Excerpt for Amora Trilogy Boxed Set by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Amora Trilogy

Boxed Set



Arena Julia


ESOR ~ Book One

ELON ~ Book Two

EVER ~ Book Three



First published as EBook Boxed Set in 2017

ESOR Text © Arena Julia 2013

ELON Text © Arena Julia 2014

EVER Text © Arena Julia 2015

Maps © Arena Julia 2013

The moral right of the author/illustrator has been asserted.

http://arenajulia.com.au

Esor Cover Art © Laura Diehl, 2013

The moral right of the artist has been asserted.

www.LDiehl.com

Elon Cover Art © Costa Daniel Kassab & Arena Julia, 2015

Ever Cover Art © Costa Daniel Kassab & Arena Julia, 2016

The moral rights of the artists have been asserted.

www.costadanielart.com

http://arenajulia.com.au

Cover Model - Bridie Mae

Prepared for publication by Ebook Launch, Canada

Distributed by Smashwords

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without prior written permission of the relevant copyright owners.

Cataloguing-in-Publication data is available at the National Library of Australia

ISBN: 978-0-9943916-6-7


With Thanks…

The author wishes to thank those who supported her through her time of writing and producing these works.

Special appreciation to Kira Naweeya for the use of her beautiful Thai name for Mae’s Windhorse, Naweeya.

Special acknowledgment to Laura Diehl for her inspirational and highly skilled cover artistry for ESOR.

Also, kudos to debut cover artist, Costa Daniel Kassab, for his artistry, dedication, and willingness to meet the collaboration challenges for the production of such apposite covers for ELON and EVER.


Arena Julia

is an Author and Educator

who lives in Australia.


Find Arena Julia

her books and more at~

http://arenajulia.com.au


Dedication

For my Loved Ones ~

You will always reach all the way to my heart,

no matter where we are.



AMORA TRILOGY

ESOR ~ Book One

ELON ~ Book Two

EVER ~ Book Three

Maps

Magickal Definitions



Special Notes:

Direction in Amora ~

In Amora, use of direction be related to purpose.

So always…

all things lightness be North,

all things darkness be South,

all things more grounded be East,

all things lesser known be West.

(See Maps)



Sidhe ~ pronounced Shee,

magickal folk of regal or noble birth

Pale ~ rare container resembling a pail,

but with magickal powers of containment

(See more in Magickal Definitions)





ESOR

~Book One~



This spell was such a simple thing. What harm could it do?


Contents

1 ~ CURSED

2 ~ PATIENT BE

3 ~ OLDE MAGICK

4 ~ NOTHING

5 ~ BROM

6 ~ CLOTH & DREAMS

7 ~ LORES

8 ~ SOJOURN

9 ~ ROSEBUD HOUSE

10 ~ DREAM

11 ~ TWIN VALES

12 ~ SPECTRE

13 ~ DUPLICITY

14 ~ DOME HOUSE

15 ~ RITUAL

16 ~ PROMISE

17 ~ SEDITION

18 ~ SHADOW

19 ~ HIGH LEDGE

20 ~ SECRETS

21 ~ CHANGELING

22 ~ DESTINY

23 ~ POWERS

24 ~ ROSE’nMAE

25 ~ CHOSEN ONE

26 ~ DESIRE

27 ~ TRAPPED

28 ~ GNARLING STORM

29 ~ ESOR

30 ~ HEART of ESOR

31 ~ DARK NIGHTS, DARK SOULS

32 ~ GLOW

33 ~ TRUEST BELONGING

34 ~ AURA MASTER

35 ~ PROPHECY

36 ~ HERO

37 ~ VISION

38 ~ FESTIVAL


Chapter 1

CURSED

All things unfold as they should.”

“An olde piece of cloth? For a spell? From Mother’s private storage pod? Mae, you know the rules!”

As usual, Iris was ranting at the top of her lungs, reeking superiority with every word. Mae flinched, fuming under her breath. She wasn’t deaf! But of course, her sister was bellowing, when all she had to do was speak normally. And now that Iris knew, did everyone else in Amora need to know as well?

Hopefully, the words hadn’t escaped beyond the living room walls, ramming their way through the casements, into Village Glade. Hopefully, too, they hadn’t absconded into the Woodlands to the ears of Fernseea and Jazmin. It was too soon. Mae would reveal her secret when the time was right.

Anxiously, she pressed her face against the warmed glass of the window. Through her reflection, her long, ice-white, forever-straight locks framed the edges of her deep azure eyes. Sullenly, Mae looked into those eyes as they moped back at her.

“If Mother was here, none of this would be happening,” she said to the Mae in the glass.

Beyond that glass though, a beautiful morning belied her inner state. Deep, crisp skies already called their song to Spring. Fringing the Village, deciduous inhabitants of the Woodlands eagerly sprouted their new, lush, green greeting. By Moon’s rising, they’d be thick with promise.

Nature replenished so quickly in Amora, when it had a mind to, Mae decided. Though conversely, it could turn just as swiftly. Just like her fate in this present endeavour. Thankfully, the bustle of bodies through the Village remained rhythmic. Each Sidhe of Amora continued with their Festival preparations, ignorant of the disturbance within her living room walls. Relief drew a sigh out of her. But only momentarily. Mae couldn’t see Jaz or Fern. She couldn’t tell if they had heard the words or not. And Iris was still carrying on for all to hear!

“Besides,” Iris continued her raving, “I’ve never seen of it! So don’t be wasting your time even looking, Mae!”

That was the way it worked in Amora. If Iris hadn’t seen of it, it wasn’t. Almost every Sidhe in that enchanted land just took for granted that what Iris said was exactly right, and therefore, must be so.

Nearly four cycles older, and daughter of the Sidhe Consort, Olicea, Iris thought she owned everyone. But Mae would have none of it! Iris wasn’t even a real sister. Just a foster one.

Mae returned her glare to Iris. What she lacked in age and height, she fortified with obstinacy. She wasn’t going to let Iris ruin this. Especially now that time was of the essence. Mae had no doubts that Iris’ back-up would soon arrive.

“You always think you’re so superior, Iris!” Mae seethed at her, straightening herself to full height, so almost reaching Iris’ chin. “Just because you haven’t seen of it, doesn’t mean it isn’t, you know! And this is my business, not yours!”

