The Secret of the Dread Forest: The Faire Folk Trilogy

BOOK: The Secret of the Dread Forest: The Faire Folk Trilogy
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Praise for the Faire Folk Trilogy

The Tree Shepherd’s Daughter
“The constant action, both magical and otherwise,
will keep [readers] interested in Keelie’s fate.”
—School Library Journal

“In the recent flood of YA novels featuring rebellious teens
who discover the supernatural world, this one stands out
thanks primarily to the quirky ren-faire setting, some
interesting wood magic, and a cat with serious attitude.”
—LOCUS Magazine

“One of those remarkable tales in which the reader
becomes completely immersed… It will be enjoyed not
only in its own right, but also will have readers eagerly
anticipating books two and three in the promised trilogy.”
—KLIATT

Into the Wildewood
“Compelling and beautifully written … a great
follow-up to an already breathtaking first novel.
Fans of the series will be very satisfied.”
—TeensReadToo.com

“Fans of similar light ‘chick-fantasy’ novels will enjoy Keelie’s
adventures in the vivid and lively Renaissance Faire setting.”
—VOYA

“Into the Wildewood brings a fresh perspective to the
genre with a crackerjack plot and razor sharp writing.”
—ForeWord Magazine

Dedicated to the wonderful people who volunteer their time and give their love to pet rescue, and particularly to the veterinarians who spay, neuter, and repair our broken furry friends.

Thanks to Wyndeth Davis of the National Park Service for her suggestion to include oak circles, which are now an integral part of Keelie s world.

GILLIAN SUMMERS

The Secret of the
Dread Forest

THE FAIRE FOLK TRILOGY

The Secret of the Dread Forest: The Faire Folk Trilogy
© 200 9 by Berta Platas and Michelle Roper. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Flux, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

First Edition
First Printing, 2009

Book design by Steffani Sawyer
Cover design by Kevin R. Brown
Cover illustration by Derek Lea

Flux, an imprint of Llewellyn Publications

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Summers, Gillian.

The secret of the Dread Forest: the faire folk trilogy / Gillian
Summers.—1st ed.

p. cm.—(The faire folk trilogy ; bk. 3)

Summary: After reluctantly joining her father in the Dread Forest, home to elves and her fearsome elf grandmother, teenaged Keelie meets a mysterious boy and learns that both humans and dark magical forces are encroaching on the elves’ enchanted realm.

ISBN : 978-0-7387-1411-0

eISBN : 9780738714110

[1. Elves—Fiction. 2. Magic—Fiction. 3. Trees—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.S953987Se 2009

[Fic]—dc22

2009001687

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Cover model used for illustrative purposes only and may not endorse or represent the book’s subject.

Flux
Llewellyn Publications
A Division of Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
2143 Wooddale Drive, Dept. 978-0-7387-1411-0
Woodbury, MN 55125-2989, U.S.A.
www.fluxnow.com

Printed in the United States of America

one

Keelie Heartwood ran, legs stretching, arms pumping, her lungs squeezed from the fear that threatened to stop her. Half blind from the tears that clogged her eyes, she tried to drown out Sean’s words, playing in an endless loop in her head.

Around her the deep green of the ancient Oregon forest was a blur as she raced over the unfamiliar ground, barely noting the terrain. She listened for the cry of the hawk overhead.

Ariel came first in her life. The blind hawk was flying, and she would die if Keelie didn’t coax her down. The trees
here were tall and forbidding, and a collision would be fatal. She had chosen to release the nervous hawk—if Ariel got hurt, it would all be her fault.

A small stream cut deep in the loam, and Keelie vaulted it and landed, sure-footed in her running shoes, on the other side.

Stay.
The water sprite’s voice rose like bubbles from the fast-moving water, and though Keelie ran on, she sent back the promise to return. At least she’d have one friend here.

The Dread had nestled in deep pockets in the old woods, and her next step made her gasp as a strong eddy of the curse made her human fear spike. She squeezed her rose quartz in her fist, thinking of what Sir Davey, her Earth magic teacher, had said over and over to her this summer:
Pull on the earth, let the rocks below ground you.

The fear ebbed and she ran on, looking up now and then for the dark wings of the hawk she’d worked so hard to rehabilitate. She could not let anything happen to Ariel. Too bad Sir Davey hadn’t taught her anything about boys.

Leaves rustled on the bushes to her left, and before she could react, a lithe, brown-furred body burst through them, leaping through the air. It touched down in front of her, then leaped again. She whirled to avoid it, then stopped as another one jumped toward her. Deer. Tall and graceful, they landed on the grass of the clearing, then headed up the slope, away from her. Panting, Keelie
watched them maneuver the rocks and gullies as if they were being manipulated by a giant puppeteer.

Ariel cried out above her, and Keelie looked up, dismayed that she’d let the deer distract her. The shadows had lengthened, and it would be dark soon. She needed to get Ariel and return to her grandmother’s house.

She didn’t want to go back, but she had to. Everyone would be waiting for her. Sean would be there. Her chest tightened, remembering the earnest look on his handsome face, the way the tips of his ears poked out between the blond locks that hung to his shoulders. The words had made sense as he’d started talking, and then they’d been lost in the thudding of her heart.

