I decided that I didn't really trust the people running the place, at least not enough to ask about Mia. Besides, Mia was tough when she wanted to be. If she was really in big trouble, I'm certain there'd be a stampede of lions coming up the road to save her.
So I decided to search for her on my own.
I looked up at the Ferris Wheel off in the distance and started down the path towards it. Mia had said she'd wanted games and rides, so that's where I'd head to first.
The part of the park with rides was past the part with the tents. Some of the tents were open at the sides and clearly meant to keep people shady while they enjoyed a performance. Others were closed like circus tents, and I had no idea what they were for, except possibly other shows. A lot of the performance areas were empty; the place had a strict schedule of shows from what I gathered on the posters stapled around the place. The only one currently going on was a man juggling knives while the audience laughed. I scanned the crowd, which were sitting on bales of hay instead of actual chairs, just in case Mia had decided to stop for a show. No luck there, so I quickly moved on.
A little down the way from the show was one of the enclosed tents. Unlike the other enclosed ones I'd passed, which had been zipped up closed, this one was open. Curious, I peered into the tent.
There was a stage at the front, and chairs everywhere else, and three enormous boxes covered in blankets and tied with rope near the front-- some sort of gigantic stage props, I thought. But there were no people, and I was about to leave when I heard the sound of a girl crying.
I listened for a moment, to make sure I'd actually heard it.
"Mia?" I whispered, stepping further into the tent. I didn't see her anywhere, but the crying grew louder the deeper into the tent I went. "Mia?" I said a little more loudly.
I heard a small gasp, and the crying stopped.
"Hello?" I said. I went to the stage. The crying had come from this direction, I was sure of it. "Is anyone here?"
Nobody answered, but I could still hear sniffling. I was pretty sure by this point that the crying was coming from the boxes. I climbed onto the stage and-- yup, another gasp, like they'd heard me coming.
"It's okay," I said. The blankets were tied on, and from the front it had looked like a complicated web, but someone had wanted easy access; in the back, there was just a single knot holding the sides together. I undid it easily, and the netting parted like a curtain.
The blanket was heavier than I'd thought, and it felt as though it were filled in with sand instead of stuffing. I wound up crawling beneath it, which had the advantage of keeping me hidden in case anyone walked I just then.
Then I got a good look at the person in the cage.
Her hair was silver. Not old lady gray, but shining, almost metal-looking silver. She wore a white dress that reminded me a little of a hospital gown, and on her back were a set of enormous, white wings. She scrambled to the far corner of the cage and curled up on herself, shielding herself with her arms.
"Oh my god." I said. "Are you okay?"
"No, don't-- I'm not gonna-- it's okay! I'm Jacob."
She stared at me with enormous silver eyes. "What?" she said, her voice still thick from crying.
"I'm Jacob. I'm not part of the carnival. Did they put you there? Do you wanna get out of there? "
"Out?" she said. She scooted forward. "You'll help me leave?"
I was already turning around and seizing handfuls of heavy blanket. At the very least, it would have to go so I could find the door to the cage.
I yanked and pulled, and when that didn't seek to do anything, I took a page out of Mia's book and just walked forward, still holding on. With all of my weight behind it, even when I angled so I was almost not even standing anymore, just being held up by the blanket, it was still slow going.
But eventually, it came down, blankets and netting all. The pile fell to the stage with a heavy, hollow thunk. I turned to the door, breathing hard and feeling a little flush in the face.
"Uh?" I said. The lock on the door was made of leaves; different kinds and colors all twisted and folded together in a strange wreath that was looped around the bard of the door and the bars of the cage.
"It's magic," she said. "It's made to stop me from being able to get out."
I touched the lock. It felt like leaves. . .
I squeezed the wreath, and the leaves crumbled to pieces. I let the bits fall through my fingers, and the girl stared at me.
"How did you do that?" she said, grabbing hold of the bars.
"It was just leaves," I said.
I helped her out, surprised by how tall she was when she stood up.
"What's your name?" I said.
She gave me a pained look. "I don't know," she said. "They call me Bird. I had a different one, but I don't remember it anymore."
I stopped just as we were about to leave the tent. "I need to find my sister," I said. "I think she's at the rides, but you can fly, right? You can just fly out of here and we can meet out outside the park."
"I can't," Bird said. "I don't know how."
"But you have wings!"