Boldly then, Mae dived into the forbidden storage pod, before Iris could utter even a peep more in protest.

From the outside, the pod was a pale green, domed container, standing the height of a small child. But inside, it was as deep as a cavern. One could get lost in there.

Normally, it was topped with a protective lid, carved fastidiously, with dragonflies and geraniums, by Foster Father Gerani. But now that lid was on the floor. Mae’s feet and ankles had replaced it.

Anchored by her toes to the edge of the pod, the rest of her buried inside, Mae used her fingers to search her way blindly, through a tangled treasure of past festivals and parties. A veritable thrift shop of old veils and capes, dresses and headpieces, scarves, leaf shawls and coats, etched potion bottles and enchantment rings, it was beguiling in there.

Mae quickly discovered though, that searching for something inside a storage pod as deep as this one, was not a simple task. It required being prepared for the small amount of air in there to taste like mothballs, being capable of finding one particular thing in a vast array of things without the benefit of sight, and being totally upside down, barely clinging by the toe tips, for the entire process.

However, it was worth it. For Mae was certain that concealed within that suffocating dimness, she would find a very special, very potent, olde piece of cloth. Somehow, she was certain also, that her hands would immediately recognise it.

No, they’d never felt such cloth before. But since Dead of Winter just passed, new Knowings had grown within her. New Sensings were guiding her. A new Inner Voice was speaking to her. It whispered to her, sharing secrets, and ancient words of magick.

Mae had no doubts. She would Know that olde cloth the instant even a fingertip touched its aged crumpled roughness. She would immediately Know its ancient power. She would know, too, exactly what to do with it.

Barely had Mae’s searching begun, when she felt the grappling of Iris’ grip at her ankles.

“Mae, grt yorfelf owt off ere the-is minat!” Iris groaned.

Mae ignored her. She could scarcely understand what Iris was saying anyway. But a heftier wrench soon had her heaving backwards. She’d been extracted from the storage pod, and from her hopes.

With her, came a twisted, tangled array of odds and sods, none of which was the olde cloth she’d sought. With her, too, came the pain of her long, silky hair being torn from her scalp, as it caught on the way out.

“Ouch! Ouch, ouch, ouch!” Mae’s body hit the floor in a heap. “You just tore chunks of my hair out, Iris!” Mae yelled.

“Serves you right for poking around where you don’t belong!” Iris snapped.

This kind of callous disregard from Iris wasn’t new for Mae. Nor was the pain of having her hair pulled and torn. Vindictive Sidhe were plentiful, especially where Mae was concerned. They felt justified, and Mae knew why.

She was different. She had straight hair. All other Sidhe had curls, or at least waves, even the boys. Mae’s hair was devoid of curls, and so, of life, everyone said.

Such hair as the others had though, marked their regal Sidhe tribe. Such hair denoted status in their magickal world. Such hair intentioned belonging.

When Mae was younger, back when her insights were innocent, she’d admired her hair. Reflected in Mirror Brook, it had shone like filaments of sunlight through a cloud. Wafting as finely and gently as gossamer on the breezes, it had never kinked or tangled. Mae had thought it was not only beautiful, but glorious.

But as she’d grown, reality had shattered the splendour of that reflection. Other truths had replaced it - leering laughter, giggling gossip, exclusion from games and friendships. Very soon and very young, Mae had learned the dismal truth. With forever-straight hair she’d never belong. Then, last Summer, when Brom Eliad, her best and only friend, deserted her out of the blue, that truth had consolidated even more. Mae knew she couldn’t live like this - with no Brom, with no other friends, with no curls.

Even the Olde Ones had abandoned her. In fact, they’d made things even worse!

“Please work your magick,” she’d begged them, one desperate moment the previous Autumn. “Please change my hair so I can belong.”

She’d hoped that they would empathise, understand. But no! Instead, they’d betrayed her.

“You be Chosen. The Chosen One you be,” the Olde Ones had said in unison, as they always did. For the Olde Ones, though many, were one soul family, and therefore, one thought, one action, one voice.

“Your hair be the symbol. Your hair be special. You be special.”

But Mae would no longer be swayed, even if it were the Olde Ones doing the swaying. She loathed what her specialness was doing to her life. She longed for support to change it.

“I don’t want to be special!” she’d shouted at the Olde Ones. “I want to be like all the other Sidhe of Amora!”

“All things unfold as they should, Young One. All things unfold as they should. Patient be. Be Patient.

“Patient?” she’d questioned brazenly. “Patient!” she’d repeated, screaming at the Olde Ones. “I’ve been fifteen cycles patient!”

“Your anomaly, Child. Your anomaly,” they’d chorused. “Your purpose will be. But in Prophecy’s time. In Prophecy’s time it be.”

“No!” she’d screamed back. “It isn’t fair! I want to be fixed! I want to belong! Please, just help me. Please, just give me curls like everyone else,” she’d finally found herself begging.

“Meddling may dire imports invite,” they’d chorused in an eerie echo, gathering in unnerving calm around her. “You must obey child. You must obey!”

Then it’d happened. An explosive flash. A ravenous conjuring. A betrayal completed. Mae’s ice-white, forever-straight hair had been sealed with more Olde Magick. Now she’d been cursed with a double-bonded spell - not only the straight hair curse of her birth, but also, with the sturdiest bond of the Olde Ones.

This transmuted spell, Mae was soon told, was an Evermore Curse. For in the entire memory of Amora, never had a spell of the Olde Ones been broken. Never! Attached to a birth curse, it would be more than impossible to remove.

Even so, since then, everyone had been watching her even more closely. And…, closing her out even more than before. Strangely, for Mae, that became her glimmer of hope.

For with the powerful bonds already applied, why would they watch her so? There had to be Secret Keeping about. There had to be a secret about her curse, about her hair, about the getting of curls. One way or another, she’d discover exactly what that secret was. And then, she’d use it. She’d use it to break her Evermore Curse.

Two seasons later, when Dead of Winter brought with her Mae’s sixteenth birthday, she brought with her also, the very secret Mae had sought. For on that day, Mae came to know of the olde cloth and where to find it. She came to know of the Ancient Magick and what to do with it. She came to know of a new power and how to use it.

