Tag Archives: story

The English Section: Alentejo Blue – Monica Ali

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PRETTY COLOURS

The first thing I noticed about this book is that the cover looks a lot like the cover of On Beauty by Zadie Smith, which I tried to read once and couldn’t get into.

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I judged the book by its cover and was disappointed

I’d like to point out here that I have a long history of attention problems which have only gotten worse with age / struggles with mental illness. At the time I tried to read On Beauty, I was in the middle of a phase where I had particular trouble with this, so don’t take my word on what that book is like, because we’re not here to talk about it anyway. I only mention it because the similarity in book covers made me think they might be from the same author (I didn’t remember who it was) and I think that prejudiced me slightly against it.

So maybe my impression of the first chapter and a half was influenced by that. It was also influenced by the fact that since this project demands that I read ALL the books in the English section of the library, I just picked it up without reading the blurb on the back cover. Turns out, the blurb isn’t just there to help you pick which book you want to buy or borrow; it also provides key information about the nature of the book, such as the fact that this is one of those books where each chapter follows a different character, making it a bit like a collection of short stories all set in the same place and time. Instead, I dived straight in thinking all the chapters were going to be like the first one, which spoiled it for me a bit. Maybe I should re-read chapter 1, because Joao is an interesting character, if only because none of the other characters think much of him. To them, he’s just one of the local elders, a poor old man who lives on his own and keeps a pig.

You know that game people play where they pick out a stranger in the street and imagine a whole life for them? I’m guessing Monica Ali knows that game well, and that’s what’s so fun about this book: you get to know each character from the inside, but then you also see them from the outside, through the eyes of the others. It show how deep and complex each of them is, from the obese and bitter bartender to the ex-druggie living in her trailer with her deadbeat husband and hopeless, snotty kids to the young girl who thinks her capacity for observation ought to make her stand out more, unaware of her own self-centeredness and naïvete. In each of these people there’s something to like and something to hate, and a ton of matter in between, but you only know that for the length of their chapter. Outside of that, you see them through the eyes of the other characters, for whom they are two-dimensional extras in film of which they are the protagonist.

This game of changing viewpoints comes to a head at the end of the book, where the point of view keeps changing, contrary to the rest, and centers around the arrival of this one mysterious character who everyone’s been waiting for, and who, when he arrives, refuses to reveal anything about his own inner world and motives, even when confronted directly. The characters’ speculation, their vain attempts to put him in a box the way they so easily do with everyone else, reflects our own tendency to categorise everyone we see based on prejudice, and the unease we feel when we find someone we can’t classify.

There are some characters who you only get to know through the point of view of someone close to them; which makes their reactions in certain circumstances surprising: I’m thinking of Eileen’s portrait of her husband, which makes us think their marriage is doomed to failure, but at the end of the chapter he shows that he is capable of trying to understand her, if she just communicates frankly.

At times, I felt frustrated not knowing how some of the stories ended. How does Teresa manage in London? What happens to Ruby? How did the Pottses manage in the end? But that’s also the beauty of the book: it’s about people. Peoples’ stories don’t end, they succeed one another, one story leading onto the next. The book gives an inside into the inner lives of several different people, leaving us guessing the end of their stories, but we know that the characters are each so absorbed in their own story that they’re not wondering about the others, like we are. The message I take away from it is that we should wonder, even in real life, even without that insight, about what happened to that friend we had in primary school, that teacher, that neighbour of your dad’s. Just wondering what their inner lives were like allows us to imagine them complexely, and that, dear reader, is how books make us better people.

The English Section: The Killing Of The Saints – Alex Abella

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I’ve recently discovered our local library, which has a large selection of English books, most of which are not the sort I’d usually read (fantasy, comedy or both). In the aim of opening my mind (and to avoid dithering in front of said bookshelves for ages while my partner and child wait impatiently to leave), I’ve decided to read all of them, one by one, in the order I find them, that is according to the Dewey decimal system, and to do a book review of each one. Of course, I’ll miss some because they’ll be taken out, but I’ll just pick those up later as I go along.

The first book is called The Killing Of The Saints by Alex Abella.

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Not sure I want to know what the image is supposed to be.

It’s about a lawyer who, seemingly in spite of himself, ends up having to defend a mass murderer who claims he was possessed by a god – that’s what the blurb says. It’s also about racism and corruption and politics. It’s about a guy who goes above and beyond the call of duty to defend a mass murderer who he secretly hopes will end up with a death sentence, because even he has a right to a proper defence. It’s about a man who seems bent on destroying his own life, who subconsciously sentences himself to misery for crimes you can’t entirely blame him for, but you can’t say he’s entirely innocent, either. It’s about dealing with huge moral grey areas with a justice system that sees only in black and white.

And it’s about gods and ghosts and religious fanatics, and you could probably explain away most of the scenes through mass hysteria etc., but then you could also not, and choose to believe, because it’s a story, and it gives you that choice.

Unfortunately, what with my new motherly duties, I didn’t actually manage to finish this book before I had to return it, which is not an excellent start to a project which entails doing book reviews, but never mind. I got to the very last chapter, which I think was something of an epilogue – in other words, I know how the trial turned out. I don’t know what the deal with the ghost was (you’ll see what I mean if you read the book, I’m not saying more because no spoilers), but I can tell the last chapter attempts to explain it. I want to finish the book, and maybe I’ll speed-read the ending next time I’m in the library, but that would be a pity, because speed-reading means skipping all the colourful descriptions that drew me in in the first place.

I give it four stars on Goodreads, because it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I had no idea how it would end until I read it (and I still want to read the bit I didn’t finish). It introduced me to a culture (Cuban latino) and a religion (Santeria) that I knew little to nothing about, which was fun, I mentally read almost all the dialogues in a Brooklyn accent (despite it being set in L.A.) which was also fun, and I didn’t expect the paranormal aspect to be such a big part of the story, which was interesting in a crime novel. I liked how there were odd bits of Spanish – artfully translated by the narrator where needed – that immersed me in a whole different culture to the ones I know. The legal stuff goes right over my head, but that’s ok – the author tells it in such a way as not to make it boring.

The main character is deeply flawed, sometimes downright stupid in his life decisions, and often a bit of a twat. The moral principles he lives by make him hate the environment and the people he lives with, who seem to have none for the most part, and he also hates himself for past transgressions that, while they’re undeniably serious, are also somewhat understandable given the circumstances, and god this is hard to talk about without spoiling anything, so I’ll just say this: it’s a good book. If you see in your local library, take it out and read it.

Wow, I am shite at book reviews. Join me in three weeks (or less, if we’re lucky) for my opinion on whatever I’ve managed to read of Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali.

Time’s Torture

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“All this doesn’t tell us how the sun was stolen from the Unseelie,” Stranger said.

Aleth laughed above his head. “I thought you’d fallen asleep.”

“So did I,” Stranger admitted. “Go on, though.”

“There’s not much to tell, I’m afraid. Oberon was outraged that the thing had dared to possess him and use him, and wanted revenge. But the truth is that nobody really knows how he took the sun from the Unseelie. Most think a dragon owed him a favour.”

“Dragons can do that?”

Another laugh, a little incredulous. “Why, dragons can do almost anything, my sweet. As long as it doesn’t require the use of thumbs.”

Stranger sat up. “Don’t call me that,” he said, not looking at the Teller.

“Are you not sweet?”

“I’m not yours.”

There was a silence. “I see,” said the elf. Stranger looked at him sharply, but Aleth only seemed pensive. A wave of embarassment rose to his cheeks.

