Faerie Path #6: The Charmed Return

The
CHARMED
RETURN

Book Six
of The
FAERIE PATH

FREWIN JONES

For Deena Omar
and Adrian Whittaker

Faeries tread the Faerie Path

A mind astray, a sundered soul that sleeps

A human heart to show the way

A Faerie love that faith and fealty keeps

 

An ancient foe holds deadly thrall

A word that’s left unspoken on enchanted lips

The Family Royal heeds the faint and far-off call

All paths converge upon the Pure Eclipse

Contents

 

   
Chapter I

   
Chapter V

   
Chapter X

 

A savage plague is sweeping through Faerie, the Immortal Realm that has for thousands of years been free of illness. Suspicion over the cause of the outbreak falls on Tania’s mortal parents, Clive and Mary Palmer. It’s believed that they brought the deadly illness through from the Mortal World. Clive and Mary Palmer are banished, and half-Mortal Tania is put under close guard. The Conclave of Earls commands that the ways between the worlds be closed forever.

Before that can happen, and against the wishes of the King, Tania steps secretly into the Mortal World with her sister Rathina at her side. Tania’s intention is to bring family friend Connor Estabrook, who is studying to be a doctor, back into Faerie in the hope that he can help her defeat the disease with his knowledge of modern medicine.

Upon her return, Lord Aldritch of Weir accuses Tania of bringing doom to Faerie. When Princess Eden learns that the sickness comes from Faerie itself, suspicions toward the Mortal World ease and Tania is free to find a cure.

But her relationship with her beloved Edric is under severe strain. He is meddling with the Dark Arts, and when she rejects his unexpected proposal of marriage, he tells Tania that he intends to return to his childhood home of Weir as a captain of Lord Aldritch’s court.

Brokenhearted, Tania begins her quest without him, and she, Connor, and Rathina seek the submerged Lost Caer, a sunken fortress off the coast of Weir, where they hope to find word of a cure for the plague. Here, Tania and her companions learn that in the long-ago times, the people of Faerie were Mortal and winged. They also discover that this is not the first time the plague has fallen upon them.

A mysterious entity calling herself the Dream Weaver tells them of a time when Oberon traveled to Tirnanog and made a covenant with the Divine Harper that gave the folk of Faerie the gift of Immortality in exchange for their wings. This covenant was broken when the Sorcerer King of Lyonesse temporarily took the throne of Faerie from Oberon. The breaking of the covenant has allowed an ancient enemy known only by the name Nargostrond to return. Nargostrond is working his evil again in the land, and now Tania, Rathina, and Connor must travel across the Western Ocean and seek the mythical land of Tirnanog to renew the covenant of Immortality and to bring Nargostrond’s plague to an end.

Tania communicates with Queen Titania through a water-mirror and learns that a Great Spell is being cast that will cover all of Faerie in a shield of Gildensleep. Faerie will slumber while Tania quests for the Divine Harper, and the plague will not prevail while the Royal Family can keep the mystic shield active.

The travelers take a boat across the Western Ocean. The Dream Weaver speaks through Rathina again, telling Tania that now that she is beyond the shores of Faerie, her power to walk between the worlds has returned to her. They sail on, but before they make landfall in Alba, they are accosted by the pirate Lord Balor. Tania and Rathina make their escape when Tania sidesteps into the Mortal World, but Connor is left behind, a captive of the pirates.

In the Mortal World Tania and Rathina meet a strange man and woman who seem to have some sense of who they are and what they mean to do, and who offer them help. Tania sidesteps back into Alba, and the sisters manage to penetrate the dark castle of Lord Balor. Connor is in a dungeon, being threatened by Lord Balor, who is accompanied by a great white salamander. The sisters overhear Connor agree to betray them and help Lord Balor discover the secret of Immortality, but they are sure he does this only to stave off torture.

