The ripe moon rose on the Samhain night, when fey and god crossed the white veil between worlds—and Juniper Foxglove, illustrious sidhe, hid in the branches of a silvery birch tree, concealing his face.
Sea kicked the bottom of the trunk, smarting her paw. The otter dropped on her bum and rubbed the throbbing limb. She took out a parcel of soggy kelp from her vest pocket and rubbed it on her toes. The pain eased.
“Foxglove,” she called. “You get your golden butt down out of that tree. The Queen is going to be here anon. I’m not going to be seen at the hottest fey event of the year sans a date again.”
In just an hour’s worth of sand trickling down the neck of an hourglass, the Queen of the Sidhe will travel through the silver veil from the Otherworld and lead a procession of elven riders on violet horses through the wood at Bedfordshire. Sea jumped up and down, looking forward to seeing the newest in royal fashions and watching all the handsome huntsmen atop their steeds in fine livery.
“I shall not come down,” Foxglove said. “The Queen can’t see me like this.” Foxglove covered his nose with an inflated pig’s bladder on a stick. He crouched low, sitting on the branch, letting his golden hair fall over his face. He paused to pull up his breeches and tighten the sinew on his jerkin, in case anyone looked.
Sea sighed, knowing how vain Foxglove could be. He grew a silver hair once, and he buried himself in his sidhe mound and wouldn’t come out for a year and a day. Sea dug in the mound and plucked out the scandalous silver lock when he slept.
“Let’s see it,” she said.
“Come on, Foxglove. We don’t got all night. Maybe there’s concoction to be brewed or hex to be laid. Now put down that cursed bladder.”
Foxglove eased down the balloon, revealing his nose. Sea gasped, falling on her bum again. A naked four-legged nymph with a swollen belly from ale drinking danced on Foxglove’s angular nose, just on the tip.
“Foxglove darling,” Sea said. “Where have you been sticking your nose?”
“In Blackheart Bog, looking for me dad’s old moonshine m’mother lobbed in when he was high off the hill one night. T’was good brew.”
Foxglove had forgotten the cardinal law of life in Bedfordshire Wood:
Never go sticking your nose in Blackheart bog for your old dad’s whiskey because you might come out with a fat, four-legged nymph dancing on it.
Every bloke knew this rule.
Sea plucked her ears and mashed her cheeks. “Foxglove. Just come down. The Queen won’t even notice you.”
“I won’t be seen at the fashion event of the year with a nymph on my nose.”
“Fine then,” Sea said. “I’ll go see if old Nani has any wands that can evict the offending nymph.”
Sea scattered from the birch grove. She jumped into a stream, swimming even with the current, fleet in her condign element. She swam fast until she reached the bank of Sticky Web Glade. She scurried through the moribund and gnarled trees, pulling the silky strands from her fur. A wolf spider clutched onto her shoulder, and she smacked it with her paw. It jumped off. She hared for a wee hut woven of oakmoss. She coughed from the thick miasma of burning wackyfern. She jumped on a collapsed rope bed in a rubbish pile outside the domicile.
“You come out here, Nani!” Sea yelled. “I need one of your wicked sticks.”
The orc pushed aside the moss drapes and lumbered out of the hut. She carried a pipe carved from a deer skull. Its bowl smoked with burning wackyfern, shading her olive skin bright pink. She adjusted her femur bone necklace and her burlap dress for company. Makeup smeared down her face, mascara blackening her eyes.
“What ya want, otter? Got no more clams.”
“The Queen rides tonight, but my date’s got a nymph on his nose.”
“Pesky nymphs, dancing on faces,” Nani said. “Is three legs?”
Nani frowned, cracking the dried rouge on her bulbous green cheeks. She puffed her wackyfern. “Need deep voodoo for that.” Nani lumbered into her hut, and old skulls, sacks, dried bat sausage flew out the flap. She came out carrying a twisted willow branch painted blue.
“I just enchanted this with roach blood and cried all night on it. Should get rid of that nymph. Its magic will sing a sad song that will drive it off. Nymphs don’t like being all drippy eyed and sad.”
Sea Otter reached out her paw.
“First you gotta dance,” Nani said.
“Never. The scandal.”
Sea looked down at her stubby legs, grown for swimming fleet after stealing clams from orcs and not for waltzing. Nani held out the wand just above her head, taunting the otter. Sea slumped down and huffed. Then, she jiggled her paws and jumped up and down to a rhythm. Nani clapped to the otter’s jig, then the orc tossed her the wand.
“Wait a tick,” Sea said. “You’ve been huffing and puffing a lot of that wackyfern. How do I know you got the enchantment all proper?”
“Want to give it back?” Nani said.
Sea chewed on the wand, held it between her teeth, then she ran and jumped in the stream, swimming fast to grab her date. She arrived as the forest glowed with an eldritch ambiance, suffusing through the oaks and birches. The fey and the woodland critters gathered among the King’s Road that cut the forest in half, leading from Young Spring where the riders would emerge.
“Quick Foxglove,” Sea yelled up a tree. “Come down. The Queen is making her ride.”
“I’m hideous.” Foxglove held the inflated bladder over his face.
“I got the remedy,” Sea said. “This here stick will make a song and sadden that nymph go on out of here.”
Foxglove jumped out of the tree, his wild golden hair fluttering in the wind. He landed next to Sea, and she took his hand in her paw. The trumpet call of the Queen’s rider howled through the wood.
“Hurry up, Foxface,” Sea said. “We’ll use the wand when we get there.” She yanked him onward and ran on her stubby legs to King’s Road, lining up along the dirt avenue with the other critters and fey of the wood. Foxglove kept the bladder in front of his face. The Queen’s guard emerged from the spring, their horses stepping from the glimmering waters. The tall sidhe glowed in their silver livery.
“Sea . . . cast it now,” Foxglove said.
She waved the wand and smacked Foxglove’s nose. A catchy tune jingled from his face like a child’s music box. Foxglove taped his foot to the happy song. She hit his nose again, trying to start the melancholy music, but the playful song kept playing.
“That twit orc and her wackyfern,” she said.
The melody flowed through the wood, into the nearby bogs. All the nymphs swimming in the mud heard it, and they jumped from the muck and took flight. They flapped to the source, and along the road, they found many noses of the patrons on which to dance. The Queen made her progress after her guard, adorned in silver robes woven of moonlight and wearing an ivory mask. Sea swatted at the nymphs, too busy to gaze at the elven monarch. The nymphs found dance floors on the guard’s faces, but they found no foothold on the Queen’s ivory mask. The patrons smacked at the nymphs and yelled and cried. The Queen rode her mare and leaned down at Sea, eyeing the wand in her paw. Foxglove attempted to cover them both with the bladder. The duo ducked, expecting her wrath.
“We are delighted by the dancing fairies you have brought to us,” the Queen spoke in violin voice through her mask. “We hope you will visit us in the vale.” She rejoined the parade.
“What are you grinning about?” Sea said. “This was all my idea.”
T. Fox Dunham resides outside of Philadelphia PA—author and historian. He’s published in 150 international journals and anthologies and writes for Team Obama. He’s a cancer survivor. His friends call him fox, being his totem animal, and his motto is: Wrecking civilization one story at a time. http://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham & Twitter: @TFoxDunham