The faery waiting in the library did not resemble a queen from any of Lilly’s books. She wore a dark brown leather tunic and pants tucked inside matching leather boots. Her dark hair was braided around her head and pinned in place. No fancy gown or crown.
The faery queen’s glowing green eyes glided over the human family while her pale pink lips remained closed in a straight line. Lilly thought she was beautiful in the way of a jaguar or a tiger.
Lilly felt like she was in the principal’s office for something she didn’t do.
“Maybe we should curtsy or bow or something,” Mom whispered. “We wouldn’t want to offend her.”
“Good idea,” Dad said. He and Willow bowed stiffly from the waist while Mom and Lilly attempted to curtsy without tripping over their ankles.
“Your Highness,” Dad said, his face to the floor. The family waited for the queen’s response. Lilly prayed Willow wouldn’t do anything stupid that would draw the faery’s anger.
“Stand. There’s no need for ceremony here,” the Queen said, rising from the chair. “Away from court, you may address me as Lady Aster.”
Dad introduced the family. In response, Lady Aster waved her hands in front of Lilly’s parents. They froze in place like statues. Lilly tried to shake her mom, but she did not respond. A wave of panic washed over her. A glance over at her brother revealed matching wide eyes and open mouth. This could not be good.
Lady Aster turned to Lilly and her brother. Lilly tried not to tremble under her cold eyes. Then the faery smiled, her teeth all pointed and not at all human. “Twins! A rare sight. Faery mothers bearing two children must offer one as a changeling. I wonder…”
Lilly shivered as Lady Aster placed her hand on her head, touching her forehead with her thumb. She felt a warm sensation like she was taking a shower. Memories popped into her mind. She and Willow talking about the strange singing. Threading their way through the woods. Foxes roasting marshmallows. She had no control over her thoughts as they were plucked out of her mind. Her anxious eyes sought her parents, but they stood frozen in place.
“Stop it!” Willow shouted, grabbing Lady Aster’s arm, and breaking her contact with Lilly. “You can’t go rummaging through her mind like that! It’s rude!”
“So you are protective!” Lady Aster said, her face flushed and eyes wide. “You can feel what I am doing to your twin.” She tried to touch Willow’s head, but he wiggled out of her grip.
“Fear not! I wish you no harm,” Lady Aster said. “I found what I was seeking.” She snapped her fingers, and their parents blinked.
“I’m… sorry. I didn’t hear you,” Mom said. Her forehead wrinkled as she looked at Dad for an explanation. He shook his head.
That was so creepy, Lilly thought.
Which one, pulling thoughts out of your head or freezing our parents? Lilly heard Willow’s voice in her head.
How can you speak to my mind like that? Lilly thought.
It must be a side effect of what she did to you. Are you okay?
Yeah, I guess. She hasn’t turned us into trees yet.
I don’t think she’s evil. I’d definitely like to learn how to do the spell to freeze Mom and Dad. That could come in handy.
Willow! Be serious. We’ve got to focus on getting back to our world.
Lady Aster dipped her head toward their parents. “Thistle is preparing tea, and she would like your assistance. Run along, and I will chat with the twins.”
Without a word, their parents walked out the door. Lilly and Willow were alone with the faery queen.
I’m scared. Lilly thought toward her twin.
Don’t worry. We’ll figure this out.
“Now then, come sit down with me, and tell me more about the portal in the garden.” Lady Aster perched on the edge of the chair and gestured toward a tiny couch across from her. Lilly and Willow exchanged glances but sat down. Lilly was pushed into her brother’s elbow by a pillow embroidered with a large raven. The thumping beat of her heart matched Willow’s foot tapping on the floor.
“You may think I am here as a friend of Nettle and Thorn,” Lady Aster began. “But I am only welcome in this place because of their absence. Thorn’s mother is Queen of the Spring Court. We have been rivals since birth. Her mother was betrothed to my father, yet she betrayed him for a mortal. My father broke off their engagement and married my mother instead. Thorn and I were born the same year.”
“What does that have to do with us?” Willow said. “All we did was follow their stupid song.”
Willow! That’s no way to talk to a queen! Lilly thought. And to Lady Aster, she added out loud, “Lady Aster, please forgive my brother’s rudeness. We are all stressed out. Nettle and Thorn kidnapped us. Although Faerie is a beautiful place, it is not our home.”
Lady Aster appeared lost in her own thoughts, barely aware of the twins. “Perhaps the perfect punishment for Nettle and Thorn would be to leave them in the human world. Not only would they be absent from court, but they would eventually lose their magic as well.”
