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I looked down on him from my tree. I simply couldn’t believe he was still there. It had been all morning! Surely that shepherd’s flocks had had their fill by now? Or at least eaten all of the grass on this side of the field. But no, there he was, cute little thing, with his flute and his burlap bag. When I first saw him it had been early in the morning and I had run up the tree hoping to avoid him but he still hadn’t gone away. I really was on the verge of taking a chance and climbing down out of the tree and driving him crazy. Especially now that I’d gotten to know him a little better. He was certainly very cute and an extremely talented musician, for a mortal. Some of the Folk have been known to take mortal spouses but I was never very partial to it. I’m very young, as the Folk go, and haven’t actually taken a spouse of any sort yet, but I definitely prefer the Folk to mortals to flirt with. Looking at this shepherd though was quite something else, or maybe I was just dizzy from sitting in the tree too long.
I was still making up my mind when he stood up. Uh oh, I thought, there goes my chance. I was about to make my move, and I swear I hadn’t actually moved yet, when he looked up into the tree where I was sitting. I didn’t have any time at all to disguise myself, there he was, right then staring up at me. I wonder if mortal women look like mortal men, or if they look more beautiful, like the Folk? I hate to admit that that was the first, very vain thought that popped into my head when I saw him looking at me. But it was gone in a flash and replaced with an urgent what–to–do? feeling.
“Hey, you! What are you doing in that tree? How long have you been there? How did you get there. Um, do you want some help getting down?” He extended a hand to me, presumably to help me down out of the tree, but I took it with some caution and skepticism. I had hear far too many stories of the Folk being tricked into getting caught by of the town people who believed that the Folk have treasure hidden all about the forests and the wild places where only they can find it. Entirely false, of course, but there’s a lot those town people can do to hurt you if they think you have something they want. His hand was strong, and had no metal on it whatsoever; I had heard many tales of villagers who wore metal bands around their fingers.
“I haven’t see you before.” I looked warily at him, his voice didn’t sound accusatory…I said nothing. “Are you new in the village? Or from another village over the hill? Or a gypsy?” His eyes lit up as though gypsies were something terribly exciting which he had only heard tales of but never encountered before. I myself had no idea what a gypsy might be so I decided to go with something not too suspicious. “I’m from over the hill. Just yonder.”
“Ah.” His countenance fell a little but he smiled in a friendly way. “And what do they call you?” Why was he asking so many questions? Were all mortals like this? And what was I to say? I knew enough to know that Folk names were not the same a mortal names. I tried hard to remember one that I had heard. “Erin. What is it they call you?” The way he smiled made me think that he thought I was a child. I did not take kindly to that thought at all. If I was going to flirt with him he was going to have to realize that I was old enough to be doing so. “They call me Patrick.”
“I see. Are these your sheep, or your father’s”
“They’re my da’s. When I am married he will give me some of them and then I shall have my own flock.” His voice was wistful. Uh oh. If he’s already to be married I might as well go home. “Oh, are you to be married soon?” I tilted my head and looked at him out of the corner of my eye. “As soon as I find someone whose father will let me have her.” Good, I’ve still got a chance. I wonder what he’ll say if he met my father. “Do you have someone in mind? Or are you still searching.”
“No there’s no one I know…”
“And what would you say to a girl from another village?” I took a step closer and smiled sweetly.
“Well, I don’t really know. I suppose…but you don’t even know me? How old are you anyway.”
Oh no! How old are people when the get married in the village? I took a stab in the dark. “Seventeen.” His eyebrows shot up but he regained his composure. “Oh? And what exactly are you doing here on the other side of the hill?” Oh? And what are you doing asking so many questions? I had gotten my act pretty well together by now: I had a name, an age, so far everything seemed to be entirely plausible, or else he was entirely stupid, but I decided to carry on my act for a little while at least. “Well, I decided to take a walk. It’s a lovely day and I’ve never been to this side of the hill my whole life.”
“And aren’t there any fellows in your village you can flirt with? Because it says something’s strange if that’s the first thing you do when you see a new town.” He picked up his flute and bag and called to his sheep. That was it. I’d finished off the only conversation I would ever have with a mortal in a completely dismal way. Why did I have to be such a fool? Oh, don’t go!
