It’s not enough just to enter Faerie—it has to be done at the right spot, or it would be much smarter to stay home.
Of course, as long as people know how to cross, no one can stop them from wandering around on their own. Plenty of humans see nothing but the breathtaking beauty of the land, and they let their guard down. Or they thought they were too smart, too tough to need help.
But if someone wanted to be truly smart, they’d start with a trip to the Portly Pegasus Inn. It lies just inside the human section of New Haven, located in Lady Nerina’s demesne. Not only is it against the law to hunt humans there, the inn has become a place where travelers share tips for dealing with the land’s unearthly residents.
Because Faerie’s incredible beauty has never been safe…
“Prepare yourselves to be astounded and amazed. Crossings so smooth, they’re like flying!” Elise tucked her braid into the collar of her shirt and gazed down at the Pegasus common room from the railing above that lined it on three sides. A decent-sized crowd looked back up at her—hopefully they’d think her trick was worth enough to cover her room for tonight.
She picked the spot she’d need on the floor below—a particular knot in the oak floorboards. Maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done…
Too late for that. And it should be just like practice.
Repeating that, Elise climbed the rail and jumped off.
She had only enough time to register the crowd gasping before she shifted, and her thick, cushy mattress at home absorbed the impact of her fall. That was the tricky part—making sure she didn’t build up more velocity than her mattress could handle.
She jumped out of bed and positioned herself on the floor, ready for a pirouette. Jeans were definitely not the optimal costume for this, but she pictured the common room of the Pegasus anyway. When she felt the oak floorboards beneath her leather flats again, she spun around several turns before coming to a stop. And with a sweeping arm gesture, she gave a deep bow.
“Now that was something to see,” a thirtyish gal said to her friend standing on her right.
“I wonder if she gives lessons,” the friend replied, and that was music to Elise’s ears.
The coins were starting to ping and plink their way into the old bowler hat Hal had placed on the bar, with a gratifying tempo to the patter. But some lesson fees on top of that would be a welcome windfall, and so many could use some instruction. To be able to cross between worlds at a moment’s notice—that was the one ability that so often decided the difference between life and death for a human in Faerie.
The trickle of coins ceased, and Hal dumped them out on the bar. All anyone could guess about Hal’s age was somewhere in his fifties, but he still possessed a lean, whipcord frame and an air of absolute physical competence. His grizzled iron-gray hair shot with silver framed a dark face, currently frowning as he counted up the take.
“Well, did I make enough?” she asked when he reached the end.
He made a rocking gesture with one hand. “Nearly.”
She blew at a lock of brunette bang that had flopped down over her eye. “Then I’ll cover the rest. I’ve got to spend a night in Faerie. I’ve been dealing with a three-day headache, and I’m down to my last Vicodin.”
Hal winced. “Well, feel free to sleep in tomorrow. I don’t need the room till midafternoon.”
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept late—it sounded wonderfully decadent. “Thanks.”
But the next day, when she toddled downstairs about a half-hour before noon—still technically morning—Elise discovered the plot had thickened.
“Didn’t you tell me you’d waited tables before?” Hal asked as Elise scooted her leather stool up to the oak bar.
“Sure, I went to college,” she replied. A mug of coffee appeared, almost like magic, and Elise grabbed the matching pitcher from the bar to add a dollop of milk.
“Well, if you’d like that coffee on the house, and a meal to go with it, I’ve got a proposal,” Hal said. A plated muffin appeared, butter and all, even more smoothly than the coffee had.
Elise considered Hal through narrowed eyes. “Is that a raisin cinnamon muffin?”
“Would I offer you anything else?”
Elise grabbed the plate and pulled it toward her. “Okay, then. How many shifts do you need covered?”
“It depends. Are you only filling in this weekend, or would you consider a more permanent arrangement? Amanda just quit—her baby’s due in a few weeks.”
Elise’s eyebrows shot up. “Good—she looks like she’s ready to burst. Do any perks come with the job?”