And use it she would!


Chapter 2

PATIENT BE

Magick? At this time of the cycle?”

There was no way a bit of hair pulling or yanking from storage pods by a bossy foster sister, was going to stop Mae now. Soon, her Evermore Curse would be no more. Soon, her hair would be flouncing with curls. Soon, she’d be just like every other Sidhe of Amora. Essentially, also, she would have them in time for the most important annual event in that enchanted land. For at the rising of Moon in three days’ time, on the eve of the Vernal Equinox, the Festival of Veils would begin. She must have her curls by then.

As usual, though, Iris was ceaselessly snooping, and hounding, and hindering, when all she had to do was leave. Right now, she was standing beside Olicea’s storage pod, surrounded by a mess of garments and trinkets. She’d hitched the hem of her long skirt into her waist band. She’d wrapped her train of amber curls into a knot at the back. And now, she was stretching her arm out, in a feigned gesture of helpfulness.

Mae knew better. Under her breath, Iris would be blistering, intent on doing whatever she could to win this. Mae ignored the spurious gesture.

“Well get up yourself then!” Iris screamed at her, even though Mae was already on her feet.

“And stay out of that pod! There’s a lot to do, Mae, and scrabbling around in storage pods looking for old rags isn’t one of them!”

“You’re worse than the Olde Ones, Iris!” Mae fumed back at her. “Being in charge while Olicea’s away doesn’t mean you own me! When she gets back, I’m going to tell her how you treat me. I’m going to tell her everything!”

“Everything? Really, Mae?” Iris rolled her eyes. “Including poking about in her belongings? Besides, tattling like a Tiny One at Garland age is hardly acceptable.”

So? Since when do I care what’s acceptable?” Mae scoffed back at her.

She hoped her intonation had the desired smug taunt she’d intended. But Iris didn’t seem to notice, distracted now by the predictable arrival of her pandering cheer squad.

Great!” Mae mumbled under her breath.

“What’s the emergency?” Fernseea and Jazmin entered melodramatically, puffing and panting in unison, their long curls flouncing, their garb wafting at their ankles as they placed their filled Pales beside the pod.

“They can’t be that breathless,” Mae hissed at the mossy floor. “They’ve only come from the Woodlands.”

She was supposed to have been with them, helping them, with the collecting. What an honour! Picking up leaves and petals, and other lame droppings of nature and dumping them into a bucket. Why would she want to help with that? Why would she want to make garlands?

Woven from vines, and adorned with petals, leaves and feathers, these garlands were presented ceremoniously during the Festival of Veils. Once bestowed, they denoted a new status - that of Garland Sidhe, the symbol of a coming of age. They also denoted new privilege - to use domestic magick without supervision.

All those who’d turned sixteen, since the previous Vernal Equinox, were supposed to be eligible. Except Mae, of course. Yes, she’d turned sixteen. And yes, as Iris had so pointedly confirmed, Mae was of Garland age now.

So, in three risings, she should be wearing a garland, and using domestic magick without supervision. But she had been excluded from the list.

“Patient be,” the Olde Ones had chorused when she’d raised her complaint with them. “Your anomaly, Child. Patient be. For what is certain…”

“I know, I know,” Mae had finished their sentence for them, forcing all the breath from her lungs, so she wouldn’t scream. “All things unfold as they should!”

But even now, frustration still seethed where that air had been.

“What in all Amora have you been up to, Mae?” Fernseea fussed, tidying all the long hair from Mae’s face, refastening the ruby brooch to the curved collar of her blue cotton dress, about to retie the sash at Mae’s waist.

Mae slapped Fern’s hand away.

“Stop fussing over me like I’m a Tiny One, Fern. I am sixteen you know! Not that it matters to anyone!”

“Stop avoiding my question, Mae,” Fernseea rebuked. “What have you been up to?”

Fern repeated her words slowly this time, emphasising every word. A frown had creased her eyes to a determined squint.

Most unfair!” Mae grumbled under her breath, trying to release her own eyes from Fern’s grasp.

Whenever Fern looked at Mae that way, nothing but the truth could come out. It was a very annoying knack she had. But the last thing Mae intended, was to explain herself to every Iris lackey in the Village, including Fernseea.

“I was just looking for…, something,” was the best Mae could do to resist.

“Not good enough, Mae!” Fernseea snapped back, trapping Mae with her gaze.

“Tell them what you were doing, Mae,” Iris pushed, Jazmin beside her, adding a glower of support.

Mae pursed her lips. There was no way she was sharing this freely!

Fern pressed for more.

Mae,” was all she said, but she’d increased that level of determination in those eyes of hers.

Mae was now resisting so tightly her jaws were aching, but to no avail.

“I was looking for a piece of olde cloth,” the words stumbled out against Mae’s will.

A glimpse of panic flashed through Fern’s eyes.

“A piece of olde cloth?” she reeled her shock towards Iris, who was nodding and mouthing, “I know. I know.”

Fern pressed for even more. “What for, exactly?”

“Yes, a piece of olde cloth,” Mae repeated, trying to withhold revealing any more.

Mae,” Fern pressed again.

Against all her will, more words leaked out, too coveted to become so uncovered.

“For a spell,” Mae mumbled, defeated.

A spell? Magick? At this time of the cycle? And with your anomaly?” Fern’s pitch had risen. She flashed her worry towards Iris, but returned her disapproval to Mae. “Mae, you know the rules!” Fern scolded.

Yes,” Mae defended. “Nothing unsupervised. And nothing but absolutely essential magick until the Olde Ones return. But you’re all so busy. And this is essential!”

“So what’s so essential that it can’t wait until after the Festival of Veils, Mae?”

Now Jazmin was on her case!

Mae’s eyes escaped to her feet. This was her secret. She knew they would never allow it. Not now. Not ever! And if she told them, they would watch her every move for the rest of her life!

Too soon, Fern’s hand was under Mae’s chin, tilting her face upwards. There was no mistaking that look in Fern’s eyes. She already knew. She just wanted Mae to admit it out loud.

“Okay! I give up!” Mae screamed at the three of them at once. “I want to curl my hair! Are you happy now you know everything about my life?”

