When I was eleven years old, I was wed to a prince of the Fair Folk.
I don’t recommend it.
To be fair, it was my own fault. Mum always said to leave alone the old stone ringforts that were out in the countryside, lest I disturb the Fae. But I was never one for listening, and what was the point of getting to visit my uncle’s little farm if I couldn’t explore the hills and fields beyond it? It was the kind of thing I rarely had a chance to do at our home in Derry; I couldn’t let some dumb superstitions stop me.
He’d been small, about my size when I was that age, with a face that was somewhat handsome and yet unmistakably wrong. The head was just a little too round, the ears and mouth a little too small, the emerald eyes a little too expressionless. He was dressed elegantly in a dark blue suit that almost hid the fact that his limbs were just a little bit too long compared to his body.
When he’d seen me, his small mouth had stretched unnervingly wide in a cold, unfeeling grin. “Hello there, beautiful,” he’d said to me, his voice slow and soft.
Now, when I was eleven, “beautiful” is not a word I would have used to describe myself. My red hair was a tangled mane of frizz that came down to my shoulder blades and came out horizontally almost as far. My nose had a weird hook in it that made it look like a beak. My face was long like that of a horse. On top of that, in this particular moment I was covered in dirt and leaves and scratches from messing around outside. So of course, when he called me beautiful, I spat in his face because I don’t much appreciate liars.
He calmly took a square of cloth from his breast pocket and wiped his face clean. “Can you give me your name, small one?”
Without another word he took my hand and led me deep into the woods. I didn’t want to go with him, but I couldn’t make myself resist, and so I found myself in a clearing illuminated with dappled green light and dotted with luminescent flowers and mushrooms. There was an archway formed by two interwoven trees, and the Faery Prince and I were married. After the ceremony, the Fae all drank large amounts of cream and fell asleep, at which point I was able to leave. From that point onward, they came after me. I’d married one of them, so now I was their property. The Fair Folk, evidently, have never heard of feminism. I didn’t feel like being the one to introduce it to them.
Thanks to my mistake, I was now living in fear. It’s the kind of thing you strangely get used to. As I made my way down the street from my apartment in the neighborhood known as the Bogside, I barely gave a second thought to the fact that I was wearing my shirt inside out and carrying a dry piece of bread in my pocket, or to my habit of walking well around any stray cats or foraging squirrels, or any of the other dumb things one must do to keep out of the clutches of the Fae. The precautions and paranoia were normal, seeing as how I’d been a runaway bride for around a decade now.
I shivered in the late January air, taking myself out of my own head for a moment. The Bogside had changed a lot in the past few years. The neighborhood had been walled off and fortified, declared free while the rest of Derry sat under occupation. It’s hard to say which I prefer at this point: the Fair Folk or the Brits. They’re both always around, always menacing, always waiting for their chance to take what they think is theirs.
They’ve taken enough from me already.
My mum used to tell me about how her father fought and died for Irish freedom back in the twenties. He was a hero, she’d say on many a night. It seems a cruel trick that his hometown never actually became free. When I was younger I thought maybe he, too, had run into some trouble with the Fair Folk and now they were punishing him. Then I learned about gerrymandering and whatnot and how it could magically transform a nationalist city into a loyalist voting bloc, and the world seemed an even stranger and more menacing place than before.
There were protests happening on the street as I walked by. I did my best to keep my head down, ashamed by the fact that I wasn’t joining them. My father would have joined them. My father did join them, three years ago, fighting against anti-Catholic discrimination. When his body had been found, it was hardly recognizable, beaten until his face no longer looked like his own. Officially it was one of the loyalist militias that had done it, but some of the wounds looked suspiciously like they may have come from a policeman’s baton. Regardless, no one was under any delusions when it came to which side had the support of the authorities, and protesting was a risky business.
I made my way further down the street to the market and stepped inside. I needed more cream to leave out at night so any Fae that might come for me in my sleep would get distracted and have themselves a drink and a nap. I’m sure I made up a significant percentage of all dairy consumption in Ulster, but that’s what happens to little girls who don’t listen I guess.
There was one carton of cream on the shelf that stood out from the others. It wasn’t scuffed or dented or dirty at all, not even in the trace amounts one might expect from any object that has to exist in the real world. The colors of the label seemed almost imperceptibly brighter, the little cartoon cow on the label almost imperceptibly cheerier.
They’ve gotten better, I thought to myself. Ten years ago, they’d left a box of powdered donuts in the middle of a ringfort in the woods, and I’d fallen for it. Touching the box had caused reality to seem to shift, pivoting around the point of contact to reveal a whole new world and my soon-to-be husband standing in front of me. In the intervening years they’d learned to be more clever, as had I. I grabbed one of the slightly less appealing cartons of cream and handed the clerk some coins from my jacket pocket, an eclectic mix of new decimal currency and some older shillings. I left before he could figure out the change.
I fixed my gaze on the pavement as I made my way past the protests once more in the hopes of avoiding any interaction and getting home as soon as possible. My plan backfired when I, as a result of looking down rather than forward, bumped into a man as he walked past. The man said nothing, continuing to head the other way, but something had been knocked loose from his pocket by the impact. It appeared to be a five pound note.
I bent over to pick it up. “Sir! You dropped your-”
I froze mid-sentence, my hand recoiling back, reversing its course just before my fingers could brush up against the note. It was wrong. Something about the proportions of it wasn’t quite right. It was a trap.
My concentration was pulled away by the sound of shouting. I looked up. British soldiers has entered the Bogside and were now running down protesters. I heard gunshots and saw a man a few feet away from me fall to the ground, covered in blood.
Quickly, I bent down and picked up the fiver on the ground. As soon as I touched it, everything stopped. I could still see the fighting, but it seemed distant and hazy.
I blinked, and there he was, my husband, standing before me with his dead eyes and never-ending smile. “Finally,” he said slowly, “you have returned to me, beautiful.”
I look much the same way now as I did when I was eleven, so I spat in his face again. He stood there, seemingly stunned that I would do such a thing as though he’d forgotten who I was.
After a moment, I broke the silence. “Right. Lead the way then.” I looked over once more at the hazy scene of my people fleeing before the might of the British military, the gunshots now reduced to a dull echo that lingered in my ears. I then turned back to my husband. “I can’t exactly stay here, now can I?”Recommended1 Simily SnapPublished in