Tales of the Seelie Court
The King’s Daughters
By Sarah Tanzmann
Copyright © 2016 Sarah Tanzmann
All Rights Reserved
All the characters in this story are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
The King’s Daughters 3
About the Author 17
The story continues… 18
The King’s Daughters
In the faraway land of Tír na nÓg, where the weather was always bright, the flowers bloomed endlessly, and the water sprouted plentiful from wells, there lived a hidden people. They were faeries, tall, human-like creatures with unearthly beautiful faces and pointed ears, and their beauty never wilted. In Tír na nÓg, time stood still.
The faeries were ruled by a faerie king who had two gorgeous daughters that were his pride and joy, the essence of his being. Titania, the older one, was a bastard child from an affair before his marriage, and Ophira, the younger daughter, was the lovechild of him and his wife. He loved both equally, and he would have given his life for them more than he would have ever given it for his people.
One starry night, the king left the Glass Citadel to stroll through the gardens. He gazed over his court, the Seelie Court. Tiny wooden huts, overgrown with thick vines and covered in leaves, were clustered tightly around the hill, and the river ran nearby. Faeries were bustling about, hurrying to get home. In the distance, way behind the houses, there lay the Whispering Woods, stretching on and on until they vanished into complete darkness. The king observed them for a while and then continued walking.
The garden burst with iridescent colors of lilac blue, glittery gold, and emerald green. The king no longer admired its beauty, and so he walked right past a patch of fiery red flowers without so much as glancing at them. As the wind picked up, he spread his iron gray, gossamer thin wings, letting the gentle breeze brush them. He followed the path a little bit more until it made a slight turn to the left and descended. In a hollow a few feet down, there stood a massive yew tree. At its gnarled roots, there was a gravestone.
The king sank to his knees in front of it and extended a hand to gently trace a finger along the engraving on the stone.
Eyela. Faerie queen. Loving mother.
Every night since her death, he had taken a walk down to her grave, but never before had it hurt him so much. The recent events weighed heavily on him and dragged him down even further at the thought of his dead wife. Once more, he was filled with despair and, above all, remorse.
He pressed his palm onto the cold stone beside her name. “My love, if only you were here.”
Tears started to fill his eyes, but he managed to keep them back. She wouldn’t have wanted him to cry at her grave. He let out a deep sigh to get the pressure off his chest. “I’m losing them, Eyela,” he said in a low and cracking voice. “Titania has turned my own people against me, and Ophira is so consumed with rage after what her sister has done. I barely recognize them.”
He paused, his hand still resting on the gravestone. “I’ve never thought I’d end up raising a monster. But should I have seen it coming? You know how Titania was as a child, constantly envying her younger sister, constantly striving to become queen. Now she’s made her own kingdom.”
He blinked away a fresh wave of tears. “You always loved her like your own, but she was too blind to ever see it. You—”
The snapping of a twig behind his back caused him to whirl around. A young woman with long, golden locks that framed her fair face emerged from the dark. Her delicate, almost translucent, wings shimmered golden in the moonlight as she spread them.
“Father, I’ve been looking for you,” she said.
Even after his wife’s demise, he still thought it was her every time he heard his daughter’s voice. She sounded exactly the same in tone, and he’d caught himself before hoping that it would be Eyela. The illusion lasted a bit longer every time he looked at his daughter’s face and found the same blue-green eyes that he had fallen in love with. On this night, his daughter’s eyes were marked with worry.
“Are you feeling all right?” she asked. Her long, teal gown rustled like leaves as she approached him.
He reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her pointed ear. He’d always done it when she was a child, thinking that her face was far too beautiful to be kept hidden. He looked at the delicate young woman that stood before him now. She was barely grown-up, yet he wished he could turn back time to when their lives had been blissful.
“Don’t worry about me, Ophira,” he said.
The corner of her mouth twitched upward into a faint smile. “You know I always worry about you,” she said as she took hold of his hand. “But I can’t say as much about my sister.”
She almost spat the last word. The king was surprised at his daughter’s sharp tongue.
“Your sister will pay for what she’s done,” he assured her. He lifted his gaze up to one of the glass towers of the citadel, its surface reflecting the blinking stars in the night sky. One of the guards watched them intently through one of the windows, waiting for any order.