“What?” He turned back to me. I hadn’t known that I had spoken out loud though and had already disappeared. When the Folk disappear, we don’t really go completely invisible, we just “shimmer out.” We’re still there, you can still see us, but only as a little glitter at the corner of your eye. Patrick gaped and then shouted. “Hey, Erin! Where are you?” What I did next was one of the most foolish things I have ever done in my life and I swear I will never do it again as long as I live. I was so excited that he remembered my made up name and was calling it out that I decided to reappear. “Oh I’m right here, silly, what do you want?” I clapped a hand over my mouth, but for the wrong reason. What was going through my head right at that moment was that I was flirting with Zeníth, who was one of my best friends under the hill. Oh no! I though to myself, I just addressed a total stranger as though he were my best friend, what will he think of me now? Patrick staggered back, staring at me and pointing his finger wildly. “Who are you? What are you doing? You said you weren’t one of those evil gypsies!” Uh oh, now it hit me, this mortal had seen me in all my magical glory which neglects to include brains. He knew. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean my a gypsy. I’ve never hear of a gypsy before, is that what you call the Folk?” He stared. Finally he croaked, “Is that what you are? You’re Folk?” I took a step back. I didn’t want him to jump on me and demand that I show him where I kept my Elfin hoard, but I didn’t want to vanish either since he seemed interested in me again, this time in an honest way: no secrets about our identity. I nodded. He took a step closer and I took a step back again. He took a step back. “Are you afraid of me?”
“Why should I be afraid of you?” I scorned.
“Why else would you be walking away from me?” I searched for another explanation but lacking one I replied in truth. “Yes I am afraid of you. But only enough to make me wary. I don’t want you to jump on me and try to catch me.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because that’s what you village folk are known for. You think we’ve got treasure we’ll give you if you catch us.” He pondered that.
“Then why do people say you do?” He smirked evidently thinking he had just tricked me into having to tell him all about the abundant treasure we had.
“I don’t know why they say so. But surely you’ve heard we cannot touch metals of any sort, so how could we have hoards of treasure?”
“You have a point there.” He sat down; evidently there was too much thinking involved in this conversation for him to stand and think at the same time. He sat there for some time pondering this over and over and I stood and watched him. I should have given him up. That had been quite an adventure enough for my first encounter with the village people. But I simply could not take my eyes off him. He was very cute as I said before. Finally he looked at me. “Prove it.” Did I miss something in this conversation?
“Prove you’re one of the Folk.”
“What? How can I do that besides vanish, and you’ve already seen that one.” He handed me his flute. “Play,” he demanded. “The music of the Folk is supposed to be music like no other on this earth. If you’re Folk, play.” I was more of a fiddle player myself and had not touched a flute since I was a wee little thing. All the same I took the flute and began to play one of the childish tunes that the Folk all know. I must have played for an hour, but all the while he sat entranced. When I finished, I handed him back the flute and he looked up quickly at the sun. “Do you believe what you see now?” I asked him, still getting over being offended by his original doubt.
“Yes, yes, of course.” We looked at each other for a moment. “I have to go…round up the flock…but will you ever come back here to the field?”
“Would it make you happy?”
“Then I will. Are you often here in the mornings?” He said he was and turned to go. Then he turned back. “When…when you first saw me…and you wanted to know if I would marry soon…why did you ask?” I vanished myself so he couldn’t really tell where I was, then I went close by his ear and kissed him on the nose. “Because you’re cute.” As I fluttered away I could see him wrinkling his nose and looking all about to see if he could see me. Perhaps he got some glamour on him, I thought. Wouldn’t that be something? If he came back under the hill with me…I should like that very much and I imagine he would too. I’ll have to remember to bring some glamour with me next time so I can take him with me.
* * *
“You want to what?” I had only just finished relating my story to Zeníth and he couldn’t believe his ears. “Tílsa, I can’t believe you would do that! He can’t come here! They hate it when we bring them here…or at least when we make them leave again. This place is too rich for them…they can’t go back to their world after they’ve been here. Wíthíl, Zeníth’s latest lover interrupted our conversation by coming up and hugging him from behind. Typical of the Folk, they sat there kissing for a whole five minutes before breaking apart and acknowledging that I was there. Then I had to explain my desire to bring Patrick down under the hill all over again so that Wíthíl could participate in the conversation too. “Ohhhhh, yes!” she exclaimed. “It’s so much fun when they come down here. How are you going to get him to come?” I shrugged.
“I don’t really know yet, I suppose. I think he’d do almost anything for me at this point. But where can I get some glamour to put on his eyes?”
