“T-the queen! She sent us back!” Lilly managed to choke out, her heart jumping into her throat.
“No!!!!” Nettle roared, dropping a large duffle bag on the ground. Thorn and the children growled, exposing pointy teeth. There was nothing human about those expressions. They rushed toward Lilly and her family with their backpacks raised as weapons.
“Out of here,” Dad shouted, grabbing the twins and dashing across the clearing.
“Stop!” Thorn commanded. Lilly and her family froze in place.
What are they going to do to us? she thought to Willow.
Probably turn us into trees. No one would even notice if there were four more trees in this forest, Willow thought back.
Not helpful, Lilly replied. She would have burst into tears if only she could move. At least she could still breathe. Of course, at that moment, she had a tremendous itch on her nose. A rustling sound made her forget about it.
A female faery with two children entered the clearing. She wore long white braids and was dressed for hiking with boots, a broad-brimmed hat, and a backpack. The faery children’s heads were capped with curly white hair, and they looked very young, not more than two and four years old. They held their mother’s hands and stared at Lily and Willow with eyes wide as a full moon. A male faery followed her, carrying a larger backpack.
“What is this all about?” the male faery said. “Is there a problem with the portal?”
Thorn spread her arms wide. “Just a broken spell. You know how these things happen. We will get it working immediately.”
The female faery frowned. “I hope so. We must return in time for my Herbcraft class. My students depend on me.”
Nettle stood in front of where the portal had been, spreading his arms wide and muttering in his own language. After three attempts, he shouted, “The human broke the portal!”
“Leth uss go,” Mom said, straining against her frozen lips. Lilly could see Mom’s eyes were sparking with anger, even if she couldn’t move her face. Dad was turned away from them, frozen in mid-step. She hoped he wouldn’t fall on his face.
“I’ve got this.” Thorn pushed past Nettle and sprinkled white powder onto the ground. She spit on it and mumbled singsong words.
“Damn you, Aster!” Nettle said, shaking his fist at the sky.
“Curse that wicked queen!” Thorn said. “When we get back, I will personally tear her heart out and serve it for dessert. Over sponge cake with whipped crème.”
Lily’s heart was racing. What can we do?” she thought to Willow.
Although he couldn’t turn, his eyes attempted to meet hers. Don’t worry. You’ll think of something. You always do.
“First things first,” Nettle said. He waved his hand, spoke a few words, and Lilly’s parents turned into rabbits. They sat back on their haunches, sniffed the air, before hopping into the dense underbrush of the forest. Then he released Lilly and Willow.
Lilly itched her nose furiously.
“Twins are too valuable to waste,” he said to their friends with a shrug. “We’ll take them home with us.”
“Turn our parents back!” Lilly said. “We had to do what the queen told us. We had no choice.” She pulled away from Rudy who had grabbed her arm.
Two of the other faery children held Willow between them. Their sharp fingernails dug into his arms, causing him to yelp in pain.
Yeow! These little buggers are strong! he thought to Lilly.
We need to get Mom and Dad back! Lilly thought to her brother. She tried to remember the faery tales Mom told them at bedtime. Faeries like to trade. We’ve got to think of something we can bargain with.
The faeries dragged Willow and Lilly to the campfire circle. Nettle and Thorn sat down across from them.
“We can reopen the portal with our own magic,” Lilly said.
“Magic? We don’t have any magic!” Willow protested.
Lilly exchanged a look with him. We’re talking to each other in our minds. That’s magic. I think we can do more.
“Twin magic is extremely powerful,” Thorn said. “Especially since your visit to Faerie. No doubt you’re starting to experience some of the effects.”
“We’ll fix the portal if you change our parents back,” Lilly said. “Promise. Promise you will return our parents to human form. Three times I ask this.” She remembered that faeries couldn’t lie, and they took their bargains seriously. Also, asking three times was binding.
“Agreed, agreed, and agreed,” Thorne said. She pulled some herbs out of her pouch and mixed them in a bowl. Rudy poured liquid from a vial into the mixture and a strong licorice smell filled the air.
“This porridge will strengthen and focus your magic so it can be used,” she said, handing the bowl to Lilly. “Take two bites and pass it to your brother.”
Lilly hesitated as she looked at the grey, lumpy mass in the bowl. What if I throw it all up? she thought to her brother.
“Just do it,” Willow said. “How bad can it be?” He took the bowl and tasted some from the spoon. He worked hard to keep his face neutral. It tastes like Aunt Gertie’s rice pudding.
That bad, Lilly thought back. She took the bowl and downed two spoonfuls. Then she handed it back to Thorn. Other than her churning stomach, she didn’t feel any different.
“Come, children, we have work to do,” Thorn said. She led them back over the original portal’s location. “Close your eyes. Both eyes, young manchild. Think about our castle in Faerie. This should not be difficult because you have actually been there. Think about the bedchambers you woke up in. Think about the delicious food Cook prepared for you.”
“I’ll never forget that French toast,” Willow said. “Why couldn’t your potion taste like that?”
“Focus!” Thorn snapped at him. “When you have anchored the location in your minds, then think about building a bridge from here to that place in Faerie.”
“What kind of bridge? Wood or stone?” Lilly asked.
“I want to make one of those hanging rope bridges,” Willow said.
“It doesn’t MATTER what type of bridge! It’s only a symbol, a device to make a portal,” Nettle shouted.
“Settle down, my love. They are only children,” Thorn soothed him.
Lilly thought about a bridge to Faerie. In her mind, she saw it like a storybook bridge, old stone and arched. Wide enough for a horse and wagon. She sent the image to her brother.
Looks sturdy, he thought back to her.
As Lilly focused on the bridge and the castle back in Faerie, the forest grew silent around her. Her mind started to feel fuzzy, like after she’d spent too much time in the sun.
How long do you think we have to do this? Willow thought at her.
How should I know? she thought back at him.
“It is finished!” Thorn shouted and the twins opened their eyes. In front of them was the familiar swirling circle they had been dragged through the first time.
“Brilliant work!” Thorn and Nettle’s friend, the male faery, said. “Quickly, let us leave.”
“Come on now. Don’t dawdle. The portal will only stay open a short time,” Thorn said, lining up her children. She gestured toward their friends and their children.
Lilly tugged at her arm. “Wait a minute! You said you’d restore our parents!”
Thorn nodded. “Of course.” She flicked her fingers, and Mom and Dad came crashing out of the bushes, crawling on all fours. They stopped, looked at each other, and quickly jumped to their feet.
“Now look here, Thorn!” Dad said. “We have no magic! Let us go at once!”
Thorn and Nettle glanced at the twins. “You have more magic than you know. But do not fret. The portal is open once more. We will bid you farewell.” And with that, the faeries jumped through the portal before it closed.
“I’m hungry!” Willow said.
Lilly’s stomach gurgled in agreement. “Me, too.”
Mom gave them a weary, relieved smile. “Let’s go back to the campsite and grill up some burgers.”
“And share scary stories around the campfire,” Dad said. When he saw the twins terrified expressions, he added, “Or maybe just regular stories tonight.”
As they followed their parents out of the forest and back into the campground, Lilly thought she heard faint strains of singing coming out of the woods. Do you hear that music? she thought at Willow.
Yeah, he thought back, but I’ve had enough exploring for one day.
Lilly checked her jacket pocket for the small jar of the remaining potion Thorn had made them eat. It was sealed with a wax ring.
In the distance, she was certain she heard the delicate peal of children’s laughter.