“She’s coming, isn’t she?” Ophira asked.
Before he could respond, the sound of footsteps carried down the path, and seconds later, a group of golden-clad knights appeared. All but two halted. The pair of them stepped forward, each carrying a set of armor cradled in their arms.
“My king,” one of them said, bowing.
“And my lady,” said the other one.
Ophira dropped her hand from her father’s, but he seized it again. “You are not coming with us,” he said, his grip tightening.
Her eyes narrowed on him. “I asked you to go into battle with me, not for me. I will fight her for what she’s taken from me. And there is no one, not even you, who can stop me from getting justice for the murder of my betrothed.”
An image flashed up in his mind: little Ophira, clinging to his arm and whimpering, afraid to enter the Whispering Woods for the first time. He failed to see the resemblance between the girl in his memory and the fierce woman that now stood in front of him, and it broke his heart. All he had ever wanted for her was a happy life full of love, but instead, he’d given her a sister that had ripped that away from her.
He lowered his head, defeated. “I promised you my help, and I shall not break that promise.”
“And I’m most grateful for that.”
He released his grip on her hand. When her fingers slipped out of his, he felt as though she was taking all his strength with her, and his body was left hollow.
She was only halfway to where the knight stood with her armor when the horn sounded. The gate of the citadel opened, and his army of knights streamed out into the streets of his court, the dark sky illuminated by their torchlight.
He halted his troops at the outskirts of the Seelie Court atop a small hill from where he could see the path disappear into the Whispering Woods. The first row of trees marked the invisible, yet protected, border to his remaining kingdom.
Many of the court’s inhabitants heard the horn and ran out of their houses the moment the king and his knights passed, but none of them tried to follow the procession. Instead, they ushered their children back inside and locked their doors.
Hovering a few feet above the ground, the king turned around to look at his army. None of the knights had wings, so most of them were on foot, wielding all kinds of weapons: swords, daggers, spears, and bows and arrows. Others sat on stags, allowing them a higher view, their wary eyes searching their surroundings for danger. They all kept their gaze straight ahead of them where the forest stretched into the distance in the dark night.
“It’s quiet,” the knight to the king’s right observed. “Too quiet.”
The king shot him a sidelong glance then turned to stare into the gloomy woods. The first two or three rows of trees were perfectly visible in the moonlight, but everything farther into the woods was consumed by pitch-black darkness. On most nights, the chirruping of birds filled the air, but this night, there wasn’t a single sound to be heard.
“My king, did they sound the horn by mistake?” asked the same knight.
The king didn’t answer him and kept his gaze intently forward. He thought that somewhere in the distance he’d seen a shadow move. Or was it just his imagination playing a trick on him?
Murmurs rippled through the army of knights, and the king sensed their apprehension. He knew that they didn’t like standing this close to the Whispering Woods. It was the court’s only flaw. The remaining borders were protected either by a mountain range or ended in a steep coast at the sea, but they were vulnerable on this border, exposed to whatever lurked between the trees.
“She’s out there. I’m certain,” said Ophira.
The king turned his eyes away from the void in front of him and looked down at his daughter. She was clutching the hilt of a sword, something he hadn’t seen since she’d finished her training. The hope that she’d never have to use those abilities outside the citadel slowly faded away.
“I can feel her presence. She’s out there,” Ophira repeated, gazing into the woods.
There was a whirring sound followed by a thump, and the knight to the king’s right collapsed, an arrow protruding from his eye.
No one moved. They all stared in shock at the lifeless body of their fallen companion. All but the king, for his eyes were riveted on the spot from which the arrow had come flying, and the more he concentrated on the dark abyss, the more shadows came into sight. They darted between the trees, approaching them at high speed, but they didn’t make the slightest sound as they moved.
“They’re coming! Now!” the king cried, and half his army of knights charged down the hill, holding their swords up high. The entire ground shook under their feet as they bolted past the king and his daughter. Their battle cries tore through the night and carried on even long after they had been consumed by the dark forest. But then they ceased and were replaced by the sound of clashing metal and iron.
“We should be with them.” Ophira took a step forward, still gripping her sword, but he held out a hand to stop her. An icy chill ran down his spine as the first tormented cries came from the trees, and he understood, with a sinking heart, that it was his men dying.