Glamour is a strange substance. It’s sort of chalky and glittery and the Folk are born with it in their blood. It’s what makes the Folk the Folk I suppose. We have stores of it hidden away though, just in case. If you put it on a certain part of a creature that’s not Folk, they will have a Folk trait until it wears off. If a mortal were to come under the hill, all he or she would see would be piles of treasure. In reality, under the hill all we have is our simple home. We Folk don’t need treasure; we’re all family, we share everything. If a mortal puts glamour n his eyes though, he would see what is really there under the hill.
“Oh come on, Tílsa, they’re so much more fun when they don’t have the glamour on their eyes!” Wíthíl started to laugh a little and then a little more and then she started laughing so hard she began to cry and couldn’t breathe or stop. I rolled my eyes at Zeníth who shrugged. Wíthíl finally recovered and I was irritated. “Wíthíl, I don’t want to just have fun with him…I want him to come live with us for a while. I think he’d like it. I like him anyway.”
Now Zeníth was looking at me too. “Tílsa, you can’t be serious. You can’t have your first romance with a mortal! They’re only to play with unless you’re really old and having a crisis.” The Folk usually don’t have serious romances of any kind but even more rarely with mortals.
“Fine then. If you two don’t want to help me I’ll go find the glamour all on my own. Wíthíl was just fine with that and flounced off to flirt with Glírk. Zeníth wasn’t such a bad friend as all that though. He sighed and turned to me. ”All right Tílsa, but watch out who you take under the hill. If you’re putting glamour on his eyes he’d better like you a whole lot.” I thanked him and we went off in search of the glamour.
I had heard rumors my whole life about where the glamour was kept. Somehow I knew it existed, but no one I knew had ever seen it. In my opinion the most logical place to look was the kitchen. How else could we get it into our blood stream if it wasn’t from our food? Zeníth had other ideas though. He said that he thought the Prince probably kept it in his private chamber, all locked up. Zeníth had no business knowing anything that the prince did, but he had proved himself correct on many occasions regarding things that the Folk don’t usually know anything about until they need to know. So I went with him to find Abíka, one of the prince’s close servants and a good friend of Zeníth’s and mine.
“Ohhh!” Abíka exclaimed when she heard what we wanted. “Ohhh, Tílsa, what do you want it for?” I told her. “Ohhh, I’d never have thought…from you!” Abíka had an annoying habit of never stating a complete thought. Maybe she did and her annoying habit was that she was that she lowered her voice in the middle of her sentence, but whatever the case she would start a sentence and finish it but wouldn’t actually say what she meant by it. “He does…Keeps it hidden. I’ll have to check with my superiors.” The prince always had a lot on his shoulders. He never joked about anything, but absolutely everyone else under the hill did so nothing was really safe unless he was the only one who knew where it was hidden. I seriously hoped that this was not one of those things. Abíka skipped off and soon returned with her ‘superior,’ Blepít. “Oh, it’s you Tílsa. Yes of course just come with me.” He trotted off so fast that the others of us couldn’t keep up. He disappeared down a hallway and we trudged along after him only to find him running back at us a moment later with a small vial in his hand. “Only a little will do…a drop on each eye…one drop will last twenty–four hours under the hill…there’s enough in that bottle for two weeks.” I thanked Blepít and Abíka sincerely and hurried off with my vial.
Two weeks under the hill? That wasn’t very long to have a real romance for. If I wanted it to last longer than that I would have to steal some more later.
* * *
I sat in the same tree as before and watched him come up over the hill. His flocks were with him but they wandered off when they saw that they had come to their grazing spot. He walked over to the tree and looked up. “Will you give me a hand down?” I asked sweetly. He extended his hand, his wonderful shepherd’s hand, strong and completely metal free. I took it and flew down out of the tree. “Why weren’t you here sooner? I was beginning to think I had only imagined you.” I was confused.
“I came back as soon as I could. I didn’t think shepherds were so impatient!”
“Sorry.” Why was he sorry? Did I say something accusing? “Why did you disappear? The day I met you. You disappeared before you went but didn’t leave yet. Why?”
“Because I wanted to say good–bye.”
“But why did you disappear?”
“I was afraid to get too close and be visible at the same time. I didn’t know you, you might have tried to catch me.”
“I had already told you I wouldn’t. Do you sort of half want me to catch you and take you home with me? I won’t, but you certainly keep bringing it up.”