"They made me forget how," she said.
"Who?" I said. "The. . the people who work here?"
"Yes," she said. "The sidhe."
I blinked. "She-who?"
it was Bird's turn to look confused. "No, the sidhe. The people here. Ah. The fair folk?"
And it was like all the foggy, empty spaces in my head filled in.
"Fairies!" I shouted. "They're all fairies!"
"Yes," Bird said, uncertainly. "Are you alright?"
I could feel a headache coming on. "I couldn't think of the word earlier. I couldn't even really talk about it."
"Magic," she said. "You were probably enchanted when you entered the fair."
"I- ugh. Okay, let me think. . . Okay, how about I go with you, we run to the exit, and when you're out, you can hide and I'll come back for my sister Mia, and then we can all go to my house. How does that sound?"
We stepped out of the tent, and I half expected an army of fairy security to immediately chase us, but nothing really happened. Nobody at the show going on paid us any attention. When we went back through the shops area, a lot of the salespeople gave us funny looks, and a few looked like they wanted to go after us, but none of them tried to stop us.
"They can't leave the stalls," Bird said. "Not unless they're helping a guest, or someone of higher rank allows them." She looked around, frowning. "I'm surprised the guards haven't come to stop us, though."
We were turning the corner, almost near the exit, when I realized why none of the guards had bothered chasing us. They were all gathered at the entrance to the park-- at least a couple dozen elves in shiny medieval-style armor. They hung around, a few of them attentive and scanning the crowd, but most of them were leaning against the railing, looking bored. Clearly they weren't too concerned about us-- and why would they be? I was a kid, and Bird couldn't fly.
"Nope," I said, grabbing Bird's hand and turning around. "Not that way. let's see if we can find Mia." Maybe she could teleport us out or something.
We passed the market way again-- scowled and glowered at the entire way by any of the staff that weren't distracted by customers, and back into the show area. The juggling show looked like it was just ending, and Bird and I hurried through, not wanting to be caught up in the rush when people left their seats.
The rides section of the fair would probably have disappointed Mia. They were all little-kid stuff-- really little kid stuff. Stuff for toddlers and their moms. The most interesting things were the ferris wheel and a really slow teacup style ride where you had to turn the cups yourself. . . which was exactly where we found her, waiting in line and looking irritated.
"I could make better rides than this," she said, not bothering to say hi or ask where I'd been. "I did make a better ride than this! My merry go round would eat these teacups."
"Mia, we have to go," I said. "You have to get us out of here."
Mia blinked at Bird, apparently noticing her for the first time. "Hi," Mia said. "Your wings are pretty."
"Thank you," Bird said.
"This is Bird, and we have to get her out of here--"
And then loudspeakers crackled to life somewhere above us, and a voice said, "Attention staff, all staff members not currently engaged with attending to guests may intervene at their leisure in apprehending any escaping birds that come to their attention."
"Oh no," said Bird, "Oh no, that was the owner. They're going to be coming for us now!"
And as she spoke, one of the teacup ride operators started heading in our direction.
"Mia, get us out of here!"
"I'm trying!" Mia said. "It's not working! I don't know why!"
"Hey, kids!" said the operator. "Don't move."
We ran. I grabbed Mia's hand and Bird sprinted along side us, down the way. More and more staff members were leaving their posts ad coming towards us.
"We have to go out the front," Bird said. "They've probably magick'd the area."
""magic?" panted Mia.
"They're fairies," I said.
"Oh!" She stopped running and slapped her head. "That's why their ears are pointy!"
"Come on, come one!" I tugged her hand. "Will you be able to make them leave the entrance? There was a bunch of them guarding it before."
Mia frowned, giving the same expression she did whenever she was doing math homework. I was about to ask what she was doing, when an elephant trumpet filled the air.
Mia beamed. "There we go."
"What did you--?"
Then people screamed. Bird, Mia, and I all fled tp the side of the walkway as a stampede of guests barreled through, followed by another stampede of tigers, gazelles, zebras, and one elephant. We stopped running and watch the wreckage the animals left behind; they made to attempt to avoid the stalls or rides or games or anything else; some of them peeled away from the stampede specifically to go crashing through structures and tearing up the things inside.
"Mia?" I said.
"I asked the animals on my merry go round to be alive," she said. "I told them they could squish as many fairies as they wanted."
