Riding his horse hard down the road, still he goaded his mount on. Flecks of foam flew back in his face, and his own breath came in gusts. Finally, to spare his beast, the young man accepted a slower canter. His anger need not be taken out upon his horse. His heart still beat against his chest at the insult he had just endured however.
"Find a wife or we will find one for you," his father had said.
"Even if there is not one young woman in the kingdom with a head on her shoulders?"
"Just pick the prettiest one, and you can do the thinking for both of you."
"Is that how you chose Mother?"
"You know that's not fair. I'll be the first to admit that she is beyond compare, but that's no reason for you not to settle down. I fear you are belittling the fine ladies without giving them a chance."
"They fawn and simper and giggle without an intelligent word coming out of their painted lips."
"Try, son. That's all we're asking is for you to try. If not, the decision will be out of your hands even if we have to make a match out of our kingdom."
That's when he had heard enough and stalked off to the stables.
Finally, he calmed reigning his horse to a walk while the horse's sides heaved. He gave a grateful pat on its beautiful neck, soothing both rider and mount. The young man could not outrun his predicament.
Just then something struck him in the neck. He swatted it away wondering what small bird had flown into him. Looking around he saw the wee winged creature in the weeds. It was not moving. Dismounting, he bent down and picked it up by its iridescent wings and almost dropped it. His heart lurched.
"A fairy? I don't believe in fairies! Yet, here is something of its kith. Did I kill it?" he said aloud.
"No, I think not."
It was talking, albeit, in a faint teeny tiny voice. He had to strain to hear it.
"I beg pardon. I did not mean to bring you harm. I hope you are not hurt." He knew people who did believe in fairies understood that they must be treated carefully for a disgruntled fairy makes a very bad enemy."
"It was my fault, not looking where I was going so distraught as I be. I think I'll be fine. Riding into your armor almost knocked me silly."
Was that a speck of a tear glistening on her cheek? After all, it was a she, undeniably so.
"What may I do for you in your distress, fair maiden. Are you sure you are not injured? Is there anything to be done to remedy your troubles?"
"I'm afraid there's not much to be done by either of us. My parents just accepted a proposal for my hand whereas, I find it to be beyond revolting!"
She was sobbing into his palm now with rivulets of tears running in the creases like streamlets.
He pulled out a handkerchief, but realized how huge it must seem. She gratefully took a mere corner and wiped her eyes.
"Thank you kind sir. I must be off. I've taken enough of your time."
"There's no hurry. This is a diversion from my own troubles I was running away from just now."
"You are so big and strong. How could harm come to such as you. Obviously, you are a well bred young man, a prince even."
"You have found me out, miss. Yes, it is just that. As a prince, I too am being forced into an unwanted marriage. I had hoped to find love instead of an arrangement to only please others."
He heard her gasp and saw her eyes growing large with surprise. "We do have something in common as unlikely as it would seem."
She was quite exquisite in miniature from her shimmering wings to the tips of her flower petal clad feet. Perfect little lips framed itsy bitsy teeth in a sweet smile, her upturned nose was freckled, her cheeks were rosy, and her eyes were sparkling like sunlight on pools of water. And, oh, her hair...
He did not refrain from exclaiming, "Oh, were there a creature as wonderful as you in the kingdom for me to marry. Then it would not be such a repulsive thought, but a joy to plan a wedding."
She blushed, "Surely, you jest, my Prince."
"I wish it was all a joke, but as we both know, the future of our marital bliss looks grim. It was just wishful thinking. Excuse me for being so bold."
Her small hand patted his finger where soon a gold band would bind him. "There, there, though my intended is far from my heart's desire, you still may choose. Perhaps you have just overlooked a maiden who is just waiting for her prince to come."
"The kingdom is not that large. I believe I have met almost everyone wearing a skirt who is ten years older than me on down. She does not exist except in my imagination."
He looked so sad that she probed further, "Have you crossed any borders? There is a nice kingdom just south of here."