“No!” I was in denial. “Well, maybe…will you come under the hill with me?” I was feeling bolder now. The little vial of glamour was in my skirt pocket. He backed away from me though. “Not I, Folk girl. You won’t catch me doing that.” I was surprised.
“But why ever not?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know if you mean any harm, something tells me you don’t, but I’ve heard tales. People who go in there don’t come out. Or they come out years later and everyone they know has long been old, or dead. And they never are happy. They want to go back because they never knew anything like it before, but they hate it for what they have become when they come out.”
I let out a laugh of relief. “Oh but that’s because they were tricked into going in for the Folk to play with! I want you to come in because I love you.” He took a step back. “Look, the people who went in before…those Folk weren’t like me. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for wanting to take you down there with me. I had to beg them to show me where the glamour was. I have some here. This way you’ll see under the hill for what it really is. Not the fool stuff that mortals see when they aren’t looking properly.”
“What’s that now?”
“What? The glamour?” I laughed. “You put it on your eyes and instead of seeing the illusions, you see what the Folk see. This way you won’t have to worry about never wanting to leave.”
“Prove it.” Why does he always ask that of me? What am I supposed to do now? Of all the mortals to meet, why did I have to find the smart, nosey one?
“Fine, come here.” I dipped my fingers in the vial and put some glamour on one of his eyes. Now close the eye with the glamour on it. He closed it and I vanished.
“Where are you off to now?”
“Now open that eye and close the other one.” I remained vanished but he could see me now. “Does that prove it enough for you?”
“Yes, yes, fine. I’ll come with you. How long does this last?”
“Only a day but I have enough for two weeks.”
“I’m not staying for two weeks.” I shrugged. I put the glamour on his other eye and we set off for the entrance to under the hill.
The thing about getting under the hill is, mortals can’t do it. Unless they aren’t actually trying to find it. It changes all the time and they would have the worst time finding it. Folk can always sense where it is though so we never really get lost. I took Patrick by the hand and led him into the cave. It was dark in the passage and even the Folk can’t see their way in there. But just like we can sense where the passage begins, we can sense where we are going in it. Maybe the soil is rich in glamour or something and it speaks to our blood, I don’t know. So anyway, we walked down the long and twisty path until we finally came out into the hall. At once all of my friends pounced on us as though they had been waiting for us. “Ohh!” Exclaimed Abíka. “Tílsa, he is cute. I don’t blame you at all for bringing him down here!”
“Welcome to under the hill. We call it Híll.” Said Grílitti.
“What did they call you?” Patrick leaned over and whispered to me.
“What didn’t you tell him your name?” Exclaimed Zeníth.
“You said your name was Erin.”
“Well, I said I was from a village beyond the hill too didn’t I. I wasn’t going to give you my Folk name now was I?”
“So what is your Folk name?”
“Tílsa? That’s so pretty.”
“Yes it’s a good name.”
“What does it mean?”
“Well…in the ancient language of the Folk I suppose it means Innocence. Now though it’s just a name.”
“Would you like something to eat?” Wíthíl had brought a big plate of food and was offering it to Patrick. I could tell something was up. Some thing was always up with Wíthíl. She was a mischief maker like no other, but only for her own pleasure. She would have no problem hurting someone if she thought it was funny. Normally I just tried to stay out of her way, but this time she was messing with someone who really mattered to me.
“Uh…I don’t know…what is that stuff?”
“It’s am…am…ambro…ambrosia. Heavenly food like no other you have ever tasted.” Now I knew what was up. Wíthíl thought that Patrick didn’t have any glamour on. She thought she would give him a taste of Folk food and seduce him and throw him out of Híll as if he didn’t matter. I could tell that Patrick was not entirely attracted to eating our food but he felt guilty about refusing it. Doesn’t he realize he doesn’t have to be polite? “Um…well…I don’t know…what’s all that shiny stuff on it?” Wíthíl had poured a potion over the meal that would cause Patrick to fall into a trance. Thank goodness she’s stupid enough to put it on top rather than inside so he could see it. “What shiny stuff? Oh, the gravy?” She had her act down pat. She had learned the lingo and everything. “I don’t know what you make your gravy out of…but that doesn’t look like gravy.” Wíthíl looked uncomfortable.
“Why what’s wrong with it…I’m sure I followed the recipe exactly.”
“Wíthíl, stop it. He isn’t for you. He can see right through that to everything you’re doing. There’s glamour on his eyes.” Wíthíl frowned at me, snorted her pointy little nose, and walked off in a huff. I got Patrick some real food that had been made out of things that he really ate and we spent the rest of the night dancing.
