When I was a child, I lived by a creek. That was the first time I saw them.
My home was surrounded by trees, so they were difficult to spot at first. They seemed tall and thin, swaying just like the pines in the wind – but opposite to the breeze. The Five.
I was eleven. I was standing on the porch. There was no rail yet, that was built later. The Five walked through the trees and knelt at the base of the stairs. I stood at the top and blinked. They were almost there, but not quite. Sliding out of view – shifting between eye-blinks. Here, there – never quite complete – hands shifting, the drape of cloaks different, eyes red now black. Not as tall as I’d first thought, at least not all of them.
They were all different. They were all of a kind.
The Five stared at me and I said nothing. I held my breath. They seemed to have no leader, but at last one of them spoke.
“We have traveled far and have no home, young sir.”
This one was gaunt and sharp, like a briar thorn. Courtesy demands the same, at least in the earth where I was grown, so I bowed and asked if I could get he and his companions some water or food.
“No water. No food. Our kind has no need for such things, but thank you for the offering. No, we come to ask of you a different thing. We have no home, young sir. We come to ask if we can live in you.”
The others all shivered at his words, but not from the wind. I answered quite politely that my home was full – my mother, father, and brother. We had no room for five more guests.
The thorn ran a thumb across his chin, to banish a smile. His teeth were green, I remember.
“Not a home of wood and steel, not a roof of woe and weal. Your family will never know we share your roof, young sir. We ask to live in your heart, not in your spare room.”
And then I was afraid. These were wolves at my feet. I took two steps, grasping for the brass handle of our front door.
Another of the Five spoke. She was dressed in white. She was beautiful and empty as the moon.
“We shall not harm you if you refuse. We are bound by the laws of the City, even as you will be.”
“We have ridden far, far from the gates and we are tired. Let us rest here, let us live in your heart.”
I was still afraid. I was afraid and sick to my stomach. But I was also eleven. So I asked. I asked why? Why should I let them live in my heart?
The woman dressed in white began to speak, but the thorn stopped her. He spoke, his eyes in mine.
“Because. Because it is the perfect home for us. You will see and know and your heart will beat all the wiser, will ache all the sweeter. You will hear the music. You will walk the secret roads. And, in time, you too will ride back with us to the City.”
The thorn’s words were honey and the Five knelt at my feet and I was alone and afraid and eleven eleven eleven.
I asked one more question.