“She’d expect that,” he said. “And when she realizes that we’re not in the forest fighting, she’ll come looking for us here. That’s what we want. That’s how we’re going to catch her.”
He’d never thought he’d say those words. He’d never thought he’d have to regard one of his daughters as a criminal. That he had to be the one to put an end to her life. After all, he was the one who’d given life to her.
“Something is wrong.” Ophira leaned in closer to the woods. “Why can’t I hear anything? Father?”
There were a few muffled sounds from the trees. The sound of his fallen warriors moaning as they took their last breath.
He closed his eyes for a second, inhaling deeply, and then faced the remaining half of his knights. “The enemy seems to be stronger than we have anticipated, but this doesn’t mean we’ll be defeated. We will fight! We will win this battle so that none of those souls die for nothing. We will bring justice to those who have done wrong!”
The group of knights answered with raucous bawling, seizing their weapons. The king’s fingers closed around the hilt of his sword, and as he drew his weapon, rage shot up his throat and emerged in a battle cry. He no longer cared about his plan. If someone was killing his people, he wanted them dead.
The knights bolted forward, roaring like thunder. The king watched them with satisfaction as they raced towards the woods, but his elation was short-lived. The first of his knights collapsed when an arrow hit him in the chest.
Suddenly, their opponents were no longer shadows, and one after the other, they appeared between the trees. Even from where he stood, the king could see some familiar faces, but the expression they wore was unknown to him.
The Fair Folk weren’t an angry people, and in all the battles the king had fought in his life, he’d never seen someone so possessed with hatred as the group of faeries approaching them. Their faces were smeared with blood, their hair covered in dirt, and some were snarling like wild animals. All they seemed to care about were their enemies. They kept pushing forward, their eyes blazing like fire stones in their sockets.
The king’s knights had stopped a short distance away from the Whispering Woods, some gazing at the oncoming army and others firing away, letting one arrow after the other fly. It didn’t stop the enemy. If anything, it provoked them, and they picked up their pace, wielding their maces and axes or whatever makeshift weapon they had a hold on. The king knew that they would soon cross the edge of the forest.
“Father, there’s too many of them!” Ophira called out over the clamor. “We don’t have enough knights to fight an army.”
He had worried about that before. His knights had been trained to protect their kingdom, but they weren’t equipped to defend it against a force so strong. They never expected that they’d have to fight their own people.
“We should—” he began, but he was cut off by a deafening cry so stricken with pain that it chilled him down to the bones.
He whirled around to the forest in time to see a faerie from the opposing army being catapulted back by an invisible force, almost as if he’d crashed into a wall. He collapsed between the trees, surrounded by his fellow soldiers, who had come to an abrupt halt, looking like statues with fear chiseled into their faces.
“What just happened?” Ophira asked, her eyes widening in shock.
“I don’t know,” the king answered. “But it might be our only chance.” He turned away from the scene to face his daughter. The sobs and cries of the fallen faerie carried up the hill.
He placed a hand on her shoulder, locking eyes with her. “You need to get the chancellor. He and his son are farther south with their troops where I ordered them to keep an eye on the path. Tell him that he should meet me here with reinforcements.”
Another bloodcurdling cry pierced their ears.
The king glanced over his shoulder. The faerie was still writhing on the ground, and his companions were caught in their stupor.
“I know you want your revenge.” He turned back to Ophira. “And I promise you, I will get it for you. Now leave!”
He was certain she’d contradict him, and he could see her contemplating it. Her lips parted, but she said nothing. After giving a short nod, she sprinted down the hill away from the battle.
A huge burden was lifted off his chest. He descended the hill in the opposite direction that she had gone, towards the Whispering Woods at whose edge both armies had gathered. Once he was close enough, he called to his knights.
The crowd in front of him parted, revealing the faerie man who lay a few feet away on the forest ground, squirming in pain. His tattered clothes—a wretched breastplate and woolen pants—left most of his skin exposed, and a large part of it, especially the arms and legs, was covered with red blisters. A couple of the blisters were oozing whitish fluid.
The king addressed the knight that stood closest to the wounded faerie. “I need you to tell me where exactly it happened. Was it at the edge of the forest?”
The knight stared at him in bewilderment. “I-I don’t know.”