“I have a sweetheart,” he found himself saying. “In… in Cat’s Court. And a child. A daughter.”

Aleth frowned. “So?”

Stranger sighed and tried to find an explaination that would satisfy a fairy. Their notion of relationships rarely included monogamy. “I would… prefer not to become… distracted, on the road back to them.”

The elf laughed, the delighted laugh of one faced with a child’s logic. “Indeed,” he said eventually. “Very well, then.” And still laughing, he lay down to rest.

After a moment, Stranger lay down next to him. He tried not to touch the other man, though he knew he would wake up in his arms. That morning (if you could call it morning), he had been the one holding the elf.

She wouldn’t blame you, a voice in his head whispered. She wouldn’t even have to know.

He knew that sailors at home indulged in such things frequently.

That’s not the point, he told the voice. Who knew what mishap might await him should he let himself be tempted by fairy flesh? Would succumbing to that desire have the same effect as eating englamoured food?

It’s probably too late for that, he thought.

He tried not to think of the possibility that if he did manage to return to Cat’s Court, his wife and child might be dead and gone for centuries, but since Aleth’s arrival he had found it far more difficult not to think. His usual routine of walking and foraging and avoiding enemies and finding places to sleep was changed. His past blurred into his memory so that a week or a century might feel the same, but since Aleth had joined him, it felt like time had begun to flow again. Of course he knew it always had, but his newfound awareness of it was less than comfortable.

He’d heard talk of new things in Cat’s Court, the names of kingdoms he did not know, and seen things exchanged that he seemed alien to him. Surely these were simply barbarian kingdoms and their odd inventions, things he had never had the chance to learn of before he had left. Surely it wasn’t too late.

Was it?

What if it was? Time moved differently here. He might return but a moment after leaving, or he might find himself back centuries later. Aleth had teased him at first, with tales of humans that only put a foot back in Cat’s Court and found themselves crumbling to dust as time caught up with them. Stranger had hit him then, and told him to shut up. Surprisingly, Aleth had.

But the seeds of doubt, so long ignored, had begun to sprout in his mind. Should his wife have remarried, he could bear it. He would at least have the chance of winning her back then. And if not, seeing his daughter would suffice. But what if both had grown old and died without him? What of his brothers, his descendants? Those children would never know what had happened to their grandfather. Or even who he was. What if his descendants were all dead? What if he had none?

What if another era had come and gone, and the world he had left was no longer his? That thought, so long avoided, turned his blood to ice.

Stranger buried his head in his arms and tried to remain still and silent as waves of panic and grief smashed through him. He felt like a child lost at sea, surrounded on all sides by cold grey water, kicking frantically to stay on the surface, and not knowing which direction to swim in, or what monsters were lurking below him, watching those tiny kicking legs and wondering whether it would be worth the effort to reach up and pluck him for a snack.

He did not move away when Aleth laid a warm hand on his back, nor did he resist when the elf shifted closer and pulled him into his arms, hushing and crooning like a mother soothing her child. The apprehension he felt as he buried his face in the other man’s shoulder and let Aleth’s hands stroke his hair was nothing compared to the pain in his chest. His last half-sane thought before he surrendered entirely was that trick or no trick, he hadn’t felt a moments comfort in eternity.

War’s End and the Birth of the Unseelie Court.

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Finally, an update! You have no idea how long I was blocked on this scene for. Actually you do, just look at the date on my last Glimmerlands entry. I didn’t know how to finish this scene, and so I got out of rythm, and lost my motivation to write, and it was summer and I wanted to go and play guitar in the park anyway, so I thought I’d wait a while. And then recently I’ve had that restless need-to-write-but-can’t-get-it-out feeling…

Many thanks to Zen|Xen for giving me that one last little push that happened to come just at the right time. 🙂 (Also, check him out, he’s getting published.)

Oonagh, whose family had disowned her in an effort to kiss up to the acting queen Titania, dropped her Seelie name and took instead a name she had once been given in a human incarnation: Morgana. She and Tamlin hid out in the countryside under a Name, waiting for the search to calm down and assume they had gone elsewhere, to the Dragonlands perhaps, or even to Cat’s Court. Back then it wasn’t unusual for fairies to emigrate to Cat’s Court, usually infiltrating circuses or posing as magicians or bards, and changelings were quite common, too. Some Seelie families swapped their babies for prettier human ones if they didn’t particularly like how theirs had turned out.

Morgana disliked this practise, insisting that all fairy children were potentially valuable, and as such, her recrutement strategy first targeted children. There was no shortage of orphaned Seelie children even then, and cross-breeds were usually abandoned. Morgana took them all. Under her care and Tamlin’s guidance, they grew strong and vengeful. When they grew too many to hide under even Tamlin’s spells, they chose a remote hill, hollowed it out and enchanted it, like the gates in Cat’s Court, and inhabited that.

Each one had a role to play according to their abilities, and they thrived in a way they never would have under Titania’s rule. Morgana encouraged competition, including with herself and Tamlin; of course, both were far more powerful than any of their protégés. In beating all of them, they proved that not only were they worthy to lead the rebellion, but they were also far more honourable than their Seelie counterparts, since they had been willing to put their places as leader on the line.

As the army grew, they began to occupy more and more hills, and these hills formed a line where our border is now. The plan was to surround the Seelie capital and then lay seige to the palace, attacking only the nobles, not the servants or the common folk, who they hoped would join them.

But before this could happen, Oberon’s spies found the hiding spot and told him about it. Oberon reacted by gathering his troops in order to attack, but they were slow to gather and many of them refused to fight for Oberon. When they heard an army was gathering in the hills, they gave themselves over to Morgana.

So Morgana and Tamlin quickly learned of Oberon’s plans, if such a brutish idea could be called a plan, and struck first, doing great damage to the Seelie army. But Titania had used couriers to spread rumours amongst the people that Tamlin had killed his mother and Morgana was out to kill all the weaker folk, so they met unexpected resistance from the common folk. Of course, that did away with the idea of not attacking the common folk or the servants, so it turned into an outright massacre.

Titania sent messages to the Dragons to come and help defend them, and two came. Two is more than enough to right the balance that until then had tipped in Unseelie favour, and so the seige was broken and Morgana’s forces retreated back to their hills.

But nobody had thought of the impact of Titania’s rumours on Tamlin’s reputation, and as everyone knows, reputation and belief are what give gods power. More and more Unseelie loved Tamlin, who was always on the front line of any battle, and more and more Seelie feared him, who had managed to injure one of the dragons badly enough that it had retreated from that battle, allowing much of the Unseelie army to escape. Whether they hated or loved him, all knew that Tamlin was powerful, and the more they knew it, the more powerful he became. And power corrupts.

After so many battles, his beaten fairy form became too fragile to hold so much power any more, so like Morgana, he became an incarner. It is said that all gods are incarners, and that fairies who share such traits are gods fallen from belief.

So Morgana held another competition of power, and this time the reward would be the honour of becoming Tamlin’s body. It may sound horrifying now, but Tamlin was so well-loved by his soldiers that there was no shortage of candidates. The winner was a female fairy named Wick, a small but powerful cross-breed between a pixie and a leanan sidhe. Tamlin took her body and possessed it, and it changed to fit him, which showed that he truly was a half-god, since incarners’ bodies do not usually change. Awe in him grew once more, and it soon became evident that Wicksy’s body would not last long unless Tamlin could spend some of his power.

So another attack was launched. And another. Eventually Tamlin felt Wicksy’s body dying, and another competition was held to replace her. When he changed bodies, Wicksy came back for a few moments before death, and the look of ecstasy on her face was such that soldiers came to believe that being possessed by a god must be pleasurable. Even more candidates competed, and so Tamlin never had a shortage of bodies to possess, even though they kept dying off.