"It would cause a war if I stepped foot in their territory since my great-great-grandfather stirred up conflict with them years ago. No one has married out of ourselves since then. To the North, the mountains have been a barrier keeping us from much contact and to the West is the sea, while to the East, well, you know who lives there."
"Yes, I know. For the most part they are quite as primitive as they are rumored to be. My father has been there in some of his trading. Yet, he says there are some decent folks who keep to themselves and are kind to the fairy folk." She gasped again. "Oh my! I just remembered something. It is a secret I'm not supposed to know, so I cannot tell you. However, if you would care to make a trip with me, we might perchance find a pleasant somebody along the border. I think it could be arranged."
He threw back his head and laughed until he saw her cowering with her ears covered.
"Oh, how you roar!" she exclaimed.
"I beg your pardon again, my fair one, but you must see the humor in having a fairy for a match-maker."
She straightened her back and became very formidable, in a small size way, and said, "Have you not known that the fairies have been at such a business long before your ancestors stepped foot in our forests and glades. We are quite in demand for our coupling skills."
"Then why are you so unhappy in your own case of engagement?"
"My father's judgment has been bent by greed. Much has been promised him for my hand."
"I see. Would this gold coin help him change his mind?" He brought out a heavy piece of change just as the sun hit it nearly blinding her.
"I wish it was so simple," she said waving it away. "It is power, a position that has been promised him that he craves."
"That's nothing I can remedy, I'm afraid. Is there someone that you wish you could marry instead?"
The wee thing blushed deeply with her eyes cast down and nodded.
"Ah, then perhaps this coin could help you in some ways to temper the blow if you marry in disobedience to your father's plan."
For the third time she gasped. "Disobey my father?"
"Does he have your best interests at heart or his own?"
"Would you have an ally in your mither?"
She thought carefully and finally said, "Perhaps...She is quite a romantic at heart, which is a gift for the matchmaking fairies."
"There, you see, it can be fixed, that is if the other party concerned is willing."
"He's willing, I'm as sure of it as the dewfall at night!"
"Let us bury this coin along the road, here by this rock. Can you find this spot again?"
"Yes, I'm quite certain."
"Well, you tell your little man, excuse me, your sweetheart to come dig it up for a wedding gift for you."
She flew up suddenly, and gave him a fairy kiss on his cheek, feather light.
"Wait, what is your name?"
"She flew back to his hand. "I'm sorry, sir. Please excuse my terrible manners after all you have done to help me. I was just so excited I flew off without thinking. I want to do something for you, but I will need to speak with my mother first. She may not be willing, but I will try my best."
"Try what? What did you mean you will help me?"
"A surprise. Can you meet me here tomorrow in the gloaming?"
"Yes. I will carry a snip of a candle in a bluebell. Look for the blue light if the fog creeps. And come prepared to ride. We will travel a bit."
"And your name?"
"Elice. And yours?"
It was thick with fog in the wee hours of the morn. As he neared where they had taken their leave, he saw a faint blue glowing like a diamond. As he drew closer, the candle reflected the iridescence of her wings making a shimmering rainbow in the gloaming.
Elice was wearing a eiderdown cloak, but her hair curled into a golden halo over her head. It was his turn to gasp at her beauty. "Top of the morning to you, my lady. I'm here as beckoned even though I tossed and turned all night thinking of the strange twist of events when we met yesterday. Did you find your mother a willing partner in your elopement?"
The wee fairy clasped her hands against her heart and sighed. "I can't thank you enough. She was delighted I was willing to follow my heart and said that it is the way of fairies, after all. My father will come around after he blusters and blows, she was sure of it. It was such a tender moment, she was willing to discuss your case as well. She is willing for me to take you to meet someone, someone I've waited all my life to meet. She gave me the directions. I will only have a glimpse, then fly home while you must win her heart with your own charms."
"This is strange, you must admit," he said, but willingly followed her directions east as she perched on his shoulder.