“Was it at the edge of the forest?” the king repeated firmly. He could feel the eyes of the enemy watching him. It wouldn’t take much longer for them to comprehend what had happened. “Does anyone know the answer?” he bellowed. Finally, they seemed to have understood.
One of the knights stepped forward. “My king, he was suddenly thrown back. It was as though…there was some kind of invisible wall.”
The king nodded. “I see. This should buy us some time.” He glanced over his shoulder at the faerie whose blisters were already starting to heal. The skin was knitting over the injuries, closing them up. Then the king faced the first knight that had spoken. “Take this man and bring him to the Glass Citadel. We might need him later.”
The knight hurried to the faerie and two more joined him. Together they lifted the man up. The moment they crossed the border from the woods into the Seelie Court, the faerie began to cry in agony.
“And you—” the king began, but faltered when he heard the sound of hoofs pounding the forest floor.
“Why did you stop?” a voice bellowed. “I thought my orders were clear.”
At the sound of the voice, the king’s heart skipped a beat and his insides turned cold. A series of gasps rippled through the crowd of knights surrounding him. All their arrows were aimed at the newcomer.
“Hold your fire!” the king cried, whirling around to face the woods.
Between the army of faeries that still stood unmoved, he saw, perched atop a golden-bristled boar, his firstborn daughter, Titania.
For a short moment, the king was taken back to the day Titania’s birth mother had brought her to the Seelie Court to reveal to him that he had a daughter. He remembered the time that had followed that, and all he saw was the child with the long, raven hair chasing after the colorful butterflies in the gardens of the citadel. Every night she’d begged him, with eyes already drooping, to read her a bedtime story, and he’d never been able to resist the adorable little girl she’d been back then.
The woman he saw in front of him was nothing like that girl. She still had the long, raven hair and the shockingly clear, blue eyes that were so much like his, but her face had changed. The fine, delicate lines along her cheeks and jaw had hardened, and her lips, once red and full like a cherry plum, were pinched into a thin line. He noticed that her skin had changed too. It had taken on a grayish shade that he’d never seen on a faerie before. It was now almost the same color as her wings.
Everything he’d pushed aside in his mind came rushing back at once. Arrows whirred past him, disappearing between the trees where their opponents had woken from their trance. The piercing sound of clashing metal filled his ears as the two armies collided in the forest.
“No! Stop!” He pushed forward, blocking the way for the knights that hadn’t yet crossed into the woods. “They will run out of arrows and won’t be able to harm us as long as we stay inside the court,” he said, but what he really thought was We can’t harm her if we stay out of the woods.
Some stopped, staring at him in utter disbelief.
“But, my king,” one of his men said, “we can’t just hide in here. They will find a way.”
The king felt anger coursing through his veins as he realized that they were trapped like a mouse in a cage. He stepped out of the knights’ way, defeated. “Everyone who carries a sword will go into the forest and fight. Those of you who have a bow will stay behind the border and shoot every man that tries to kill one of our own.”
They all nodded and then split up; the swordsmen ran off into the woods to join the battle, and the archers positioned themselves on the top of the hill, already nocking arrows.
The forest was a mess of struggling limbs, swords stabbing, maces lashing out, spears flying, and the cries of terror of those who were defeated. Knights in shining, golden armor were struck down by blood-smeared, shabby faerie men and women. There was little time left for the king to take in the scene that unfolded in front of him, and his daughter had disappeared back into the shadows.
He grabbed one of the knights by the arm and pulled him close. “When Ophira returns, you will make sure that she stays in the court. If any harm comes to her, it’ll be on your head!”
When the king released his grip, the man staggered back, terror on his pale face, but he nodded.
The king seized his sword and started off toward the woods, where his men continued to collapse under the force of their enemy. Some of Titania’s faeries paused and stared at him in confusion when he crossed the border. He recognized two of the faces: a dark-haired man, who’d worked as a Hunter at his court, hissed at him, swinging his mace menacingly; the woman at his side, a well-known Healer, let out a deep growl, slashing at the king with her sword. Neither of them showed the slightest indication that they still remembered who he was. The look on their faces when they came running towards him was the most disturbing one he’d ever seen.