They rescue Connor from the dark castle and flee across Alba to a safe haven: the palace of Caiseal an Fenodree, the home of Queen Titania’s ancient Mortal family. Here they are shocked to encounter Edric, who has tracked Tania by the use of the Dark Arts. He tells her he knows how to make her whole again: either entirely Mortal or entirely Faerie. But Tania cannot accept this offer; she needs both of her sundered selves to do her duty and finish the quest.

Learning that Lord Balor is in close pursuit, the travelers flee the castle of Fenodree, accompanied by Edric, who has promised Tania never to use the Dark Arts again. There is distrust between Connor and Edric, and Tania is stretched to prevent conflict from erupting as they enter the enchanted realm of Erin.

They find that Erin is a land without rhyme or reason. Insane sorceries swirl around them, and they can find no way out of the realm until Edric seeks a path by using the deadly Dark Arts once more. But his Arts draw the Green Lady to them: the Enchantress who holds this entire realm in thrall. Edric is stolen away by the Green Lady, and it is up to Tania to find and rescue him.

Tania survives the trials and magicks of the Green Lady, and upon mystical horses the travelers make their way across dragon-haunted Hy Brassail to the far coast, where they expect to find the land of Tirnanog.

Instead, they are ambushed by Lord Balor. Tania learns that Connor has been working for the sinister lord all along—keeping in contact with him and guiding him to them in exchange for a promise of wealth and fame in the Mortal World.

Tania overpowers Lord Balor and the Great Salamander is set free. The liberated Salamander tears Tania’s back open. Wings grow from her wounds, and she flies to Tirnanog. She meets the man and woman who befriended her in the Mortal World, and they take her to the Divine Harper.

But the Divine Harper asks a great price for the information Tania seeks: She must give up the deepest wish of her heart. Tania agrees, although she is sure this will mean the loss of Edric’s love. Now she learns some of the truth. Nargostrond, the plague-bringer, is King Oberon’s older brother, Prince Lear, banished thousands of years ago for his evil ways and his desires of conquest, both of Faerie and the Mortal World.

But even while Tania is trying to grasp the full dread of this revelation, the Divine Harper exacts the price for her enlightenment and Tania falls into deep unconsciousness.

Anita Palmer sat up on her bed, blinking and disoriented.

She felt drowsy and woozy, but outside the open curtains she could see that it was still daylight.

And on top of that, she was fully dressed.

What had she been thinking, napping in the middle of the day? What was she, a doddering old granny or something?

She got up, dizzy for a moment. “I’ve got to tell Jade about that dream!” she said, grinning and heading for the computer. “She’ll freak out.”

She sat down, still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she turned on the computer and connected to the internet. And Evan—she’d have to tell him, too. He’d be well impressed; he was totally up for freaky things like that: legends and mythology and all that kind of . . . strange . . . old . . .

“Now that’s bizarre,” she said, the chat room open, her fingers poised over the keyboard.

The dream had gone. It had been so vivid—but now she couldn’t remember a single thing about it.

Weird!

She yawned and stretched, her head still foggy. She looked at the time display at the bottom of the screen: 11:09.

Midmorning. But what day was it? Saturday or Sunday?

“Oh, great,” she said. “Now I don’t even know what day of the week I’m in! Losing my marbles or what?”

She got up and wandered out of her room, still feeling odd. She clattered down the stairs and turned in the hall, heading for the kitchen.

Her mum was there, at the table, packing her handbag.

Yawning still, Anita strolled in. “Hi, Mum,” she said. “What’s up?”

Her mother jumped—then stared at her—a huge smile breaking out across her face. “Tania!” She gasped, running and throwing her arms around her. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s so wonderful to see you! And your dad will be so pleased. We thought we might never see you again!”

Anita stared at her, taken completely aback—half stifled by her mother’s frantic embrace.

“What are you talking about, Mum?” she asked. “I was only upstairs.” She stared at her mother, completely baffled by this sudden display of affection. “And who on earth is
Tania
?”

Her mother took a half step back, her hands still gripping Anita’s shoulders, her face still showing relief and joy. But why? Why the
relief
? Why the big deal? What was going on?

Anita let out a breath of bewildered laughter.

“Mum, what’s with you?” She frowned. “Has someone died or something?”

