Greta and Berry helped Hans to the table, and then Fae and Berry worked on waking him enough to feed him while Greta had her fill. The food tasted very good, full of cold fruit, steaming vegetables and plenty of sweets, not unlike the hag’s table, but this was substantial and would fill the body to satisfaction. Then, something else came up about the food of the little ones which Greta did not remember at first because she felt much too hungry to think. Besides, Bogus distracted her by mumbling again.
“I was trying to bump her off,” he said. “I sent her to the hag, pushed the wolf in her direction, and drew her into the wyvern swamp so they could suck the life out of her. When all that failed, and it makes sense now, I put her into the hands of the clunker humans. Those brutes like to kill everything they can get their hands on, but even they failed to do her in. Bee stings and locust plagues! Then when she comes for the boy, I figure if I can’t get her killed, at least maybe I can scare her away, but no! She scolds the ogre, sends the disembodied home and gets her boy, and all on the same day. I can’t even make time fly by! But no wonder. I’ve been trying to kill my own goddess and scare the beeswax out of my own granddaughter. Why, I’ll be the laughingest spirit in forever plus two!”
“Excuse me.” Gorse spoke up. Greta felt nearly full by the time he approached, temporarily sating her ravenous appetite. “Excuse me.” He repeated and touched her sleeve.
“It was me and Ragwart who convinced Bogus to save your brother. She’s a woman who ought to know better, we said, um, if you follow me, but he is just a boy child and ought not to get killed yet.”
“Ragwart?” Greta looked up.
“That’s mostly true.” Ragwart confirmed. “But then Bogus thought he ought to dance for months, or maybe as much as a week and think it no more than a few minutes. Why, he would have been no more than an old bag of bones by the time he got done if Bogus had his way.”
“Say!” Gorse just thought of something. “How did you get Bogus to change his mind? That is powerful hard to do, you know.”
“But since you have been eating our food, I guess it really does not matter.” Ragwart said, and he and Gorse began an excited little dance of their own, as if they had played a great trick on the humans and were very proud of themselves.
“That’s it,” Greta said out loud. “Once you eat the food of life, the food of the little spirits of the earth, you are their captive forever, or until they tire of you.” Gorse and Ragwart looked delighted, but Greta merely looked at the others. “I guess that means Hans will just have to stay with me, is all.”
The imps stopped dancing and Bogus stopped mumbling long enough to come over and begin whispering to them. Fae spoke up while she and Berry, big sized, helped Hans.
“I don’t mind,” she said.
“Don’t mind what?” Berry asked before she realized Fae was not talking to her.
“But you are one quarter Fee.” Greta said. “I don’t know if the food will affect you like that, though it may fill some of the empty part.”
Fae looked sad for a moment. “But what about you and Hans.” she asked.
“Me?” Greta laughed. “I am about as captive to the little ones as anyone can get, and I have been for about forty-six hundred years.”
“Yes, of course.” Fae understood.
“As for Hans,” Greta started, but Berry interrupted.
“Oh, can I keep him?” she asked. “I like him much, a lot, and he is very handsome, too.”
Fae and Greta looked at each other. “We’ll see,” Greta said. “Only right now we need to get back to the village. It will be dark soon enough.” Fae nodded in agreement.
At that moment, there came a sudden flash of light and a real fairy appeared by the table. The difference between her and Berry, when Berry got small, was striking. This fairy had the veritable glow of life about her, shining in gold and silver sparkles which danced free of her wings, hair and finger tips. Her every feature looked sharply distinguished, and yet she remained hard to see in some sense. Every time Hans focused on her she seemed to move. She actually stayed quite still. The human eyes had the problem, and even Fae had to squint to keep the fairy in focus
“My Lady.” The fairy curtsied in mid-air. Greta, of course, could see her perfectly.
“Please get big, Thissle.” She knew the fairy’s name without thinking about it, and indeed, when she thought about it, she found she knew all about this lovely fee. Thissle got big, but Bogus and the boys removed their hats and took a step back. She appeared a beautiful woman of twenty-nine, so to speak. “Where is your troop?” Greta asked, knowing the answer full well.
“They have moved on, a hundred mortal years ago, to green the snows of the North.” Thissle explained softly in her full-grown woman’s voice. “Oh, my Lady.” Thissle tried hard not to cry and everyone felt it. Gorse had to blow his nose, twice.
“I don’t know if I can give you what you want.” Greta said, but her own heart started breaking and she knew she had to try. “Thornbottom!” She called, and the little sprite appeared because he had to. He looked smaller than Bogus, though not nearly as small as Thissle in her normal size. Bogus and his boys obviously thought little of the sprite, but Thissle clearly loved him with all her heart, and he loved her with equal fervor. He appeared very cute. Greta wanted to invite him to sit on her knee, but Thornbottom thought to speak first.
“That would be a great honor,” he said. “But my name is not accidental.” And indeed, he looked covered with thorns and prickles, much like a porcuipine.
“And that little thing has kept you apart all of these years?” Greta asked.
“Not so little, Lady,” Thornbottom said. “But I won’t horrify you with the details.”
“Do you love him?” Greta asked and Thissle said, absolutely, and no one needed Fae to tell them that she was speaking the truth. “And will you be a good wife for him.”
“Yes, I will do my very best,” Thissle said.
“And do you love her?” She asked Thonbottom.
“More than all my life,” he answered.
“And will you be a good husband?” Greta asked.
“I will be the best I can,” Thonbottom answered plainly and as true as anyone ever spoke.
“Hold hands.” Greta told them. “I will try. I cannot promise.”
“We understand,” Thornbottom said. “The gods never make promises.”
Thissle got on her knees and Greta saw that even holding hands could be hard. She got pricked by one little spike on the back of Thornbottom’s hand and a small drop of precious fairy blood formed there, but she looked brave.
Greta, meanwhile heard advice that came on the time wind. “Imagine ordering the colors of the rainbow.” The voice said. “Show the bats how to see without seeing and teach the waters to make sculptures in lime. Paint the sky at sunset and sing to the moon to raise the tide.” Greta understood and stilled her mind. She did not strain or stress or try to do anything at all. She simply understood or perhaps decided how things needed to be, and she decided that was how they were, and when she opened her eyes, she saw Thornbottom and Thissle exactly as she decided.
Thornbottom got a little bigger, and Thissle got very much smaller, though again, not nearly as small as she used to be in her normal fairy size. They had qull-like hair, still prickly, but not nearly the deadly spikes of before, and the backs of their hands and tops of their feet were more like rounded knobs and not at all sharp to the touch. Both were richly dressed as if for a wedding, which it was, and Thornbottom looked as cute as ever, while Thissle looked no less beautiful.
Thissle and Thornbottom let out squeals of delight and began to dance, hand in hand and arm in arm. Fae became full of tears and Berry spoke. “I hope I am that beautiful when I marry Hans,” she said.