The king swung his sword, cutting the man’s throat, and he killed the woman by thrusting his weapon into her chest. All the surrounding spectators quickly averted their gazes, returning to their own battles.
He continued his way further into the forest. On all sides, his knights crumbled to the ground, clutching their bloody throats, arms, or legs and letting out deep, terrible moans. Some of his knights were successful, and as he pushed further along the path, he saw more and more faeries of the opposing army collapse, their eyes glazing over in the dull moonlight.
It grew difficult to see, even for the king’s enhanced faerie sight, and all of a sudden, he was consumed by the darkness, the moon blocked out by the thick treetops. Not many were fighting this far back, where the woods were the most dangerous and the movements of the trees unpredictable. As he ran past a small group, one of the opposing faeries was lifted off his feet by a gigantic tree swinging its thick branches. The faerie plummeted to the ground and was crushed by the whipping tree. Another tree tore free from its roots and crashed onto a faerie, burying her under its massive trunk. No one but the king noticed.
There were a few more groups scattered between the trees, but the king took care not to draw their attention as he made his way through the woods. He wondered where she’d gone. Had she realized that by parting with the Seelie Court her faeries were no longer able to enter the court and had thus decided to abandon them? He dwelt a bit longer on that thought, dodging low hanging branches as he walked.
All of a sudden, something hit him in the side with such ferocity that he was flung off his feet. He landed on his back, the impact forcing the air out of his lungs. He immediately fumbled for his sword that had slipped from his grasp, but he felt nothing but dirt and soaked leaves. Sighing, he rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself up. This time he heard the gallop of hoofs seconds before the beast crashed into him. There was a grinding sound when the boar’s tusk gouged into his breastplate and lifted him off his feet.
The beast dashed through the woods with the king on its back, shoving every faerie aside that dared to come too close. The king heard one of his knights call after him, telling him to let go, but he wasn’t even holding on to the boar. There was nothing he could do. The tusk stuck in his armor and the constant up and down made it difficult for him to get a grip on it. He flapped his wings like a desperate bird caught in a trap, but again, the tusk didn’t budge.
He finally slipped free when the boar skidded to a halt, tossing him off its back. He flew through the air, knocked into a tree and finally came to a rest at its roots.
The boar was panting with rage, its huge body heaving with short quick breaths, but it didn’t approach the king again.
The king gazed around, wondering how far away from the battle the beast had taken him. The faint sounds of metal on metal carried through the forest to him. He couldn’t see them, but he was reassured knowing that his men were close and still fighting.
Followed by the boar’s wary eyes, the king scrambled to his feet, pulling himself up along the trunk of the tree. Every bone in his body was aching after the agonizing ride on the boar’s back, and his deformed breastplate was jabbing into his chest so badly it almost choked him. He struggled out of it and tossed it on the ground.
A disembodied laughter rang through the forest. “You, father, have made a terrible mistake.”
The blood drained from his face and an icy cold lump formed in his chest when his daughter appeared, hovering between two trees. She looked dangerous in the dull light. Her lips curled into a malicious grin, and her wings spread wide. The fine, spidery lines of crystal blue were a shocking contrast to the wings’ otherwise dark texture.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” she teased while holding his sword tight in her hands. She traced a finger along the blade, gazing at it longingly. “I always admired it. You could say that I was even jealous of you having such a precious weapon. You promised me you would hand it to me the day I finished my training, yet you never did. Why, father?” She glanced up at him briefly, then lowered her eyes again. “You wanted to save it for Ophira, didn’t you?”
At the sound of Ophira’s name, the boar stomped with its hoofs, grunting.
Titania landed softly on her feet and walked over to the beast to pat its head as though it was a tiny, cute rabbit rather than a gigantic animal. The moment of distraction gave the king the chance to draw a short, parrying sword that he had kept hidden behind his back.
“Now tell me, father,” she continued, “how does it feel to be despised by so many you thought were loyal to you?”
“What makes you think that they’re loyal to you? What is it you can offer them that I couldn’t?”
Titania laughed again, the same crazed chuckle as before. “As you can see, they’re obedient to their queen.”
“Because you made them!” he screamed, staggering a few steps forward. Pain shot up his chest. “You and your ruthless people cursed all these innocents.”
As though the boar had understood the king’s words, it leapt forward, lashing out with its tusks, but before it could reach the king, its master called it back.
