“Juni,” Crystal pleaded as they walked. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry! Crystal, you’re going to get yourself killed. That pool is deep and made of snow melt.” Juniper spun around, the loose ribbon in her hair threatening to slip the rest of the way out.
“I don’t have to swim in it,” Crystal said. “I just have to be able to get the glass out.”
“Correction,” Juniper said and put a finger to Crystal’s chest. “You have to get a piece of glass the appropriate size out. What were you thinking agreeing to that?”
“That I need it for my brother,” Crystal replied.
For a moment Juniper said nothing before she exhaled, her anger melting away. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Hopefully answer a question for me.”
“I’ll try, but I promise nothing else,” Juniper said and crossed her arms. “I’m very put out with you.”
“I know, and I’ll make it up to you,” Crystal said and smiled. “I know where to find those blackberries you like so much.”
Juniper let off a gruff little snort as she tipped her chin. “What’s your question?”
“The son of the blood fae queen, he carried Coal to the entrance in exchange for a lock of my hair.”
“I know,” Crystal said. “You’ve said it a hundred times. Blood and hair are the two most powerful things to offer. But, he called it an even exchange and was determined to carry Coal all the way to the very entrance as part of that even exchange. I don’t understand why.”
Juniper considered it for a long moment. “Well,” she said. “I don’t know everything about them, but all fairies are bound by certain rules. An even exchange means once both ends have been met, no further offers can be made on that. If he did however, and he is a blood fae as you say, the sunlight would have weakened him.”
“I absolved him of all debts when I realized that,” Crystal said.
“Smart,” Juniper said. “But I can’t say for certain. I don’t exactly have anyone I can ask for more details.”
“It’s alright,” Crystal said and slid her hand into Juniper’s. “It was just something curious for me.”
Juniper chuckled a little and tugged Crystal closer as they walked a little farther up the path and then around an outcropping to gaze at last at the pool.
A bowl of white quartz formed the majority of the pool’s basin. A little higher up and she could see where the stones had worn smooth by the spring cascades. Now in the heat of the summer, the cascade had devolved into a melodic trickle.
“And the glass is in the bottom?”
“It should be,” Juniper said as she pulled the walking stick she’d brought with her out of the loop on her back. She hadn’t used it once, and yet as Crystal watched, Juniper went to the edge, holding it out as far as she could and dipping it down. As it went deeper, Juniper had to lean forward a little.
“There’s the bottom,” she said as she withdrew it. All but a half-foot portion had been submerged. “It gets deeper.”
The glass would be all the way at the bottom. Too deep to dive.
Crystal approached, looking down into the pool. The water wasn’t murky, but the backing of the quartz made it hard to see passed the glittering reflection of the sun. “Alright,” she said. “Too deep to swim in. We’ll need a raft.”
“Where are you going to find the things to build a raft with?” Juniper asked and Crystal smirked as she looked at her before she moved, clambering up and over the rocks to find what she needed.
A sigh escaped Juniper as Crystal began finding long sticks and the like. “I should know better to ask by now,” Juniper noted as she spread out the blanket Crystal had insisted on bringing with them out.
While Crystal found the sticks she needed, Juniper worked carefully, using a roll of twine from her bag and a spare ribbon or two to make the raft.
It was only big enough for one person and Juniper looked at it, a little concerned while Crystal lashed several longer sticks together and secured a bag to the one end of her new staff. “Are you certain about this?” Juniper asked.
“I’m always certain of your handiwork,” Crystal answered. “It’ll take me a bit to get there and back, but I can do it.”
Crystal grinned and slid out of her shoes and left her bag behind. As an afterthought, she tugged out of her shirt. “Just in case,” she said.
Juniper harrumphed but offered nothing else as Crystal eased the raft onto the water. Once it was halfway into the water, she slid onto it, letting her weight and movement push it the rest of the way into the water. A glance back let her see that Juniper had taken to nibbling on her lower lip, a sign of her stress.