She’d thought he’d taken her aside to sneak a kiss, and so she led him to the mews, where she’d just fed Ariel. “I’ve missed you so much,” she said, like a lovesick idiot.

And he’d looked pained and told her about Risa. Risa, the elf girl that his father had chosen for him. The one whose engagement to Sean might be announced tonight, at Keelie’s welcome party.

Sorry, sorry, sorry
—his words echoed with each step. She’d have to hide her feelings from everyone, especially Grandmother.

It sounded weird to say “Grandmother,” a word that before had only meant Josephine, her mother’s mother and the only grandmother she knew. Josephine was small and sweet, soft and full of laughter. Nothing like tall, stern Keliatiel, whose long, silvery white hair hung straight behind
her, brushing the skirts of her robes. Yeah, robes. Straight out of the movies. She was the leader here in the Dread Forest, and the elves all bowed to her.

She’d made a big show of welcoming Keelie, and her house at the edge of a clearing was the site of the welcome party in Keelie’s honor. The guests were all probably anxious to stare at the half-human child that Zekeliel, Keliatiel’s son—the Tree Shepherd himself—had brought home. His daughter. The one who wasn’t elf enough to marry Lord Niriel’s son.

The thought made Keelie break into a run again. What would she say to them? And worse—how could she keep them from seeing how much it hurt her to see Sean but not to be able to hold his hand? To be called “Round Ear”? She’d seen the sidelong looks and behind-the-hand whispers around the village all week.

Keelie moved faster, looking up to try to spot Ariel again. But the sky had darkened and it was impossible to see. She tripped and landed hard on her knees. For a moment the pain was so intense that she just concentrated on breathing; then it lessened. Keelie moved one leg, then the other, carefully, testing them. Her knees burned through her jeans and her palms were scraped, but she was okay.

No, she wasn’t. She rolled sideways and sat, dampness seeping through the seat of her jeans, then pulled her legs up.

Tears slid down her nose and dropped onto the dried leaves that formed the forest floor. Her hand had snapped
a twig. Alder, she thought. Alder like the ones at the High Mountain Faire. Through her contact with the branch, she could see that one of the huge trees nearby was its mother. She’d never seen such a broad alder.

These trees were hundreds of years old. What must they think of silly humanity, running around trying to solve their so-called problems?

Then Keelie froze. She sensed movement in the bushes. Something was there, in the shaded crevice formed by the overhang of a massive fallen oak next to her. It was not a deer.

Keelie put her hand on the green-spotted bark of the dead giant and said the words of the Tree Lorem, which her father had taught her. “Peace to You, Oh Tree,” she finished. She felt through the bark the thousands, millions of little lives that were now part of the tree, fed and sheltered because of its death. She saw in her mind’s eye the storm that had felled it, felt the hot sizzle of lightning as it had burned explosively to the tree’s core.

Flinching, Keelie pulled her hand away from the bark—then saw clearly the thing that had sheltered in its shadow.

It was a boy. He slept, his hoodie shielding his face, with his thin arms wrapped tightly around himself as if they could keep the damp away from his ribs. He seemed to be about her age. His torn jeans revealed one grimespotted white kneecap, and his boots had heels so worn that it must have hurt to walk in them.

He lay unmoving, so still that Keelie wondered if maybe he was dead, but no, she’d seen him move before. She’d heard him.

A couple of the elves in the village had mentioned to her father that hikers were getting farther into the Dread Forest than ever before, now that the Dread was fading. Keelie almost opened her hand to look at her rose quartz—her ward against the Dread—but knew better. If she lost contact with the little polished stone for even a minute, the Dread would roar through her. Its terror was not real, but the panic it brought would be so deep that she would be unable to stop herself from running away. Even though she knew what the Dread was—a curse to keep humans from entering and defiling the forest—it still affected her. She willed herself to breathe more slowly.

The boy moved. His head shifted, which pulled the hoodie away from his face. He was beautiful. Dark hair fell across his brow, and his lashes were long and sooty black against his pale, pale skin. He was deeply asleep.

She saw that he was round-eared, and seemed to be as human as she was. Even more so, actually, since he wasn’t half elf. Keelie touched her ear, the rounded, normal upper edge smooth under her finger, then slid a finger up the long, upswept curve of her other ear tip. So much drama over the shape of an ear.

She had the sudden urge to do a reverse Sleeping Beauty and kiss him. Would he awaken? Grant her a wish?
No, that was a genie. But at least she’d be kissed by
someone.

The cool ground was getting uncomfortable. She got up carefully, not wanting to wake the boy. He didn’t look dangerous, but she’d be sure to tell Dad about him when she got back to Grandmother’s.

His presence here was puzzling. The elves didn’t want humans near the forest, and relied on the Dread to keep them out. But even asleep, this boy didn’t seem afraid. If he’d been affected by the Dread he would have been curled up in a ball, terrified, or running wildly toward the edge of the forest, not knowing why he was fleeing or from what.