“I gave them what they deserved. Something that you should’ve given them a long time ago. Unlike you, I care about their needs.”
“They never had to suffer under my reign.”
The king’s chest flared up with pain. His free hand shot up, and he felt slick blood underneath his fingertips.
“Look at you.” Titania came closer, the boar following her every move. “You may wear the face of a youth, but you’re an old man. You’re way past your time, and you know that.”
He looked up. “Your actions will not only harm my people but yours too. Is that really what you want?”
“What I want,” she said, still creeping forward, “is for you to die.”
The words should’ve surprised him, but sadly, they didn’t. The wound in his chest bled continuously, and he struggled to breathe properly. When he spoke again, his voice was already weak. “And why would you want that?”
Titania was close now, and he knew they were only one step away from ending the battle.
“Isn’t that obvious?” Titania tilted her head to the side, gawking at him like a bird at its prey. “I want to rule Tír na nÓg. I want to wrench that crown from your head as you slowly bleed to death.”
“Killing me won’t make you the ruler.”
Again, Titania laughed. “It’s a start.”
She moved faster than he’d expected. He tried to evade the attack, but his chest was aching so badly that he couldn’t move. He felt the blade slip from his grasp. Long, strong fingers wound around his neck as Titania pinned him with full force against the tree. With her free arm, she drew back the sword—his sword—and then drove it through his heart. As she pulled it out, he cried so deep and grief-stricken that he didn’t think the sound was actually coming out of his mouth, and then he collapsed onto his knees, clutching a hand to his chest, warm blood seeping through his fingers.
“No! Father!” cried out a female voice in the distance.
Through drooping eyes, he saw several figures emerge from the dark. Most of them were knights, their armor no longer shiny but damaged and smeared with dirt and blood. They were accompanied by some civilians—both men and women—that had a grip tight on long, wooden sticks. Amid them was a young woman, whose golden hair stood out in the dark, and who came running toward him and Titania.
“Father!” Her voice almost broke on the last syllable.
Ophira! he wanted to call, but he could only manage to articulate a gurgling sound. Blood filled his mouth, and he coughed.
Titania turned away from him and scoffed. “My sister. You can’t imagine how delighted I am to see you.”
“You!” Ophira cried, her voice trembling with rage. “When will you ever be done shedding the blood of our family?”
The king couldn’t hear what Titania replied. Her words were drowned out by the pounding of his heart that desperately tried to continue pumping blood through his veins. But then several things happened at once: the boar advanced on the group of newcomers, chomping with fury, and the knights lashed out with their weapons at the beast; Ophira charged forward with her sword in her hands, but she missed her sister by mere inches.
“I can’t be defeated,” Titania mocked as she spun away from Ophira, her wings beating the air. “Once I’ve killed you, I will rule Tír na nÓg.” She swung her father’s blade at her sister.
Ophira moved quickly and gracefully, as though she was dancing, to evade Titania’s attacks. Her eyes darted to her father, and for a split-second, she hesitated. He could see in her tear-filled eyes the pain of a hundred deaths, but she had to know that there was no way of saving him. She looked away again.
As the life drained from his body, the king felt himself slip away, and there was nothing he could do but watch his two daughters battle each other, slashing out with their weapons. There were so many things he wished he’d said and so many questions he had no answer to. Had it really been his fault? Could he have saved his daughter from becoming the monster she was now?
Everything was fading away, his vision blurring, but he could still see his daughters through half-closed eyes. Ophira had disarmed Titania and leaned over her, the tip of her sword hovering over her sister’s heart.
Where had it all gone wrong? he wondered as he took his last breath.
The sun crept slowly over the Whispering Woods, casting an eerie blood-red glow on the two towers of the Glass Citadel. The court was buzzing with another kind of energy. After recovering the bodies of their fallen warriors, the faeries began preparing for the revel to honor their dead. While carrying tiny green faerie lights through the streets, they sang softly and mellifluously, but their songs, usually cheerful and bright, were gloomy and heart-wrenching.
Ophira stood in the gardens of the citadel at the grave of her mother on the exact same spot where she had found her father before the battle.
He was gone. He would never come back.