“Tania! That’s not funny.”

“It wasn’t meant to be.”

“How are things in Faerie?”

“What?”

“The plague, sweetheart. Is it still spreading?” Anxiety creased her mother’s brow. “Oh dear god, tell me it isn’t. Tell me they’ve found a cure.”

Anita stepped back, her hands up as if to ward her mother off. “I’ve only just woken up, Mum—my brain’s too fuzzy for this kind of thing. How long was I asleep?”

“You were sleeping?”

“Yes. I was flat out on my bed.”

“You came through from Faerie in your sleep?” Mary Palmer shook her head. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

“Okay, now. Stop this. I feel weird enough already, thanks. But if you’re trying to freak me out for some reason, well done: mission accomplished.”

“Tania . . . ?”

“Stop it!” Anita snapped. “Stop
calling
me that!”

Confusion filled her mother’s face. “Anita?” she murmured.

“Yes! Yes, Anita.” Her voice dripped sarcasm. “Your daughter, Anita. I live here, remember?” She peered into her mother’s eyes. “Hey, you’re not going batty on me, are you, Mum?” She gave her mother a crooked half-smile, hoping a joke might click things back into place.

“Anita . . .” Her mother’s voice was only just above a whisper. “Not Tania anymore . . .”

A sick, heavy feeling began to grow in Anita’s stomach. Was her mother ill? Was there actually something wrong with her inside her head?

Her mother sat down heavily, her face pale and blank, her fingers gripping the edge of the table.

Not funny. Not even remotely funny.

“I’ll get you a drink.” Anita snatched up a glass from the draining board and reached for the water tap.

“No!” Her mother surged up, dragging at Anita’s arm as she turned on the chrome tap. “You’ll hurt yourself!”

Anita dropped the glass and it shattered in the sink. The water splashed over her arm.

“Mum!”

“The metal will burn your hand!”

“Mum, please stop saying these things. You’re frightening me.”

Her mother wrenched Anita’s hand off the tap and twisted it palm upward. She stared at it for a second before Anita pulled free, the edge of the sink unit sharp in the small of her back, her mother pressed against her.

“Your hand didn’t burn.”

“No, of course not.” Anita forced some calm into her voice. If there was really something wrong with her mother, Anita needed to keep a level head until she could get help. “I’m fine.” She held her palm up to her mother’s face. “See? No burns. Everything the way it should be.”
Get help!
“Uh. Where’s Dad?”

Her mother raised her hands to her face. “Oh! You don’t know, do you? He’s in hospital. But don’t worry—he’s fine.”

“In
hospital
?”

“Yes. He’s been in there for a few days. Under observation and getting fluids and so on. But he’s fine, really. Completely on the mend. It was a touch of pneumonia, but he’s over it. I was just getting ready to go and pick him up when you . . . when you arrived . . .”

Panicking was not an option. Anita locked the fear away. She needed to be practical now.

“Mum, listen to me carefully, please,” she said. “You’re remembering stuff that isn’t true. Dad hasn’t been in hospital. Last time I saw him he was in the garden, mowing the lawn. That was this morning.”

Anita wished Evan were here. He’d know what to do. Nothing ever rattled him.

Her mother looked into her eyes, the confusion suddenly gone. “What date do you think it is?” she asked.

“What date do I
think
it is?”

The familiar no-nonsense voice. “What’s the
date
?”

“June tenth. Two days before my birthday.”

There was a strange pause.

“Look at the calendar, sweetheart.”

“Excuse me?”

Her mother pointed across the room to where the calendar hung on the wall. Anita looked over expecting to see scenes of the Cornish countryside.
Oh! Weird.
Not the picture she remembered from breakfast that morning. A new one. Some standing stones on green moorland.

Her eyes dropped to the grid of days.

August.

August?

“You’ve changed the calendar,” Anita said. “Why did you do that?”

“It’s not the tenth of June, sweetheart. It’s August the fourteenth.”

“No, it isn’t. You’re confused, Mum. Listen, sit down. I’ll make you a nice cup of tea; how does that sound?”

