“DUM, DEE DEE, DO DUM DUM,” Thistle Down hummed her own special music as she bent over the darkest red rose in the garden. The rose swayed in time with her song as if a light breeze stirred through the dawn air on this damp October morning. With the plant duly lulled into cooperation, she flicked a cotton swab around the inside petals.
“Got it!” she chortled, holding up the swab, now covered in rich pollen.
“Now to find a likely partner. You know you all want to help me create a purple rose, the same color my hair used to be.”
The rose responded by piercing her finger with a long thorn where she still held the stem.
“Ouch!” she protested, sucking her wound. She tasted a single drop of crimson blood, the same color as the rose. “You had no call to do that. You’re just being selfish by keeping all that lovely pollen to yourself. If I were still a Pixie, you’d gladly share so I could have a good meal.”
The rose stood tall and proud, not at all repentant.
“Or maybe you prefer to feed treacherous Faeries instead of honest Pixies,” she accused.
Another thorn jabbed her butt.
“Ouch. There was no need for that, you nasty rose.” But the plant stood straight and silent denying her accusation. It hadn’t reached behind her.
She swung around. A flutter of movement without substance drew her eye in wild spirals up and down, back and forth, and around and around. Thistle spun about trying to follow the blue blur. Her head couldn’t keep up, sending her into dizzy wobbles. She staggered around the side yard, arms out, trying to find her balance while avoiding the fake tombstone Halloween decorations.
If only she had her Pixie wings back, she’d right herself quite readily.
The stabbing pain came again. She jumped, slapping her hand over her wounded bottom.
“Stop it!” she yelled at the blue blur that was now joined by a bright yellow-and-red one. “Slow down so I can see you when you attack me.”
A sly giggle erupted from somewhere behind her, in the vicinity of the last of the dahlias.
She focused on how the tall blossom-heavy stalks swayed and nodded. Her head stopped spinning at last, just before she encountered the witch’s cauldron suspended by a tripod over a fake fire. The witch mannequins hadn’t yet gravitated from attic to yard; otherwise she’d have crashed into them and sent the entire display sprawling.
One last deep breath, then she closed her eyes and reopened them looking for the thing out of place. There! She spotted the Pixie, a splotch of not-quite-right golden yellow with purply-red streaks against the greenery. A dashing fellow all decked out in sunset colors. His translucent faded brown wings took the form of multiple sheaves of grass woven together. Their edges looked limp and curled in odd places with a few holes crusted in red around the edges.
That did not look healthy.
She didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t from one of the local tribes.
The blue blur zoomed in on the yellow fellow, a long spike from a hawthorn tree held out like a sword.
“Chicory?” She followed the blue-garbed male. He’d lost his multi-petal cap, and a thin trail of red blood dripped down his left arm.
Thistle slid her hand around him, capturing him easily. A sure sign that the wound slowed him down.
“Let me go,” Chicory protested. He wiggled and squirmed, jabbing at her tiredly with his thorn sword. The point barely pricked her palm.
“Chicory, what ails you?”
“Seeking refuge at the hands of a human,” the yellow fellow’s voice sounded a bit ragged and breathless as it slid up and down an atonal scale in squeaks and slurs. Not musical at all. More like that awful noise teens called “Rock.”
“I was captured,” Chicory protested to his opponent. “At least I’m not hiding from the finer soldier.”
“Soldier? What’s this about? Pixies have no soldiers, no armies. We do not war among ourselves,” Thistle said.
“What’s she talking about? Talking about? She’s no Pixie. No Pixie.” The yellow male peeked out from behind the heavy flower head that nearly mimicked his own colors.
“She used to be our own Thistle Down,” Chicory yelled back. Then he lowered his voice to a whisper, “Walk me closer, Thistle. I’ll stab him from behind.”
“No, I won’t. Now explain yourselves. Why are you fighting, and who is this stranger? He’s not from any of the tribes and gardens in Skene Falls.”
“No, he’s from the valley.” Somewhat recovered from his exertions, Chicory stood taller and brandished his sword again.
“If he’s from the valley…”
“He’s Snapdragon, another of Milkweed’s relatives, out to avenge her disgrace. And he’s trying to steal our queen.”
“Milkweed.” Anger churned through Thistle. “The woman who stole my mate.”
“I thought Alder betrayed you by making the silly white trollop his queen.
But she never took a mating flight with him once she discovered how many
females he had flown with already, including you. And now this intruder thinks he should have a mating flight with our Rosie to compensate, or something.”
“Whatever.” Thistle wished the story of Alder’s betrayal would die an ignoble death instead of becoming part of Pixie mythology.
“Milkweed ended the marriage treaty, marriage treaty, but Alder won’t let my sister go home! Go home!” yelled the yellow fellow.
Huh? He sounded like Dusty’s computer, pausing and resetting. That meant something. Something important. But Thistle couldn’t remember what.
“Excuse me, miss,” a tentative voice came from the other side of the rose hedge.
Thistle looked up hastily, holding Chicory behind her, as fiercely as possible to keep him from zooming over to see who interrupted his argument with Milkweed’s relative.
“Can I help you?” Thistle asked.
