Because FUCK TITLES.
The party was in full swing, although rumours of Thrumli activity ran through the room like lightning, and the guests were somewhat agitated. They feasted and drank, danced and flirted like this would be their last night alive, and some had even retreated to various corners of the immense hall for more intimate activities under a glamour shroud. Arwyn noticed that many of those who’d been there at esbat hadn’t turned up this time, and these had been replaced by others she had never met before. Rayth was one of the missing ones, and she wondered if he had been forbidden entry, or had voluntarily abstained from the festivities.
She had her answer when he barged in, pursued by a tiny, furious goblin and stinking of rosewine, pushed gracelessly through the crowd to get to her, and pointed a finger at her accusingly.
“You’re human!” he slurred triumphantly, his finger pushing the end of her nose. Arwyn, too surprised to argue or even glamour herself, stared at him.
“What are you talking about?” Orren came to stand between them, pushing Rayth’s arm out of the way. Rayth sneared.
“Ah, the prodigal son. Thought you could fool us, eh? Thought you could bring a human into our midst and none of us would be the wiser? Long-lost sister indeed! I bet you never even had a sister-”
Orren’s hand was a blur, but the next second found Rayth stumbling backwards, one hand over his eye, blue blood leaking through his fingers.
“Care to develop that argument, Rayth?” Orren’s voice was barely more than a whisper, but it cut through the sudden silence like a knife. “I’d be careful what you accuse me of. Remember whose territory you’re on.”
Rayth’s good eye blazed fury. “You don’t scare me. I’m more powerful than the lot of you half-breeds put together! I admit your glamour is good – you nearly had me fooled with her -” he pointed at Arwyn “- but you must have known it couldn’t last. Yorwen’s mad to think she could get away with this-”
“Yorwen would like to know how you got past her guards,” said the lady in question, coming to stand next to her children. She lifted a hand, and Rayth glanced behind him to find himself surrounded by goblins in yellow livery, waiting. He licked his lips.
“Alright,” he said, “I’ll go quietly, if -” his gaze swept across the assembled fairies, “- Arwyn can prove that she truly is a fairy.”
A murmur broke out in the crowd. Some edged away from Arwyn and her family, other’s craned to look at them. Rayth grinned.
“Should be easy,” he said. “Humans have no glamour. All she has to do is prove she has.”
The crowd chattered, some of them laughed. Orren grinned. “Can’t you see she’s glamouring herself already?”
“But that’s not her power, is it Orren?” said Rayth, and there was a cruel glint in his eye. “I thought she smelled strange. She smells of human – and you.” Arwyn stared from her brother to Rayth and back again. The crowd hushed, listening. “You must lend her your own power permanently,” Rayth went on, “that’s quite impressive. But then, what else should we expect from the child who killed the Thrumli? Only – ah! Wait! Haven’t you heard? It’s not dead!” The tension in the hall was suddenly palpable. “It’s back. So, Orren, tell us – what happened all those years ago? Since you didn’t kill the Thrumli, what did you do? Did you beg to be let go? Did you find some other child to die in your place?” The gleam in Rayth’s eye had taken on the shade of madness. “Or were you simply not a good enough tithe?”
Yorwen’s order was still ringing around the hall when the goblins completely submerged Rayth. For several seconds all that could be seen was a writhing mass of brown and yellow, before suddenly, it collapsed. The goblins fell about, confused, their pray gone.
“Where is he?” Yorwen shouted. “Find him! Kill him!”
The goblins scoured the hall, then streamed out, leaving the guests in chaos. Yorwen followed them.
Orren glamoured himself a foot taller and shouted for quiet. “Noble guests, I apologize for the disturbance. Rayth should have learned to hold his rosewine before accusing anyone else of human weaknesses -” a few of the guests tittered, “- and I can assure you that not only is my sister a fairy, but she also holds her rosewine better than him.” The whole crowd laughed.
“Prove it!” someone shouted. The rest grew quiet again, all turning to the culprit.
“Have you been abusing the rosewine, too, Rowan?” Orren asked.
“N-no,” the brown-haired fairy stammered. He swallowed, but stepped forward, seeming to gain confidence. “Without presuming to accuse her,” he continued, “I’m sure all of us would like to see how Lady Arwen has progressed. We all know, of course, that she is your sister,” he added hastily. “We remember that her time in Cat’s Court had left her nearly bereft of power, and that you, her kind brother, had to lend her your power so that she could, ah, catch up.” He smiled nervously at Arwyn. “My lady, would you care to show us your power, so that we may congratulate you on your progress?”
Everyone turned to look at Arwyn. Arwyn looked at Orren. Orren shrugged, but she could see the tension in his eyes.
“I fear my progress has been slow,” she replied. “But I don’t mind showing you, if you wish it.”
“Of course,” said Rowan encouragingly, “Orren must let you do this on your own. We know that – loving brother that he is – he lends you power. Why not let him take his share back, so we can appreciate your true progress?”
Arwyn turned to Orren and held out her hand. He hesitated, then took it, and closed his eyes.
Arwyn had known that Orren lent her power, but she hadn’t known quite how much. As she felt it flowing through her arm like a rush of pins and needles, she felt changes she hadn’t anticipated. Her mind cleared, felt sharper than it had since she’d left Cat’s Court. Her body felt heavier, more clumsy, but also more stable. Her limbs shortened, each finger and toe lost a joint, and although her sense of smell diminished, her odour changed to something more earthy. Never had she felt more human.
