We had always been farmers. Our village had grown because of the fertile land around us. We had a stream full of fish and we were well guarded by the mountains on one side. Our winters were mild and our summers warm and bright. We were off most trade routes, but many of the travellers who were hitching a ride with the merchant wagons settled with us. They always laughed that the faeries who shared our land with us had cast a spell over the village, making it twice as hard to leave as it was to stay. We would give gifts — the faeries didn’t eat, but they loved the shiny fabrics that we bought from the merchants. As they were too impatient and fickle to soothe and train their own animals, they marvelled at the domesticated animals we gave them as gifts. One of the farmers in the village had given them his two best horses. But the greatest honour for the faeries was when our blacksmith had offered to work iron horseshoes for them.
We woke up one morning with the faeries gathered in the middle of our village, sounding one of their trumpets. Bleary-eyed, with the sun barely rising, they announced that they had a gift to give us — a wall around our village.
“Protect these walls as if your lives depend on it,” they warned.
Four L-shaped stone corners now marked the edges of our township, marking the corners of the faeries’ invisible border. The stories say that the ephemeral walls between those stones had shimmered faintly in the full sunlight when the spell was first cast.
“When the last is broken, our protection will end.”
The first wall had not lasted ten years. My father told me that the once jagged edges of broken stone were now worn smooth with time and rain. Nothing had grown there for centuries — the children were forbidden from playing there, and the adults had the sense to keep away. Overnight our blacksmiths became armour smiths and swordsmiths, their eyes growing a little harder. When it fell, the faeries disappeared from our village, never to be seen again.
The second wall had fallen when our grandfathers were babies. Hearing our stories, a rogue tribe had come from the west to ransack our village, attacking our walls more to dishearten than to break any myth. We killed every last man, but not after the ward had been shattered. Our elderly began to swear that every winter since, was colder than the last.
The next wall went easily, two walls were already down and no one thought that another would matter. Our fathers fought but without heart, their own fathers too old and weak to take up swords. Our protection had lain undisturbed now for centuries and the story had grown old, our village now complacent. We surrendered some of our lands and freedoms to a distant emperor. We were now obligated to send a tribute once a year. Although we increased our farming efforts, our plates were barer than ever.
The clang of metal brought me back to reality. Crossing swords, those memories were faint, a child’s mind remembering in an adult’s body. We are men now, pushing these thoughts to the back of our minds as we fought for the final wall. Our crops had struggled and we couldn’t raise a tribute. Our distant ruler had decided we were of more use as a military outpost, and they wanted us out.
Through the smoke of the fires from our village, we saw them wheel their battering rams from the rear of their army to our wall, right at the far edge of our sprawling battle. There was no reticence this time, even the women had armed themselves with rakes and sickles to fight the soldiers coming into their houses. But we were too weak. We had sent what meagre stocks we could manage as our attempt at tribute and left ourselves starving. Our horses were long dead, we couldn’t cover the distance between the village and the wall where they were wheeling their war machines.
A black flash above my head caught my eye, causing me to pull back as my enemy swung at me. To my surprise he tripped instead, sitting stunned on the floor before he started laughing. He turned to the camera with a “Sorry, guys!” as the director tetchily yelled, “Cut!”.
The crew were just starting to reset the scene when I watched everyone else’s heads whip around. There was a hideous crash from the back of the set, but I didn’t move my head. I already knew what I would see.
“Oh no,” I whispered to myself. “They’ve broken the fourth wall.”
By Rebecca Fletcher