As they reached the greenery of the grove, the woman began to hold tighter to her son's hand. It was heartbreaking to have to be lead through the dangerous forest by her son. Though none could bring harm upon her, faeries and elves were at their full power in this forest, and at their full wickedness. She was his mother, so it should have been her leading them through this frightening place, but this was Alfred’s playground. He walked without a fear in the world, as comfortable as walking down a sidewalk, saying hello to passing satyrs and talking flowers. All she could do was cringe away from them. Don’t offend them, don’t provoke them, and don’t be noticed by them.
With his hand to his heart, Alfred led his very human mother to his very inhuman mother’s home. It was a simple looking hut that seemed to have been grown from the grown rather than built. As they approached the door, they were greeted before they could even knock. It was the dryad who answered the door with a very polite, “Please come in.”
“Auntie!” Alfred shouted, leaping into the arms of tree-dweller. “You’ll never be able to guess what we’ve come to tell you!”
“I’m sure I won’t, Honeysuckle, but let’s save it for later,” the nymph replied, “You’ll want to tell your Mére first.”
“Uh-huh!” He says running to the only other figure within the hut.
An abnormally tall woman with long arms and legs and, damn if the mother would ever admit it, a beautiful face, sat in a chair at the end of the room. The mother’s heart ached a little as Alfred ran to that woman’s arms. “Mon petit Agneau, how are you today?” she asked with that damn perfect voice. And that name. Alfred had learned that name before he ever learned his own name. His real name.
“Amazing, Mére! Do you remember Sir Correl?” Alfred asks, taking a seat in her slender lap.
“Le chevalier? Oui. Did you see him again?”
“Oui! He once said I could be his squire, so when I asked him when we met today he said yes!”
The faerie cheered along with Alfred, and gave him a congratulatory kiss on the fore head. “Tres Merveilleux, mon Agneau!”
“Mother even agreed to let me do it. I cannot wait! This is going to be wonderful!”
“She did?” the fair woman asked, turning her attention to Alfred’s mother, who shrank at her gaze. “I would not have expected that of you, Mouton, you’re normally such a fuddy-duddy.”
The mother said nothing at the insult. Any human would seem like a bore compared to a magical faerie.
“Mére, please,” Alfred said, not completely unaware of the hostility between the two women.
“Alright, mon petit,” the fair-mother conceded to the child. “Auntie, please take Alfred outside. Mouton and I have some things to discuss.”
“Right away, Mére. Come little Honeysuckle, we’ll discuss your future as a knight,” the dryad says, taking him by the hand.
“Alright,” he said reluctantly. He was lead out of the hut and around the back, where he was unable to hear inside the hut.
So it was just the two of them alone. “Have a seat, Mouton,” the fair-mother offered. She motioned to a stool in front of her. The only other pieces of furniture in the hut were her chair and a bed off to the side.
“I’ll stand,” the human said, simply.
“Fine then,” the faerie said, her smile unchanged. “What is on your mind, Mouton?”
“We need to decide how this will affect our agreement,” she answered.
“How shall what affect it, Mouton?”
“Don’t play coy. Alfred’s squirehood. How will this affect our arrangement?”
“Oh? You care about what I have to say now? You are acting strangely, Mouton,” she laughed as though it was the funniest thing in the world. “You didn’t care when you tried to send mon Agneau to school. When you tried to hide him away from me. When you tried to run from me, Mouton. I had to put a stop to it all those times. Since when do you ask for permission rather than forgiveness, Mouton?”
“I’m his mother,” the woman asserted, trying to stand tall. “I don’t have to justify myself to you.”
“Which still doesn’t answer why you’re here, Mouton,” the faerie said, finally standing from her chair. The faerie dwarfed the woman, and though it should have been impossible for her to stand in the small hut, she stood at full height looking down on the woman. Her hands reached down and cupped the mother’s face. Though they felt as soft as silk they had the grip of an iron vice on the woman. She stared her in the eyes, her smile unwavering as he spoke. “I bet it was to gloat, wasn’t it, you petty little woman. You’ve finally found a way to send my Agneau away from me and still have my support? Congratulations Mouton. This decision takes him away from you as well.”
“I want what’s best for him, and what’s best for him is being far away from you.”
“That’s what I think I hate most about you, Mouton. You’re so ungrateful. You stumble into the forest one day and happen upon Agneau. I let him spend time with you out of kindness and you think you can keep him. From his pure heart, he offers you pity, and you have the gall to make him love you like my equal. I give you an inch and you try to take a mile.” She began to raise her thumbs over the human’s eyes.
“I’m his mother!” she yelled, still bravely staring at the faerie beyond her thumbs.
“I raised him for three years.”
“That doesn’t diminish that you stole him from his crib!”
“Still ungrateful. I gave you a fair trade that night. That doll was more than enough for you. Why couldn’t you just be happy with it?” Pointing her thumbs inward, the nails begin to grow towards her eyes, barely an eyelash away from blinding the human mother.
Without fear or hesitation, and in as even a tone as possible, the woman answered the Faerie. “If a doll is all Alfred is worth to you, I’d be happy to make you one of your own.” The faerie released her and she dropped a few inches onto her feet. At some point in the exchange had she been lifted off the ground, or did she simply feel light from how forcefully she managed to argue with the faerie?
The tall faerie returned to her chair and began to dictate the new rules of the arrangement, apparently trying to pretend that conversation hadn't happened. “The rules are the same but with a third ground. No going after Agneau, or restricting his movement from one ground to the other is still the golden rule. The knight can harvest his hair if mon Agneau lets him, though that’s unlikely. Do also let le chevalier know I will hold him responsible should any ill befall Agneau.”
The woman nodded consent. This was acceptable.
“They will enter now, not a word of the rules or our conversation to Agneau.” She didn’t have to tell the woman twice. They both would hate to have Alfred see them in such a light. It was the one thing they agreed on, even if silently.
The dryad and Alfred both entered the hut, hand in hand, a moment after. “Come on Alfred, we can go home now.” His mother said, extending her hand to take his.
“I don’t see why he should have to leave so soon. You can stay for the night, mon petit Agneau.”
The woman’s heart sank as she watched her son run past her to the seated faerie and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you, Mére, but Mother will need my help leaving the Grove,” he said as he ran to his mother and took her hand. “Au revoir,” he added, leading them out of the hut. Happy to have his hand to hold onto, the mother was lead by her son out of the greenery of the grove and back to civilization.