“It may be that you changed homes, changed lifestyles…” Mama Glenn drifted off, but her voice encouraged me to fill in what she didn’t know.
I nodded. “We did move to the wealthier side of town. It’s where I met Eth…” I let his name dribble out of my mouth, not finishing the entirety of it. “I… but wait. This sounds like a fairy tale.”
She laughed again. “Oh, we have fairies, too. We are everything you’ve ever dreamed or fantasized about. Everything you ever wished was true, we are. We are myth and legend, just told differently. They think they know the truth, the scholars who write of us, and every now and again we let one or more of us out into the world to keep the stories alive in people’s minds. But we are more than what they think.”
The flood of information set me reeling. It was almost too much to take in, and I sat on her lap with it, absorbing it like a dry and thirsty sponge absorbs the rain.
Her arm settled behind my shoulders and her other arm snaked under my knees. “Be ready, son. It’s time for you to meet us – not all of us, but it’s time.”
On the far side of the room, a door creaked open. A trickle, then a river of folk entered the room, and before I could stand to meet them, Mama Glenn rose. She was small and had seemed frail, but her arms were like iron bars as she held me above her head.
Startled, I grabbed at her fingers where they laced around my knee. “Hold still, son. It’s been told – you’ll be down soon enough.”
Still tense, I let go her hand and looked at the crowd filling the room front to back and wall to wall. So many people – or were they people? In the dimness, I couldn’t be sure.
“Come, my children. Come see him,” her voice rang out, stronger than I’d thought possible. The people around us murmured acknowledgement, quiet whispers of affirmation.
She continued holding me up for several long, long seconds before setting me on my feet before the crowd. As they gathered around us, I was nudged toward the center of the room, where a cleared space had – magically? – appeared. Through the crush of bodies, I could see a redheaded boy jumping in the back of the crowd, his head appearing and disappearing, bouncing like a ball, backlit through the open doorway.
At a signal I couldn’t see or sense, the crowd fell silent. How they did it I don’t know, but the silence felt like a living thing in this room full to its brim with people. It pressed against me like a blanket, and tears stung my eyes.
Mama cleared her throat and her voice raised in a call that shook the room. “I present to you Eoghan mac Carthaigh, now come home to us. Welcome him, but don’t crowd him – we don’t know what he can do.”
There was a beat, and then she chuckled. The tension swept out of the room as they chuckled with her. Then another beat, as though all in the room had taken in one large breath together, and the crowd spoke with one voice. “Welcome home, Eoghan mac Carthaigh!”
I can tell you the words, but I can’t describe the sound of them speaking all at once like that. It wasn’t a cheer and it wasn’t a hurrah. It was… almost solemn, but with an undercurrent of relief flowing through it. Expectation twisted through me, but I had no idea what I was expecting – or what they expected of me.
And then they touched me.
The stinging in my eyes opened into a river of unexpected tears as they did, murmuring “Eoghan,” “young master,” “good to have you home.” Rough, callused hands touched me. Soft, springy, never-touched-a-hard-thing-in-their-life-before hands brushed me. Stumps of arms, and hands missing fingers, lay reverent on my skin. The paws of a dog or two entered my hand as if to “shake,” a wolf’s mossy pelt brushed against my leg, and a horse-faced man bent his forehead to my knuckles, nearly weeping. There were more bird people like Sunder and others whom I couldn’t even fathom what they were. But despite this tide of folk around me, I was never afraid. Everyone was so gentle and welcoming, caring and loving, that fear became impossible.
Through it all, Mama stood behind and beside me. She’d wrapped her cloak around those weak-yet-strong shoulders, her aged eyes watering again. Occasionally she’d touch one of the folk, murmuring something in a language I didn’t know, but it didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t.
The flow of people had moved across the room, and I realized the crowd was getting smaller, when I finally saw the redhead again. He approached me with studied elegance, far more impressive than when I’d seen him at the back of that massive crowd. He was taller than I’d imagined, and older than he’d looked.
Then I saw that his hair wasn’t red. It was covered in mud. He was regal and elegant, and he was covered in mud. I tried to make sense of it and failed, wanting to laugh at the absurdity of it all, but I was caught in the solemnity of the moment like a fly trapped in amber.
He knelt at my feet. I reached out to him, surprised, to raise him up, but he motioned my hand away. He wouldn’t rise, so I knelt before him instead.
Our eyes locked. He reached his hand out to my face, his fingers tracing the scar I’d forgot on my chin, fingertips tracing a feather’s touch across my lips. I opened my mouth to ask why he’d knelt, but his voice overrode my stammer.
“I am sorry, Eoghan. I am Jeb. It is so good to finally meet you. I wish I could have dressed up for this occasion, but I was pulling our cow out of the mud in back. She got the better of me, so I finally gave up.”
Occasion? What occasion? Being flung into a fairytale? Being touched by people who… might not be people? Being caressed by you with a lover’s touch? The moment I saw you, I fell for you like a sudden rain falling from a clear blue sky.
The undeniable touch of destiny. This man – Jeb – brought it to me.
Then he dropped his hands from my lips. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I have a cow to save.” He clasped my hands in his and we rose in a single motion.
It was as though I knew everything about him. I could see how he’d fit into my life, how our bodies could grow old together, could be… held together. I never felt anything like that for Lucy or Ethan.
Who is Lucy? Who is Ethan? Fading from my memory just as I’d faded from theirs.
And then he was gone, his fingertips lingering on my lips. I turned and no one was left in the room, just Mama Glenn and me. Even Sunder was gone.