Clara and the Faeries

       They came for her in the night.  Dancing, darting, a response to the dreamer’s pleas, the faeries came, and spirited her away.
But let us start at the beginning, for faeries do not often come at anyone’s call.  Only the downtrodden, those who are at a breaking point; the ones who might give them what they want. 
And Clara had something they wanted very much indeed.
She had woken that morning, slipping silently out of her bed to see out her window.  Frost had come during the night, biting every leaf, twig, and blade of grass.  The world was painted over with milky ice.  Clara thought it achingly beautiful.  She put her little chin on her hands and sighed, her warm breath making a cloud on the window until she had to wipe it with the edge of her nightgown.
Descending from the window’s ledge slowly, and tiptoeing to the door, she twisted the brass handle with her hand in her nightgown’s sleeve to keep her hand from getting cold.  Clara willed her feet to silence as she crept along the hallway.  She loved her house, and especially the bright rugs that lay on the wood floor of the hallway that led by all the bedrooms.  But more than that she loved her brother, whose door was just a few tiptoes more.  She opened his bedroom door with much practiced care, and gazed at his sweet face, almost more pale than the frost.
Closing the door, Clara went and sat beside her brother’s bed.  She did not notice that she was cold for being out of bed in only her nightgown.  Nor did she notice the wooden toys that stood in the corner that on a normal day would have beckoned her to them.  She only had eyes for the rise and fall of her brother’s wee chest, and let out a breath of relief.  Leaning against his bed, she pressed her lips to his small, flushed cheek, and then snuck out of the room in much the way she had snuck into the room.  And moving as quietly and quickly as she could, went back to her own room, knelt by her bed to say a little prayer.
When she was sure she had satisfied God, she climbed again up to the window’s ledge.  Looking out at all the icy world, she spoke the words she had said yesterday, and the day before.  ‘Faeries good and faeries bright, make my brother quickly right.  If an offering you must take, I’ll give of me for his sweet sake.’ 
She said it, just as Josey had said she had to say it.  For she knew it was the only way to make sure her brother lived.  Josey had said so three days before in the school yard just after she had told Clara her brother was going to die. 
Tears had filled Clara’s eyes, and she had fought an urge to shake Josey and make her take it back.  But Clara knew better.  She knew that the doctor had come, and that mother was sad and father too silent. 
So, she said the rhyme the first day, and the second, and now the third.
And because of that, they came.
Clara awoke in Faeryland.  And she knew what the faeries wanted.
When her eyelids fluttered, and then flared open, it was because of a curious warmth that made its way in and around her little body.  That, and a smell that seemed to intertwine cinnamon and vanilla in the most delicious way.
But the view before her gave none of that away. 
Clara was not alone.  And her little body did not seem quite so little.  At least, not compared to the tiny houses and the tiny winged bodies that seemed to belong to the bevy of faeries that lit up a forest’s floor; though compared to the tall fir trees that towered above and around her, she thought she was still her same size.
Assured that she had not changed, she looked about her.  Glistening pools, rooms carved within trees, and bouncing lights that moved like fireflies captivated her eyes.  But there was something that stole her breath when her eyes found it: a palace that seemed carved of glass, and a faery sitting on a delicate throne, a tiny crown upon a small head with the most beautiful face.
Clara gasped, and could not help but move closer.
‘Are you the queen of the faeries?’ she asked in a soft voice.
‘Are you the child who offers herself to save her brother?’ the faery countered.
Clara felt a little shocked at this reminder, and gulped.  But she bravely nodded.
‘Come with me,’ the faery queen said, and gracefully flew off her throne.
Clara followed.  She wandered through Faeryland, following the tiny queen.  Her eyes filled with enough beauty to last a lifetime.  It was all her dreams were made of, and she was content.  For she knew what was to happen next.
They came upon a clearing with a low table made of wood, and carved with patterns of flowers and vines.  It was just Clara’s size.  And along side it was a knife, long and glittering.
‘You know what you must do?’ the faery queen asked, her voice stern.
Clara’s chin dropped.  She did know.  It was time.  She nodded.
And then Clara climbed onto the table just her size, and lay down.
The faery queen seemed to grow as she moved over Clara.  The knife appeared in her tiny—and yet tiny no longer—hands that fit around the hilt, and its edge seemed almost to sing with its sharpness.
Clara closed her eyes, and heard the blade move.  Heard it slice into the wooden table.
A moment passed.
Clara opened her eyes.
The faery, tiny once more, held something large in her hands.  It swayed in a gentle breeze.
‘You’ve cut my hair!’ Clara exclaimed, marveling that she had yet a voice.
‘That is the price, hair for the strings that make the faery harps.  This you knew, of course, when you called for us as you did,’ the faery queen said in her regal way, dusting off her robe in a commonplace way.
‘No, I…I thought…you would take…the rest of me,’ Clara spoke, her soft voice astonished.
The faery queen gazed up at her for what seemed like an age, a curious look upon her face.  Then she spoke.  ‘Take your life, you mean?’ the queen asked.
Clara felt her hand brush her throat.  ‘Yes,’ she whispered.
All at once the queen grew big, bigger than Clara, big enough to kneel and take a child’s hand in her own.  The faery queen gazed softly at the girl who felt small again.  ‘That is quite an offering to make, child.  It is not needed now.  But for the gift you would have given, I offer you one in return: if you would always want to give of yourself to make others well, well they will be.’  Clara felt the faery queen’s arms around her and kiss her brow.  Clara closed her eyes, and the wind changed.
All at once she was home.  In her own bed, just her size.  Looking about the room, Clara found herself alone.  Had it all been a dream?  She slipped out of bed, and down the rug-strewn hallway, and into her brother’s room.  And there he sat, his small body propped on a pillow, a picture book held between his hands.  Clara felt her own hands move to feel her hair.  A small piece was missing. 
She smiled. 
And that was that.

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