Her mother seemed in control now. Confused but in control. “Do you remember the accident?” she asked.

“What accident?”

“On the river. With Edric.”

“Who’s Edric? Is that even a real name?”

A deep line formed between her mother’s eyes. “With Evan, I meant.”

“What about Evan? What
accident
?”

“Tania . . .”

“No, Mum.
Anita
 . . .”

“Yes, sorry. Anita, of course.” This was so weird. Apart from the things she was saying, her mum seemed perfectly okay now—perfectly rational. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

Humor her. While she’s calm, just go along with things till you can get help.

“The last thing?” Anita cast her mind back. Waking up on her bed a few minutes ago. But before that? A kaleidoscope of images wheeled across her mind. Most of them contained images of Evan Thomas.

Rehearsals for the school play,
Romeo and Juliet
. Evan as Romeo and she as his Juliet. So romantic! Except that in the play the two lovers wound up dead. That wasn’t quite so cool. What else? Oh, chatting to Jade about the computer Anita hoped her folks were going to get her for her sixteenth. Googling the words “investigative journalist” as a possible career path. The trip to Hampton Court where she’d met Evan. Their first kiss. That had been when he had told her she had gold dust in her eyes. Then there was the second kiss. His brown eyes closing. The touch of his fingers in her hair.

His big secret! Yesterday he had told her he’d arranged something exciting for her birthday, but he wouldn’t tell her what. She wondered if he was planning on taking her somewhere special—somewhere where he would tell her he loved her . . .

. . . and
that
idea still made her tingle from head to toe.

“Anita?”

Her mother’s voice snapped her back into reality.

“I don’t know what I remember last,” Anita said. “Being in my room, I guess.” Except she didn’t remember being in her room . . . not before waking up. There was a white void in her head where that memory should be.

Her mother took her hand. “You’ve forgotten,” she said. “You’ve forgotten it all. The accident. Everything.”

“I don’t like this,” Anita said, uneasy now. “What accident?”

“Sit down, Anita.”

She tried to pull away, but her mother’s hand held her tight. “I don’t want to sit down. It’s June tenth. Why are you saying these things?”

She could feel the ground sliding away from under her feet.
Get a grip! It’s the tenth of June. Hold on to that idea.

“You poor girl,” said her mother. “How did this happen?”

“Nothing’s happened to me!” Anita shouted, tears stinging her eyes. “Mum, what’s wrong with you? Why are you behaving like this?”

Her mother’s eyes were compassionate but determined. She reached into her handbag and drew out her mobile phone. She flipped it open and held it up toward Anita’s face. “Read the date, sweetheart,” she said.

Anita looked at the illuminated screen.
14—AUG.

“That’s not right . . .”

Her mother stood up, gripping Anita’s arms, staring hard into her face. “I know this must be very confusing for you, Anita, but you have to keep calm.”

“I’m calm. I’m totally calm.” Calm like high explosives. Was it really August? Had she lost nine weeks of her life because of an accident? It seemed impossible but . . .

“Good. Now stay with me, Anita. There are things I need to tell you.”

“I had an accident?”

The world was turning itself inside out in front of her eyes.

“Yes. It
started
with the accident.”

“I don’t remember it.”

“No. I get that. Sit down. Edric . . .
Evan
, I mean. Evan took you on a boat trip on the Thames. For your birthday—a birthday surprise. Do you remember that?”

“No, but . . .”

It fit. A boat trip. That made sense. Evan’s big birthday surprise.

“The boat crashed into a bridge.”

Coldness like death drained through Anita. “Was he killed?”

“No,” said her mother. “No, he
wasn’t
. But you were both taken to hospital. And then . . .” Her voice faded.

“And
then
?”

“There was the book. The blank book. And then you both disappeared. You were gone for three days, and when you came back, everything was different. It turned our whole world upside down.” She laughed softly. “
Our
world—listen to me. As if it was just about
our
world after that . . .”

Her mother began the tale of the lost nine weeks.

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