A small pride of lions approached us, and Mia went to them, offering her hand as though they were dogs she were introducing herself to. The lions sniffed and licked her, then did the same for Bird and me. One lion I thought I recognized as the one I'd ridden on earlier was particularly affectionate and kept headbutting my chest. I scratched his ears, and his tail wagged like a dog, and he began panting happily.
"Lions don't act like this," I said.
"I don't know how lions act," Mia said.
We headed for the exit with our escort of lions. Around us, the entire carnival was devolving into chaos. Monkeys were tearing down banners and clusters of them were grappling with staff members. One staff member had his arms wrapped around a tiger's neck, but the tiger didn't notice and continued gnawing on the leg of another staff member. Another elephant walked through a line of stalls, destroying merchandise and scattering another group of staff. Above us, flocks of black birds cawed and landed on the tops of the undemolished shops, pecking at the tarps. Some landed on the ground and stole the shiner bits of debris.
And despite all that, there were still a handful of guards at the exit waiting for us.
"Oh come on!" I said.
Among the guards was a tall, dark haired man in a suit that was patterned to look like leaves. He scowled when he saw us and held his hand up, stopping the guards from just charging us. The lion next to me growled at him, sounding exactly like a dog.
Then, completely ignoring me and Bird, he said to Mia, "Stop your animals."
"Let us out first and I will."
The man's frown deepened.
"This entire locale was established by the Autumn Court of the Tuatha de Danaan months ago for our purposes. If you had issue with it, you should have attended the Seelie-Unseelie requisition hearing."
Mia put her hands on her hips and said haughtily, "I don't know what those words mean."
"We just want to leave," I said. "And we're taking Bird with us."
"No, you aren't. Bird," said the man. "Return to your tent."
And Bird let out a strangled whimper and turned around. She started walking away.
"No, wait," I said, grabbing her hand.
"I have to," she said, voice cracking. "He has my name."
"It's no use, boy. Let her go back to her post. And you young lady," he said to Mia. "Will need a long conversation about the laws of hospitality." He snapped his fingers, and the exit to the fair grounds just. . . vanished. One minute, there was the big opening and the ticket booth from earlier, and the next there wasn't; it was just more of the painted wooden walls. The handful of armored guards still there laughed.
Bird was still trying to pull away from me, and above us, the black birds were still cawing.
"That's not fair!" Mia said. "Put it back!"
"What's wrong?" the man sneered. "Can't put it back yourself?"
"Mia!" I yelled, still trying to drag Bird back. "Mia, Bird's name isn't Bird!"
Both Mia and the man stopped to look at me. "Huh?" said Mia.
"Bird's the fake name they gave her. She needs a new one."
"Don't you dare--" started the man.
"Dove," Mia said immediately. "Her name is Dove."
And then Dove collapsed, sobbing.
Above us, the black birds started chanting, "Dove! Dove! Dove!"
The guards stopped laughing, and started coming for me and Dove. "Mia!" I shouted. "Are those your birds?"
And then a large black raven landed in front of us on the ground.
"Best wishes from the Raven King," he said.
And then all the ravens in the air flew down over us, cawing and cackling. The swooped around us, driving Mia and me close together, huddled over Dove. They flew closer and closer, around and around, nearly slapping us with their wings, until all I could see was the black of their feathers. The wind picked up as they flew, whipping Mia's hair into my arm and making our scarves untangle, and when I was about to shout for them to stop, two enormous bird claws came from the whirlwind of black and picked the three of us up, wrapping all the way around our backs and bellies.
Then we were in the air. I know we were; I felt my feet dangling, and that unmistakable rushing-up feeling you get from roller-coasters. But all I could see were the ravens and Mia, and the white of Dove's wings.
It was over as fast as it happened. One second, Mia and I were dangling in the air, the next, we were dropped onto dusty ground, piled onto the dirt. Dove yelped; Mia had fallen onto one of her open wings, and we all scrambled away from one another.
We were in the dead and scrubby courtyard of a dilapidated looking castle, and we weren't alone. A boy a few years older than me was standing in the dead grass, sunning himself. On his back were two enormous black wings, fully opened and spread out, the sunlight giving them a blueish sheen. he stopped and grinned when he saw us, and immediately ran to help us up.