But the three girls weren’t happy at all. In fact, Mae could see by the gravity gripping their expressions that they were horrified.


Chapter 3

OLDE MAGICK

Olde Magick is for Olde Ones. Not the likes of you!”

Mae braced herself for at least one of the girls to scream at her. But there wasn’t a sound from any of them. Instead, all three were gawking, speechless, back and forth at each other, and then at her. Their wide eyes flicked signals like some kind of secret language.

Mae prepared herself anyway. Surely in a moment the retribution would come? Everyone knew that she shouldn’t be using magick unsupervised. Everyone knew, too, that the Olde Ones had forbidden her to curl her hair, that it was now bound in an Evermore Curse as an added precaution.

But surely, Mae was thinking, if it’s so wrong, it won’t work anyway? After all, an Evermore Curse can’t be broken, apparently. And if it did work, she was reasoning, surely that would be a sign? It would prove that the Olde Ones were just being idiotically cautious, like all adults.

This spell was such a simple thing. It required only a smidgeon of magick beyond the olde piece of cloth. What harm could it do?

Mae looked from the thoughts inside her head, back to the girls. She tried to read their expressions. She tried to decipher their secret code. At first she saw trepidation. Actually, more like terror, really, she thought. Then it was something about, no, no, don’t tell her that! That won’t work with Mae. It will only make it worse! And lastly, it was something to do with keeping calm, and charming her, or rather, coaxing her, Mae decided.

Finally, Jazmin spoke for the three of them, almost too sweetly.

“Mae, you’re being too silly for words. You can’t get curls out of an old rag! Where in Sidhe’s magick did you get that idea?”

“It just popped into my head,” Mae defended.

Again, their eyes flicked in coded conversation. Back to trepidation, at least.

Inside Mae, a growing certainty welled. The three older girls were holding back, and there was more to this than she’d been told. However, before Mae could press things further, true to form, Iris took control, impatience leaking with every word.

“Mae, there’s nothing for it than to accept that your hair was born straight. It has always been so, and is meant to be.”

“No-one else in Amora has straight hair,” Mae defended. “Not even the boys. I want to be like everyone else.”

“Well, that’s not for you to decide, Mae. Your purpose is predestined, like all Sidhe of Amora. Besides, sounds to me like you’re delving into Olde Magick. And Olde Magick is for Olde Ones. Not the likes of you!” Iris warned.

“We’re even too young to dabble in such things, and we’re a lot older than you, Mae,” Fernseea explained more gently.

“Exactly!” Iris took over again. “And to try to curl hair, which is evermore straight, is a clear encouragement to…,” her voice caught as she scrambled to find words, “well, to Sprites at least, and who knows what else!”

“Sprites! That’s all you’re worried about?”

Mae scoffed inside, a smug smile creeping into her cheeks. Unsavoury tales about Sprites were rife, especially at this time of cycle, when the balance of dark and light magick was at a threatening equilibrium. Apparently, this made Amora rather vulnerable, especially with the Olde Ones and Elders away. But they went away every year. Why would this one be any different?

Every cycle, just before the Vernal Equinox, they went away for three whole days. Concealed within the Cavern of Secrets, deep within the Akana Ranges, seeped in the most potent power in all Amora, they’d all gather to create new magick. From the rising moon to the setting sun, they’d conjure powerful enchantments and new light magick, to protect Amora for the coming four seasons.

While they were away, while sensitivities and the balance of magick were so delicate, Sprites bore the blame for mischief, and often, much more than mischief as well. However, Mae was quite certain that Sprites were myth and their antics no more than mythology - concocted to keep Tiny Ones in line.

Some such tales created light amusement, though, like the story of one Winter’s eve when hordes of Sprites jumped into Mirror Brook - to dance. They muddied it so badly that several moons enlarged and slipped away, before its waters cleared. Many disappointed Sidhe had their vanities sullied that cycle, or so it was told. Unable to admire the shiny bounce of their curls, or the glamour of their enchanted faces, everyone was in a delicate mood, verging on quite grumpy, for much longer than was healthy.

However, beyond these accounts of fairly harmless antics, there were other more serious tales, designed to terrify Tiny Ones into total reticence. Some stories told of Sprites snatching away small Sidhe who wandered too far from home. Once stolen, they’d sell them to the Wart-eyed Witch in return for chocolate. In the minds of knee-high tiny Sidhe, this was an evil, worrisome depiction. For if there was one thing, which gave Tiny Ones nightmares, it was the Wart-eyed Witch, and if there was one thing Sprites would do anything for, it was chocolate. More than that, if there was one thing Sprites had no qualms about doing, it was taking things that didn’t belong to them, including tiny Sidhe. Or so the Olde Ones told.

Surely though, Mae thought, Iris couldn’t think that she was still that gullible?

“Mae, pay attention! And take that smirk off your face!” Iris screeched. “I’m telling you for the last time! You are under very clear instructions! Do not curl your hair! Do not do any magick of any kind - at least until Mother and the Olde Ones return. Do you understand?”

“Mae, please cooperate,” Fernseea intervened, less abrasively. “None of us, even the Elders, or we Graduates, is allowed to do anything more than the most essential magick at this time of the cycle. We’re all monitored. Not just you.

“And you know how delicate the imbalance is. And remember what the Olde Ones explained before they left? That this cycle the imbalance is closer to being equal than it has ever been? That’s why they had to take so many with them, into the Cavern of Secrets. That’s why so few of us have been left here in charge. They were very uneasy, Mae. Please, be patient until they return for the Festival. It’s only three more days.”

“Exactly,” Iris agreed. “After they’ve spent three full days of making new magick, there’ll be plenty. There’ll be a greater margin for error. Sprites will be back behind the Thorny Grate in Simmaron, where they belong. That dreadful beast Esor of Shadow Valley will be less of a threat. And Mother will be back. You can ask her permission then. You know you’re supposed to anyway. But until then, I’m in charge, and I say, no magick!”

“But it will be too late by then,” Mae whined, failing to stop the desperation creeping into her voice. “I want to have curls for the Festival.”

