I watch Fae from where I wake and dread the moment he opens his eyes. Today is when the last leg of our journey must commence, and I have slept very little at the thought. I rub my tired eyes and hate that while he sleeps, Fae looks as vulnerable as any man, and if someone were to happen upon us in the wood, they would know nothing of his power and the power that he has granted me as his apprentice.
The grass around us ripples in the sunlight while he stirs. I feel a strange sort of fondness for him. I know that there are few others who know him as I do, who have spent as much time with him as I have. But I must remind myself that it is only because I was too desperate, running away from my problems, that I landed in his presence. Any other man with a lick of self respect would not have ended up in another land, at Fae’s doorstep, knowing what he had done to the surrounding lands.
I wonder if I will ever forgive myself for getting so desperate.
He wakes and once his eyes are open, it is as if the natural world around us shifts, getting ready for his every move. I’m used to the way he commands the natural world now. It used to be intoxicating, to see the way that he could manipulate the trees, the vines that knotted through the earth. You must teach me, I said, for I thought I had a gift similar to him.
And I was not wrong. Yes, I had a humble talent with natural manipulation. But it was like comparing water in a pond to the water of the tumultuous seas. Fae was an immortal force who would likely demand authority long after I am dead in the ground. I am a halfling with some tricks. He’s made it clear to me over our many years that we are not the same.
He ties his hair up into a bun wordlessly and lets me pack the arrows and food. We’re close, close enough the the earthy stench of the great lake is right upon us. “A boat has been prepared,” he says, and only that, as it’s the only thing needed to be said. I nod and wait for him to meditate and to stretch his muscles. Then he stands and the leaves on the trees glimmer around us, begging him to stay.
We do not.
Once at the edge of the lake I feel a stab of hurt. The last time I was here was when I was fleeing. Suddenly I am a young man again, wild and barefoot and soaking wet from the swim. Someone had told me once how long it might take to get to Fae’s kingdom, and it was my only hope, so I did as I had to. The idea of that young man -- gawky and tired and utterly terrified of his abilities -- is strange to me now.
I let Fae get into the small boat prepared for us and begin to push, then crawl in myself. While I drag the one oar through the water, I catch a glimpse of my reflection. I’ve pulled my almost-white hair away from my face, as I always do now. Back when I fled, I used to let it hang down, wild and long and catching any leaves and twigs that might tangle up in it.
The journey across the lake will be long. I remember the swim all too well. Fae only glances up at me once, perhaps to see if this wounds me. I keep my gaze forward on the destination, the island in the middle of the great lake, the one bit of hospitable land amongst rolling mountains in the distance. I try to keep a cool mask on my face and bid myself not to think of what awaits me at my old home.
And of course, I think of Lixiss.
I wonder if she will recognize me now that I’ve grown larger, muscles sculpted from the labor and ironwork that Fae requires to keep his household running. I wonder if my chin is sharper now than when I was just a boy, when I was just a young thing like her. That was back before we had secrets.
It’s likely that our journey will end in devastation, as Fae has negotiations planned that the rulers will probably decline. This will trigger a violent response from him, and that will trigger a war. The word will reach Fae’s kingdom and our men will don their weapons and slash through the waters of this very lake. But for now, we cut through, smooth and quiet as the sharpest knife.
The first lights of the port appear. Despite myself, I swallow a lump of nerves in my throat.
“They will not strike,” Fae says, cooly, “they won’t do anything until they know our intent.”
“Shall I do the talking?” I ask.
“I will handle it,” he says. “If they guess you are the boy that ran away, they will be more enraged. I’d rather keep you under my heel.”
I nod. As expected. Our boat pushes closer and I wonder if Lixiss has married a man who is good to her and does not lash out in pangs of mystic anger the way that I did. I picture her the way I wish to see her: her dark curls falling down her back, a fierce expression fixed on her face. I wouldn’t want to see her changed. That must mean that wherever she is now, she would hate to see me, and would meet me with a sword that she trained with all her life.