Titania, meanwhile, had finished letting Oberon pretend to be Queen, and taken over the army once more. When she got wind of Tamlin’s incarnations, she sent a message to Morgana, offering her husband’s body to Tamlin in order that the three might rule together. She claimed that Oberon’s body would be far stronger than those of the half-breeds he was using, and would last much longer even in times of peace.

Morgana didn’t fall for it for a second, of course, but that wasn’t the idea. She knew that Titania must have a plan, but perhaps she could turn it on its head. So Morgana agreed, and the four of them met, backed by their respective armies. Order had been given not to attack, but the tension in the air was so palpable, storm clouds gathered and lighting began to zip from cloud to cloud.

Morgana thought Titania’s plan was to kill Tamlin’s body before he had a chance to incarnate to Oberon, leaving him bodiless, and had hatched a plan of her own. Tamlin had to touch a body in order to possess it, this was common knowledge. Morgana therefore held on to his hand so that he could possess her first, passing into Oberon’s body through her’s. She kissed Titania formally, and Tamlin waited. Then she kissed Oberon.

Tamlin shot through both of them like the lightning above, and at that moment, a dragon reared its head from under the platform they were standing on and bit Oberon’s body in two.

Titania smiled, and Morgana screamed. She had never imagined Titania might kill her lover. Her forces attacked the Seelie, and she threw herself at Titania, and the two Queens fought like only Queens know how. But without Tamlin, Morgana’s forces were confused and scared, whereas Titania’s still had their dragons. Morgana refused to give in, and nearly managed to kill Titania, but at the last moment Oberon himself rescued her. Morgana understood that the Oberon she’d seen earlier had not been the real one, although she hadn’t felt a glamour on him. Later it turned out that Oberon had Named one of his most loyal bodyguards to become him. Not ressemble him – become him.

Oberon fought Morgana while Titania escaped, and finally Morgana was forced to retreat. She and her rebels went back to their hills, exhausted and grieving for their lost leader.

But that evening something strange happened in the capital. In every home, family members turned against each other and killed each other and themselves. The next night, and the one after that, the same thing happened. It was the first case of possession ever heard of in the Glimmerlands – although such things had been said to occur in Cat’s Court before – and on the third day, the folk went to the palace to complain to their Queen. Titania and Oberon sent guards back with certain families, but guards were by no means impermeable to possession, and they are more practised at killing.

People began to fear their own families. They would turn against each other on their own, on suspicion that one was possessed, and thus began a series of killings that would later be known as the Incarner’s Mass Murder. Oberon rounded up Incarner families everywhere and executed them all. When some tried to flee to Cat’s Court, he closed off the entrances and reinforced the barrier between this world and the next, making anyone who tried to pass through an outlaw. Their only refuge was with the remnants of Morgana’s rebels in the hills.

Titania finally caught her. She sent the dragons after the rebels and laid seige to the hills, and Morgana gave herself up. Titania knew that if she killed her, Morgana could incarnate again, so she and Oberon enjoyed torturing her instead. One day she received and urgent message while this was happening, mentioning the possessions, and Morgana, despite her cuts, burns and broken bones, started to laugh. She laughed so long and so hard that even torture couldn’t stop her, and eventually this unnerved Titania so much that she made the connection between the possessions and Tamlin. Killing the body of an incarner fairy would allow them to reincarnate in a newborn, but Tamlin was no ordinary fairy, and had been able to incarnate – or possess – grown bodies before, leaving the original soul in it intact.

The killings had only happened in Seelie families. She brought some of Morgana’s loyal soldiers out of her dungeon and put them in a cage in the middle of the village, and called the rest of the villagers to come and jeer at them. Sure enough, as twilight fell, the Seelie villagers stopped stoning the prisoners and turned on each other, one at a time, leaving the prisoners – but also their guards – untouched.

Titania watched from the palace, and noticed the possessor seemed to target children and weaker fairies. She rightly guessed that Tamlin’s power had been weakened when his forces had seen him die. The nobles were safe, then, but if she wanted to keep the people on her side, she had to get rid of it somehow.

She went to see Morgana and offered her a deal: if Morgana could destroy the Thrumli then she and her remaining rebels would go free. Morgana, tortured and exhausted as she was, negociated further: that she and her Unseelie rebels would be allowed to have their own Court, in the lands beyond their hills. Titania accepted.

So Morgana was healed of the worst of her injuries, just enough that she could walk from the dungeons to the center of the village under heavy guard. As soon as she appeared, a silence fell, and even the wind stopped blowing, as if the land itself waited.

Oberon was unhappy that they were letting Morgana go. He cared little for the weaker folk, and would not have mourned their loss. Titania had had to exercise her ultimate right as Queen in order to make him go along with the plan, but still he muttered and fidgeted like a human child, and nobody noticed that something was wrong until he stood and pointed at the crown of villagers, shouting “They are his weapons that we must destroy!” and with that, he hurled his sword into the crowd, grabbed the spears off two guards and threw himself into the melée.

“Guards! Stop him!” cried Titania, but even she did not realise what was happening until she saw Morgana laughing again; the high, manic laugh of one who is irreparably insane. Seeing this, Titania put a spell on Morgana so that her skin writhed and her gut wrenched, and approaching through the chaos, ordered her to make it stop.

“Unspell me…”

“I will do so if you obey me,” said Titania, and Morgana knew then that she had no choice. Her face twisted in pain, she uttered a word that went unheard in the pandemonium, but stopped it immediately.

“Come to me!” she said, and then Titania’s spell stopped without Titania stopping it, and Morgana stood straight and tall as before. She looked at Titania. “I have fulfilled my end of the deal,” she said. “Now it is your turn.”

“You have betrayed us!” Oberon roared, but Titania signalled to the Guards to hold him back.

“Take your mongrel folk and leave,” she said.

The Guards and people stood aside as Morgana walked out, back straight, calling as she did to those who had been loyal to her, and others who would join her now. Only her melodious call and Oberon’s roars could be heard as she left.

I’m not dead.

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I’ve just been having a bit of writer’s block lately, so I took a break off Glimmerlands and the other writing project I was working on (in French, which is why it’s not on here). Remember when you clicked on “Who is this crazy?” to see who this crazy was, and I mentioned figuring out the workings of my own creative process? Well that means that sometimes there will be unpredictable and inexplicable hiatuses (hiatii?). This is particularly true of my writing projects, because they are very long and difficult and I’m the kind of person who responds to short-term gratification but thinks in trilogies.

So here’s what’s going on: at the moment, only three things make me feel good: spending time with people I love, singing/playing music, and food. Job-hunting is capable of really getting me down, except on those rare days on which I find something I’d actually like AND am qualified to do (not that I’ve heard back from any of those rare opportunities, despite my best efforts). I’m not as unhappy as before we got our two new roommates and also the cat (did I not tell you about those? Well, now you know). I’m in a better mood than usual now that I’m leaving on Sunday to spend a week with my mother and sisters, who I miss terribly and haven’t seen in far too long, but I still sometimes find myself suddenly feeling shit whilst in the middle of, say, eating dinner, or doing the laundry, or staring blankly out the window. It’s like the rotting black hole in my belly yawns open and belches out sulfurous fumes once in a while. Which makes it sound like indigestion but I can assure you, this is much worse.

