Peer Review by Aquila (United States)

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The Alder King

By: -RoamingSonder-

The beauty of the gardens took her breath away.  Towering oak trees stretched towards the evening sky, and a wicker arch marked the entrance to a veranda overlooking the Faerie Wood. The smooth stone path gave her even ground to walk upon, which helped to ease the pain of her leg. Her metal cane clicked with each step. The Faerie escorts paused by the arch. A glee she had long buried bubbled in her throat at the sight of flowers tucked within the woven branches. Winter's harsh weather didn't allow for such plants to flourish. Meabh lifted her free hand to touch the white carnations, and she smiled at the pink peonies that blossomed overhead. A refreshing spring breeze blew through the garden, pushing her bangs back from her face. The heat put a rosy flush to her cheeks.

The Alder King stood by the railings, his long fingers tapping upon the carved stone. She didn't want to stare too long at the seam of his glamour where it wavered on his fingertips. Ignorance appealed more to her than witnessing the mighty king without his human guise. He turned to look at her, hazel eyes untouched by the lights floating in the air around him, "Mortal," he greeted. Despite the familiar strangled feeling creeping up her throat at the sight of him, she dipped her head.

"My king."

She had never seen him look so dressed down. A golden circlet shaped like branches replaced the usual crown upon his brow, laden with diamonds and emeralds. He'd swapped out his green patterned tunic for a russet one, and the brown coat he wore was modest and plain. Intricate braids ran through his dark auburn hair, pulled back to display his angled face better. The rest of the untamed waves were tousled by the wind.

Joining him, her mouth dried at the sight of the sprawling Faerie Wood. Beneath the thick canopy lay bloodthirsty gentry who would rip her apart. They had abandoned mimicking human mannerisms, embracing the primitive nature of the Fae. The Alder King had told her before that she was free to leave, but she could only do so through that forest. She had also heard stories of those who displeased the king being sent there to their deaths. The Wild Hunt were merciless, ruthless, and wholly loyal to their king; a mortal had never left its clutches alive.

A shiver ran the length of her spine, her heart hammering in her ribcage. She would be courteous, or die.

"Do you know why I invited you to speak with me?" He asked, bringing Meabh's attention back to him. After a moment's reflection, she shook her head. The Alder King's lips twitched upward into a vicious smirk, it held veiled malice and cruelty. "Your intentions are not the same as your peers."

Surprise and dread bottomed her stomach, knuckles turning alabaster as her grip tightened on her cane. He fixed her with a pointed, knowing look. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she murmured, "I... I suppose that's a way to put it." Blinking, she ran a hand through her fiery braid, tugging on the pearl-embellished hair tie.

"You are not the first Tadgh has brought to my court, the pest believes himself to be a political mastermind of sorts," the Alder King said, tone drenched with scorn, his hand balled into a fist, "but you have subverted my expectations. Instead of asking me to replenish Winter's coffers, or settle the skirmish between the courts, you requested of me a single coin." When he opened his palm, Meabh gasped at the golden circle glittering there. Her gaze darted to his. "You ignored Winter's wishes, so why ask such for such a meagre gift, why not more?"

All of a sudden, the temperature seemed to rise, pressing upon her chest like a weight. Meabh stammered, "I-I was buying time..." trailing off, her cheeks flushed a darker shade of scarlet. "I was, am, furious that he sent me here, and I wasn't convinced you'd find my inventions worthy of your goodwill; I considered the summons as a punishment, perhaps."

At first, Meabh thought the king would throw her to the Hunt. He was silent, with a contemplative tilt to his head. She began praying for a swift, painless death. Then he flipped the coin through his fingers, observing the light bouncing off of it, almost admiring the way it flashed. "I find it rather fascinating that you'd doubt you inventions. They are quite exquisite."

"Yes, but you've had talented painters who could capture your likeness exactly, tailors who could make the most beautiful, flattering garments imaginable, and dancers who could mesmerise those who watch them. Why would you need my craft?" She argued, brows creasing.

"I don't," the royal shrugged, "but I find it intriguing. You take scrap metal and make it bend to your will; you create brass creatures that appear to breath, that fly; that's impressive." The coin danced over his knuckles, "And you, you fascinate me. So terrified, yet so defiant. You don't cower, nor do you grovel or outright rebel. I see cunning within you, it relies on underestimation and arrogance from those around you. You're older beyond your years, mortal, and it intrigues me," his irises sparkled with amusement. The harsh curve of his mouth softened into something that almost resembled kindness, and he extended his hand. "Take it. It is spelled for protection against enchantments, and, if thrown into a well, will bring you back here."

Disbelief and suspicion told her not to trust him. She had never been one for recklessness, forever the cunning one, just as he'd proposed. Cautious.

The Fae couldn't lie, but they could twist the truth. however, looking up at the Alder King, she saw an inkling of herself reflected there; guarded, yet honest. Bored with the life he was stuck in. He didn't have any reason to deceive her.

Against every warning she'd ever been given, she took the coin.

Hope you liked! This is an excerpt from a novel I'm writing. It's a story based specifically on Irish mythology and folklore, and has some steampunk-esque elements thrown in, such as Meabh being an inventor who works with enchanted metals to create things.

Message to Readers

I would love for some constructive critique!

Pronunciation guide:

Meabh - Maeve or May-v

Tadgh - Tag or Tau-gh

Peer Review

The mysteries of the Faerie wood and the beautiful descriptions caught my attention right away.

I definitely wanted to know more about Meabh. I wanted to know why she asked for a single coin. Another character that I found interesting was the Alder King and why he gave her an enchanted coin. Overall, the characters in this story were well-developed and interesting to read about!

I was a little confused at why Meabh couldn’t leave. Was it because the Alder King liked her inventions? The story mentioned that the Wild Hunt would hurt any mortal that would cross through the forest, and that Meabh was free to leave, but she wouldn’t, for fear of getting hurt.

Another part that I found slightly confusing was the mention of Winter. Is Winter a city/town or does it refer to the season?

This is a really well-written piece! It isn’t easy to write a story in 1,000 words, but I think you did an amazing job!

Reviewer Comments

I really liked the way this world was portrayed in this piece! The vivid descriptions and intriguing characters captured my attention from the start! The beautiful prose was definitely one of the highlights of this piece! Good job!