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Short Story: Midsummer
By Megan Arkenberg
The village of Lapider-dans-la-Rivière was shrinking, just like the Gray Forest and the Twilit Lands within it. Many of the fae, I know, do not like to admit that Faerie can change; but they are the young ones who have never gone out on a midsummer’s eve to the Sunlit Land, who have never touched mortal flesh or tasted mortal blood. Everything fades in the sunlight. There is nothing that, once held by a human, can ever fail to change.
I took the road through the poppy fields, past the little white-stone church with its yard of stones, over the low hill that had hosted the midsummer market where, thirteen years before, I met Blanchet.
The market had moved farther south. I looked for her as I passed through, looked for a head of red curls and a hard, handsome face. Many girls gathered there, most young, all beautiful; from the hungry way their eyes followed my movements, I knew that at least one of them would have been willing to observe the old rites with me in the Gray Forest. But I did not want any of them. I wanted Blanchet—the love of my youth, the mother of my child, the keeper of my soul.
Finally, I stopped one of the flower girls braiding chains of clover at the card-reader’s tent.
“Excuse me, my lady,” I said, bowing over her hand. She flushed a beautiful poppy-red and blinked at me. “Do you know where I might find the woman known as Blanchet des Champs?”
“Sure, just round that corner, ‘tween the bakery and the bone-setter’s place.” The flower girl was about to take her hand from the grasp and point, but seemed to think better of it. “But what does a beautiful boy like you want with an old whore like her, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I do mind,” I said, pulled my hand from her clutch, and followed the road to Blanchet’s house.
There was something wrong with it; I could tell that even before I entered the house. No children played in the yard, no fire crackled in the hearth, no midsummer flowers hung around the door. I knocked once and took a step back, feeling, for the first time in centuries, the bite of fear.
An old woman answered the door, her gray hair pulled back in a bun, a tattered apron wrapped around her thickening waist. She cradled a vase of dying poppies like a child in her arms.
“My lady,” I said, and bowed to her, though I did not take her hand. “I am looking for Blanchet des Champs. Do you know—”
There was a loud crash; the woman had dropped her poppies. “Oh, Blessed Mother,” she whispered. “Hyacinthe.”
I looked up and met her brown eyes with a thrill of horror.
The old woman was Blanchet.
“My..my love,” I said, but the words sounded cold even to me.
Blanchet straightened in her doorway. “It’s been thirteen years.”
“I’ve gotten married. Have you heard?”
She shrugged and knelt to gather the pottery pieces. “Two years after you left. The baker’s youngest son—Alain. He’s a little simple-minded sometimes, but he was the only man willing to take me after…well, you know.”
The flower girl’s words came unbidden to my mind, and I pushed them aside with a snarl. “Where is the child?”
“Oh, Hyacinthe.” Something of the old tenderness crept into Blanchet’s voice. “She died.”
“Died?” I whispered. I had felt the touch of fae-cursed iron, had drunk poison from the Faerie Queen’s hemlock pool. Nothing I had ever felt could compare to the pain in that one word.
She nodded gently. “The Winter Fever. It came when she was four years old. There was nothing we could do.”
“Four years?” I repeated dumbly. There was so much more I wanted to ask—was she a clever child? Did she sing like her father, or dance like her mother? Did she walk through the forest at night, or call to the owls through her window? Did she have her mother’s red curls, or her father’s raven braids?—but no more words would come.
Blanchet lay a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Hyacinthe. I tried to send word, truly, but I couldn’t find a way…”
“No, it’s all right,” I said, turning my face to place a kiss on her thumb. “Perhaps it is better this way. Is…is Alain home?”
She nodded and took a step back.
“Then I’d best be going. Goodbye, Blanchet.”
I turned and began walking down the path to the village. But a question took hold of me, sudden and urgent as thirst, and I called back to her;
“Blanchet! What was my daughter’s name?”
There was no answer. Blanchet had already closed the door.
On my way back to the Gray Forest, I stopped in the cemetery.
The des Champs plot was in the south-western corner, close to the branches of the willow tree where Blanchet and I had laid together those thirteen years ago. My daughter’s stone suck up out of the earth like a cold white bone. I knelt down and brushed away the dust and moss that had begun to gather in the cracks. A spider spun its web across the wings of the carved angel; I let it be.
The dirt caked thickly in the letters of her name. I plucked a poppy from the earth beside me and used it to scrape them clean, one letter at a time. First a D, then O, then R, then O, and on until the entire word was clear.
Dorothée. She had named our daughter “gift.”
With hot tears prickling at my eyes, I gather up more poppies and laid them around the stone. A handful of poppies, a hill of poppies, a mountain of poppies. I piled them up until I was sure her name was covered, veiled from even the faintest touch of the midsummer sun.
Everything fades in the sunlight. There is nothing that, once held by a human, can ever fail to change.
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