When it became obvious my brain wasn’t going to cooperate any more when it came to my writing projects, I stopped. I usually try to force it until I get absolutely sick of the project, but I didn’t this time because, well, it’s never worked. So I’ve made a video, written another, prepared a third, played guitar a bit, signed up for singing lessons (singing helps a lot, and I’ve noticed that on good days my voice is stronger – I wonder if I can learn to control that phenomenon to somehow affect my mood on bad days, too), and had an idea for a project that I’d like to be able to illustrate.

I’m not going to go into the details of this project yet, but it’s to do with mental illness. So for me, the illustrations had to be quite dark. I carried the idea around with me for a few days, then asked an artist friend of mine if she’d illustrate it, which she enthusiastically accepted without knowing exactly what I wanted – and I forgot that her style of drawing is more comic than dark. I wondered what to do, because she lives close by so it’d be really convenient if I could get her to do it, but I didn’t know if I could adapt the story to her style of drawing.

Then today I was tired, so I had a nap, and when I woke up I knew how to do it. And I wrote it. And it’s done.

Just occasionally, my brain does something so cool and so exciting that it gives me hope for myself.

Glamour Human, Magic Dragon

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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?”

Kill him.”

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.

Lavender and chamomile

Standard

Having no excuse to put it off further, and since my cover designer (yes I have one) needs it in order to design the cover of my book, I’ve finally found a title for the first tome of the Glimmerlands trilogy! The title will be Wingroots. I hope I don’t regret this.

Unseemly as it was for a young lady of marriageable age to prefer books to people, having a writer for a father gave Darcy certain privileges that others of her sex and status did not have. Thus it was that instead of being stuck in the sewing room practising her embroidery, that particular Monday afternoon found Darcy curled up on the nursery window ledge, reading from a book of fairy tales. These newly translated Grimm tales had been a present for her birthday yesterday, and she had been looking forward to being able to read them.

She hadn’t gotten very far, however, when movement in the garden below caught her eye. The nursery was in the top half of an old water mill bordering a stream, which was connected to the main house by a covered bridge constructed by her grandfather. The nursery window had a good view of the kitchen garden, so Darcy could quite clearly tell that the dishevelled figure pulling out all the lavender was her mother.

She was across the bridge and down the main stairs in a matter of seconds. Ignoring the pain in her feet from landing badly – she’d done quite a lot of growing since she’d last been caned for jumping the bannister – she burst into the kitchen and darted outside past the startled cook.

“Mama!”

Leah looked up, startled. Had there been that much silver in her hair last night? Darcy realised she hadn’t seen her mother in the light for day in over a year.

“Who are you?” Leah tried to stand, but tripped on her nightgown. The stains were painfully clear in daylight, too. “Where’s my daughter?”

“Mama, I am your daughter. It’s me, Darcy.” Darcy tried to smile, but she knew she must look nervous.

“You glamour-fiend!” Leah shouted. “What have you done to my daughter?”

“Nothing! I’m fine! Mama please…” This was the third time Leah had refused to recognize her. She couldn’t say she was used to it yet. “Come inside. Shall I get you some chamomile tea?” She glanced into the kitchen. Cook was hovering nearby, uncertain what to do. Catching Darcy’s eye, she nodded and fetched the kettle.

“Don’t! Not the chamomile! They’ll come after you if you take any!” Leah tried to stand again. Darcy approached slowly, the way she would a skittish colt.

“Mama, it’s alright. This chamomile’s ours, we grew it ourselves. Nobody’s taken it from anybody.” She helped her mother to her feet. She’s so thin…

“Is that you, Darcy?”

Darcy smiled tentatively, and her mother smiled back. For a moment she looked almost normal. Then she saw the lavender and gasped. “Who did this?”

Darcy sighed. “You did, Mama.”

“I most certainly did not! Who do you think you’re accusing, girly?” She jabbed Darcy in the ribs.

“Ouch!”

“That didn’t hurt! You always were sensitive, Kieran. Your sister would make a far better boy than you.”

Darcy gave up the idea of reasoning with her mother and helped her into the kitchen. “Mama, why can’t you walk on your own?”

“Because they’ve taken my foot, obviously,” Leah replied. Darcy glanced down. Leah’s feet were both working, she was just leaning heavily on her daughter. She frowned as she noticed something else. The door to the drawing room was closed, and she could hear voiced coming from inside. She tried to shuffle along a little faster, but it wasn’t easy with her mother hanging onto her.

“You’ve grown, child,” said Leah, looking half-sane again as they started negociating the stairs. “We’ll need to get you a few new dresses. What colour would you like?”

“Blue,” she murmured, hoping her mother might speak more quietly too.

“Oh, not blue, sweetpea,” Leah said, loud as ever. “Blue’s a sneaky colour. I’ve always loved green, myself. Is that red in your hair?”

“No, Mama, it’s still brown.”

“I can see some red. I think we can call it auburn now, don’t you?”

Leah’s room stank. Darcy undressed her mother, sponged her down and dressed her in a clean nightgown, and opened the windows wide. Cook knocked and entered as she was wondering how to change the sheets.

“I’ll do it,” Cook said. Darcy led Leah to the frayed armchair her father often slept in and handed her the tea, hoping she wouldn’t spill it. Leah continued to chatter about colours. She wished she could go and help Cook with the sheets. She should learn how to change them herself. Cook was loyal as a rock, but she suspected Anna might gossip.

Too late now, anyway, she thought. Leah was yawning. Cook must have slipped something stronger into the tea. When the sheets were changed, she helped her mother into bed. Leah fell asleep immediately.

She thanked Cook as they left the room, having locked the windows again and shutting the door firmly.

“That’s all right,” said Cook, “but I didn’t get to warn you. Miss Farrell is in the drawing room with Master Kieran.”

Darcy stopped. “Lucy Farrell? She’s the guest in the drawing room?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Darcy thought furiously. The best thing to do would be to pretend nothing was wrong. Go back to what she was doing before. What was Lucy doing here, anyway? She’d never liked Darcy much.

“Did she say why?”

“No…” said Cook.

“But you have an idea?”

“I think Miss Lucy might have taken a shine to your brother,” said Cook. “Not that you heard it from me, of course.”

Darcy groaned. “Of course. Thanks, Cook. I’m going back to my room. Or maybe I should stay with Mother? Keep an eye on her.”

“I think she’ll sleep a few hours,” said Cook confidently.

Darcy thanked her again and hurried back to the nursery. Don’t cry, you sissy. Today was a bad day, that’s all. She’ll be fine tomorrow. She hoped Lucy hadn’t heard anything. The general consensus on Donall Sullivan’s wife was that she was of a fragile disposition. The parson came round every Sunday after church to pray with her, but apart from him, the only outsider she ever saw was the doctor.

If Lucy says one word, I swear…

The front door opened and Lucy herself stormed out, her face red. Darcy could almost see the lines of tears in her make-up. Kieran followed and stood on the porch, saying something. Lucy stopped, but didn’t turn. She stood straight, wiping her face with her hankerchief, composing herself. Her mouth formed the word “no”. And she walked away.

As she advanced along the path, she looked up towards Darcy’s window. Their eyes met, and Darcy could see the pain in them. For a moment she felt sorry for her.

Then Lucy smiled, a smile full of hate. She nodded and looked away.

Oh, no, Darcy thought. We’re in trouble now…

Cruel memories

Standard

When Arwyn had first come returned to the Glimmerlands, the rules and morals of Cat’s Court still engrained in her humanish mind, nothing had shocked her more than her first esbat. On the way home she had seen fairies devour other fairies, but these had been grotesque, like the monsters in tales. Though it had frightened her, as Orren had explained their story and long-lost memories had crept back, she had stopped being surprised. Like wolves and sheep, this world too had it’s predators and prey, she’d thought then.