Hal nodded. “For holding down Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, I’ll throw in meals and a room while you’re working. For two nights every week.”
Elise took a bite of muffin and chewed with a faraway look in her eye. “I don’t think I’ve taken enough Vicodin to fry my liver, but there’s no point in pushing it. Maybe regular nights in Faerie will be enough to chase my headaches away for good.”
She’d been living with them for years, but she could remember a time when she didn’t need backup plans for everything in case she needed to go lock herself in a dark room. Faerie’s healing powers weren’t miraculous—enough humans had died there to prove that—but plenty of people had reported improvement over a host of relatively minor ills, everything from acne to asthma. And she’d had a night in Faerie stop a headache in its tracks before. The thought of being a normal person seemed impossible, like there must be a catch. Surely nothing this precious could simply fall into her lap.
But she couldn’t mistrust Hal—so many humans owed their lives to his advice, and on occasion, the dagger on his hip, or at least his skill with it.
And it was just waiting tables. Seriously, what could go wrong? If she made a mistake, world-altering consequences weren’t likely to ensue. “What time do I start?” she asked.
A boiled egg and a sliced apple joined the muffin on the table, and Hal coughed. “As soon as you finish,” he said apologetically, and Elise laughed.
“Well, since the night in Faerie chased my pain away, it looks like I’m ready to join the Pegasus crew.”
The novelty of seeing the Pegasus from the other side—the one focused on keeping food and drink on the tables—had her listening to the conversations in the common room with a renewed appreciation. She smiled, remembering how the first time she’d come, she’d sat here in a daze, wanting to believe it was all true, desperately hoping that Faerie could be real.
Tonight, a drifter named Gerald sat front and center, wearing a battered leather cowboy hat and oilskin duster. To listen to his stories, he’d fought Fae, dwarves, dragons—anyone who’d stand still long enough for him to wave a sword at them. However, for all his professed fondness for combat, he seemed to spend a lot of time in Lady Nerina’s demesne, where he was required to keep his sword in its scabbard. But in any case, his stories were interesting.
In the far corner, across from the kitchens, next to the battered black piano, sat a teenage boy who’d recently figured how to cross, and a girl he was trying to impress by taking her to fairyland. These were a responsibility, one that cropped up on a regular basis.
Hal would have a talk with the boy and make sure he understood not to take new travelers anywhere but the Pegasus. Hal didn’t like it when kids brought people across who couldn’t look after themselves, but it was far better they came to the inn than anywhere else. And someone—it had been Elise several times—would try to explain the rudiments of crossing to the newcomer. Hunting humans might be technically illegal now, but she would bet plenty of Fae would still look the other way.
She grabbed a tray loaded with bowls of beef stew and began passing them out to a table on the south wall, under the long row of windows. “And if you can believe it,” one guy in a flannel checkered shirt was telling his friends, “they have actual dragons here, with hoards of gold. Only the dragons aren’t huge, like in the stories. A human could maybe defeat them.”
Elise snorted. “If you think the average human could take on something that’s still the size of a grizzly bear. One that can fly. Or if you believe that Lady Nerina’s guards—or the other dragons—would tolerate theft.” She placed the last bowl on the table and stood up straight. “There’s no easy money in Faerie.” Just staying alive could be a struggle at times.
She loaded up the tray with dishes from another table and pushed the swinging oak doors to the kitchen with her shoulder. “Another load, Maisie,” she said, setting her heavy tray down on the counter. But the familiar mop of sandy blonde hair was nowhere to be seen, and the dishes were piling up.
Grumbling under her breath, Elise loaded her plates to soak in hot, soapy water. However, to do that, she first had to move the soapy dishes to a tub of fresh rinse water, and that left her with a washtub full of graywater with no sink left to pour it into.
“Maisie, you totally owe me for this,” Elise said as she hauled the washtub outside. The heaviness of the tub made her awkward, and water sloshed over the edges as she stumbled over the threshold. She peered around and spotted an apple tree only twenty feet away. That would do nicely.
