but such a vow has saved fey villages many times in the past.”
“Alright,” Lucy nodded. At worst, she could leave any time she wanted… or perhaps she was just being lulled into a false sense of security and would be trapped in the village forever and become one of the fey… though it seemed a rather convoluted and silly way to do things.