She had been completely unprepared for the ritual dance of the sacrificial fae. Like everyone, when she’d first seen it, she had been entranced by their beauty. The dancers’ movements were so fluid that it was difficult to see where one stopped and another began. Difficult to care, also. Their voices intermingled in an ethereal song that seemed to come from inside her head the more she listened to it, and it had taken Orren’s nails piercing the skin of her upper arms for her to come back to herself. Only then had she seen how the ones in the middle seemed to vanish in a starbound shower of light; how, every time it happened, she felt a little less of the hunger for sunlight that had haunted her since she’d returned from Cat’s Court.

She had denied it at first. The Glimmerlands were full of glamour and illusions. Perhaps these fae were simply pure manifestations of magic. But when she had asked Orren, he’d told her they were prisoners.

“Those child-like things?” she’d asked. “What was their crime?”

He’d laughed. “Being human.”

She’d stared at him in disbelief. He had gestured towards them nonchalantly and turned away to speak to someone else. She turned her gaze back on the sacrifices, scrutinizing them now. Sure enough, this time she’d noticed the small, round ears, the short limbs, the lack of a third knuckle. The panic in their eyes.

Orren had grabbed her in time. Glamouring them invisible, he’d carried her, struggling, back to the castle, to her tower, and locked her inside without saying a word. She’d banged on the door, tried to escape through the window only to find he’d somehow managed to place a barrier around the entire room; screamed at his silhouette walking back across the gardens to one of the exits. When she’d exhausted herself trying to escape, she’d curled up on the floor and sobbed her soul to sleep.

In time, she seen the sense in letting go of the human rules that kept her from reintegrating fairy society. Orren had helped her. He’d explained that the humans in question had been caught trying to catch fairies, and she knew what happened to captured fairies from tales both human and fae. Children were cruel – even the human in her knew that. The ones that tried to catch and torture fairies would often do the same to insects, small animals, and even other children. Neither did their youth make them more precious: children could be birthed whenever they were needed, but elders were rare and should be valued for their wisdom. And the children in question were replaced by changelings, so it wasn’t as if their families suffered from their absence.

Everything he said made sense. It wasn’t his fault she still felt for them.

In an attempt to distance herself from these humans, she pelted Orren with questions.

“If they are human, why is their blood blue?”

“It isn’t,” he told her. Sometimes he had the air of a teacher she’d once known as a human, minus the beard. “The esbat dance transforms moonlight into ether, and when they die, the energy dissipates into the living things around them. The concentration of ether turns everything blue. You didn’t notice it because of the darkness, but once your eyes finish adjusting, you’ll be able to see these things, too.” He smiled mirthlessly. “If you meet our Queen one day, you’ll see what I mean. She holds so much power that the very air around her is blue.”

“I’ve only ever seen fairies evaporate like that, when they die,” she said. “You told me this was because fairies are lighter than humans, and humans that die here die the normal way.”

“The normal way for humans,” he corrected her. “Here, evaporating upon death is what you call normal. In fact, ‘normal’ is one of the human concepts the Seelie prize themselves on having, and the reason we Unseelie despise them.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

He sighed. “Esbats always take place in fields of songrass. That’s where the song comes from, if you hadn’t noticed. It’s not the same kind of song it usually uses to lull people; the esbat song is one that agitates and calls to dance. Humans, especially feeble-minded children, can’t resist it. Their bodies move on their own. The dance boils their blood, which excites the songrass further until they reach a point of exhaustion that kills them, one at a time. Their spirit rises the way ours do, and their bodies are absorbed into the ground very quickly. The energy released by the death spreads to all other energy sources, including the sacrifices themselves, allowing them to continue a little while longer.”

Arwyn shuddered. “How can you not pity them?” she murmured. “What a terrible way to die, being trapped in a body you can no longer control.”

Orren raised his eyebrows. “There are far worse things that could happen in such a case than to be danced to the point of exhaustion. Don’t you remember the Thrumli?”

Something about the way he said that word – Thrumli – told her that they shouldn’t be talking about this.

“You look nervous, brother.”

“Do I?” He reinforced his glamour. “I’m just checking the sound glamour. Mother doesn’t like us talking about him.”

“Him?”

“Thrumli means ‘nightmare’ in one of your human languages. Nobody knows who named it that, but it fits.”

“It? You said ‘him’ just now.”

“Him, it, we’re not sure. It’s… a bad spirit. One that possesses fairies. Our Queen keeps it trapped in a room in the palace, but there are rumours she can’t control it well. Sometimes it escapes.”

“It possesses fairies? Like a ghost?”

“You might call it that. It’s a mad thing, anyhow.”

“What does it do that would be worse than dancing to the point of exhaustion?”

Orren’s laugh was high and mirthless. “You really can’t think of worse?”

Arwyn frowned. “I suppose I can, but if it possesses fairies, then it feels their pain, too, doesn’t it?”

“That’s the whole point, sisterling. The Thrumli likes pain. It revels in fear. It is a trickster of the worst sort. No fairy, Seelie or Unseelie, does not fear it. Even our Queen would admit it. She tries to keep it under control, and she has sufficient power to resist possession, but she cannot destroy the thing.”

“How does she control it?”

“By appeasing it as best she can. Don’t you remember this, sisterling?” Something was wrong. His glamour was flickering. “This is why you got trapped in Cat’s Court. Don’t you remember?” Do I have to tell you? She heard the words as though he’d said them.

She closed her eyes. She remembered playing with him and the others as a child, she remembered him leaving her in the forest in Cat’s Court. He had told her Mother was waiting for her there, but the woman that had found her had not been her mother, although she’d gradually forgotten that.

“I’m sorry, Orren.”

He attempted a smile. “Mother had managed to offend Queen Morgana. I don’t even remember how, now, I was too young to understand at the time, but it was common knowledge that you didn’t offend the Queen because of the tithe. In recent years, the tithe had become less and less frequent. The Queen was surely gaining control on the monster, we thought. We ought to have feared her power.

“Mostly the children were abandoned, or came from poor families. Sometimes they were given. Some were kidnapped, of course – it was said that the Queen would reward families who willingly gave up their children for tithe. That it was a sacrifice for the entire people. In the Seelie Court they’d say it was worthy of honour, but honour isn’t one of our concepts over here.

“So Mother insulted Morgana, and Morgana, knowing how much Yorwen loved her daughter, decided that she should be the tithe this cycle. In her mercy,” – he laughed – “she gave her a week to say goodbye. Mother charged me with a mission.”

“I remember the part where you left me,” Arwyn said. “I don’t remember any other little girl, though. No human.”

“You never saw her,” he said. “She met the Thrumli. She may have died… but we know that since then, we haven’t had a tithe. Perhaps her heavier body allowed her to stay alive, being forever possessed by the Thrumli.”

Arwyn gasped. “But… she didn’t do anything wrong! We have to save her!”

Orren shook his head. “You’re mad. Take on the Queen and the Thrumli? Morgana was merciful when she realised the sacrifice was human, because she saw the advantages. It didn’t take her long, despite the glamour. The girl’s probably dead. If she’s not dead, then even if you somehow managed to free her, she’d be mad from all those years of possession. Killing such a child would be a mercy.”

Arwyn felt tears prick her eyes. Sighing, Orren pulled her into his arms.

“It’s so awful,” she sobbed. “That little girl was tortured and killed so I could live. How am I supposed to live with that?”

“She’d been caught in a fairy ring,” he murmured into her hair. “Probably trying to catch us.”