And Mae was correct. By the time the Olde Ones returned on the eve of the Vernal Equinox, just before the setting of the final Winter sun, it would be too late for curls. Everyone would be busy with greetings, with hugs and hellos, and of course, the drawing up of the new magick.

For at the precise moment that the setting sun touched the swayback dip in the East Akana Ranges, the Olde Ones would release their enchantments. Fresh new magick would stream into Amora, into every nook and cranny, into every heart, into every home. It would waft into the woods, the waters, the wishes, and even the woes. On and on it would seep, into the deepest crevices in the Twin Valleys, and into the highest mists within the Veil of Mists.

In this way, a restoration of the healthy imbalance between good and evil, in favour of good of course, would be created. The veils of protection would be thickened and strengthened for another cycle. Magick would once again be plentiful, and the Festival of Veils would begin.

“Yes,” Iris conceded, quashing Mae’s hopes with the finality of her decision. “It will be too late by then. But that’s just too bad, Mae. There’ll be no permission given by me, and none from Mother, in time for the Festival. This cycle, for you at least, there’ll be no magick, and no curls either!”


Chapter 4

NOTHING

Sometimes, we just can’t have exactly what we want, because it does more harm to have it, than to be without it.”

Mae fell silent, simmering inside. Never did Iris, or Fern, or Jaz, think what she wanted was worthwhile or important. Why, she asked herself, should they have it all? Not only did they all have mothers, and magick. They also had curls!

Iris was so privileged! Daughter of the Sidhe Consort, predestined to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she was already in training to do so. She knew that one day she would become the physical manifestation of that one in the ether, who governed the rules of their day to day physical lives, and who sat beside the one who reigned. Ever since Iris had turned nineteen last Spring, she thought she had all this power, to boss around, and to get her own way. How could she ever understand how it felt to be a social reject? She was far too self-assured!

And no wonder! While Iris was strong and square in stature, her soft amber curls, tipped with violet, bounced perfectly on her broad shoulders, adding a softness Iris wouldn’t have otherwise. Mae hated Iris. She hated her confidence. She hated her curls. She hated her very existence.

Jazmin, Iris’ pandering cousin, was almost as bad. Weak and wiry on the inside, and the outside. Not a single idea of her own - ever!

She was only two seasons younger than Iris, and yet, Jaz only thought what Iris told her to think, only did what Iris told her to do. But her honey gold curls flowed like a long, silky garment all the way to her knees. They framed the caramel of her face in a gentle tangle, which made her beautiful. And to Mae’s disgust, likeable.

Then there was Fernseea. Spring born just like Iris, usually Fern seemed sweet and kind. Though after today, Mae had her doubts about the truth of that. Nonetheless, everyone loved Fern, no matter how she behaved, even when she sided with Iris!

“So natural and unpretentious,” they’d say.

Mae felt certain that this immunity, this popularity, had something to do with Fernseea’s curls. After all, they were the most stunning she’d ever seen - hundreds of tiny ringlets of rich black, highlighted with the deepest red. They tousled this way and that, so naturally, no brushing or fussing were required. Sitting at the perfect length, almost to Fern’s waist at the back, they draped her shoulders like a veil.

Of all the Sidhe Mae had met, she wanted to be most like Fern. She wanted to have what Fern had - the love, the admiration, the looks. Mae knew it was possible. They shared similar features and build, as well as deep azure eyes, framed with eyelashes long enough to brush cheeks. With curls, and a little more growing, Mae could easily be Fern’s duplicate, only fair instead of dark. Even so, Mae knew that in the eyes of others, she’d always be the same - always ugly, always left out, always a nothing!

Tears welled. Mae had to look away. The three older girls couldn’t think they’d beaten her.

As usual, Iris broke the tension, bringing things back to practical considerations, by bossing everyone around. That’s how she always handles things, thought Mae. She thinks troubles go away if you just ignore them by keeping busy.

“Okay, no more of this!” Iris was saying. “We have a festival to organise, and Tiny Ones to help. The Festival Tree must be adorned. Dances and songs must be rehearsed. So let’s get on with it! And remember, no magick without permission. And since Mother’s not here that permission must come from me!” Iris decreed. “Understand?”

Mae felt the whip of Iris’ warning flick towards her, as she completed her orders.

“Of course I understand. I’m not stupid!” Mae flashed her a scowl. “But I don’t agree.”

“Sometimes, Mae,” Iris reprimanded, “we just can’t have exactly what we want, because it does more harm to have it, than to be without it. We have to go to Serena Valley to do the collecting for the Festival Tree. And we have to supervise the Tiny Ones. We have to bath them, dress them, do their hair, and then help them make their costumes and capes.

You have to organise yourself, just yourself! At a time like this, I expect to be able to trust you to do the right thing,” she said.

But in spite of what Iris said about trust, she put the lid back on her mother’s storage pod, this time locking it with Olicea’s key.

“Otherwise, Mae, there’s always the Pit!” Iris threatened, as she clicked the lock securely.

“Iris!” Fernseea gasped.

What?” Iris tested Fern’s resistance. “It’s not as if it’s Full Moon.”

“No, but it’s only three risings away,” Fern reasoned.

“A bit of a risk, don’t you think?” Jaz also questioned, astonishingly.

“There’ll be no risk at all if Mae stays out of that pod, and does what she’s told,” Iris replied, more to Mae than to the other two.

“So, stay out of Mother’s pod, and out of trouble! Get your costume ready for the Festival of Veils - something appropriate, and not in the form of olde cloth! And weave your cape! Unless you’ve already done it?”

Mae looked at the floor, shaking her head, genuinely embarrassed this time. She’d been too busy thinking of curls to weave her cape, to give it any thought at all.

Every Vernal Equinox, all Sidhe of Amora wove a new cape, using the silk of silkworms collected the previous Spring. This ancient tradition enhanced the flow of auspicious energy from one Spring into the next. It was supposed to be fun, as well as useful, but Mae found it boring.

“I’ll get Brom to come by, Mae,” Fernseea suggested, frowning at Iris pointedly.

Even Fern thought Iris was becoming a bit much, Mae couldn’t help notice.

“You can do it together,” Fern encouraged. “ I don’t think he’s gotten very far with his either.”

“Brom’s back?” Mae was dumbfounded.