“Um… I’m a bit lost.” A teenage girl stepped to the side so that she was visible between the deep-red rose and a cream-colored one with pink-fading-to-yellow edges. She looked cold, shivering in her thin T-shirt and faded jeans.
She carried a limp pink backpack on one shoulder. Something about her lank, dark blonde hair hanging in ringlets reminded Thistle of someone.
“Where do you need to go?” Thistle shifted her hold on Chicory as he jabbed her palm with his sword. The shape of the girl’s chin and the set of her brow also looked familiar. Who?
“I’m looking for Mabel. Um… I think her last name’s Gardiner. Mabel Gardiner, yeah that’s it.” The girl child, just barely bursting into womanhood, leaned forward between the roses, peering at the Queen Anne style house with the huge wraparound porch and conical tower that dominated the corner lot.
Curious, Thistle thought. Maybe she was just cold and damp enough to need to get indoors quickly.
Not long after dawn, Mabel might not have left home for work.
“Lemme see,” Chicory whispered, momentarily distracted from his fight with the yellow Pixie. “She might be one of Mabel’s waifs. I need to know…”
Thistle closed her hand around Chicory once more.
“Tenth Street and Maple Drive. Small cottage with a white picket fence, and a climbing rose over the gate,” Thistle said.
The girl looked blank.
“Two blocks that way to Maple Drive, then another three uphill.”
“Oh, okay.” The girl took one last look at the hot pink house with purple-and-green trim, shifted her backpack to the other shoulder, and hurried away.
“Curious,” Thistle mused again. She let her gaze follow the girl.
Chicory used her distraction to squirm free and zipped toward his opponent. Like most Pixies, he had no memory and less concentration.
“You should follow the girl,” Thistle called to him.
“What girl? This is more important!” he yelled fiercely as he thrust his sword deep into the yellow dahlia.
Yellow and red sprang up just in time. His wings fluttered erratically, the red veins deepening in color and spreading outward. Chicory followed his every loop around the plastic skeleton hanging from a tree branch. They soared above the cauldron, and dove through the tombstones. Both of their wickedly sharp, miniature swords flashed and jabbed.
“Stop it!” They both ignored Thistle’s plea. “Stop it. Pixies don’t fight each other. That’s what humans do.”
“Wrong,” both Pixies yelled back at her. “Wrong, wrong, wrong,”
“What do you mean? We’re supposed to befriend those in need of a friend.
That girl needs help. Pixie help.”
“Whatever,” Chicory muttered, still absorbed in his murderous task.
“There hasn’t been a war among Pixies in… in… for as long as any of us can remember.”
Chicory stabbed again. He pushed his reach too far. His wings couldn’t keep up with his body and he tumbled toward the grass.
Thistle dove to catch him in her hands, sliding on the dew-slick lawn until her head fetched up against the plywood-and-plaster grave marker for William Shakespeare—conveniently the death date was left blank. According to Juliet, Thistle’s hostess and her best friend’s mother, the Bard would never die as long as his plays were performed and read.
Green stains spread all along the side of Thistle’s gray sweatshirt and blue jeans. Her body stung everywhere she made contact with the ground.
At the last second, she caught Chicory by the wingtip between two fingernails. His feet dangled an eyelash width above the longest tip of the lawn that had been cut the day before.
“Lemme go!” Chicory protested. He wiggled and stabbed at her with his thorn.
“Not until you tell me why you and that stranger are trying to kill each other.”
“Because that’s what Pixies do! What Pixies do!” Snapdragon chortled.
“Just ask the Dandelions. Just ask the Dandelions.”
“No, we don’t kill each other,” Thistle protested. “We have marriage treaties among our kings and queens to prevent that. And Dandelions will follow anyone rather than make a decision on their own.” Evidenced by a troop of them winding a maze among the garish Halloween decorations.
“The peace treaty giving supervision of the Patriarch Oak to your tribe, Thistle, is broken, and so are all the marriage treaties between the valley and ridge tribes. Even my queen Rosie has shredded her agreement with Milkweed’s brother Hay,” Chicory panted. “But this crazy guy won’t accept that.”
“The Ten Acre Wood treaty was imposed by the Faeries. Faeries, Faeries, Faeries. It created an artificial peace,” yellow and red sneered. “Hold him still, still, still, while I run him through! Run him through.” He dove with his own hawthorn sword extended.
Thistle rolled out of the way. Faery snot! That guy was fast.
“Why didn’t you extend the treaty after we saved the Patriarch Oak from fire two months ago? The peace worked for generations, Faery imposed or not,” she insisted, gasping for breath as she dodged the battle. “Rosie is better off without that conniving sneak Hay, but the other marriages are good and solid.”
“Because we don’t know how to do big treaties.” Chicory bravely continued to harass his enemy and her from his precarious position. “You’re the only Pixie who thinks about such things, Thistle. And you aren’t a Pixie anymore.”
Snapdragon howled as if in pain and dove directly for Thistle’s eye. She ducked and rolled again, feeling the whoosh of his flight sting her ear. His sword grazed the tombstone, leaving a long white gash in the gray plaster.
It had to be Shakespeare’s marker. Juliet was so not going to like that. Not one bit.