The pins and needles slowed to a trickle, then suddenly Orren let go of her hand. Her palm tingled, and as she opened her eyes, she saw the other fairies staring and whispering amongst themselves. She caught the words “human” and “traitor” several times.
“Go on,” said Orren. “Prove you’re my sister.” There was something of a challenge in his voice, and Arwyn’s stomach knotted. What if Rayth had been right? What if Orren had never had a sister, and Darcy was her true name?
She turned to face the crowd, gulped. Closed her eyes, knowing it was a beginner’s trick, not caring. The voices around her hushed each other and silence filled the hall. She felt it on her skin and concentrated on that, felt every inch of her body the way Orren had taught her to – skin, flesh, muscle, bone, blue Unseelie veins. I am a fairy, she thought, I look human because I’m a leanan sidhe and I spent too long in Cat’s Court, but I am a fairy. She willed her body to change, her limbs to grow, her ears to point out of her hair. For several agonizing moments, nothing happened.
Then, so slowly that she could barely feel it, her fingers started to grow. She concentrated on what it felt like to have that extra joint, and they popped into existence one by one, first in her fingers, then in her toes. Her limbs grew. Her ears grew. Her body thinned out and she felt her skin tighten just a little. It happened faster and faster, and suddenly she was confident – of course she could do this, she did it every day, Orren surely couldn’t lend her glamour all the time – and she felt silly for doubting herself. She could hear speculative murmurs in the crowd. They knew now that she was a true fairy, of course, and some were already discussing her progress. They found it lacking. She felt a rush of angry pride. She’d show them.
She screwed her eyes shut tight and thought of a dragon. It was big, almost half again her size, and long, like a massive, winged lizard. She felt her dress melt into her skin and become scales – green, she thought, and knew it was so – felt her face form a snout full of long, sharp teeth, her pupils slit and turn green, wings and tail sprout out of her. Her limbs shortened again and her hands and feet grew claws.
She heard gasps and opened her eyes. She towered over the awed guests, some of whom looked more than a little nervous. She grinned, showing them her teeth, and two of them yelped in fear. Her laugh was her own, though, and hearing it, the guests laughed, too. She let go of the glamour, popping back to her original form, straightened her dress (which had become a little rumpled due to the fast switch back) and curtsied. The guests applauded, and Rowan clapped her on the back, nearly knocking her over.
“Careful,” Orren warned, catching her by the arm. “Don’t clap too hard or she might eat you.” He smiled at her as though he’d known she’d do it all along, and waved to the crowd for quiet. “Now, dear guests, I fear our little game has tired out my sister. But please,” he added over the protests of the crowd, “stay, eat, drink, dance your feet to the bone. We shall return once she has rested a little.”
Several of the fairies wanted them to stay, and some begged Darcy to turn into a dragon again so they might see how it was done – but Orren politely refused them. Darcy didn’t understand – she did feel tired, but not the bone-deep exhaustion she usually felt at the end of a lesson.
“I’m not sleepy,” she protested while they climbed the stairs to her rooms.
“I know,” Orren replied, “and I’m impressed. I hadn’t expected you to do the dragon. You managed it well for your second time.”
“I forgot to change my voice,” she complained.
“You’ll remember next time.”
She pushed open her door and sat down on the bed. Orren closed it, warded the room, and bounded on top of her, pinning her down by her wrists.
“How did you do it?” he growled, eyes blazing. “How?” He pushed her further into the bed. Arwyn, dazed and terrified, shook her head. “Tell me! That wasn’t glamour, that was magic – a dragon – someone else is teaching you, who is it?”
“Nobody!” she whimpered. “I did it by myself! I swear!”
He glared at her, and for a second she thought he looked afraid as well as furious. Then, abruptly, he released her.
“You’re not lying,” he said.
“Fairies can’t lie,” she retorted, anger replacing her fear. “Why did you do that? After all those lessons, have you no faith in me at all?”
He looked at her, and his eyes were unreadable. “It… surprised me, is all. Luckily I don’t think any of those idiots have seen true magic operate in their lives. You should be safe.” He sighed. “I apologize if I hurt you. I… I feared that, if someone else were feeding true magic into you, then he or she could influence your behaviour.”
Arwyn massaged her wrists and didn’t reply. She wondered how much Orren’s glamour had influenced her.
“I think I can do without your glamour, now,” she said instead. “I’ve proven it, haven’t I?”
“That wasn’t glamour you were using. True magic does prove that you are not human, but it doesn’t necessarily prove you to be a fairy.”
“What else could I be? Besides, you said yourself they wouldn’t recognise it. Can’t I just use magic? It’s easier than glamour.”
He studied her as though she were a creature he hadn’t seen before. For a moment she thought he was going to protest. Then he schooled his featured to a pleasant smile and said, “Of course.” He walked to the door and turned. “You ought to rest anyway, though,” he added, looking earnestly into her eyes, like no quarrel had happened between them. “Such an effort has tired you more than you think.”
With that he turned and left, and as he shut the door, she found he was right. She crawled onto the bed and barely had time to wonder if he’d glamoured sleep onto her before sliding into unconsciousness.