"You will be my first attempt at coupling. Don't let me down."
He fought to keep his laughter from giving her another fright. He couldn't believe he was riding the countryside with a fairy beside him on an adventure of the heart. It was so ridiculous that he felt a swell of hope fill his chest.
The few they met on the way bowed and waved recognizing their prince. He plucked a rose to tuck in his pocket for her to hide behind when they passed others on the road. She hid in his pocket when he entered humble abodes to partake of food with his father's people. They were kindly folk and impressed him with their generosity and well-kept simple homes. When back on the road, he shared the crumbs he'd stashed in his pocket for her twisted in his clean hankerchief which he laid out like a tablecloth on the horse's broad back.
Finally, the road was deserted, and they seemed to be entering a forest deep and dark. "Wait here. We are at the border. I will see if she will come. It will be tricky to lure her into the forest. Do you see where the sunshine bursts through the trees and warms the mossy floor? Wait there on that log. Have patience."
It was a long wait, so much so that the sunshine lulled him into a deep sleep. When he woke a fairy light was on the forests at dusk with shadows hiding ready to come forth. His glance met wide doe- like eyes ready to bolt at a slight movement.
"Elice? Is it truly you?"
"She shook her head no and backed away as if to run."
"Of course not. My eyes are playing tricks on me. Please wait. I must speak with you. I've come a long way to find you." In his heart he was very glad he had come the longer his eyes drank in her beauty.
"I don't understand," she said in a soft voice that rippled over him like water from a fresh stream.
He smiled standing and brushing off the sticks and moss that clung to him, but never taking his eyes off her. "I don't understand either. You look like someone I know, but are very different than she. I'm quite bewildered. What is your name?"
"I'm Elspet of the sheepherders clan. And you?"
"I'm Ilian, actually a Prince of the Kingdom Glenairie. Are you from around here?" She looked so frightened that he quickly urged her, "Don't be afraid. I mean no harm or threat, but I have to ask you, do you believe in fairies?"
Finally she smiled, through sweet lips, making her freckles stand out on her up turned nose, and her cheeks flushed rosy with eyes that shimmered like sunshine on pools of water. And oh, her hair!. "I do now. It was the strangest thing. I heard singing and followed it catching glimpses of what at first I thought was a butterfly, though irridescent, but butterflies don't sing. Finding myself over the border, I was about to turn back when she lit on a pine bough and waited for me to adjust to seeing her. She seemed to be just as fascinated with me. I think I heard her say, 'I can't stay, but am so glad to have met you. But I brought you here to meet my friend. Come. Don't be afraid.' Then she was gone and I stumbled upon you sleeping here. Can you explain what is going on?"
"Not exactly. I just met my first fairy yesterday. Her name is Elice."
She gasped just like the wee one had done sitting on his hand yesterday.
"Elice? That's an uncommon name, but one that has been in our family. Excuse me, please go on"
"Well, I was able to come to her aid."
"In what way? How would one help a fairy?"
"Actually, I gave her an idea on how to follow her heart. She is soon eloping with her true love instead of being forced into an unwanted marriage arrangement. So she asked me to meet her early this morning to find someone. I guess that someone is you. But how did she know you?"
"I'm not quite sure. But I wonder..." Her face paled.
"You bear a striking resemblance somehow, without wings, of course."
Elspet's quiet laughter was like melted butter on his bread. A warmth was spreading the more he stared at her, the more he could not get his fill.
Then she looked perplexed. I'm not sure how to say this, but my grandmother told me a strange story when she was on her deathbed once when we were alone. I did not believe it at the time and did not even think to tell my mother since I thought her mind was wandering..."
"Yes, go on, please."
"Well, she told me for the first time that I was a twin."
"Are you identical?"
"I don't know. Like I said, I just found out I had a twin."
"What happened to her? Did she die when you were very young?"
"That's what strange. My grandmother told me the fairies spirited her away."
"What! Can you believe that?"