"I'm so happy you could make it after all," he said. "I was so worried when the messengers mentioned you were going to the Autumn Court's fair. You must be Mia! And you must be Jacob! I've heard of your work! And you--" he stopped short, as though noticing Dove for the first time. He wasn't the only one staring; all the ravens were on the ground, watching her too.
"Oh," he said after a moment. "H-hello. I don't believe I've heard of you."
"She's from the carnival!" Mia said brightly. "I don't know why, but she wanted to come with us. But I don't blame her because those guys were jerks."
"I'm Dove," Dove said.
And then the two said nothing else for several long seconds.
"What is it?" Dove said, gesturing to the still ravens. "Did I do something wrong?"
The boy shook his head, face red. "No! No," he said. "You- you're fine. It's your hair, I think. It's very shiny." I didn't think it possible for his face to go any redder. "It's very pretty."
"Oh," said Dove. She swept her hair over her shoulder and examined it, like she hadn't noticed before. "Thank you. That's very kind."
"Your wings are pretty too," he said to the floor. "If you aren't busy later, would you like to go flying with me?"
"I. . . I don't know how," Dove said.
The boy looked up, clearly surprised. "But you--"
"They made her forget," I said.
"Oh that's why she was walking," said Mia. "I was wondering."
"Oh," the king said, hushed. "I'm so sorry. Does your family--?"
"They're gone," Dove said.
There was a few more seconds of silence long enough to be awkward before Mia said, "So where's the king at?"
The boy blinked. "Right here. I'm the king. uh." He gave a little bow to Mia and me, and a deeper one to Dove. "King of the Ravens, at your service." Then, like he was back on script and happy to be there, he said, "Please, come inside. You can tell me more about what happened today, and I can show you around. Are you hungry?"
"Yes!" we three said all at once.
The king barked a laugh. "Alright. Come on, everyone. This way."
He led us through the courtyard, through a broken set of enormous doors into the castle, then through a throne into another enormous room, and then another, but this one had a long dining table and dozens of chairs.
"Sit, sit down everyone. make yourselves comfortable."
We did. The king stood at the end of the table, making sure we are all settled in before saying, "Watch this."
He placed his palms flat on the table and closed his eyes.
Food blossomed from the center of the table out of literally nothing. Starting at the middle and expanding outward, food piled up into existence. There were no plates or platters, no bowls or utensils or anything else, just piles upon piles of French fries, chicken nuggets and strips, and unwrapped hamburgers. Even though they had been conjured in by magic, I recognized exactly what fast food place they had come from.
Mia's eyes lit up, and she immediately grabbed a handful of chicken nuggets.
"That's wonderful," Dove said, clapping her hands.
"Thanks," said the king.
Dove didn't seem too interested in eating the food, but she took a piece hamburger and examined it. Then she touched the table delicately. "Tables like this are very rare," she said. "Your family must have had very powerful sorcerers in their employ. May I try?"
"Of course," the king said, stepping back. "Uh, if any of you want this, come get it fast. It will disappear when new food shows up."
He hadn't even finished speaking when the ravens swooped in and began eating greedily. Some of the smarter ones knocked the food off the table, presumably so it wouldn't vanish with the rest of it. Mia, likewise, grabbed more nuggets and scooped up her shirt to hold them, and I helped myself to a cheeseburger.
Dove took position at the head of the table and did the same as the king had done.
Dove's banquet appeared with a little more grace than the king's had. Unlike the king's banquet, Dove's did have plates. Old looking wooden ones, and wooden forks with only two prongs, and wooden spoons-- all of which looked like they'd been carved out by hand. They appeared first all up and down the table. Then came the food. Half of it, I didn't recognize. I knew what the roasted boar in the middle platter was, and I knew the turkey and the pumpkin pies on either side of it. I recognized mashed potatoes, and I think a bowl of custard, but there were other mysterious meats, soups, and strange dishes that smelled wonderful but otherwise eluded me.
Dove squealed and clapped her hands. The king stared.
"What is all this?" he said, his voice hushed.
"It's food," said Dove. She'd grabbed a plate and was piling it high.
"I've never seen food like this before," he said. Tentatively, he reached for a delicate looking pastry on a tray near him. He sniffed it once, bit into it, and his eyes widened like a cat on nip. He stuffed the entire thing into his mouth, then went for more.
I dropped the hamburger to the floor (to the delight of a nearby raven) and started making a plate of my own.