The brilliant greens of the forest were muting to shades of gray in the gathering darkness. The boy was barely visible. As the gloom deepened, it occurred to Keelie that Ariel had not cried out in a while. Maybe she was roosting somewhere. Keelie was not excited about the prospect of spending the night in the forest, looking for a lost blind hawk, and her father would start searching for her if she was late to her party.

Wings flapped overhead and Keelie looked up expectantly. Ariel, or an owl? She stared up into the soaring canopy of the trees. Dad had been right—the Dread Forest was a forest like no other. It was his home, and now it was to be hers, too. She wasn’t sure she’d call it home, though. “Home” was a word like “dad”—it had to mean something. Any place where she had to clutch her rose quartz to feel comfortable could not be home.

Of course, she’d only been here one day, so maybe she’d change her mind. She could avoid Sean, and maybe after awhile it wouldn’t feel like her heart was being stapled to her ribs every time she thought about him. And she’d feel a lot more optimistic once Ariel was safe.

The dried leaves of the forest floor rustled, and Keelie looked back down. The boy was gone. She looked around for a trace of his passing. Nothing. Not a moving leaf. Where had he gone, and how had he moved so silently? It was as if he’d melted into the earth. She silently wished him a speedy journey out of the Dread Forest before the elves found him.

Keelie opened herself to the trees, asking them to find him. She felt their ancient presence, the green enormity of the mature forest, but the trees didn’t answer her call. Puzzling. She could feel their guarded presence, but her connection to the forest seemed to be faltering. She came from a long line of tree shepherds, and though she’d only been able to actively communicate with trees since June, she’d gotten used to it. Was she being snubbed?

Keelie cut off her attempt to contact the trees as she heard Ariel’s high-pitched call. But a chill of fear trembled through her. If the trees wouldn’t speak to her, finding Ariel and getting her back into her enclosure would be a lot harder.

She took a deep breath and released it slowly, trying to regain her calm, if only for Ariel’s sake. The hawk always seemed to sense her emotions; the stress she’d felt about
moving to the Dread Forest had made the hawk pick at the feathers on her chest until she bled. Keelie had no feathers to pick, but she understood the feeling.

Something moved to her left. Thinking it was the boy, she turned, but instead saw raised wings settle against a large shape perched on a juniper branch, which was bent low from its weight. Keelie walked slowly toward the tree, not wanting to scare Ariel away.

The tree was near the top of the ridge, and the forest below was vast, undulating and green, reaching toward the faraway road that led toward the tiny town of Edgewood. Smoke rose from a spot near the road, and Keelie had to squint against the growing darkness to see what it was. Forest fire? She put a hand on the bark of the great fir next to her, and suddenly it was as if she were wearing binoculars.

She saw the source of the fire clearly—a giant tangle of branches and wood, heaped in the center of a clearing that had been scraped out of the forest. Big yellow bulldozers and cranes were parked at the edge of the bare earth, with a small office trailer on the other side. She would ask Dad what they were doing. The Dread was losing its strength, making the forest vulnerable to humans and their industrial ways, but this was just too close.

Maybe this was where the boy had come from.

She needed to go back to Grandmother’s house, although she wished she could spend more time here. She wasn’t looking forward to the elf fest.

Beneath her hand the bark warmed, and she felt the tree’s awareness shift to the juniper and the bird in its branches.
Do you wish for us to send the bird to you?

Amazed, Keelie realized that Ariel’s flight had been guided by the trees. If they could do this, she could bring Ariel out every day.

The juniper’s branches shook, and Ariel flapped her wide wings and glided confidently toward Keelie as if she could see again. Keelie held her arm high and Ariel landed on the leather guard wrapped around Keelie’s wrist. The hawk dug her talons into the leather, shifting to steady herself.

Keelie stroked the bird’s throat feathers to calm her. “There, girl, didn’t that feel good?” she crooned. She couldn’t get mad at Ariel for wanting to take off, when she’d done the same thing.

The strong scent of evergreens surrounded her suddenly, making her feel as if she was on a Christmas tree farm.
Tree Shepherdess, your father says it is time to return to the village.
It was a tall juniper by the path. She sensed its great age, and through it, the forest around her, steeped in layers of magic, both in the air and under the earth. She could feel the soil strata beneath her, the age-old deposits, rich in magic, and something else, deeper below, that her mind shrank from.

Soon,
Keelie replied.

Now!
Dad’s mental voice blared into her mind. Keelie immediately shut him out. She didn’t want Dad talking to
her telepathically. He’d been doing it more and more ever since they’d arrived at the Dread Forest, and she was afraid that he’d look into her mind as well. What if he saw what had happened with Sean? She’d been such a fool, telling him that she loved him, that she’d missed him.

Keelie, come to the gathering! You promised you would be here and your Grandmother is unhappy. If you want to fit in with the elves you need to meet them halfway. They’ve come to see you.

Why couldn’t he get a cell phone and text her like normal people did? And she wasn’t talking about one of those elf phones that used the trees as cell phone towers, either.

She tuned him out. She didn’t care if Grandmother was unhappy. Keliatiel Heartwood seemed to be glad to have her son back, but she ignored Keelie except when Zeke was around. It was as if she didn’t know what to do about her odd, half-human grandchild.

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