I woke up the next morning to find Patrick still asleep. Everyone was still in the hall eating and dancing and so on. The Folk can stay up a long time before they get tired so no one ever sleeps at the same time as everyone else. I decided to leave him there and went to find Zeníth. “See Zeníth? He likes it here. He had a wonderful night and he’s perfectly happy. And he trusts me. That fool of a girl, Wíthíl isn’t making things easy either. But I am so happy!”
“How are you going to break it to him, Tílsa? He’s happy now…but he thinks he can go home too. How are you going to tell him he can’t?”
“Why can’t he? Of course he can. He’s happy here, but it can’t be that much better than being up there: with the glamour on.”
“Oh Tílsa, have you forgotten? Time is different…he could stay for a week and a hundred years would have passed up there. Time is different here, don’t you know that?”
I shook my head, “But…but it never seems like such a long time between when we go out once and when we go out again.”
“But it is. Didn’t he ask you why it had been a long time since he saw you?”
“Well, yes, but I thought he was just impatient.” Zeníth got a look of pity on his face that he often looked at me with when he thought I had been particularly absent minded. He shook his head. “Then I have to go get him out of here. Maybe I’ll move in with him in the town for a while.”
“No, Tílsa! You can’t just leave. Why not keep him here? You’ll still be together. We can’t have you going out there doing who knows what mischief.”
“No…I have to get him out of here. Maybe I’ll go with him and maybe I won’t but I love him and he doesn’t deserve a fate like this.” I marched over to where Patrick lay asleep. “Patrick…wake up. You have to leave…you have to get out of here. You were right: time is different here.”
He opened his eyes. “Where am I? What place is this?”
“You’re under the hill, Patrick, remember?”
“But nothing looked this beautiful last night!”
“Nothing looks beautiful this morning either, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Come on…we have to get you out of here before it’s too late.”
“No.” His voice was firm. I looked around at him. He was staring at the place, the walls the food, everything, as though he had only just realized where he was.
“No! I’m not leaving.”
“Patrick, what makes you say that? You have to leave…I can come with you if you want me.” Then I realized and I started to laugh with relief. “Oh, Patrick, I’m sorry, I forgot to reapply the glamour to your eyes. Then you’ll see.” I reached into my skirt pocket but the vial was gone. I looked all around where we had been sleeping but it was no where to be seen. Then I saw Wíthíl. She was smiling candidly at Patrick. She looked over at me. “Have you lost something, Tílsa dear?”
“Wíthíl, give it back. He’s not yours. You already have Zeníth and there are plenty of others. Leave him alone.” Patrick was already gazing at her, she must have forced him to drink something in his sleep.
“No, I don’t think so Tílsa. They’re so much more fun when they don’t have glamour on their eyes.” I ran to Abíka and Blepít but they both said that the prince had discovered the theft of glamour and now only he knew where it was. I ran to the prince and begged for just enough to get Patrick out, but he refused.
Dejectedly I went back to where Patrick had been sleeping but he was gone. I went to Zeníth. “Where is Wíthíl? She’s done something awful to Patrick and I can’t get him out unless you help me force him out of here.”
“Wíthíl came to me this morning and said she has found a new romantic interest. I don’t know where she is anymore.” I felt my eyes fill up with tears. It was over. I had planned on being so happy. Even when I realized that I couldn’t keep him under the hill, we still could have been so happy. Why did some people have to make things so difficult for others?
* * *
I sat in a tree watching the woman sitting on the porch. It had been three weeks since I had taken Patrick under the hill and I had come back to this tree everyday and watched his sister get married and have children and here sat Patrick’s niece, in her late forties, sitting in a rocking chair playing his flute.
Suddenly, it happened. The thing I had been waiting for since I had begun watching this family. Patrick came over the hill and into the yard. He looked at the woman, confused. They exchanged some words and the woman went to the door of the house to call her mother out. Patrick’s sister came out and saw him. For a moment she just stared then she ran to him and gave him a hug. He sat down and began playing the flute. The tune was not his own, it was a Folk tune. It was not the happy Folk tune I had played for him either, it was a sad melancholy one, about longing. So he had become what he had not wanted to become. I dared not speak to him again so I vanished and went back under the hill. He lived out the rest of his life wanting to go back because he had never known anything like it before, but hating it for what he had become when he came out.