"I surely didn't until today, and now I don't know."
"Has your mother never said anything?"
"No, but I have found her looking out to the forest weeping, always this time every year under the Harvest Moon on my birthday. I never put these things together before now. Perhaps it means something. She never would tell me what was wrong when I asked her. I guess she was grieving the absence of my twin. Hmm. I didn't know to grieve with no memory or knowledge of her. I just had a feeling of loss that has somehow stayed with me."
"Did Elice say anything to you? Do you think she knows what happened to your sister?"
"I have a feeling she knows something. After all, how did she know how to find me?"
"She did tell me yesterday that she had found out a secret she was not supposed to know and was going to ask her mother about it. Now she found you. You must be her secret. Perhaps we'll see
her again and ask her."
"Why did she bring me here to meet you?"
"Now I'm afraid to tell you. You won't fly off, will you?"
"Try me. It has been a bewildering day and the time is getting late. I'm just trying to make sense of it."
"Perhaps I can meet you here tomorrow, then."
"I don't know. I will be missed by now. It isn't like I can just explain that a fairy carried me away, and I met a prince. Who would believe me? I can't hardly believe it myself.
"Well, then, if you are already going to be in trouble perhaps you wouldn't mind tarrying with me a little longer. We can puzzle this out together."
"You still haven't answered my question. Why did the fairy bring me here to meet you, a prince sleeping in the woods?"
The prince hung his head thinking hard of what to say running his hand through his hair not realizing how handsome he was even with a troubled brow. When he looked up, he found himself in her gaze. "She knew I was looking for you as well."
"She knew I could not find what I wanted anywhere in my world, but thought of you, and so here we are."
"What is it that you want? What does that have to do with me?"
"I've need of a wife."
Elspet gasped and looked like she would run, but she sank down on her knees instead with her head in her hands."
"This is all too much. I was looking after my flock and had just got them in the gate when she brought me here. My shoes are covered in dung, I smell like sheep, and a Prince tells me he needs a wife."
"Is it too much to ask you to marry me?"
The Prince had come quite close and was before her with his hands holding hers. His eyes showed more than enough care to convince her he was sincere.
"But why me? I'm a nobody from another kingdom."
"Fairies have the gift of coupling. They say they are quite good at matchmaking, and I was in desperate need of help. You are finer than all the maidens in my father's realm, bright like a rose in a thicket of thorns. But there is something about you that I can't quite put my finger on...you are so like Elice, yet just the right size. You don't think...?"
"How can such a thing be possible"
"That she is your twin?"
"Can the fairies really do such a thing?" Elspet's eyes were brimming, shimmering with tears. "It would make my mither so happy to know my sister is out there somewhere and happy."
"Would your mother be happy if you were to be my wife?"
"Is that what you truly want?" He took her breath away. "I feel as if I was the one who fell asleep and have woken up in another world."
"Is there a church where we could be married. I would like to take you home as my wife."
"Will your father be angry with you for marrying outside his kingdom, to me, just a shepherdess?"
"He told me I must find a wife, even if I have to look outside the kingdom. I have just done what he said. Besides, we can't make the fairies angry. There's no worse enemy than a fairy's spurned."
By now the two were standing together very close indeed. And he kissed his fair maiden. "I believe the fairies do have the gift of matchmaking," he thought and kissed her again.
And of course, they lived happily ever after, after a double wedding that is, the twins with their true loves. There was something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
Something old was the ancient stone church where the marriage was held. Something new was a double wedding ceremony of wee folk next to the Prince and his Princess, never before seen in any kingdom since time began. Something borrowed, was a wedding dress since Elspet had no time to make her own and wore her mother's with a nip and a tuck here and there till it fit like a glove. Something blue were the bluebell blossoms with their twinkling lights hanging from every branch along the meadow by the old stone church where they feasted in the twilight. And at this time of year e're since, these good folk and the wee fairies meet at the meadow and feast and dance till the gloaming hour.