They're telling my story wrong, these days.
Oh, the bones are the same. The sisters, and the goblins, faerie food and faerie rules, those are the same, and Lizzie did save my life. But time has a way of twisting things, as minds grow and stories are passed on, as values shift and times change. And the Victorians, oh the Victorians, one can only laugh. But I am here to set the story to rights.
You see, I knew exactly what I was doing when I ate those fruits.
That's the thing about growing up in a village where the faerie world is that close, so close it spills over. The goblin market was not a novelty, not a secret – it was a fixture. Every man and woman in my childhood world told stories about the faeries. The goblin market was only one manifestation. There was a carter who had seen the midnight ride and a seamstress whose brother had been seduced by a selkie. We grew to maidenhood with the warnings of our elders ringing in our ears. Jeanie was not the first girl in our village to fall and fade under an eldritch influence, but she was the first of our generation. And following her demise, with the whispers and gossip spreading hot and wide as wildfire, the story did not make sense.
Jeannie had been my friend all my life, mine and Lizzie's both. She was older than I by five years and Lizzie by seven, but I think she saw in me some of the same longing for wider skies and brighter things that burned in her, for the age never mattered. Many afternoons after the work of the day was settled we two girls would sneak away up to the downs and spin our dreams, bright in the summer sunshine, longing for the day that our nebulous “something more” would arrive. It was me she shared her dreams with, me her hopes...and yet they would not let us see her, me or Lizzie either. “She is to weak,” they said, or “she is sleeping,” but if she pined as they said she did, should they not have welcomed her childhood companions, that they may remind her of her happy days among the townsfolk? Yet when I asked they sent me away, saying I was too young and should attend to those wiser. But I had never been one to brook dismissal easily, and she was my friend and I would know the truth.
So I went seeking answers elsewhere. The faeries were blamed for Jeannie's death, and to the faeries I would go, to find why they took my friend, and how, and if they would not answer I would lay waste to their market that no other would meet that fate (My arrogance was great, but I was young, and youth sees no obstacle to their agency). So when Lizzie hurried home that eve, I lingered on the verge and looked for the first time upon the faerie market of my town.
Oh reader, reader, they will tell you that the fae are hideous, are ugly, tools of Satan and accursed and their damnation is written on their faces. It is not true. The fae are fair, fair, fair beyond measure, spun of summer eves and the dreams of angels. It has been many years, years beyond count since that first day I saw them clear in the waning of that summer evening, and I remember it still and will until the end of my life. There are no wares on mortal earth like those of the goblin market, and none so fair as its merchants. They do not peddle fruit, my darlings. They peddle wishes, they peddle dreams. They sell promises and futures, curses, blessings, charms and graces and the longings of men's souls. And there, in the shade of that hawthorn tree, the goblins told me of why Jeannie came to them, and what they did for her, and what happened to her after. For unlike men, the faeries cannot lie.
Jeannie came to them for escape, you see. She was older than I (not by much but oh, in some ways it counted) and the pressure built: marriage, babies, settle down, dearest, live as we all have for generations before you, hide your light under a bushel. So when she heard the siren call of the goblin market that night, walking home from the fields (“come buy, my darling, my pretty, come buy”) she faltered, tarried, harkened an ear, and found the faerie bargain that so many before her had heard. If you eat of the faerie fruits, the world and all its wonders lie open before you. Anything you can dream, anything you can wish, it is yours. There is no limit to the meteoric rise of your star. But the cost is everything that came before. No food of the mortal world will satisfy and sustain one who has eaten of the faerie fruits. It leaves traces on its subject, setting them apart from their family, driving a wedge between them and the lands of their birth. They will be castaways, divorced from family and ancestral home, forced to seek new horizons and homes, forever outcast.
Oh reader, reader, what was a maid to do? Jeannie and I had dreamed the dream the same since our early girlhood – wider skies, freer lives, a whole world laid out before us, and the trammels of village womanhood nipping closer on our heels the nearer we drew to the full blush of womanhood. The goblin men tempted, they enticed, they offered me fruits and my hearts' delight....and I chose as Jeannie did. I took the fruit in both hands and I looked into the eyes of the fae (so fair, those eyes, so fair) and I bit deep.
Lizzie knew, when I came home. She knew at once without me having to say a word, and that should have been my first warning. But I was young and the goblin juices ran in my veins hotter and stronger than wine and I had never felt so alive, and how could I have expected what came next?
They locked me away on the morn. The moment my lady mother saw my eyes she called for the townsfolk and they barricaded my door with heavy oak planks and cold iron. You do not live that long cheek-by-cheek with Faerie and not know the signs of one who is drunk on goblin wine, and my neighbours would not lose another child to the fae, not believing as they did that the Devil worked through them. This, you see, is what had happened to Jeannie, and why they would not let Lizzie nor I near. She had eaten of the goblin fruits and her parents in terror and confusion had locked her in her tower to starve out the corruption until she starved away for its lack. Couldn't hear the goblin cries, they say now? I heard them constantly, locked in my tiny chamber. I beat the door until my hands bled, I pleaded until my throat was raw. They sang outside my window, they enticed, they cajoled, they called me by name, those faerie sellers, so close, so close and yet so out of reach as I starved and weakened, begging my mother to relent, to let me go, to let me live.
It was Lizzie who saved me, the story agrees on that. Lizzie, my little sister, my brave one, my precious, ten times better than I ever was or will be. Do not let my words here detract one drop from her sacrifice or her courage. She risked everything for love of me, and did so knowing she would lose me even if she succeeded. Lizzie it was who crept out in the dark of night, after the household was asleep and I had worn myself unconscious on the floor of my prison room, Lizzie who sought the goblins at their market on the green, who endured their taunts and jeers, their promises and enticements, who bargained and bartered not one curl of her golden head but all, suffering herself to be shorn bald as a new lamb to buy with her bounty three goblin plums. She smuggled these to me the same night, lifting the bars that kept me confined, loosing the iron, freeing the chains. She held my head in her lap (too weak by then to lift my head on my own) and squeezed the juices into my mouth by hand.
Lizzie it was too, who when I revived and rose (it took but an hour, such is the strength of the goblin fruits) had prepared all I should need. She had wrapped up bread and cheese, had put aside the silver pennies earned from selling honey in the village along with my best dress, had spoken to a peddler in the village to have me away, far away, by the time the light of dawn woke our sleeping mother. She snuck me out under the eyes of the moon, and down to the village, and thence away. And that was the last I saw of my sister, as my choice and the faerie curse opened a yawning gulf between us. My sweet Lizzie, her hair the brightest thing in the rising dawn, her cheeks wet with the tears of parting, brave, so brave, and strong.
I went to London-town, in time, and I was their Juliet upon the stage all through the flush of my youth, and when the charms of the theatre began to pale I married one of my admirers and I was Laura Seymour, whose salons were famous and whose parlour sheltered and nurtured many a bright spark in the days before their stars rose to prominence. Lizzie stayed home and married well, and her children after her, but granddaughter Christina who tells my story now has a little of her great-aunt in her, I think, for she and her brother seem to long for greater things. We shall see.
For if the goblin men come to market and your heart thrills to the call, would you resist the clarion call?