The Fallen City
It was beyond the sea with black waves that they found the Autumn Court waiting for them. In the ruins of a massive city still smoking and crumbling. The Phoenix landed and faeries scrambled out of their way, staring with unabashed curiosity as Ardi slid from the bird’s back and turned to help Sam climb down.
They were met by Nod the Saytr, who greeted Ardri with much joy and embraced him. Though really it had been only a short time since they’d parted, Ardri felt that Nod was somehow much older, his eyes sad, his shoulders drooped beneath a greater weight.
“And who is this?” asked Nod, turning to Sam with interest. “A servant? Perhaps a toy?”
Ardri felt himself stiffen. Perhaps once before he might have found such a question ordinary, normal even. But now... he’d seen how the humans lived. Their wonders, their questions, their hopes, their fears. He’d met Oliver, Andy, and of course, Sam. And there had been others too, others with lives that they deserved to live, lives that didn’t touch upon Faerie.
“No, he is my friend, my companion, and is very dear to me though I have only known him a short while. I have sworn an oath that I will do what I can to protect him and those others who came with him to our world.”
He met Nod’s eyes and the Satyr looked stunned for a moment before he was bowing and smiling, both to Ardri and to Sam. “My apologies, I meant no offense to you or your friend. If you are hungry we might offer food and drink, as well as baths to wash away the dust of your travels. Then, the Lord wishes to meet with you again. He wishes to bring you to the one who bears the Crown of Autumn,” he paused to glance at Sam. “Another human.”
Ardri nodded, there was no point in getting angry. Many of the Folk viewed humans as lesser, as merely toys or insects. It was a common enough view. “Both, I think, would be welcome. And set someone to watch for sky ships, we have more friends that are some ways behind us.”
This was accomplished in a very short time as Nod called over a guard, a Dryad who smiled kindly down at Ardri and Sam through the tangled weave of her dark green hair. Once she’d heard what they wanted, she agreed pleasantly and ordered two more guards, clearly she was a captain of some kind, to fulfill the duty. This finished, Nod led Sam and Ardri off through the city till they reached areas which were largely untouched. Clearly the dark armies simply hadn’t cared enough to raze everything to the ground, only targeting the palace and the richest public areas.
Residents had opened their doors to the refugees and offered them food and clothing and shelter, despite the state of their city and the disappearance of their Emperor and Empress.
Sam and Ardri found themselves being bustled into the home of an incredibly fat and grandfatherly elf, who immediately took to Sam and began chatting amiably with him about the Human world and people and places he’d met there.
Food was provided, safe enough for Sam to eat even here in Faerie, and Ardri forced himself to relax. He’d hoped to feel safer, more at ease. He once had felt that way among the Autumn Court. But it was as if seeing how dangerous the Faerie world could be for humans had opened his eyes to how dangerous and cruel it could be even to the Folk. Smiling and nodding along to the conversation, he couldn’t stop his eyes from darting every so often to the slowly darkening sky outside the windows.
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