“I don’t care!” She pushed him away. “You should have just let me die!”

The look on his face wrenched her heart. There was no trace of glamour left on him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

She stared at her hands in her lap, doubling through tears. She knew it wasn’t his fault. “Mother made you, didn’t she?”

“Yes.”

“Why did I let you do that?”

“You didn’t understand,” he said. “You were very young, and we didn’t tell you.”

“Everyone is so cruel in this world,” she spat. He didn’t reply.

Eventually she asked, “Is there anything else I should know about this place? Things you’re not telling me, that everyone assumes I know?”

He hesitated. “There have been rumours recently that the Thrumli is back. Some went as far to assume it had somehow been slain by its human host, but the Queen has denied it bluntly. So we know it still lives, if such a thing can live. There have been what seem like Thrumli attacks on a few remote families and solitary fairies. Though of course, you can never be sure it was him unless there are witnesses, and there never are.”

“Great,” Arwyn said. “An innocent child is sacrificed in my place and I spend years thinking I’m someone I’m not, and as soon as I get back I’m in danger of the same fate anyway.”

“Not really,” he said cheerlessly. “The Thrumli usually attacks only children and poorer families. It has never been known to attack rich houses. It is said to prefer the more primal emotions of simpler minds.”

Arwyn snorted. “It has an easier time possessing less powerful fairies, more like.”

Orren nodded. “Of course. Speaking of which,” he added, “as cruel as this world is, you do have allies. I am here to arm you, and that is why I push you so hard. I want you to know how to defend yourself.”

Arwyn glared at him. She wanted to scream at him, punch him, hug him, find Yorwen and scream and punch her, too. She wanted to find Queen Morgana and kill her. She wanted to destroy the Thrumli, avenge all the children it had tortured and killed and save all the ones it would have.

She wanted power.

“Teach me,” she ordered.

Roses and Twisterthorns

Standard

Darcy had had enough of Orren and his pranks. She’d had enough of Mimic and Milkthorn and she’d had more than enough of Bell-O’-Blue. The pixie had spent an hour tying knots in Darcy’s hair, and when that hadn’t seemed to bother her, she’d started pulling the hairs out of her head, one every minute or so, aiming for the sensitive ones at the nape of her neck and around her ears. Darcy had threatened her, chased her, burst into tears and begged her to stop, to no avail. The fairy knew no pity, and Orren had offered no help: he’d laughed at her.

She ran. Blood beaded at her temple where Bell-O’-Blue had pulled out several hairs at once. Tears blinding her, she stumbled as the undergrowth thickened. She had the feeling it had thickened on purpose, and was no longer surprised when a thorny tendril snaked around her ankle. This time she didn’t move, and the thing stopped. Then the thorns disappeared into the stem like a cat’s retractable claws, and were replaced by soft, downy fur. The plant curled a little further up her leg, squeezing gently, like the hand of a comforting friend. Darcy slumped to her knees and cried fresh tears. My only friend in the world is a tornado plant, she thought bitterly. She shifted so that she was sitting on the ground, careful not to move too quickly lest the plant think she was trying to escape, and buried her face in her tattered skirts to cry.

How long she stayed like that was uncertain. It could have been five minutes or sixty, but after a while she noticed that her ankle was strangely warm. The plant seemed to be trembling just a little, a low vibration she would never have noticed had it not reminded her so nostalgically of her cat, Puddles. She reached down and stroked the plant gently, and the purring became audible.

Just like a cat, she thought. A lonely wildcat.

“You just wanted a bit of affection, didn’t you?” she murmured, the way she’d heared Mama talking to strays. The vine rubbed up against her. She wondered if it was capable of meowing.

“I’d cut it off while it’s still loose, were I you” said a raspy voice next to her ear.

Darcy turned her head, but all she saw was a rose bush.

“Don’t be silly,” said another, more feminine voice, “it’d stick the thorns in soon as it smelled the knife. No, tease it off, then run for it.”

Darcy frowned at the roses. The voices had come from there. She looked around to see if maybe it was some other plant, but the third voice definitely came from a rose.

“Running away will never work” it said, “tease it off, and back away slowly, like nothing’s wrong.”

“Have you no meat? Meat would distract it,” said yet another rose with a voice eerily like her mother’s.

“No, I haven’t,” she said apologetically. The roses sighed, murmuring things like “pity” and “ah, well”. Now she could see their petals forming words of commisseration. Beads of cristalline dew danced between them in dextrous patterns as they spoke, petals curling and unfurling, moving in ripples and waves, so much more graceful than human lips and tongue. It was hypnotizing, but not in the way glamour was hypnotizing; rather, it was like watching the tiny silver fish swimming in the shallow pools by the river at home.

“Excuse me,” she said, “I’m lost. Where is Cat’s Court please?”

The entire bush jumped back, raining dew as the roses gasped in horror. “Cat’s Court! Now whyever would you wish to go there?”

“I live there,” she said timidly.

“Good gracious!”

“A human! Here!”

“Why, we haven’t seen humans round here since…”

“It doesn’t matter, because she’s going anyway. Shoo! Get out of here!” rasped a withered old rose at the top of the bush. A thorny branch whipped towards her, stopped short by another.

“We’ll have none of that from you, grandfather!” scolded the motherly rose. “There, child, don’t pay attention to him, he doesn’t like anybody. I’m afraid we can’t help you, although you can take a bit of dew if you’d like.”

“Thank you,” said Darcy dutifully, ” Um, what should I do with it?”

There was a surprised pause. Then one of the roses snorted, and the others all burst out laughing, until the whole bush shook with a dozen giggles, chortles, sniggers, titters and guffaws, there was even one rose who brayed like a donkey.

The motherly rose was the first to recover. “Why” she said, “truly you are young… rose dew is the finest perfume in the world, and very magical, oh yes.” She giggled. “One drop at the base of your throat, and you’ll have all the boys at your feet, whatever court they’re from.”

The bush giggled again. Darcy nodded politely, making a mental note to pour the dew over Lucy’s head. Lucy hated boys.

“If we’re giving her the dew, let her collect it and be gone!” said the one they’d called grandfather, still wheezing.

“But I’ve nothing to collect it with,” Darcy said.

“Nothing?” mocked the grandfather, “And what’s that on your head?”

Darcy lifted a hand to her head, but all she felt was her tangled hair. “Yes, that,” said the grandfather. “That knotty stuff, there, can it hold water?”

“Um…” said Darcy.

“It’ll do,” huffed the grandfather impatiently.

“Leave her be, grandfather,” said the motherly rose. “Don’t worry, pet, as long as you’re in the Glimmerlands, rose dew won’t dry. And it’s very clingy, so it won’t drip either. It’ll just stay there until you find a vial or a jar to put it in. Come now, give us a lock of that hair.” A thousand dew drops ran from all over the bush to the motherly rose, who stretched out towards Darcy expectantly. Darcy wasn’t certain she wanted one strand of her hair to stay wet until she found a vial, but she couldn’t refuse without seeming impolite. She tore at the bird’s nest her hair had become until a large section of it pulled free, and held the end of it out until it gently brushed the roses petals.

The dew flowed off the rose and onto the lock of hair in a stream of cristal beads. It felt cool under her fingers, and by the time it was over, her lock of hair was soaked – but strangely, not a drop spread to the rest of her hair, or slid down her neck, or even wet her fingers. She let the lock drop, and it hung there, soaking wet.

“Thank you,” she said to the rose bush.

“You’re very welcome,” said the motherly rose. “Still, it’s strange that you didn’t know what rose dew is. What do they teach you in Cat’s Court?”