But all hell broke loose when she dumped the graywater on the gnarled roots. A high-pitched screeching, like nails being scraped over a blackboard only far worse, caused her to drop the washtub and cover her ears. The screeching grew louder, and now tiny cuts were being inflicted on her. She hazarded a glimpse, and a diminutive being, like a fairy tale drawing of a water sprite, and about the same size, was stabbing at her with a needle-like tiny sword.
“Hey, whatever I did wrong, I’m sorry, okay? Look, just let me go back inside.” Elise batted ineffectually at the vengeful being. “OW, that really hurt! Forget this.” She shifted briefly back to her bedroom at home. As soon as her tormentor felt Elise start to shift, she let go. Then Elise was free to shift back to the Pegasus kitchen where Maisie was watching through the open door with wide eyes.
“Oh, Elise, that’s bad,” she said, twisting her hands in her apron. “The Nix make bad enemies. Even the Fae give in to them.”
Elise closed the door. “What are the Nix?”
“You don’t know about nixies?” Maisie said incredulously. “Every stream, river, and pond has its own guardian. And they don’t let anyone mess with their little domain.”
Elise nodded. “Okay, I’ve heard about them before. But what’s the problem? I dumped the graywater on the apple tree.”
Maisie winced. “I don’t think the Nix know about recycling graywater, Elise. You’d better tell Hal about this.”
“Great. I guess this means it won’t just blow over?”
Maisie shook her head. “I’ve never heard of a nixie letting a grudge go for no reason.”
Elise trudged out front and found Hal behind the bar, filling glasses of beer. “Here, take this to that group of reenactors over there,” he said, pushing a tray at her.
Elise blinked, then shot a disbelieving look over her shoulder. A table of gray-clad faux soldiers had indeed taken over the center tables. When she turned back to talk to Hal, he’d already moved on with another tray.
It took some time to get Hal’s attention, but when the message finally got through, he collapsed onto a bench and dropped his head in his hands. “I suppose it’s way too much to hope for,” he said, “that you’re just messing with me.”
“So do you want to fire me, or would you rather I quit?” she asked.
That got him to raise his head. “Don’t be ridiculous. I want you to take over the bar while I try to sort things out.”
She tried to protest that mixing drinks wasn’t an area of strength, but he’d already made a beeline for the kitchen.
Then she also tried to trade jobs with her fellow servers, citing personal incompetence, but to no avail. Sara shrugged and said, “I grew up Mormon. The only thing I know how to mix is fruit punch.” And Brian drank only wine and beer.
Meanwhile, customers started firing drink requests at her, although she was pretty sure some of them were just messing with her.
“Hanky Panky is definitely NOT being served at this bar tonight, thank you very much.” She rummaged around behind the counter, looking at what kinds of liquor Hal stocked. Most of it was the usual suspects from our world—gin, vodka, whisky, and rum, although she did find a large cask labeled blackberry wine. Then she climbed up onto the bar and stood there, and the room gradually quieted, although that was probably because people were hoping she’d jump off it.
“Okay, unfortunately for all of you, Hal put me in charge of drinks.” A series of groans greeted this pronouncement. “About the only time I ever made cocktails was in college, and even then, it was only zombies and screwdrivers. But the good news is I always made them strong.” A few scattered cheers showed that she potentially had their attention.
“So, we’ll be trying a new drink tonight. It’s the only drink we’ll be serving other than wine or beer, and due to its incredible potency, I think the bar is going to cut you off at three to a customer.” Some actual boos greeted this plan.
“Ah, but just wait. You haven’t seen me mix one of these babies yet.” She pulled out a glass tumbler and filled it halfway with gin and vodka. She held the colorless mixture up to the light, considered her options, and finished it off with blackberry wine. “There you go. Three drinks in one—who’s going to try it first?”
