A snippet from today's fresh pages, for your enjoyment. They are first draft, so please forgive any typos/awkward syntax/or other errors.
Lydia's legs pounded against the hard earth. The back of her neck prickled with warning. She plunged into the darkness of the maze, praying that it would remember Aeon's promise of protection. Sobbing, her lungs burning, she stumbled to the ground. If Oberon had followed her here, there was no use in trying to get up.
What have I done?
She hugged her legs to her chest and rocked forward and back. Aeon's pendant swung free of her shirt and glittered in the moonlight.
"You have caused quite a stir, Lydia."
She blinked up at Aeon's smiling face, his eyes almost lost in the deep wrinkles. He held out an arm, twig thin and helped her to her feet.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to . . "
Aeon interrupted her with a deep laugh. "When has that stopped anyone?"
Lydia shivered, her bare arms rippling with gooseflesh. "Can you. . . will you help me?"
He cocked his head. "Which question shall I answer first?" Before she had a chance to think about what he was saying, he laughed again. "Can and will are two different matters, you know."
She swallowed and fear settled in a cold lump in her belly. Kind and jovial he might be, but Aeon was Fey and a member of Oberon's court. Resisting the urge to look over her shoulder, she listened carefully instead, but the only sounds were the soft chirrups of insects and the rustle of leaves. Where was the Bright King?
Aeon leaned close to her. "Oh, he is out there, all right, but he cannot come in this night unless I will it." His bark-colored eyes watched her with the patience of an old tree. A shiver ran down her spine. "And," he said, "I do not will it."
Lydia shook with cold and relief.
"It is only as cold as you choose, Lydia."
She was through with glamours. "This is who I am."
Aeon studied her for a few moments. "Yes, there is much of you who is Lydia Hawthorne. But child, is not that just a glamour too?"
She didn't know what to think. Part of what Aeon said was true. She was Lydia because of Oberon. "I don't know," she said, close to tears again. "I won't go back to Bright." And then the tears did fall. "I can't go back home, either."
"My trees can only shield you for a little while," Aeon said.
"I can't stay here?"
"And garden with old Aeon?" He shook his head. "Nay, child." His face lost all of its wry humor. "If Oberon chooses, he can unmake the maze."
Lydia pulled away from him. "I'm sorry. It was stupid to come here." If Oberon blasted his way through the hedge walls, it would be her fault.
"Stay a moment. We are safe a little while yet. He does not know about our friendship and he is not eager to spend his power against my tangled garden even for such a prize as you."
How strong was Aeon? And what did he mean by prize?
He smiled and it had none of the innocent joy of his earlier greeting. "He believes you lost and afraid amongst my green companions. When the sun rises and his strength is renewed, he will deign to rescue you." Throwing his head back, he giggled. Distant owls answered him. "Do you not see the ending of his Fairy tale?"
Lydia shook her head, confused and uneasy.
"Oh, it is so perfect. And so perfectly wrong." Aeon took several deep breaths, quelling his laughter. He glided closer to her, leaning in to whisper. "At the end of Oberon's story, you are helpless and grateful. Begging forgiveness, you will offer him your tithe and he lives happily ever after."
Tithe. Oberon had used that word before. She frowned. In the Mortal world, she knew some people gave ten percent of their money to the church. They called that a tithe. "What does that mean?" She didn't have any money and besides, what would he need her money for? "I don't have anything to give him."
"Oh, but you have much for him to take."
There was hunger in Aeon's face. She balanced on the balls of her feet, poised to run, but where could she go? Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Lydia relaxed her wound up muscles and gripped the neckalce Aeon had given her.
He looked away, but not before Lydia saw the look of shame that flitted across his face. "Will you spend a little time in my garden, child?" he asked, his voice light and amused once more. "I have been a negligent host."
Lydia hesitated, trapped between threats she had no way to understand. "What do you want from me?"
Aeon turned to lock her eyes with his. She felt her heart race. He stood still and silent. Pressure mounted against her ears, like a silent thunderclap. The smile and the wrinkled face thinned and she saw through what she knew was glamour to the truth beneath. He was still small, and wizened, eyes a soft brown. And wound around his throat and down his body were black thorns. Where they pierced his skin, blood dripped. When a drop touched the ground, a new green shoot reached up to him, twining around his legs. She barely had time to take in his torment when the image faded and the laughing gardener stood before her again.
Only the eyes had no mirth in them. "My freedom," he said, answering the question that lay in the air between them.