All the same as she carefully lowered the sack into the water and used it to push herself along, the raft continued floating. As always Juniper’s work remained steady. The only concern Crystal had was tipping herself over into the chilled water.
Peering over the edge Crystal could see some of the glass shards. The water grew into a clouded blue as she pushed herself along. The silt she raised with her movements obscured the bottom.
Most of the glass was out in the middle of the pool, but Crystal knew she wouldn’t be able to get that far. Though the raft was holding up, it wasn’t intended for a long trip and the more she moved, the more she felt it tip and shift.
Some of the water touched her toes and she froze on instinct before she looked behind her. She needed to get back. She had plenty of pieces in her sack now, she hoped. One of them would suffice.
Turning herself required a larger movement and water sloshed over the side, dampening her pants. She took a slow breath in as she pushed on the makeshift paddle. As the raft turned, the ripples of water spread out and away from her, crashing into the remnants of other ripples and movements.
Inching her way back towards shore she could see Juniper on the bank, body tense and expression horrified.
As soon as she was close enough, she reached out. Juniper caught her fingers and pulled, helping bring both raft and Crystal back to the shore. Crystal hauled herself up, one hand clenched around the staff. The bag came out, dripping and heavy.
“Absolutely insane,” Juniper said and tossed her arms around Crystal. Laughing, Crystal returned the hug, holding Juniper close for a moment and relishing in the smell of faint lavender from her clothes.
Letting go, Crystal smiled and reached up to tip Juniper’s chin a little. “You split your lip.”
That got a wry smile. “I was worried. I wasn’t sure it would hold up.”
“As always, I have your work to thank.”
“My work would have done nothing without your usual resourcefulness,” Juniper said and moved, carefully up plucking stones out of the bag. Some she turned and threw back into the pool. Wavelets moved across the water as she tossed the rocks back. Others she set aside, giving Crystal a chance to look at the so-called glass in the light of day.
It wasn’t quite opaque, and tinged blue. She picked one up, feeling the water polished surface.
“It’s quartz,” Crystal said.
Juniper nodded as she finished sorting the rocks. “Supposedly a grand castle stood here once. It fell to ruins.”
“And it was made of quartz?”
Juniper shrugged. “I don’t know what happened. I can only tell you there was supposed to be a castle, and that the princess had been blessed.”
There was a pause while Crystal pulled her shoes back on. Juniper turned, skipping a shard across the water. It sank somewhere in the middle.
“What was she blessed with?”
Juniper had to think a moment. “If I remember, she was blessed with beauty. It’s said she was supposed to have been accidentally put under an enchanted sleep, only to be woken by a true prince.”
“Did she ever wake up?”
“You know how those stories go,” Juniper said. “There’s dozens of versions of them. If she never woke up, no one knows where she sleeps today to try and wake her.”
Crystal was silent a moment. “The fairies,” she said. “They say their blessings are always a warning.”
“They are,” Juniper said and looked up. “I can tell you that firsthand. A blessing of resourcefulness only means you’ll face challenges that need a lot of wit. A blessing of fortune only means you’ll have both good and bad luck. Blessings of beauty attract people of greed.” She paused, reaching up to touch the locket around her neck. Crystal knew there would be a broken ring inside. “Are you alright?” Crystal asked.
“I’m fine,” Juniper replied and smiled. “These should be all the right size.”
“It has to be at least as long as my palm,” Crystal murmured.
“Take your pick then,” Juniper invited.
Carefully, Crystal held her hand over the two longest. She dismissed both. It only had to be at least as long as her palm. The less she gave Lucinda, the better. The items were obscure, and Crystal wasn’t sure putting them together would do anything good.
Then again, blood fae weren’t known to be ‘good’ fairies.
“This one,” she decided at last and Juniper nodded as Crystal took it, tucking it carefully in the pocket of her bag.
“Then the only thing left is to put these all back,” Juniper said and Crystal laughed. “Never take more than you need.”
“I know,” Crystal said and picked up another one. “But you know I’m terrible at skipping rocks.”