Rumour had it that Brom wouldn’t be home this Spring, that he hadn’t completed his studies to a high enough standard. Mae thought he’d still be in the Outer Regions. Vividly, she’d imagined him, picking herbs, planting tomatoes, chanting the same lame incantation over and over until the Sages were satisfied. She’d even laughed to herself as she’d pictured him, aching to the bone with boredom.

It would have served him right! After all, they were supposed to be best friends, and yet, he’d completely ignored her for three whole seasons. Not a single message. Not a leaf, nor a feather, or even a few words through his sister, Fern. And now he was back, and he hadn’t even let her know! He’d never do that if she had curls!

“Yes, he’s at the Dome House, watching the little ones,” Fern was saying. “He’s just back for the Festival. He has more work to do. It’s not that he isn’t clever. He’s just not quite there yet.”

Fern had always justified Brom’s behaviour as something to do with being the youngest in her family. She’d say that he’d never had to properly look out for himself, let alone another, with his mother always fussing, and his father always so proud of the slightest insignificant thing. And everyone could see that Fern had been like Brom’s maid servant for most of his life.

But forcing Brom to take responsibility by becoming her keeper? What was Fern thinking?

“Fernseea, it will be so…, awkward,” Mae pleaded. “Besides, I’ll be the one looking after him, not the other way around!”

“Well, you can look out for each other then. It will do you both good!”

With that, the three older girls departed, out the door, up the three steps, onto the short, curved path, towards the Dome House. Assembled in the Grande Hall, of that grandiose manor, would be Sidhe of all ages. Young Sidhe would be waiting for help with their new capes. Even younger ones would be wriggling with excitement about their new bonnets and caps. With them would be any Sidhe old enough, and able enough, to lend a hand.

Except Mae. Watching the older girls until they were out of sight, Mae was relieved that she finally had the house to herself, at least for now. She had a spell to do. And one way or another, in spite of pretences about Sprites and threats of the Pit, she would see it through! She would no longer tolerate being a nothing no matter what the risk!


Chapter 5

BROM

He had the deepest green eyes, like pools of sea water, and burnished lips that seemed to attract enormous amounts of kissing…

Unlocking the lid to the storage pod was simple enough. Foster Father Gerani had a key too, kept in the timber chest where he stored his precious, time-worn carving tools. So, once again upside down, Mae foraged for the olde cloth she knew would be there, somewhere. While her hands were busy sensing their way through a hoard of fabric, Mae did allow thoughts of Brom to occupy the rest of her.

Like his sister, Fernseea, Brom was graced with gorgeous silken curls. Soft and dark, they were almost black, like the shadows beneath the Fat Oak. He had the deepest green eyes, like pools of sea water, and burnished lips that seemed to attract enormous amounts of kissing.

Well, once upon a time, anyway, from older Sidhe as they’d fussed and cooed. But not anymore.

That’s surely why he’d deserted her. Because he’d become a stigma too, because of her. For being her friend. For being the friend of the ugly anomaly, with the forever-straight hair. And now, even worse, the Evermore Curse.

As a Tiny One, cute had been the description, which had followed Brom wherever he went. Always the centre of attention, he’d bubbled with humour, confidence, and charisma. His mother, Saiffe, adored him. She’d often said that Brom’s mere presence would light a room, and that his smile would ease the most hardened hearts.

But Mae knew, too, that as Brom grew, and probably as he’d begun to spend more time with her, no-one noticed his lips, or his smile, or his beguiling look. In fact, to anyone beyond his immediate family, and of course her, Brom had become, in effect, invisible.

Nevertheless, regardless of how others saw him, Brom had been the most important person in her life. At first, he’d just been a familiar face - someone to splash with well water, and to hide with under cushions while eavesdropping on adults’ conversation. But as they’d grown they’d planned more outings outside of family gatherings. Together, they’d become lost in time and other worlds.

Hours they’d spent, collecting insects from the old Bug Tree beside the Well of Wishes. One by one, they’d placed the tiny, iridescent bugs in their borrowed Pales. Then, leaning against the Well, they’d studied each tiny creature, carefully, gently. Afterwards, having returned each one unharmed to their Bug Tree home, they’d wandered into the woods where they’d foraged for berries until their bellies were round, and almost bursting.

Sometimes, then, they’d meandered down Liana Way, to visit the beauty and sanctity of Luminous Hollow. There, they’d dozed in the dappled light under the massive canopy of the Festival Tree. Occasionally, they’d tried to read each other’s minds, just like Brom could do at times with his sister Fernseea. On more energetic days, they’d played at being heroes, saving Amora from grave dangers, such as the wrath of Esor - a fearsome beast bound in Amora’s mythology, except when conveniently morphed into reality by older Sidhe, for their fire-side story telling.

Last Summer, though, when Brom went away for his studies, things changed. The only smidgeon of news Mae had received of him was that he might be failing. That morsel she’d overheard, eavesdropping, while Fossy shared her gleanings with Primula. For Fossy’s niece had sent leaf mail on every evening breeze. Otherwise, there’d been nothing.

Had Brom completely moved on from their friendship? Had he found someone else? Someone acceptable?

Brom knew her better than anyone. What they’d shared had been dependable and sure. Even more than that, before Brom had left for his studies, Mae was fairly certain that he liked her. But then…, nothing. Now she wasn’t sure at all, about any of it.

What would she do without him? If she had to survive, not just three seasons, but evermore, without him? Without the one person who seemed to accept her for who she was? In spite of being the anomaly no-one trusted or liked? The anomaly banned from having a purpose, and tagged with the meaningless, noxious label - Chosen One!

What in all Amora was a Chosen One anyway? Chosen to be lonely, and miserable, and purposeless forever? Is that what it was?

Everyone else in Amora knew their purpose, from the tiniest New One to the oldest of the Ancients. It had been foretold before their birth. They grew up with the confidence and surety of it, and the place it gave them in Sidhe society.

Iris had always known that she’d be Sidhe Consort one day, destined to manage and organise all the Sidhe of Amora, including even the Olde Ones and the Sages wherever they might be, at any particular time. Jazmin would become an Empath, sensing and even expanding the feelings and thoughts of others. Eventually, with guidance and good living, she could become a Shapeshifter like her mother, Starr. She would not only sense and absorb from others, but when necessary, take their form too.