She watched quietly as a group of knights appeared, carrying the dead body of the king. Ophira averted her gaze as they lowered him to the ground beside her mother’s grave. Two of them began digging into the ground with shovels.
She could feel their eyes on her. From this day on, every faerie in the kingdom would watch her and would listen to her words. She knew what it meant to be a ruler; she’d seen it all her life with her father. Unlike her power-crazed sister, Ophira had never strived for it. It was ironic that Titania had fought her for something she’d never even wanted. If Titania had asked Ophira for the throne, she would have stepped aside right away. It meant nothing to her, but it had meant everything to her father, who had chosen her as his heir.
Ophira reached up a hand to gingerly touch the crown that now marked her as the Seelie Queen, ruler over Tír na nÓg. It had been her father’s, a beautiful piece of golden jewelry that wound around her head like a wreath of leaves with a small emerald stone set in it at the front. The crown weighed heavy on her, knowing that the only reason she’d ended up with it was because of the death of her parents. A fresh wave of grief rolled over her and a single tear trickled down her cheek.
One of the knights lifted his head abruptly. “My queen, you might not want to be here for this.”
The way he’d addressed her was like a sharp knife thrust into her heart. Within less than a day, she’d not only become an orphan but had been deprived of her status as a princess and forced to take on her succession to the throne.
“I appreciate your concern,” she told the knight in a broken voice, “but rest assured, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else at the moment.”
She quickly turned away from the group to tap at her wet cheek with the back of her hand.
Below, at the foot of the hill, appeared a golden-clad figure. He quickly began to ascend the path, and once up in the garden, he came running straight towards Ophira, his face contorted with worry.
He was panting heavily when he reached her. His long, silvery white hair plastered to his face with sweat, and his pointed ears sticking out between the strands.
Ophira managed to maintain her composure. “Chancellor Pwyll.”
“It’s strange that you call me that,” he said bitterly.
“We have the same cross to bear, having lost a father in battle,” Ophira responded. For a moment, they locked eyes, communicating silently the grief they felt and the overwhelming burden that now rested on their young shoulders. Ophira cleared her throat. “What brings you here? The official coronation isn’t for another hour.”
“It’s not about the coronation.” He drew in a huge breath. “It’s about your sister and the remaining Unseelies.”
“Unseelies?” She rose an eyebrow at him.
He nodded vehemently. “Yes, yes. Your sister, she’s referred to them as Unseelie faeries. I guess this means they no longer belong to our Seelie Court.”
“That’s what I figured,” Ophira said. “But what about them? You’ve restrained Titania, haven’t you?”
Pwyll’s eyes flickered nervously to the knights digging the grave and then back to Ophira.
“Tell me my sister has been locked away.” Ophira was unable to keep the tremor from her voice.
The chancellor seemed to grow even smaller despite being at least a head taller than the queen. “After you wounded her shoulder and left to bury your father,” he said, “we were able to get a hold on her and her faeries. We tied them up in the woods, and I ordered some of my men to keep watch. I was certain we wouldn’t need any more men. There were only about a dozen or so of the Unseelies left.” He stopped to brush his bright hair out of his face. “But when I returned after securing the forest, your sister…” He swallowed hard. “My queen, your sister’s gone. We must have a traitor in our midst who helped her and her faeries escape.”
My sister. Gone.
The weight of the words hit Ophira with full force. She lost her balance and swayed forward. Tight arms wrapped around her and steadied her.
“Ophira, can you hear me?” Pwyll asked, shaking her slightly.
Did I make a mistake by sparing her life? Ophira wondered.
Her mind was spinning, but with Pwyll steadying her, she was slowly regaining her balance. She shrugged out of his embrace, suddenly aware of the knights watching them.
She straightened up, smoothing out her dress. “It’s not quite the punishment I had pictured.”
Pwyll’s eyes widened. “Punishment? My queen, she’s escaped!”
“Yes, chancellor, into the Whispering Woods. They won’t be able to cross it without the pixies or pookas noticing them. And where would they go? The woods aren’t safe for them, but the north isn’t either.”
He gaped at her. “But where do you think they’ve been all this time since they’ve left the court? Your sister must’ve taken them somewhere to prepare them for battle.”
“They won’t make it far with an injured queen and most of their people dead,” Ophira returned. “I do understand your concern, chancellor, and you shall gather your knights and scour the woods as soon as my father has been put in the grave.”
