The following is a story from a series of short fiction exploring some of the Faerie Shepherds and Shepherdesses within my fantasy world. Read below the story for further explanation and head over to my first tale in this series if you’d like to read more!

Montana breathed deeply. Autumn’s air filled her lungs with spice and satisfaction as she surveyed the valley below and mountain range beyond. The peaks before her glistened in the sun’s caressing descent. In all the lands of all the realms through all the times, this view couldn’t possibly be topped—at least in Montana’s mind. Ask another Faerie Shepherd, and they’ll likely describe a different scene to match that description.

But this mountain’s peak was her spot. It was as much a part of her as the powers churning within her. This was where she first came when she accepted her fate as shepherdess to the Mountain Faeries. Whenever she had deep thinking to accomplish—or needed peace from feuding faerie families—Montana returned to lean against her favorite tree and bask in the view before her.

Today brought yet another showdown over who held the greatest ownership of the mountain. The Craobheinn, treetop Fae, reasoned that since the mountains’ height was its most important feature, their own dwelling height qualified them as the elite. Each ground-dwelling Faerie vehemently declared their preeminence as those who existed upon the mountains’ very curves, ridges and peaks. But the A’bheinn rumbled low and strong with their chant, citing the name of their dwelling as proof enough that they reigned supreme—Cridhe na Beinne, “Heart of the Mountain.” Their city existed within the depths of the mountain itself.

Montana sighed. Of the three families, she would be most closely persuaded to agree with the A’bheinn. However, the Nûñnë’hï had joined her to squelch the squabble by reminding the families that their unison on the Council—under their guidance, of course—ensured the protection and care of this very mountain created and sustained by Dhae. With that return of focus, the twittering, chittering and grumbling dissipated—much like the fall leaves spiraling around Montana now.

Another flash of red whizzed past her as an orange slash followed overhead.

These were no leaves.

Montana’s temper—faster than the beings darting in and out amongst the trees behind her—flared as she leapt to her feet.

“Not on my mountain.” Her words held great power, even through tightly clenched teeth. The bright red runes on her arm glowed against the darkness of the cloud-shrouded expanse above.

The Fire Faeries hissed their laughter as they fluttered in a kaleidoscopic cyclone around her. A rotten stench assaulted her nose, and she knew the Drakes lurked nearby, waiting to unleash all the destruction in their power.

“You have no place here. This mountain rests under the protection of the Nûñnë’hï and of me, Montana Naidheachd. Away to your own realm of mischief!”

The laughter intensified to a crackle that filled the mountaintop and echoed from the peak across the valley.

“Don’t s’pose they’ll be a-listenin’ to ya, lass.”

The voice showered over her, melting the evening’s chill upon her skin while filling her with both a soothing calm and a buzzing energy.

She turned to discover a young man with ancient deep brown eyes leaning mere inches from her own face. He casually rested a forearm against the tree she had recently employed as her own support.

The brightness of her arm and the soaring Fire Faeries around them illuminated this unbidden visitor, and Montana’s breath hitched as she saw the burns covering most of his bare skin—arms, chest and face. His hair stood up straight at varying heights, matching a fire’s flames in both color and arrangement.

“And who do you think you are?”

“Well, I’m fairly certain I’m Mac Teàrlach, though who I am shouldnae be that much of a mystery to one as gifted as you, oh mighty mountain shepherdess.”

He bowed to her as an impish grin spread across his cinnamon-colored, freckle-kissed face. He tossed in a wink for good measure.

“You’re the legendary Shepherd of the Fire Faeries,” Montana breathed the words on the mixed winds of awe, revolt, disbelief and reverie.

“As charged!” He spread his arms wide and side-stepped around her, his boots clicking in time to the tune they composed. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a long night blazing before me.”

Ripples of mirth crackled around them as all the fiery creatures rejoiced in their Shepherd’s choice of words.

Montana discovered herself in a near trance at the sound, feel, sight and words of the odd man before her. She recovered and sank her nails into his arm. “Not on … “

” … yer mountain. Yes, yes, I heard.” He rolled his eyes and clicked his tongue before adding, “Didn’t mean I listened.”

Montana dashed after him into the trees. “It’s not just me. You must confer with the Nûñnë’hï. They present final judgement on anything affecting this mountain range, and you do not want to cross their power and authority. We can head to them now; you should receive an audience in the morning.”