Fernseea would be a Shaman, at least of the physical realm, but potentially, as she developed, of ethereal matters as well. There was a fervent hope that Fern would become the next Oracle of Amora, able to foresee and foretell all the precious prophecies that drove Amora’s future.

As for Brom, when he finally embraced his destiny, he would become an Aura Master. With that power, he could, if necessary, contain, control, and even destroy, the darkest, strongest energy of another. So, as disappointing as he was to all at this moment, Brom was predestined to become the hero of their childhood imaginings.

But Mae felt that her purpose, her destiny, was just an empty tag, concealed in inaccessible recesses of whispers, hushed conversations, and knowing looks. Her access to it was cosseted in constant vigilance about what she could or could not do, in every area of her life.

That’s how it had always been, at least until her sixteenth birthday. For that was when Mae had discovered a purpose of her own. No, it was nothing about being a Chosen One, but instead, about curling her hair. About proving to everyone in Amora, including Brom, that she was just like them. All she had to do now was find the olde cloth. Then, at last, she’d truly belong, and surely, too, Brom would like her again.

Suddenly, from within Olicea’s hoard of tangled textures, a tingling sensation caught the attention of Mae’s left hand. Filled with expectation, she had the strongest sense that her search was over.


Chapter 6

CLOTH & DREAMS

The cloth had come true. Now maybe her dreams would too.

Easing herself backwards, Mae extricated herself from the storage pod.

“I found it!” she squealed the moment she’d set eyes upon it. “I knew it would be here!”

Mae draped the olde cloth across her lap, caressing it, almost lovingly, like she would a cat asleep. In its sleeping state, it tempted admiration of every nuance, closely, serenely. It had an energy of its own, this olde cloth. Mae could feel it, like it was alive.

To look at it though, it was just a piece of linen, once white, Mae supposed, but now, yellowed by time. A few brown specks, like freckles, were scattered here and there. Indisputable signs these were of the cloth’s age, and the length of its confinement in the storage pod.

But reverie could entice no more time from her. Firstly, Mae looked out all the windows, in every direction, to ensure no-one was approaching. While she was well aware that Brom could arrive at any moment, she felt she could handle him, in spite of doubts about the state of their friendship. As for others, she hoped that preoccupations with the Festival of Veils would keep them away, especially Iris. Thankfully, from what she could see, everyone was busy with their own busyness, leaving her, to hers.

Reverently, Mae carried the olde cloth into her bedroom. All that separated the outside world, from this small one, was a thin, silk curtain. A recent acquisition since she’d turned sixteen, it was a flimsy piece of privacy really. Regardless, Mae drew it across the full length of the arched doorway. Besides being all she had, she liked it. Embroidered with rosebuds and petals, it seemed appropriate, her birth mother’s name being Rose. Somehow, it allowed Mae to imagine, at least, that Rose was close, and watching over her.

Simply furnished, Mae’s bedroom held a single sized bed, which rested against the wall it shared with her doorway. A dainty oval table, with a matching four-legged stool, hugged the curved corners on the far side.

The bedroom walls were a pasty green, otherwise known as mint - Foster Mother Olicea’s choice, of course. Mae would have preferred blue for her bedroom, like the perfect sky of a mid-autumn morning. But all the walls in Olicea’s home were mint green, as that colour calmed her, Olicea had explained many times.

The wall above Mae’s bedhead held a mural, painted by Foster Father Gerani. Depicted was a forest scene, similar to the forests, which lapped the edges of many of Amora’s glades and hollows. In the centre of the painting, amongst the gentle ferns and giant firs, stood a tiny domed hut, topped with a lopsided peaked roof. To Mae, that tiny house resembled a rosebud. Drenched in wild rose tendrils, it was heavy with blossom from doorsill to chimney top. Just looking at the velvety lushness of their pinks and reds and creams, Mae could almost smell the heady scent of their perfume.

Something in Mae felt very close to that little rose house, as if she knew it beyond its place in this mural, from long ago perhaps, or from a dream. And now, more than ever, at this momentous juncture, its power called to her. More compellingly than usual, it seized her heart, urging her to succeed.

Between the bed and the mint green of the back wall, was a clear space. Mae would use it to prepare her cloth. Sitting back on her haunches on the soft, moss carpeted floor, Mae spread the aged cloth before her, respectfully, almost ceremoniously.

Carefully, she extracted a tiny piece of magick from her pocket, a most precious piece she’d managed to salvage, when sweeping the floors of the Dome House. Rubbing it into the palms of her hands, its magickal essence tingled on her skin. She was ready to begin. The cloth had come true. Now maybe her dreams would too.

As Mae waved the magick of her hands over the olde cloth, all the wrinkles and deep creases fell away into the cotton thread of its weave. But Mae was careful not to erase the freckled specks of tannin stain. These were precious, in fact essential, to power the magick which was about to begin.

“Cut,” Mae instructed the magick with her mind, as she waved her hand backwards and forwards across the cloth.

Slowly, neatly, the magick began to cut the olde cloth into long strips. Soon, on the soft floor beside her, was a pile of linen ribbon.

Reverently, Mae lifted her precious bundle, carrying it to the oval table in the corner. Sitting on the stool before it, she adjusted the looking glass before her. It was a beautiful piece, this mirror - belonging to Olicea. In fact, it was so precious that Mae knew she would not have use of it, if Olicea had been home. For the wooden stand, which held its glass upright upon the table, was another artistic creation of Gerani’s. It was the last piece he’d carved before he became Ethereal Essence. Now, Mae had been told, he was joined with the energy of the Ancients, in the Cavern of Secrets.

As precious as this piece was, Mae didn’t feel the least bit bothered, about borrowing such an item, with such a special meaning. She had need of it, and had taken it. This was becoming her new way of doing and being - her new way to survive.

Gazing into the looking glass, Mae brushed her hair, chanting her Words rhythmically with every brushstroke. These were the Words given to her for her sixteenth birthday, the Words which came with Dead of Winter, and which would entice the Ancient Ones and the Ancient Magick to concede to her will.

Ancient Ones to thee I pray,

May Ancient Magick be today.

Let your power have its way.