Darcy thought. “They told me that fairies don’t exist,” she said finally.

The bush gasped. Then all the roses started shouting at once.

“They what-?!”

“Scandalous!”

“The cheek of her!”

“I knew she was the bad sort,” said the grandfather knowingly.

“How dare you!” scolded the mother. “And after we gave you all that dew!”

Darcy didn’t understand. “But it’s true!” she said, scared again.

“The truth, she says!”

“So you believe this nonsense they teach you?”

“No!”

“Evil child!” A thorny branch whipped across her arm, drawing blood. “Out of here! Out!”

“Out! Out!” The rest of the bush took up the chant, and a second branch whipped across her back, and a third, until they were raining down on her.

Darcy struggled to rise, but the branches caught in her clothes and skin, and she stumbled twice before she managed to take a step, and a third time when she remembered the vine around her ankle. The step had taken her out of reach of the vines, except for her leg, which was still getting a beating, until suddenly the entire bush recoiled, and she heard screams of pain and rage. The vine around her ankle had uncoiled itself, and was lashing back at the rose bush with its own deadly thorns, clinging to her ankle by its unearthed roots.

Freed, she ran gracelessly through the woods until her foot landed in a stream, and she fell flat on her face. She lay on the ground for a moment, stunned, listening to her own heartbeat, until she decided she was probably well out of reach of the rose bush, or any of it’s friends.

She pushed herself up onto her hands, turned around so she was sitting on the muddy bank, her feet still in the water, and inspected the damage. Scratches criss-crossed her arms and legs, and she could feel one or two on her face. Her leg was a bloody mess, with the vine still wrapped around it, thorns biting into her flesh. The sight of it made her panic for a second, but she remembered what Orren had told her and closed her eyes, trying to breathe slowly. She reached out a hand and gently stroked the vine, as she had before. This time it seemed to hesitate, but after a few minutes, the thorns retracted themselves all at once. The pain made her gasp and she opened her eyes.

Some of the cuts were quite deep, and all were bleeding profusely, but the pain was lessening by the second. The vine seemed to be pulsing, somehow, and she could feel it clinging to her…

It was drinking her blood.

Her heart leapt into her throat, but this time she didn’t panic. The pain was almost gone, after all. Fear and curiosity mingled in her chest. She stroked the vine again with a trembling hand, and felt it purr.

Once, a circus had come to town with a whole menagerie of exotic animals. The grand master had shown them lions leaping through rings of fire, elephants that could stand on one leg, seals playing ball, and a “snake-girl”: a girl no older than ten, with skin like midnight, who walked rope with two snakes across her shoulders. Afterwards she asked if someone would like to hold one of the snakes. Darcy had volunteered, and before her father could stop her, the grand master had led her out to the snake girl. Darcy remembered the sparkle in the dark girl’s eyes as she passed the smallest of the snakes to her, and showed her how to hold it, one hand under the head, the other under the belly. The snake was heavier than she’d thought it would be, and its skin had been cool and slightly pebbled, but not slimy like she’d expected. Its tongue tickled her as it slowly wound itself around her arm, but when it had finally settled down, the grand master asked for a round of applause, and then the dark girl took it back, and she had to go back to her father.

He had smiled at the time, but later on he had hit her for it.

A sucking sound brought her back to the present. Her eyes refocussed, surprised: the blood was nearly all gone, and the cuts seemed to have stopped bleeding. She sat up a little, and her head spun. She must have fallen asleep. The vine was still there, leeching on her ankle.

She slipped one finger under what she judged to be the head of the thing and gently unwound it. The suckers – for there were suckers – came off with a series of little pops, and recoiled inwards to reveal the tiny points of thorns. The vine tried to twist its way around her finger, but she kept passing it from hand to hand as she unravelled it, and it couldn’t get a grip on her. Finally she lifted it off, one hand under the head, the other close to the roots, like a snake, and set it in her lap. The vine fidgeted, searching blindly for something to cling to, until she stroked it again, and it settled down.

Her leg was almost clean of blood, and the cuts had clotted, but Mama had said that cuts should be washed, so she took off her sodden shoes and socks, and set them down next to her on the muddy bank. As she bent to clean her ankle, though, she saw that the cuts were covered in a strange, jellyish substance. She wiped one cut clean, and it stung, and started bleeding again. Hissing in pain, she cleaned the cut, but it didn’t stop. Finally she took a little jelly from the other cuts – there wasn’t much to spare – and put it on the cut she’d cleaned. It stopped the bleeding immediately.

Darcy cleaned around the other cuts, and looked for something to use as a bandage. Once they’d been on the road to Cambry, and Kieran had tripped getting into the coach. They’d set off anyway, but it wouldn’t stop bleeding, so Mama had torn a strip off her underdress to tie around his head. She thought of using her apron, but it was a good thick apron and her little hands weren’t up to the task, so she tried with her dress instead – tearing a much bigger hole in it that necessary – and clumsily knotted it around her leg. Mama hadn’t used knots, but she couldn’t remember how the bandage had held without one.

The thing in her lap was fidgeting again by the time she was finished. She stroked it and let it wind itself between her fingers, wondering what to do. It has uprooted itself, and might die if she didn’t replant it. Drink blood it might, but the plant had saved her life.

She dug a little hole with her hands, close to the water, just deep enough to cover the roots. Then she picked the vine up gently, like a snake, and place the roots in the hole.

The plant jumped. It landed back in her lap and wrapped itself around her arm, clutching her. She could feel the thorns pricking at her skin, just the points of them, not enough to hurt, and at the edge of her hearing, she heard a whine.

“But you’ll die if I don’t replant you,” she told it. To her surprise, the plant lifted its leafy head and shook it vigourously. Darcy stared. “Do you understand me?” she asked it. The plant nodded.

Darcy hesitated. “Do you want to stay with me?”

It nodded.

“Are you going to drink all my blood?”

The plant seemed to pause, as if thinking. Suddenly a vine lashed out at the ground, faster than lightning. Then it uncurled to show her a tiny, squealing slug, impaled on a thorn. The thorn retracted into its sucker, and the slug seemed to shrivel, before dropping into her lap. Darcy flipped it away gingerly. She wasn’t used to slugs that squealed.

“Alright,” she said. “You can stay with me as long as you don’t drink my blood.” She grinned, happy with her new friend.

The tornado plant curled itself around her arm, purring, all thorns and suckers well out of sight. When it had settled its head close to her’s, and its roots around her wrist, Darcy stood.

Her shoes and socks were gone.

Her eyes swept the clearing, and she saw one sock, on the other side of the stream, at the foot of a tree. The leaves were rustling, and she was sure she heard a giggle. Darcy was weary, though, and decided it wasn’t worth it. Orren went barefoot, after all, why shouldn’t she?

She opened the pocket watch and nearly dropped it when she saw her reflection in the broken mirror. She had mud and scratches everywhere. One crossed her eye without touching it, a near-vertical red line from chin to hairline. The other crossed it diagonally across her forehead, and ended on her bloody temple. She frowned, examining them in the mirror and touching them gingerly.

They don’t hurt, she thought, so it probably doesn’t matter if I don’t wash them.

“Orren” she whispered. The mirror clouded and cleared again, and his face stared up at her, eyes wide with fear. He shouted, his lips forming her name silently, and suddenly she felt bad for leaving him. “Find Orren” she whispered again, and the hands of the clock moved until the shortest was pointed at her, and the longest to her right, towards a nettle patch. She sighed, skirted well around the patch (which tried to catch her anyway), and set off with the pocketwatch to guide her.

