Morgana le Fay, sorceress, enchantress, legendary half-sister to King Arthur himself and now (mostly) undisputed queen of the Unseelie court, turned her midnight-blue eyes on the visitor and motioned for her guards to let him go. The guards – a rabbit-eared goblin and a particularly fat bogle – dumped the poor pixie at her feet and stood menacingly over him. The pixie boy, wearing a smart green and gold-lined suit, and evidently unused to such treatment, brushed himself off before facing her, chin raised indignantly.
“I bring news from the Seelie court, my Lady” he announced. The bogle kicked him.
“My Queen,” it growled. “Or your Majesty, or your Greatness, or your Enchantedness-”
“Shut up.” Morgana turned her cold eyes on the overzealous bogle, who seemed to shrivel under her gaze. “Do go on,” she said to the messenger.
“’Tis a secret message, my- your Majesty” said the pixie self-importantly, with a pointed glance at his escort. Morgana sighed, and dismissed the guards. Perhaps Oberon had finally decided to retaliate to her many attempts to have him assassinated. That might be fun.
“Well?” she said when they’d gone.
The pixie put a hand inside his jacket, and Morgana tensed in anticipation, but he only took out a roll of leaf parchment. Oblivious to her little sigh of disappointment, he unrolled it with a flourish, and began to read.
“From His Majesty Lord Oberon, first of that name, undesputed King of the Fairies, the Seelie court, and all the lands from the Goblin Mounts to the Unknown Coast, and from the Dragonrealm to the Timeless Desert and beyond, blessed ruler of-”
Morgana snatched the parchment out of the pixie’s hands and silenced his squawk of protest with a look before lowering her gaze to read:
We have received reports of Thrumli activity in Seelie territory. As you know, enforcement of the peace treaty between our lands is entirely dependent on your capacity to contain the monster you created, and to keep it away from Our people. Should We continue to receive such reports, the treaty will be presumed null and void, and your laxism shall be taken as a declaration of war.
Morgana stopped reading and clicked her fingers. The parchment went up in a woosh of flames (the pixie squawked in protest; she ignored him), which transformed themselves into a ball of deep blue light. Morgana propped her chin on her hand and poked the ball. Oberon’s face appeared, looking irritated.
“What is it?”
“So you’re allowed to write to me, but if I so much as touch a plume, it is war between us?” her smile was as beautiful as it was cruel.
The Seelie King’s look would have curdled milk. “I refuse to enter into this debate again. What of that thing you’re supposed to be keeping under lock and key?”
“Locks and keys are human objets,” said Morgana, “as are scrolls and ink. You can never resist the urge to tease me, can you?”
Oberon opened his mouth to reply, then stopped, listening, and reddened. Morgana giggled.
“Is it that stuck-up wife of yours? Tell her I preferred her when she was single.”
“I am not the messenger of either of you!” Oberon growled.
“Titania darling, come talk to me!” she called. “Your husband is so mean to me. Leave him and come to me, sweetling, I’ll be better to you than he ever was!”
She heard the sound of a door shutting, and pouted. “You’ve taken all the fun out of her.”
“What did you call on me for?” Oberon growled. “Was the letter not clear enough?”
“Truly, it was not,” she said. “For as far as I know, my darling lover – or the remains you left me with – have been here with me.”
“‘As far as you know’ is not good enough. This is serious business, Morgana. Your own people will suffer, should you let that thing out.”
Morgana’s smile vanished. “My people suffer anyway because you made him what he is now! Every quarter year I have to sacrifice a child of my own people in order to contain him. Adults won’t do! Criminals bore him! It has to be an innocent!”
“You are the one who drove him to madness!”
“Because of your treachery! None of this would have happened had you simply let – us – be!”
The Seelie King’s face was suddenly glamoured to absolute stillness. Finally he said, “Whatever the case, the fact is now that you, and only you, are responsible for containing him.”
“Only I am capable, you mean.”
“If you are no longer capable, then measures will have to be taken.”
“Measures?” she asked. “Do you presume to threaten me, Oberon?” Morgana’s smile returned, mirthless. “Not that I’d complain. This peace you insist upon is getting boring.”
“Troublesome, is the word I’d use,” he said. “Indeed, perhaps if I eliminated the rabble that you call a court, the Thrumli would be killed too.”
Morgana frowned. “You know that is false.”
“‘Tis but a suggestion.” Oberon gave her that awful, ironic half-smile typical of elves who thought they were being clever. Morgana repressed a grimace.
Movement caught her eye. The pixie was fidgeting. She’d forgotten about him.
“Why waste time writing me a letter and sending me one of your pixies?” she asked. “You know he won’t get out of here alive.”
The pixie jumped at the remark. She winked at him.
“Killing him would also be a declaration of war,” Oberon said calmly. “You pretend not to mind, but no matter how good your glamour is, our power – true power – is far superior to yours, and you know it.”
And there was the crux, Morgana thought, and she bared her teeth in a wide, predatory grin. She beckoned towards the poor messenger, who approached helplessly, his legs no longer obeying him. “Then why don’t you invade us?” Morgana asked.
“Do you want us to?”
“It would be far more interesting than all this reminiscing over our tragic past.”
“Then by all means, kill my messenger.”
The messenger in question, now visible to Oberon, had abandoned his veneer of self-importance and was emitting small, panicky squeaks. Morgana ran a long blue talon down his cheek.
“Is he so important to you that you would start a war to avenge him? Or so disposable that you tempt me on purpose?”
Oberon’s laugh was devoid of mirth. “He is Seelie. It’s a question of principle. Not that you’d know what that means.”
