The Corn Maiden, Chapter 1, part 1
Six Moons Earlier, Seven times Seven Days Walk to the East
It was not the kind of day one expected to meet death.
The fae scrambled to greet Dindi as she skipped through the terraced fields of ripening corn. The rolling green hills stretched out in every direction under a perfect blue sky marked only with the V of migrating swans. The ripening corn smelled sweet and fresh. Innumerable clouds of tiny willawisps hazed the fields like sparkling mists. Maize sprites clambered nimbly to the tips of the straight-backed stalks to wave at Dindi when she brushed by them. Pixies of every color fluttered on luminous wings around her head, making her dizzy.
“Come dance with us! Come dance with us!” they urged in a babble of flute voices.
“Not today!” She waved them away.
I could be taken for Initiation rites any day now, Dindi thought. And all omens indicate I’ll fail miserably. Like my mother. And my grandmother. And every single person in my whole clan since the days of the Lost Swan Clan’s great-mother.
She wore a basket strapped to her back, she carried a clay pot and her ears still buzzed with a tiresome list of chores from her great aunt. Great Aunt Sullana had also added a number of shrill warnings, Don’t cavort with the fae, don’t dilly-dally, don’t forget to prepare for Barter Day, all of which Dindi intended to ignore. Oh, she would do her chores, eventually, and she wouldn’t dream of missing Barter Day – the Tavaedi Troop would dance, she mustn’t miss that – but she needed to practice. She had told no one of her ambition to be invited to become a Tavaedi warrior-dancer, but she practiced alone every day.
Why does no one in my clan have any magic? I have to make myself different.
The first scream she heard was so distant and faint, she didn’t recognize it as human. She dismissed it. It must be a bird hunting – perhaps an eagle. Slight unease nagged her, so she went so far as to look up, and indeed, saw something large and winged circling higher up in the hills. Maybe a condor?
Another scream curdled the air. Startled, the pixies and willawisps scattered.
That’s no bird.