“Yes, my queen,” he responded promptly. “But there’s one more thing.”
Ophira folded her arms in front of her chest, thinking that if she didn’t hold on to herself she would soon fall to pieces. “What is it?”
“Your father had one of the Unseelies taken as a hostage,” Pwyll explained. “The knights threw him into the dungeon of the citadel where he died shortly after.”
“Any indications to what might have caused his death?” Ophira asked.
Pwyll shook his head. “Unfortunately, no. The Healers will examine his body.”
“They shall report to me.”
“Certainly.” Pwyll bowed his head before joining the other knights.
Ophira turned away from the group to face the court—her court—and for a moment, her thoughts were inadvertently drawn to her sister. Had it been the right decision to let her live when her hands were covered in the blood of their father and many more innocent faeries? Ophira looked down at her own pale hands, the scars of the battle already fading, and remembered how it had felt to have them intertwined with her mother’s. She was aching to hold her parents’ hands just one more time.
She stood still until the chancellor called for her, and after taking a deep breath, she walked over to the knights.
Under the yew tree, beside her mother’s grave, rested her father’s dead body buried beneath a heap of freshly turned-over soil. On a slab of stone, carved in gold, it read:
Arawn. Faerie king. Beloved father.
Continue to find an exclusive excerpt of the second installment in Tales of the Seelie Court.
I want to thank some people involved in the process of my first story ever. There is a small group of three people who have been with me from the beginning, and I want to thank them for their kindness and their patience, for reading my story over and over again, and for encouraging me whenever I felt like giving up. I feel blessed to be on this exciting journey with you!
About the Author
Sarah Tanzmann was born in Tyrol, Austria, where she grew up in a small town. She began writing in English after spending a year in America and shortly after started working on her first YA fiction novel. While juggling full-time studies and a part-time job, Sarah uses every second of spare time to work on her stories. In this process, she finds company in her group of fellow English writers, who have also become her friends along the way.
Her first novel will be titled The Crown of Tír na nÓg: Seelie Princess.
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The story continues…
Read an excerpt of the second installment of Tales of the Seelie Court:
One early morning, when the sun barely tinged the star-speckled sky over the Seelie Court and the birds were still fast asleep, somebody rapped several times on the front door of young Siân’s home.
Brushing her tangled white hair out of her face, Siân dragged herself through the rooms she shared with her mother and opened the door. A faerie woman from the court greeted her. “Your presence is required at the infirmary,” she said.
“By whom?” asked Siân drowsily, but the woman didn’t respond.
As though sleepwalking, Siân followed the woman blindly through the quiet streets; the only noise was produced by the burbling of the Silver Ribbon, the river that ran by the hill upon which the citadel stood. As the sun gradually rose over the horizon, the contour of the Glistening Rocks, a ring of mountains to the north of the court, became outlined against the pale blue backdrop.
The two women walked up to a two-story wooden building, which had a web of leaves and twigs spun into a makeshift roof. The faerie woman led Siân into the house, down a narrow hallway, and into a circular room.
There about a dozen wooden beds lined the walls, and water streamed from a stone well at its center. The dim light that trickled through the thick roof of leaves overhead illuminated the single person that sat on one of the beds. Upon Siân’s arrival, the figure rose.
The woman’s young, fair face was framed by long, white hair, and on her pale cheek she bore the tattoo of a vividly blue flower. She wore a white gown adorned with golden symbols, which Siân recognized as symbols of healing and strength.
Siân approached the woman in quick steps. “What is going on? Are you all right?”
“I have called for you at this early hour, my child,” she said, “out of joy and despair.” She placed a warm hand on Siân’s shoulder.
Siân looked up at her mother, Siobhan, and shivered at the fear in her otherwise bright, blue eyes.
“The events of the King’s Battle have changed our people,” Siobhan continued. “Losing our beloved King Arawn and many more of our companions has left a scar on our souls that not even time can heal. Queen Ophira has been burdened with a task no one so young should have to bear. And while we are mourning, our enemy is out there preparing to retaliate.”
Siân shrank back. “But the Unseelies were defeated!”
“Not entirely, I’m afraid.” Siobhan lowered her head, then her gaze fixated on her daughter again.