Janni Lee Simner

Faerie Winter

For my nephews, A to Z:

Asher Theodore, Jacob Samuel, and Zachary Elia


The woman who would become my mother backed trembling away from the man who would save her life, and I did not know why. Around them, faerie trees held their bright leaves perfectly still, as if knowing, like I knew, that they saw something they shouldn’t.

“How long, Kaylen?” Mom clutched a blanket around her, woven of green rushes. “How long has this magic—”

“I’ll hold you no longer.” Kaylen, whom I knew as Caleb, looked no younger in this vision than when I’d left for the well this morning. His rumpled linen tunic was green as well, and white flowers were woven into his faerie-clear hair. His bright silver eyes watched Mom with concern but held none of the guarded caution I’d later see there. “I return all your choices back to you.”

“How could you hold me at all?” There were flowers in Mom’s tangled brown hair, too, dying blooms that fell to the forest floor. In my time she looked older than Caleb, but in this vision she seemed the same age as me.

Caleb dropped to his knees before her. “I was wrong. I see that now, and I beg your forgiveness.” He bowed his head. “I put your life before my own until I earn it.”

“More oaths. More bindings.” Mom’s voice cracked. One hand holding the blanket, she grabbed up clothing with the other—denim pants and cotton shirt, human clothes from Before. “I thought it was real, Kaylen. Everything I felt—” She whirled from him and fled into the trees.

“Liza?” A girl’s voice, from outside the vision, seeking to draw me back to my own time, my own place. I fought the voice’s pull, straining to see where my mother had gone. Instead I saw another woman, walking through the forest.

“That was foolish, Brother,” the woman—Karin—said. Her wrists and neck were encircled by green vines, and her brown dress was shot through with streaks of silver, like a child’s finger painting. I’d met her when I’d met Caleb.

“Can I do nothing without your spying, Eldest Sister?” Caleb stood to meet her gaze.

The angles of Karin’s face were harsher than I remembered. “Perhaps if I had begun spying sooner, you would not be in this tangle. You cannot simply allow your human captive to return to her world, free to speak of her time here as she will. Neither can you keep her in this world, dangerous as any caged animal, only without any illusions to soothe her.”

“I have vowed not to bind her. You know as well as I that I must hold to that.” A petal fell from Caleb’s hair.

Karin caught it and frowned, as if unhappy with the story it told. “Allow me to do it, then. I am not so reckless with my promises as you.”


“She is only human, Kaylen. You do her no harm, any more than hood and jesses do harm to a hawk.”

“So I thought once, too.” Caleb stalked past her, in the direction my mother had gone.

Karin let the petal slip from her fingers. “What do you intend to do, then?”

“This is my responsibility, as you’ve reminded me often enough.” Caleb didn’t look back as he walked on. “I will mend it.”


The vision broke up, like fog in the morning sun. I found myself crouched beside the town well and the bucket I’d drawn from it. I looked up, at a girl with an unruly red braid. Allie, who in my time was Caleb’s student, put her hands on her hips. “I’ve been looking and looking for you. Don’t you even want to say goodbye?”

“Sorry, Allie.” I’d gone to the well before dawn, hoping to avoid sun on water and the visions it brought, only to have the moon’s light catch me instead. I pressed my palms against my eyes, trying to forget the fear I’d seen on my mother’s face. Whatever had happened in my vision, it was past. Mom was safe now.

“Are you all right, Liza?” Allie’s face scrunched up as I drew my hands away. “I’m your healer. If anything’s wrong, you have to tell me.”

“It’s nothing. Truly.” I stood and gave her braid a tug. The sun was just below the horizon, and the autumn leaves around us burned with color. Until a few days ago, I’d never known leaves to change color like this, even when the winter snows began to fall. Ever since the War—since before I was born—the trees had held their green leaves close in all seasons. I still wasn’t sure I believed that soon the leaves would drop from those trees, leaving their branches bare.

Allie sighed. “I’m going to miss you so much. You know that, don’t you?”

My arms strained as I lifted the bucket. “I’ll miss you, too.” I’d been as surprised as Allie to learn that she and Caleb were returning to their town, while Mom was staying in mine. Mom and Caleb had cared for each other Before, in Faerie. They’d continued caring through all their years apart, long past when Mom and Father met and I was born, each of them thinking the other had surely perished in the War between their worlds. When Mom had returned to Faerie at last and been poisoned by the War-tainted air there, Caleb had risked his own life to heal her. Yet yesterday Caleb had said he wasn’t willing to leave his students to stay with Mom, and Mom had said she wasn’t willing to leave hers to stay with him. I glanced uneasily into the bucket, wondering, for the first time, what they both hadn’t said.

The first rays of sunlight reflected off the water, but neither Caleb nor Mom appeared in its bright surface. Instead I saw Karin, staring in the direction her brother had gone.

“The Lady will not like this,” she said softly. “And this time, Youngest Brother, I do not know how to protect you.”


Chapter 1

Snow crunched beneath my boots as I patrolled the winter forest, a gray wolf by my side.

Low on the horizon, a waxing moon shone through the trees, silvering the bare branches of oak and ash, sycamore and elm. Cold bit through the tips of my leather gloves, and my breath puffed into the still air. An oak branch swung at me, sleepy and slow. The wolf—Matthew—growled a warning, but I ducked out of the way easily

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