“I will,” said an amused female voice, although it took some time to locate the owner. Jillen stood no more than three-and-a-half feet tall, and her blonde hair and blue eyes might lead some to believe she was harmless. Judging her by her appearance would be unwise, though, because as a hob, she could likely shift between worlds in her sleep better than Elise could on her best day.
“I await your verdict, dear lady,” Elise said with a sweeping gesture to the glass on the counter.
Jillen downed it in a few swallows and set it down with an approving nod. “I like it. It needs a name.”
“Easy,” Elise said. “The Nix. Absolutely lethal.” She showed her battered hand to the hob and gave her a quick rundown of how her evening had gone. “Any chance I could get you to help me mix them? Yours will be on the house.”
Jillen grinned. “Well, I think I’d better. I don’t see you keeping up with this crowd otherwise.”
Much to Elise’s surprise, over the course of the night the drink turned out to be very popular. “I can’t believe people are drinking their limit,” she told Jillen. “One glass would do me in.”
“Fair lady, I wish to offer you a toasht,” one tipsy reveler declared as he staggered up to the bar.
“Well, I think he’s done in,” Jillen said, and turning to the man, added, “Why don’t we have a glass of water over here in the corner? Doesn’t that sound nice?” She filled a tumbler at the sink and led the man away.
But as the bar rush was definitely over, that hardly mattered. Hal trudged back and flopped down on a stool. “Well, due to my heroic efforts, you can step outside without being attacked. But if I were you, I’d make an apology soon. Not tonight, though.” He looked around the room. “What on earth did you give them? They all look completely tanked.”
“A brand-new drink,” Elise said. At least something had gone right. She explained the ingredients to Hal.
“A variation on the Aunt Roberta,” he noted with professional interest. “Not for everyone, but a worthy addition to the Pegasus.”
Elise grinned. “You’re going to keep it?”
“Once something has a name, it takes on a life of its own,” he replied. “And people like to be present when something new is made—it makes them feel like they’re keeping up with the world.”
She stayed up for hours that night, wracking her brain, trying to think of what might be a meaningful apology to a Nix, and the next day, Elise brought a large basket back to the Pegasus and set it down under the apple tree. “This is my seashell collection,” she informed the empty air, hoping the Nix was listening. “I picked them up on a lot of beaches over the years. I have gaper clam shells, some abalone, and lots of cockles in different colors. I thought that since you like water, you might like these, too. I’ve always thought they were beautiful.”
“That was nice,” Jillen said from behind her, and Elise jumped.
“Well, at least I didn’t get attacked,” she replied, trying to recover her composure. She brushed a finger over the topmost shell. “It’s important not to get too attached to things,” she said wistfully, “but I hope the Nix actually likes them.”
“Gifts are like that,” Jillen said. “We always hope they matter. But part of giving a gift is letting go of it ourselves.”
Elise returned to her life back home, chasing a paycheck from a cubicle during the week, and when she returned the following weekend, before she could even get her apron on, Jillen was waiting for her and led her outside. Maisie smiled as she opened the kitchen door for them.
“Does this mean I’m forgiven?” asked Elise.
“You tell me,” Jillen replied as she rounded a large mulberry bush, bringing the stream on the other side within eyeshot.
Elise followed her and gasped. What had been a very ordinary little waterfall before, a distance of perhaps five feet onto rounded granite river rocks, was now a lacy confection draping across the rocky face. Shells had been set into the rock, and each one diverted a trickle of water, with all of them intertwining and reflecting the sun above into prisms of light.
“It’s incredible,” Elise cried. “Like sculpting in water itself.”
She caught a glimpse of a graceful form, clad in flowing garments like falling leaves. It kissed her cheek and vanished into the stream.
This tale is meant to be the first in a series centered around a Faerie world that runs parallel to ours. The inn is an homage to the Gavagan’s Bar collection by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. I’ve got a couple of longer stories written as well, so I hope the characters introduced here will sustain your interest for more than just this single tale. : )