The fae don't often tell legends. At least, if they do, they don't often share them with man. This story, however, is one that was shared because it is, by its nature, a shared story. It is a legend not of the fae, but from them; not by man, but about one. This story, as it has been told, is about someone who learned the ways of the fae, and walked among them as if he belonged. They knew, of course, that he was not one of them, not of the wylds as they were. He gave no name and so they called him, rather appropriately: The Human.
This story always starts there, with his name. ‘The Human’ is of course not a name, nor a title; simply a designation, a result of the fae not having anything else to know him by. The Human knew the ways of the fae, and understood the power that comes with a name. Rather than identify himself, he always responded with simple riddles when asked. The fae were of course familiar with the concept, and generally understood that it was his way of saying he had no intention of sharing his name.
One of the first to press the issue serves as an example to the fae that The Human was far cleverer than he seemed. For days, this faerie followed the human as he passed through the wyld, but for all the faerie’s attempts, The Human only ever gave his riddles.
“Hello again, Human,” the faerie said, stepping out of the bushes and matching his stride. “Fine day to make a new friend, don’t you think? Of course, you’re the guest here, so why don’t you introduce yourself first.”
The Human had encountered this particular faerie more than a handful of times now, and could recognize them by their voice. Without taking his eyes off the path in front of him, The Human said “Introductions tend to be reserved for new acquaintances. You have been meeting with me at your every opportunity as of late. I should think you know me quite well by now.”
This irritated the faerie. You see, this particular faerie had something of a distaste for humans in general. They felt that mankind thought far too highly of itself, and took every opportunity to play tricks on humans. Most often, the faerie would find a human who had entered the wyld, whether on purpose or not, and play pranks on them. Once the faerie felt whoever had stumbled into the wyld was properly humbled, they would make a deal that would prevent that human from ever entering the lands of the fae again.
“That might be, human, but you never properly introduced yourself in the first place.” The faerie suppressed their ire, doing the best they could to keep their voice light and playful. “I would gladly tell you my name if you told me yours.”
“There’s little I can say that you don’t already know. Why, you’re practically my traveling companion!” The Human smiled, though he still did not look at the faerie or slow his pace. The Human had been traveling the wyld for a short while already, and knew better than to give a faerie what they were asking for, even if they weren’t asking directly.
This continued for the rest of The Human’s trek down the path, as it had in the days before. The faerie continued his subtle attempts at obtaining The Human’s name, and The Human continued idly conversing around the subject. Before long, The Human reached his destination, bid the faerie farewell, and stepped out of the wyld.
The faerie growled in frustration, glaring at the spot where The Human had just been walking. Every other human fell easily into the traps laid before them, and this Human could not be any better than the rest. The faerie concocted a plan, scheming to catch the human in a place where he could not simply continue his journey and escape.
Soon enough, the day came where the faerie stood in the path of the human in a place where one must not stray. The Human, either out of amusement or because he must, stopped when he reached the faerie and greeted them with a wide, friendly smile.
"Speak your name, Human," the faerie demanded.
The Human responded, "What does one call a leaf, next to the next, next to the fallen?"
The faerie had dealt with humans who thought themselves clever. This one would not outsmart them. They had a plan, and The Human would not talk his way out of it.
“A leaf is a leaf, which you are clearly not,” answered the faerie. “Speak your name, or you will not pass!” The faerie's least favorite thing was a child of man thinking they could outsmart the denizens of the wyld. The faeries do tend to be a great deal cleverer than most, after all, and the rules of the wyld baffled the minds of man and beast alike.
“A thing is known differently to each who knows it,” The Human replied. “Who I am to you is not all of who I am.” The Human’s smile became a wry grin as he spoke again, “I could be you, for all I know.”
The faerie began to turn red with rage. How dare he try to talk in circles? This human can’t possibly understand this place as well as I do , the faerie thought. The faerie had known of The Human long before their first meeting, and would use their plan to put an end to the silliness of the man who could come and go as he pleased in a place that he did not belong.
"Human!" The faerie spat out the word as though it left a bitter taste on the tongue. "You will speak your given name, and leave this place! These paths are not yours to wander!"
"Ah ha," mused The Human. "But if I am to leave, I must wander away. How shall I do as you ask without also disobeying? Instead, I think I shall ignore you entirely."
Though the human made no effort to push past the faerie, the words alone drove the faerie's blood to boiling. His absolute least favorite thing, and here it was, traipsing about without a care in the world. Ignore me, will you? Time to wipe that smile off of your face!
The faerie’s plan was to curse this man. If The Human was to enter the lands of the fae, then he should never leave! The faerie would trap him in the wyld, and only the faerie would be able to set him free. When The Human finally begged for his freedom, the faerie would let him go on the condition that he never return to the wyld again.