Bless this spell for your faer Mae.

Break a curse bestowed at birth.

Break a curse that has no worth.

Quash the will of the Olde Ones too.

By Ancient Magick make rules new.

Quietly in secret deep,

From the sight of the Olde Ones keep.

Ancient Ways, hear my demands.

Ancient Lore, heed my commands.

As was the way, Mae said these Words three times through, thoroughly brushing her hair as she did so. Finally, she sealed her spell with the binding Words.

By the power of the Ancients,

By the power of me,

For the good of all,

So mote it be.

With the ritual Words completed, Mae ceased her brushing. Now she was ready to dampen her hair. Delicately, Mae retrieved a tiny bottle of dewdrop spray from its hiding place beneath her bed. Left to her by her mother, Rose, it was passed on secretly, by Gerani.

For a few precious moments, Mae held the priceless piece between both her palms. It was as if she was sharing this special moment with the mother she hardly knew, but who she missed so much. And while the contents of such a miniature container seemed hardly enough to coat so much hair, Mae had barely begun to spray, when every strand of her long white hair was moistened.

Immediately, she separated a long, thin lock of hair. Delicately, she picked up a strip of linen ribbon, winding her hair around and around this strip of cloth, all the way from her scalp to the end of her hair. Then she wound what was left of the cloth back over the band of hair, all the way to her scalp. Then she tied it off.

Repeating the process, one piece of ribbon at a time, Mae soon became so adept it was almost automatic. She did laugh, though, at the image she saw in the mirror. It looked like her hair had been injured, and was in need of bandages.

“Whoah, you look a fright!” a voice jumped at Mae, making her jump as well.

It was Brom, turned up finally, sneaking in, just for the amusement of startling her. And sounding just like the old days. He’d pushed the silk curtain to one side. Mae could see him, his reflection, without having to turn around.

Tall now, and toned, he filled her doorway. Looking directly at her, he held her through the mirror. He held her warmly, with his broad beam of a perfect smile, and those deep green pools of his eyes. Not the gawky teenager of last Spring, thought Mae. And she felt a twinge of something she hadn’t felt before.


Chapter 7

LORES

There’s been a coming of age…, some shift in energy.”

Now Mae was confused about how to behave towards Brom - how to feel about him. Was he so insensitive that he thought it was nothing? That he could ignore her entirely for three full seasons? And yet, here he was, acting as if he’d seen her yesterday - literally wrapping her in his warm smile, and holding her safely with his eyes.

His curls had been clipped short, she noticed. And he was wearing the garb of the Outer Regions - heavy brown linens, loose fitting. His rough sewn cloak was held by the hood tie at his neckline, pushed back from his shoulders. They revealed a new strength, those shoulders - in spite of the baggy robe, which masked them.

Tied at his waist was a green cord cincture, replacing the beige rope belt of the beginner student. So, he’d passed, but just scraped through. That’s why he was due to return. He needed remediation. When he was ready for initiation, to get into serious studies, it would be a red cincture around his waist.

“So, you think I look a fright do you? Thanks for the compliment!” Mae kept her tone as casual as she could manage. Then she looked away.

“I thought it would be awkward, you know, inappropriate,” were his next words to her. “If I sent you something.”

Mae caught his eyes again.

“Yeah, Fern had a word,” he said, lowering his head a little.

He was still looking at her through the mirror, but a little sideways. He had this half guilty, half cheeky smile on his face. Mae forced herself to ignore it. It was Brom’s way of trying to be cute, so he could squirm his way out. Rather, she got straight to the point.

Inappropriate? I thought we were best friends, Brom. You’ve been the only friend I’ve ever had, and vice versa. Until you went away at least.

“You ignored me for three whole seasons! How could sending me a feather or a leaf be inappropriate? It’s not like I’d be expecting a dragonfly - or even a moth!”

“I know, I know,” he said, his head down now, towards the floor. “But Mae, I’d just turned sixteen. And you hadn’t yet.” And he shot her a weird look.

What?” Mae was smiling now. At last she was on his wavelength. In an instant, months of pining and whining were gone. “Impropriety? Betrothals? Really? Brom Eliad, you surprise me. I never realised you were so old fashioned.”

“Not me, Mae!” he denied a little too empathically. “But you know what my parents are like,” he defended.

“Well, if your parents are so traditional, and so attached to the letter of the Lore, now that we’re both turned sixteen, there’s nothing improper to worry about. And nothing so serious as promises to worry about either, surely. We each have a sibling ahead of us. You have Fern, and I have Iris. So we’re safe.”

“Do you think Iris will count for you, Mae? She is only a foster sister.”

“Well, I think if Iris has her way, it will more than count. There’s no way Iris would stand for me doing anything ahead of her - even the most subtle debut - no matter how abhorrent the thought of claiming me as a sister might be for her.”

Brom laughed. “Yeah, you’re right. Best or first at everything, for her, heh? And I can’t imagine her giving up her independence too soon.”

“No, me neither. She’d hate it. If he was strong and decisive, she’d feel threatened. If he was a pandering wimp, she’d be embarrassed and humiliated. So we’re pretty safe for now, I’d say, on my part. Iris will never find a suitor suitable!”

“So all I have to do is keep Fern busy - looking after me and my antics? So she’ll be too busy to think of herself?”

“Is that why you flunked at Initiation Studies, Brom? So she’d be too busy tutoring you or something?”

No. And as you can see,” he gestured with open arms, to highlight the green cincture, “I didn’t flunk, as you put it. Just didn’t pass well enough.

“It was hard to focus…,” he said meaningfully, as he walked towards her.

He stood behind, looking into her eyes, his broad smile deepening his dimples. Mae tried to ignore the leap her pulse made, that split second when their eyes first caught each other. But this time, she didn’t look away.

“And you know you’re not supposed to be making curls, Mae, don’t you?” he said to her, half joking, half serious.

Brom was toying with her hair now, teasing her. But Mae found herself taken aback. This spell certainly wasn’t some common, everyday Working.

“How do you know that’s what I’m doing? Fern gossiping?” she pushed him.

He grinned in reply.

She let it slide, making light of it instead. “What? You scared Brom? Worried a Sprite might jump through the window and snatch you away?”


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