And the bounds set to your time are this, till the Woman from the South and the Man from the North will come together…no friends and no power that you have will be able to bring you out of these shapes you are in through the length of your lives.
-The Children of Lir
In a garden nestled in a hidden mountain valley, there was a lake. Across its surface, a gondola floated quietly – a lone swan upon the clear, blue water.
Its sole passenger – a fair, young woman–gripped the sides of this boat as it began to pitch, floating far off the course she had initially set for it.
She did not shout as the water began to ripple. Nor did she cry out in fear as the distant shore shook. “Be calm,” she said instead to all within hearing.
The woman raised one hand to comfort the small winged creatures circling around her. Kindly, she offered them a smile. “It’s alright. Don’t be afraid.”
When the tremors passed, the images of the world began to return to the water. And once more the lady’s eyes skimmed across the mirror’s surface.
For hundreds of years, she and the Mirror Lake had fascinated one another. She would diligently observe the lake for the images it would offer her for her amusement and action. However, over these past few months, the visions had become numerous.
Tirelessly, she watched and waited for the lake’s wishes to become clear. And now her fingers slapped her face, willing their owner to stay awake. Then gracefully, they stretched above her head before coming back to her sides.
The fairies darted away, signaling the imminent arrival of a guest. A loud cry shattered the quiet before a hawk dropped out of the sky. It circled about the lake before it came to rest upon the boat’s decorative mast.
“Good evening,” the woman politely offered the bird.
Once acknowledged, it hopped forward. As it landed on the boat, it was no longer a bird. Instead an ordinary middle-aged man bowed low in the boat. .
‘Hawk.” She gazed kindly upon the man. “You are early.”
“My queen.” The man raised one all-seeing eye to his lady. Long ago, the talented falconer and summoner of birds had lost his eye, reportedly as an exchange for the gift of shapeshifting into the form of the birds he loved. Her brother brought him here shortly after that life-changing event. “I’ve gone beyond the mountains to the east to follow the birds.” His voice paused, “But I turned back. Lady winter has not yet removed the snow from the forests.”
The woman’s eyebrow twitched at the news. “Then where is she now?”
“No one knows,” he stated. “Blackbirds. Ravens. Sparrows. None I have consulted have seen her.”
She did not ask if he had seen swans. Instead the blue-eyed woman ruffled her short locks in irritation. The balance of the world depended on all players acting in accordance to their gifts. And one such player was not cooperating. “Have you looked for her owls? They would understand what she intends by this.”
He nodded. “I did. But I did not find them in their usual place.”
Her eyes widened in mild surprise. “Is that so?” The lady turned her head to one side and whistled, summoning a fairy to her side.
A young one with a particularly rosy expression came to rest on her hand. The woman crumbled a scone on her palm and waited for the winged creature to eat before she asked it a question. “Who has the ear of the Snow Queen?”
The fairy finished cramming a few more crumbs in its mouth before it began to answer her in streams of musical tones. It took more than a few minutes before the sprite arrived at something that made sense.
But the woman was patient, showing a degree of tenderness for the creature that often puzzled men like Hawk. Eventually she turned back to Hawk to explain what must be done. “There is a witch of the woods who speaks to owls. She used to wander near the forests near the Silver River. The fairies say she is an eccentric being, garbed in animal skins and such. At times she comes near villages. If she can be found, she may be able to tell us where the lady has gone.”
The man fingered the cloak. “Who should I send?”
The queen hesitated. “There is no one to send,” the lady answered. “The others have yet to return.”
She saw his eyes dart to her side, empty of sword or weapon. He frowned. Her guards often warned her that the garden was isolated from the world but was not immune to its dangers. “Where is your Knight? Has he left?”
“No,” she answered.
He bowed his head, understanding he was somewhere nearby. “And once I have your answer as to this long-lasting winter, what else should I do?”
The woman considered the events in total. “Tell the birds as you return. I shall not have them freeze unnecessarily. And tell the mistress of the winds that she must advise travelers accordingly.”
His face wrinkled with displeasure at that last set of instructions. The wind witch would see to it that her four sons carried out the message. The garden would once again open to the outside world.
Her guards were against this idea – but unlike the Knight, Hawk would not openly challenge her. Instead, he bowed and disappeared into the sky, having become a bird once more.
With his departure, the lady docked her boat and took a dirt path along the shore. A small crowd of fairies trailed after her, floating on the warm evening breeze. She moved quietly through a young grove of trees towards her home on the other side of a green meadow.
The fairies suddenly blinked out of sight. She found a rock and slipped behind a tree.
A pale man with blue eyes and attired in full armor, emerged onto the path. “Elisa,” he called out. “My lady,” he repeated, correcting himself. “Are you here?”
He tilted his head, listening to the faint whispers of the fairies. They often helped him, she suspected. His head turned her way but the knight did not take a step towards her hiding place. “Elisa,” he called again, gravely. “I do not have time for games today. There’s something I must show you.”
He held out his hand. Chastened, she showed herself and gave hers in return. He gave her a quick, hurried smile but did not hide his worry.
Dread filled her as she allowed him to lead her down a familiar hill. They moved across the meadow towards her home built long ago by her brothers.
They stopped short of the two trees that stood alone in the meadow. Their flowering petals drifted in the breeze, inevitably falling to the ground.
And then she saw what lay underneath the canopy.