At that moment, Thistle, Mom, and Dad came in with trays of tea, cakes, and sandwiches. Although Lilly was worried about how they were going to get back to the campground, the dainty white cakes with pink icing looked delicious. She couldn’t help herself from filling her plate. Breakfast seemed a long time ago.
I don’t know why they cut off the crusts, but these egg salad sandwiches are awesome! I could eat fifty of them, Willow thought to Lilly.
Please don’t act like a pig! We need her to help us, Lilly thought back.
“Lady Aster, is there another portal we could use to return to our world?” Mom asked. Her hands didn’t tremble as she set her cup down in its delicate saucer. Mom was under control in all circumstances, even when she was having tea with a faery queen.
“If it is a question of payment, maybe we could give you something you don’t have, like coffee,” Dad said, wrenching his finger out of the tiny teacup handle. “Or maybe some good Irish whiskey.”
Lady Aster shook her head. “Your assistance will be payment enough. To get back to your proper place and time, you will need to return through the same portal. After you cross through, I will give you a spell to close it permanently on your side.”
“You can open the portal?” Lilly asked. She felt a tiny glimmer of hope flicker inside. Although she was motivated by court politics, it seemed like Lady Aster was willing to help them.
The faery queen took another sip of tea before answering. “No portal is closed to the Queen of the Summer Court. I suggest we send you back quickly to avoid any ugly confrontations.” She set down her teacup and saucer. “No time to dawdle. Now that we have been refreshed, let us proceed to the garden.”
When we reached the portal, Lady Aster handed a leather bag to Lilly. “I’ll take that,” Mom said, reaching for it. Lady Aster stepped in front of Lilly. “She and her brother must perform the spell. Mortal children are more sensitive to magic. And as twins, they reflect each other’s power. It will not harm them.”
“How do we know that for sure?” Dad said. “I’m not going to allow my children to do some ritual, or whatever it is, if we don’t know it’s safe.”
“This is the price of your return,” Lady Aster said in a stern voice, waving her hands in front of their parents. “You will comply with my instructions.” Mom and Dad froze in place like they did before.
Lilly opened the small bag in her hand. Inside was a tiny bone, maybe from a bird, a ball of string, and a black stone. Willow peered in over her shoulder and reached out to touch the items.
“Do not touch the elements before it is time!” Lady Aster warned. “We do not want them to lose any of their potency.”
“What do I have to do?” Lilly asked. Her hands were shaking, and she could think of a million things she’d rather do than fool around with magic. Magic was the wild unknown. Lilly would rather stick with what she was good at, like multiplication or taking tests.
“I’ll help you,” Willow said, putting his arm around her. When did he decide to act like a brother instead of a monkey? That was magic by itself.
Lady Aster put one hand on each of their shoulders. “Do not be anxious, little lambs. This is simple magic. Listen carefully. When you come through to your world, Lilly will pour the items into her hand. Then she will spin around three times and say, ‘Be closed.’ As the portal begins to narrow, she will toss the items into the window, causing it to lock. Permanently.”
“How will you know that we did it?” Lilly asked.
“I will know,” she said. Then she snapped her fingers. Mom and Dad started moving again. “Come, I will send you home!”
Lady Aster spoke some words that sounded like water bubbling in a stream. A large window opened, and Lilly could see the woods from her world. The faery queen dipped her head toward them. “It was a pleasure to meet you. Especially the twins. Do not hesitate to cast the magic when you arrive. Good day, human family.”
With a stern look back at the faery queen, Dad stepped forward into the portal. “Come on, kids,” Mom said, taking Lilly and Willow by the hand. Lilly felt the resistance as they passed through.
With a few steps, they were back in the forest. Birds chirped and pine needles rustled in the wind. Lilly wanted to run over and hug each tree.
“Let’s do the magic,” Willow said.
Lilly poured the bone, string, and rock into her hand. She spun around three times and said, “Be closed!” in her best bossy voice. Then she threw the items into the shrinking portal. It winked out of sight.
I can’t believe I just did magic. I wonder if it worked, she thought.
I’m sure it did, Willow thought back.
Lilly’s eyes grew wide. We can still talk to each other’s minds!
Totally awesome! Willow thought to her.
Even as Lilly was debating whether it was good to have her brother’s voice in her head, she felt waves of hot anger coming from behind her. As she turned around, she saw Nettle and Thorn, their eyes flashing and teeth bared, holding her parents. Even the faery children looked ready to pounce on her and tear her eyes out.
“Human child, what have you done?” Thorn wailed.