A dark-haired teenager lounged in a chaise, a book of battle tactics open in his hands. His build was toned and athletic and his piercing green eyes were sharp and intelligent. Physically, he appeared to be about seventeen years old, in truth, the lordling was approaching 575 years old. As he tilted his head to the side as he read, his hair shifted, revealing the pointed tips to his ears. He wore a dark green tunic of fine cloth over a white shirt and hose. There was a sword belt on his waist that showed much wear and bore the marks of a sword and dagger that were not currently hanging from it. A short, rotund grandmotherly figure known as the Bean-Tighe sat in a corner, plying away at her knitting. She looked up as the lad sighed and turned the page.
“Not enjoying your studies, Master Hayden?”
The teenager looked up at his nursemaid and smiled wanly. He closed the book and stretched.
“I have done nothing but studying for the whole day and the Weapons Master is not to come by today. Mother said he has important business in mortal country. Why go to mortal country, I said. But she refused to tell me.”
The Bean-Tighe frowned slightly, her eyes intent on him. She lowered her knitting to her lap. It was that time again, as it had been many times, but now Master Hayden was old enough to venture out if he so chose. The problem was that if Hayden chose to venture out into mortal country, the illusions on him would fade and his true nature would be revealed.
“Master Hayden…” She said slowly. “Perhaps you could practice on the dummy yourself? Or perhaps one of the guards would oblige you with a match?”
“Maybe.” He seemed resigned. The Bean-Tighe watched him carefully. Master Hayden was attached to his parents and he knew as well as any did that when it was time for a walk in mortal country, one of them would be venturing out.
The boy stood, stretching, and walked over to the weapons rack in the corner. He gazed at the weapons for a moment, his eyes measuring each blade, until he reached out and picked up a single practice weapon. It was a fine blade, even for just a practice weapon, with a perfect balance and a leather-wrapped hilt that fit his hand perfectly. He stepped up to the practice dummy and made a complex pass at it.
“But why go into mortal country in the first place? Is it not a wild and lawless place?”
It took the lad no extra effort to speak while he practiced his fencing. He was in quite good physical condition.
“Not exactly, Master Hayden. The mortals are much like we are. They have likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. They have their own rules and ways of looking at things. Before you ask, it has been years since last I was in the mortal countryside.”
Hayden frowned, he had been about to ask more questions. He thrust at the dummy, ducking in close to move in past his pretend opponent’s guard. Hayden had always been curious about things, especially all things mortal. Most children of Faerie didn’t even know that mortals existed, but Hayden’s father was one of the border lords, defending against the possible threat of mortal incursion. He had never heard of mortals invading, but it was considered to be a possibility by those who were in a position to know.
“But what about-”
Hayden didn’t get to finish his question. The door to Hayden’s room opened suddenly, his mother appearing in the doorway.
“Hayden…” She said slowly. “Hayden, my son.”
She looked distraught as she came towards him. She caught him up in a hug and the sword fell from his grasp to the floor.
“Hayden, my dear little boy. You have to understand, please understand. They found us out, my foundling boy. I hoped to never have to tell you, oh how I hoped that never would they catch us…”
“Mother?” Hayden’s voice was startled. His mother sounded like a crazy woman. “Mother, please, what is going on? Are you alright?”
“I am fine, my lad, but you need to know. Come sit down, Hayden. Please…I have a story to tell you. And please, no matter what I tell you, please tell me you will not hate your father and I.”
Hayden sat where she directed him, leaving the practice saber on the floor.
“Mother,” he said slowly, almost afraid to startle her. “I could never hate you. Tell me what is happening.”
She sighed, ringing her hands, as she gazed at him, her eyes full of memory.
“It was almost 600 years ago by mortal reckon, that I found the list of names on your father’s desk. The names belonged to mortal children all around their world. One of them, was…well…you, my son. I went out into the mortal country, to a small village in the countryside, found you and stole you away before the king’s men could find you.” She couldn’t look at him, not with tears streaming down her cheeks as she finally let the truth burst forth. “We have a treaty with Hell, for what I am unaware. But every few decades, they demand a tribute of souls. We call it the Tithe, my son. I stole you away. I refused to let Hell win, and taking you from the mortals, from where the king’s men could find you. It was my way of beating the Tithe, even if just for a few years.”
Hayden could only stare at his mother in shock. None of that made sense. No, he knew he couldn’t be mortal. He was a Faerie, like his mother and father. There was no way it was possible. His hand reflexively combed through his short black hair and he felt the pointed tips of his ears.
“This is not true.” He said, his voice expressing his disbelief.
“I’m so sorry, Hayden. I’m so, so sorry. You have to go to mortal country. They’ve found us out and they’re coming for you. The spell on you will fade when you get there and you’ll look like a mortal once again. Your time in Faerie Land has no doubt affected you, but you should be able to blend in until your father and I can come for you.”
The Bean-Tighe approached suddenly, a pack in her arms. There were tears streaming down her withered old face as she looked up at her mistress and the lad she’d spent all these years raising. Niamh took the pack from the Bean-Tighe and handed it to Hayden.
“This should be everything you need for a month or so, my son. We will come for you as soon as we can. But you have to go quickly now, if you stay in Faerie Land, I fear the king’s men will find you and…” She couldn’t bring herself to state her fears, almost as though giving voice to them could make them true.
Niamh stepped back from her son and turned to the open air. She made a complicated pass at it, light surrounding her hands as she did so. Slowly, a doorway opened up. As the light streamed forth from it, a sound began to be heard from outside the room: the tramping of boots. Hayden turned towards the door to his room just in time to see one of the house guards flung backward by a spell followed by seeing a man in the uniform of a royal soldier.
“Hayden, go!” hissed Niamh.
He looked at her in shock for just a moment and then the Bean-Tighe pushed him slightly and he half stepped, half fell through the portal. As he fell away, he watched his mother cry, and he watched the soldiers come in. To his horror, they had swords out and advanced on his mother and the faithful, old Bean-Tighe. Niamh stared at them defiantly. When one of the soldiers moved to cut her down though, the Bean-Tighe stepped in the way. Hayden screamed his defiance of the act even as he fell away from it. He watched the blood as though it was in slow motion and then everything went dark.