Eyes narrowed in apparent consideration, Mac ended his brief delay with another grin. “Nah. Too long.”

Montana’s glowing arm deepened to a more menacing shade of red as she opened her mouth to protest further. Before she could utter another sound, Mac whirled around to silence her. “You’re still rather new, so I tip my hat to your fire—misplaced though it may be. Immortal or not, the Nûñnë’hï hold no authority over me. Their approval’s not needed when their mountain is centuries past time for a Cleanse.”

The zipping rainbow streaks grew increasingly frantic as they circled around the shepherds and wove through the trees and the brush.

“Their lust rages to burn. If I didn’t guide them, they wouldnae cleanse. They would kill.”

Open-mouthed, Montana watched as Mac’s simple brown eyes ignited with fire. His entire body pulsed with vibrations passed through the earth between them, into her feet and throughout her being. In a flame-colored flash, he flew away from her. The Fire Faeries followed his wake, tossing balls of flame on every side.

“My creatures!” Montana’s heart dropped a beat as she pictured the thousands of creatures who called the mountain their home and her their friend … and protector. Before she reached her second realization—that she was trapped at the top of a mountainous inferno—the voice returned, this time cooling her feverish thoughts.

“All safe and sound,” he whispered in her ear. When she turned to query him, he explained, “Your creatures, of course. I cleared the mountain.”

Montana blinked, but couldn’t quite retrieve the words she sought. His laugh thundered deeply as he observed her perplexity. “I’m a wee bit quick.” His expression grew solemn, and he placed his hands on the shepherdess’ shoulders. “Montana Naidheachd, I am a Shepherd. A protector. This fire lives only within my control and permission.”

She felt herself meld into his gaze as he spoke. His touch drew her into his very being, stealing her breathing and leaving her confident, though shaky. The twinkle returned to his face as he continued, “And, it is a magnificent creation. One I do not care to miss any longer. Let’s go.”

With one sweeping motion, he lifted Montana into his arms as the flames in his eyes warned her what was about to occur. The vibrations rattled even her heart as they flew through the fires, round and round, down they soared. The flames’ roar rushed through her ears as its scalding touch softened her skin. Its reflection flickered on his face, and she saw his joy and purpose as he surveyed the element’s power around them.

The fire made his unusual appearance the most handsome she’d ever seen. As she contemplated whether this new revelation was a trap or simple fact, Montana felt the full effects of the fire’s heat on her left arm dangling from Mac’s shoulder. His carefree, exultant gaze shifted to concern as he locked with her eyes.

“Tuck in your arm to me … now!” His order strengthened her to obey. As she hauled her flaming limb onto his shoulder and against his neck, she heard his skin sizzle even as the searing pain in her arm diminished.

In less time than an eye blink, Montana thought the fire in his eyes dimmed and his speed decreased. Whether they did or not, she couldn’t be sure; for his laugh ran free with the flames around them as he proclaimed, “I run ahead of the wind!”

Montana glanced back at the blaze fanning wildly behind them and resolved to remain uncertain about the untamed man beneath her … for the safety of her own heart.

Exhaustion and fatigue from the heat claimed her, and she rested her head against her recently healed arm. Before she sank into deepest slumber, Montana appreciatively inhaled an intoxicating blend of allspice, clove, pine and ash.

“Blazing the Mountain” Copyright © 2018 by Joy E. Rancatore. All Rights Reserved.

I’d love to hear what you think about Montana and Mac Teàrlach! My hope is that you’re drawn to these characters from this tiny window into their world. I plan to share more of their story “out in the wild,” so to speak, here on my blog. My goal is to gift you a monthly story post … despite illnesses and life, if I can. Read the last one with more on Montana and her sister, Marin, in this post.

This month’s story flowed from the inspiration of a delightful monthly online writing prompt, #BlogBattle; though I am not “officially” participating again since illness kept me from completing the story in the right month. As you will read on their site, “Blog Battle is a monthly writing prompt meant to inspire writers and entertain readers.” To read many outstanding stories inspired by September’s prompt, “Blaze,” head on over to the BlogBattlers site! You may just find a new favorite author to follow! I’m already working on an October story, thanks to the prompt “Cave.”

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The following is a story from a series of short fiction exploring some of the Faerie Shepherds and Shepherdesses within my fantasy world.