Chasing the stag into the forest, Cedric knew he was entering forbidden land but, having caught no prey in three days, he was desperate. His captain often bellowed about wasting food on useless archers, even though their rations were already meagre at best. Cedric readied a bow as he pushed deeper into the forest.
He approached a clearing and saw with surprise that the stag was standing there, next to a maiden. Wondering why the stag did not fear her, Cedric watched them.
“Come out!” a voice commanded, and he found himself stumbling, unwillingly, into the clearing. The maiden turned and fixed violet eyes on him. Invisible hands forced him to his knees as he stared at the maiden with his mouth agape.
She was more beautiful than anything else he had ever seen. Her golden hair floated in the air like gossamer, and her strange eyes pierced through him like a cold fire, leaving his thoughts numb.
“The penalty of entering this forest is death. Surely you know that,” she spoke. “Why then did you trespass upon færie land?”
Cedric could not think of an answer. He could not think at all.
“Call the Council,” she told the stag, which bounded deeper into the forest to do her bidding. She stretched out her arms ‒ or what would have been arms on a human, for from her shoulders grew two pairs of translucent wings, like those of a dragonfly. She flew and perched in a nearby tree, her purple eyes still fixed on Cedric.
Soon the air hummed with the fluttering of many wings as the færie folk gathered around their prisoner. When they were all seated in the grass or the trees, his captor spoke.
“This human was found trespassing. By our laws, he should be executed. What form of death he will be given is to be decided by this Council.”
“Wait, my Queen Alaria,” came another voice, belonging to a white-haired woman. The færies turned to her in surprise. “Our laws say that such a human must not be permitted to return to his people, lest he tell them of us and they attack our realm. We have taken the lives of many humans that wandered here, but there is one other way in which the law may be fulfilled.”
“It is as you say,” Alaria conceded. “Our laws command that either the human be put to death, or he agree to become one of us.”
The old woman turned to Cedric. “If you should choose to become one of us, you will also be made invisible to human eyes. Do you wish to abide by our laws, or will you forfeit your life?”
Cedric tried to speak, stuttered, then managed to whisper, “I… I wish to… to live with you.” He gazed again at Alaria, the Færie Queen.
“Very well,” the woman said. “My Queen, I will care for this human.”
“As you wish,” Alaria acknowledged. “This Council is dismissed.”
The færie woman, Rechal, gave Cedric a potion that made him sleep. When he awoke, his arms had become wings. Rechal patiently taught him how to fly with his new limbs until he could make his way around the village.
The færies were hard workers, and Cedric was also expected to do his share for the village. Although they had no need for hunters ‒ and indeed, he could not have hunted at all with his wings ‒ Rechal taught him which berries were edible and how to collect them in baskets made of leaves by beating the branches with his new limbs.
From before dawn until noon, Cedric gathered berries. Every day, he took the ripest and sweetest of them to Queen Alaria’s dwelling place and left them at her door. When she walked among her people, he lingered at the edge of the færies that thronged her, hoping for a careless glance cast his way. Yet to her he was still a human, only permitted to live with her people. Rechal was saddened, knowing that Cedric loved the Queen in vain, but could do nothing.
One day as Cedric was gathering berries, he heard human voices nearby. Although he was invisible, he hid in the bushes as two of his fellow hunters came into sight. He gazed longingly at their hands, remembering what it had felt like to have them himself.
“We shouldn’t be in this forest. It’s enchanted!”
“Enchanted? Surely you don’t believe such old wives’ tales!”
“Don’t you remember Cedric? It’s been three summers since he vanished, but he wasn’t eaten by wolves, for there was no trace of his clothes. I tell you, this place is enchanted!”
Though not convinced, the other hunter agreed to turn back.
On his way back to the færie village, Cedric stopped to drink from a pond and, as he did so, saw his reflection on the clear surface. His ears had grown pointed like a færie’s, his eyes were a strange purple colour, and his wings fluttered as he held them out of the way. With a hollow feeling in his heart, he realized that despite his appearance, he was still human.
When he returned, he found the færies astir with excitement. He asked a young færie what the commotion was about.
“Haven’t you heard? Queen Alaria has chosen Trellor to be her husband and Regent. Everyone is bringing gifts for the celebration!”
Cedric added a basket of berries to the gifts piling in front of the Queen’s dwelling place, then left the rest of them by Rechal’s door. Nobody noticed him as he flew away.
The hunter that did not believe in enchantments ventured alone into the forest the next day. He wandered for a long time without seeing any of the woodland creatures, for they had all gathered to celebrate the Færie Queen’s marriage. However, when he came to the pond, he found Cedric’s body ‒ dead, drowned, but human once again.