“Well, then I suppose I’ll talk to myself then. Certainly it will be a more enthralling conversation than I’ve had so far today,” the faerie taunted.
This place was special, you understand. The wylds are of course an inherently special place, but this place was more so. It was one of many mysterious paths that connected different doors, but these are not doors quite as you or I know them. Were one to travel these paths, it would lead from one door to another; like a bridge, if you will. This could make a week’s journey into a leisurely walk lasting no more than a day, if one knew which paths to walk.
This expedience came with unique risks, however. Should one travel along the path then about-face and retrace their steps, they would find that an inordinate amount of time had passed since their initial departure. If one strayed off the path, they would quickly lose track of the place they had stepped away from, and may lose hope of ever finding the path again.
Some paths, such as this one, even had further quirks. In this case, lies could not be spoken. Not to say that one could only speak the truth; quite the opposite, really. While on this path, any statement spoken would become true should it not be proven false. Both The Human and the faerie were familiar with this rule, and sought to manipulate it in their favor.
The faerie was too hasty, however, and realized too late that The Human was more familiar with the arbitrations of the wyld than the faerie had thought. The Human must have known how the laws of this particular place were enforced. That must have been why The Human had offered his first riddle as he did, and the faerie had too hastily provided the correct answer.
Rather than agreeing with The Human and saying that a leaf is a leaf, the faerie had wasted his opportunity to call The Human a leaf, and thereby give him a name that the faerie would know. Quelling the urge to grind their teeth, the faerie thought back on the conversation, looking for another way they might be able to give The Human a name that wasn’t already his.
First, the faerie told The Human he would not pass until his name was spoken, and he let this truth stand. Then, The Human gave his riddle, and the faerie said that a leaf was a leaf, and that The Human was not a leaf. Next, The Human said that he could be the faerie, despite the Human’s knowledge to the contrary, and the faerie had not corrected him.
Turning the conversation over again and again in his mind, the faerie had the sudden realization that this human was exactly as clever as he thought himself. The faerie would need to end this quickly, or The Human would turn the faerie’s plan around on them.
What could I say now? How can I trick him into speaking his name? The faerie’s thoughts must have ran amok, seeking a way, any way, to escape the trap that they were now standing on the precipice of.
Wait… The Human could be me. We could share a name! How could he know my name? No matter, I have him now!
And so the faerie went to work on his monologue. We don’t know the exact words the faerie spoke on the path that day, but we do know the faerie found every similarity he shared with The Human, and made plain every difference. The faerie did this so that he would not accidentally curse himself when the time came. When the faerie was done, he spoke his name, assigning it to The Human using the rules of the path.
The Human stood unmoving, his carefree expression never leaving his face, his eyes watching the faerie gesture wildly as they spoke. The faerie’s monologue continued, each new phrase laying another restriction upon the name he gave to The Human. The faerie, now full of newly gained confidence, prepared for his final blow - he would now use his name to prevent The Human from ever entering the wyld again!
Lastly, seeking to ensure that not even the king of the fae himself could undo these curses, the faerie scoured the name from the wyld using their magic. Silence fell over the path for the first time in what must have been hours, and the faerie became nervous. That smile never left The Human’s face.
By now, you must have noticed that the faerie has not been referred to by name, either. You see, using the faerie’s own name to enforce all of these restrictions meant that it was the same name that was scoured away. We do not know it because the faerie went to great lengths to ensure it longer existed. What’s more, the faerie’s haste had caused all of those restrictions to fall squarely on the only one able to hear them - the faerie.
“Instead, I think I shall ignore you entirely." The words must have echoed harshly in the faerie’s head. The Human hadn’t heard a word the faerie had spoken. The faerie was the only owner of the name, and the faerie was the only possible option for all the rules that were now set in place by the laws of the wyld. Slowly, the faerie sunk to the ground, sitting on the side of the path.
Watching the faerie succumb to their own failure, The Human’s smile and friendly expression left his features. Sighing, as though out of pity, The Human finally spoke, “I hope you didn’t overdo it. I’m sorry it went this way.” Hesitating for a moment, he continued to say “I’d be happy to listen to you if we meet again.” With those words, The Human continued down the path, eventually walking out of sight.
After an unknown amount of time, another faerie walked by, finding the faerie of this story still sitting on the side of the path. They recognized the faerie, but despite their best efforts, could not recall the faerie’s name. Concerned, they stopped to ask the faerie if they needed help, and the faerie explained the events that had transpired. The story spread from there, eventually finding its way to us, and now I tell it to you.