"Don't you want any, Mia?" I said.
"Nah," she said. "I've got nuggets."
While we all ate, Dove explained between bites what she knew of the carnival and the fairies who ran it. She told us how she had been kidnapped by them when she was a little girl, how her family had all died long before that, and how the fairies hadn't even needed to trick anyone with a changeling to take her away. She finished talking about the same time we'd finished eating.
"I'm so sorry," the Raven King said. "Where will you go?"
'I. . . don't know," said Dove.
"You can stay with us," Mia said. "I don't think our mom will mind."
Dove smiled. "Thank you."
"Well," said the king, getting to his feet. "While you're all here, please allow me to give you a tour."
He led us through the great hall, and the throne room (which was also, apparently, a great hall), and past an abandoned kitchen, until finally reaching what he assured us was the best room in the castle, the library.
After seeing it, I couldn't argue. The library was huge, with wall-to-wall shelves and sofas, desks, and little tables in the middle for us to read at. The books on the shelves were impressive. These weren't the flimsy paperbacks or jacketed hardcovers like at school, these were real book. These were the kinds of books I'd pretended to have when I was little. Thick leather bound ones with gold inlays and pages that smelled like old. I picked one that looked particularly impressive and opened it up, wondering if it would even be in English.
It wasn't, but I looked through it anyways because there were pictures. Weird, stylized pictures like the artist didn't really know how to draw people, cats, or snails-- which were all inexplicably in a garden together. My eyes eased over the strange, foreign script, much of which didn't even look like the same alphabet as English, and as I did, I began to feel oddly relaxed.
The woman was a fairy, I knew. She was in love with a human, but her mother disapproved and turned him into a cat. I smelled the flowers from the garden, and felt a cool breeze come from the hills. I heard an old woman's voice in my ear speaking. The voice was quiet at first, but the more I looked through the words, the stronger it became. A young woman's voice began to speak as well, arguing against the old woman, and I knew it was the fairy lady making a case for her boyfriend.
"Are you okay?" Mia said, snapping me out of it.
I blinked. beside me, Dove was also waking up from her book.
"These books are very powerful," she said to the king, her voice hushed.
"Are they?' the king said. "I mean, I like them. That's good, right? Them being powerful?"
She smiled at him and handed the book back. "They're very nice," she said.
"Thanks!" His face took on a familiar pink hue. "You can read them, if you want. You-- you could read them here, or you could take them home to read them, or you could stay here and read them and we could read them together--"
She giggled, and then her face started going pink too.
"Do you want to see my favorites?" he said.
"I'd love to," she said.
He grinned and hurried to the wall of shelves. Without hesitation, he picked several books out, seemingly at random, and dropped them onto the couch. Then he went back for more, this time using the ladder to get to the next layer. Then he repeated the process again and again, each time visiting some other part of the library.
I settled on the couch and started reading, my eyes glazing over the strange books, taking in the stories and listening to the voice of the characters inside. it didn't matter that I didn't know the words, the stories unfolded directly into my mind.
Mia waddled over to the free sofa and, instead of reading, curled up for a nap.
It felt like we were at the Raven King's castle for only a little while before the sun began to set and it was time to go home. I shook Mia awake, and went to where the king and and Dove were sitting on one of the sofas together, poring over the same book.
"Mia and I should probably be leaving," I said.
"But I haven't even shown you the treasure room," he king said.
"It's getting late though, and our mom will be home soon."
The king sighed, but then smiled. "This just means you have to visit again some other time," he said.
"Are you coming with us, Dove?" Mia said.
Dove and the king smiled shyly at one another, and she shook her head. "We've discussed it, and I think I'd like to stay here for a while. So long as I'm welcome."
"Yes, of course!" said the king.
they stood up, and Dove came around to give Mia and me hugs.
"I'll have the ravens drop you both off at home," the king said as we walked for the exit. "When's the next time you're able to visit? I really would like to go flying with you all."
"Flying with us too?!" Mia said. "We could fly too?"
"Yes," said the king, smiling.
"I think we're good this weekend," I said. "Right Mia?"
"Yes!" Mia said.
And then we were at the great hall, and then the courtyard, and Dove was giving Mia one last goodbye hug, and the king and I were shaking hands, and the ravens left the leftover food in the dining hall long enough to come out and see us off--
And then we went home.
You got the Good Ending!