“Principles are a hypocrite Seelie notion, something I do my best to avoid,” she said. “You can hide behind your principles all you like, your Majesty,” she said, “The real reason why you let us live is that the Unseelie lands are your dumping ground for every outcast and misfit born into your otherwise perfect ranks. There are no bastard Seelie children, are there? No half-breeds, no rebels, nobody to contest your rule.”
“And why do you think I send them to you, instead of simply having them killed?”
Morgana had expected Oberon to deny the accusation, and that made her hesitate.
“Because you know we’ll do the dirty work for you,” she said at last. Seelie “immigrants” rarely survived for more than a few minutes. There were tribes of goblins that lived close to the Seelie border, living on Seelie outcasts.
Oberon snorted. “’Work’ is a nice way of putting it. ‘Brutal massacre’ would be more accurate.”
“Would you prefer that I protect them, maybe bring them all together in one place so that they can rebel against the King that banished them?”
“You may do as you like.”
Morgana smiled. “Indeed I may. Now, are we done? All this talk of Seelie outcasts is making me hungry.”
“Just take care of the Thrumli.”
The blue ball disappeared. Oberon had never been one for civilities, which was one of the rare things Morgana liked about him. She turned once more to the Seelie pixie.
“Y-y-you heard him, didn’t you?” the pixie stammered. “If you k-kill me, it will be a declaration of war!”
“Of course,” Morgana said. She smiled warmly at him and ruffled his hair. “I apologize for my bad use of you. Oberon is such a blockhead, talking to him is impossible without some sort of hostage.”
The pixie giggled nervously.
“However,” Morgana continued, “I’m afraid you’ll have to undergo a thoughting. Worry not,” she added, seeing the pixie pale again, “it is a short and painless process, and I assure you that, should your mind be clear of any plot or treason against me, Oberon will have no cause to declare war.”
She clicked her fingers and a small fairy child appeared, dressed in a spidersilk dress so thin as to be almost transparent. Its limbs were shorter and thicker than those of most fairies, its ears smaller and rounder, and its eyes were the deep, dark blue particular to those of newborn humans, before they change. The pixie tried not to stare, though Morgana suspected that he had never encountered this type of fairy before.
“Thought him, please,” she said. The child turned its huge eyes on the pixie and he stared back, transfixed. After a while he began to tremble violently, and small gasps escaped him, as the child’s eyes took in all he was.
“Done,” said the child eventually. “Nothing to declare.”
“Then I trust you know your duty,” Morgana said. The child nodded, and she dismissed it. Morgana turned back to the pixie and beckoned once more.
“A-am I not free to g-go, your Majesty?” the pixie asked desperately.
“Whoever said anything of freeeing you?” Morgana smiled, and this time her smile held no warmth.
“B-b-but – you said -”
“What I said was that Oberon would have no reason to declare war, and indeed, he will see you return to his ranks safe and sound before next sunrise.”
The pixie giggled and nodded enthusiastically.
“I never said it would be really you.”
Laughing prettily at his the terror on his face, she got up, took him gently by the hand, and led him to a balcony overlooking the Unseelie capital. Sensing her presence, the closest of her subjects stopped what they were doing and looked up, followed by those around them, until the whole city waited to hear what she had to say.
“My subjects,” she cried. “Are you loyal to me?”
An enthusiastic cry of assent.
“And do I not reward your loyalty duly?”
The shouting shook the walls. Morgana waited until it had faded.
“The Seelie King has sent me a present,” she said, pulling the terrified pixie to stand in front of her, putting her hand on his thin shoulders. She could smell his fear. “Isn’t he lovely? Not good enough to forgive all that they have done to us, but we must make do with what we have, must we not?”
The crowd waited. Some nodded, others licked their lips, eyes widening in anticipation.
“The Seelie are right about one thing,” she continued. “Sharing doubles pleasure. It is my pleasure to share my gift with you, my people, as a reward for being loyal to me. Do you accept?”
This time the roar did not fade, but amplified and transformed into a wordless, pulsing chant, like an accellerating heartbeat. She bent her head to speak to the pixie.
“What is your name?” she whispered, her lips brushing his quivering, pointed ear. The pixie, certain now of his inevitable fate, opened his mouth, but no sound came out. She ran a long blue nail over his adam’s apple. “What was that?”
Morgana smiled, and lightly kissed the pixie’s neck. He groaned, and the smell of fear took on another, sweeter note. The kisses continued around his shoulder, until she found the hole in his jacket between his shoulder blades where his wings sprouted. He was paralysed, exactly like a fly caught in a spider’s web.
“How appropriate,” she chuckled.
She bit him, and he moaned again, as dark green blood trickled down his back. She sucked, and bit him again, twice, before straightening with her prize. The fairy’s wings hung limp in her hand, the boy collapsed in her other arm. His eyes were staring at her, glazed with pain, pleasure and confusion, all trace of fear gone. Pity, she thought, as she threw the useless wings over the edge of the balcony.
Her subjects, whose hunger was now tangible, dived at them in a screaming, growling, biting mass of wings, limbs, fur and leaves. She lifted the mutilated pixie so he could see, but his head hung limp on his neck, and she could sense the life leaving him already. Disappointed, she dropped him over too, turning back into her castle as Oberon’s messenger was ripped to pieces.
Several floors below her, in one of the countless tunnels that connected Morgana’s castle to everywhere else in the Glimmerlands, a child changed shape as it ran. Its skin turned green, its grey hair fell out, it grew taller, thinner, and its spidersilk dress turned to gold.