The murder of Queen Mabh

Standard

Sorry this is late. It’s another long one, and it’s not even finished. I’ll add the rest after a few more different scenes. Stranger and Aleth are becoming more important than I originally meant them to be.

Oonagh and Tamlin were wed with all the pomp and celebration that could be expected of a royal marriage. The wedding party lasted a year and a day in the Glimmerlands, and a hundred years in Cat’s Court; it even crossed the border into the forests there, from whence many humans were drawn. Several of your legends concerning us date from this time.

Too soon, though, the celebrations were over. As younger brother, Tamlin’s role was that of the the Crown Prince’s representative in matters that Oberon could not – or would not – deal with. Some say Oberon had grown jealous of Tamlin’s carefree nature during the celebrations; others remind that this was a restless time, celebration or no – the dragons had been pushing at the border to their lands, and Tamlin was most often sent at the head of the army to negociate with them and protect the border’s population. Oonagh, whose duty as prince’s bride was the serve the Queen Mabh, remained at home. The two missed each other greatly, but it served them: Tamlin grew popular among the people, and Oonagh rose to prominence in court.

Nobody quite knows who started it, but rumours grew that Tamlin had acquired – intentionally or not, according to who was telling it – a group of followers who wanted to see him and Oonagh on the throne, and would petition the Queen to make Tamlin Crown Prince. Now every rumour has some truth in it, but there are those who tell that the followers in question were simple stragglers trailing after the army, and that Titania, with whom Oonagh entertained a friendly rivalry, told Oberon in such a way that he thought they were the army itself. Either way, Oberon began to mistrust his own troops, and in order to protect himself, he raised privileges for the forest guards.

This made the army angry, because they were the ones protecting the realm from dragons, so they began to plot in earnest against Oberon… or they tried to.

When Tamlin himself heard of all this, he called his army to him and said “I am forever loyal to my brother, Oberon. Those who oppose him, oppose me.”

The army grumbled some, and asked their leader to intervene with Mabh on their behalf, that they should gain compensation for their work. Tamlin promised he would do so upon their return.

Oonagh, meanwhile, wasn’t quite as loyal to Titania as Tamlin was to Oberon. She was ambitious, and she used her wiles to gain favour with Mabh. Now, Mabh had no king at that time, only a harem of lovers and a tribe of bastard children. Mabh was fascinated with how Tamlin’s body had mixed fairy and god’s blood, and she took on a pureblood lover of each fairy race except her own, to see how the blood would mix in their offspring. Thus her children had all sorts of shapes and sizes and powers unheard of.

Oonagh liked to play with them, telling them stories from what we now know to have been her past lives. The children loved her, and she loved them. Her favourite was a half-satyr called Scape, one of the smallest and least powerful. She asked Mabh if she could keep him to play with, and Mabh agreed, saying that she didn’t want such a small, useless thing anyway.

Scape adored Oonagh. Some say Oonagh chose a satyr to keep her company while her husband was away, and others claim that though he offered himself to her several times, she always refused, for Oonagh had once been human and had kept that odd notion of fidelity you humans have. For sure, Oonagh was a curiosity, and Titania grew jealous of her popularity, nor did she much like Tamlin. To spite her, she want wont to send Scape on errands around the kingdom, collecting the herbs she used for potions and filtres. Some were very rare plants that grew in high cliffs or dark caves, but he was so small, sure-footed and good at hiding that he always got back safe with them, where another fairy would have given up or died. So Titania began to use him in earnest, and although Oonagh disliked her creature to be away from her, she could not deprive the elder princess of his services.

Titania studied and experimented, and one day managed to create a very special poison. The day Tamlin and his army returned victorious from the dragon border war, she slipped the poison into the evening’s summer wine. Everyone drank some, including Titania herself, but only Tamlin was affected by it, as he was the only one with god’s blood in his veins.

Indeed, that evening Tamlin felt ill for the first time in his life, and came down with a fever. Oonagh was suspicious, but there was nothing Tamlin had eaten or drank that she hadn’t had herself, and the general consensus was that it must be exhaustion from the war. Still, three days and nights Tamlin lay abed, and his reputation diminished during that time. His followers began to say that he might not be half a god after all, since illness was unknown to gods. Oonagh tried to defend him in court, but Titania made mock of her, and she stormed off.

Oberon, surprisingly, defended his brother. “In your defense, he has fought dragons and won,” said he to the court at large, “and now you mock him?” And the court was silenced, but their doubts remained.

On the morning of the fourth day, Tamlin woke feeling somewhat better, and presented himself to the court. Nobody dared make mock of him to his face, of course, but he knew his reputation was weakened, for – being half-god – he felt it. When Oberon offered to take him hunting, Tamlin saw a chance to prove himself worthy of respect once more.

So Oberon and Tamlin set off into the forest, followed by their wives and half the court. Oberon challenged Tamlin to a race on their steeds, and soon they lost the others. Tamlin raced ahead, and soon realised he could no longer see nor hear Oberon. He called and searched for him, but Oberon was nowhere to be seen. In truth, the poison that had been eating at Tamlin for three days and nights had left him vulnerable, and Oberon was hiding, his bow drawn with an arrow of the golden bough, waiting, waiting, until Tamlin dismounted to peer into the undergrowth…

He shot! There was a cry of pain and anguish, a cry that was not human or faerie, nor even the cry of a god: for the arrow had found its mark not in Tamlin’s heart, but in the heart of a white deer that had jumped in front of him at that moment. But Tamlin’s cry rose too, for he recognised the white deer, and sure enough the deer soon disappeared, to be replaced with the broken body of Queen Mabh.

Oberon broke out of the bushes, distraught, and joined Tamlin at their mother’s side.

“I’m sorry!” He cried, “Mother, what have I done? What have you done?”

“I have saved my kingdom from you, Oberon,” said the dying Queen. “I did not want to believe it, but the people tell it truly: such evil lives in you both that Titania is not fit to be Queen, and you are not fit to be King. You will relinquish your title to Tamlin.”

Oberon couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Tamlin, however, finally understood. Holding his mother in his arms, he promised he and Oonagh would rule fairly after her, and hearing that, she died.

When Tamlin’s hands were empty, the last of Mabh’s body dispersed to the winds, he looked up with murder in his eyes only to find that Oberon was nowhere to be seen. When he arrived back at the palace, the Guards surrounded him and tried to take him prisoner as a traitor to the throne, but he overpowered them easily and marched into court. The nobles would not look at him, but Oonagh came running when she saw him, and stood by his side.

“How sweet is the love ‘twixt a witch who kills children and a monster who kills his own mother,” Titania jeered.

“Oberon killed Mabh,” said Tamlin. “Not me.”

The court gasped at the plainness of his words.

“Who knows how a half-god may lie?” said Oberon. “Indeed, who knows how all halflings may trick us? We ought to banish them!”

“From the kingdom Mabh left me?” More gasps and whispers. “I challenge you, brother, to tell everyone here that she did not order you to give the throne to Oonagh and me!”

“How dare you violate my mother’s memory after killing her!” Oberon thundered. “Seize him!”

From behind the doors, dozens more Guards poured. Tamlin fought as panic sent the other nobles running, but there were too many to beat them all. Just as they thought they might get him, though, Oonagh spoke a Name and they vanished.

Oberon’s Guards searched the kingdom for them, but they were nowhere to be found. The army refused to search, and even attempted to storm the palace, but without their leader they were dispersed, and Oberon and his Guards deterred them easily. They were settling in for a seige when Scape, Oonagh’s faithful servant, returned from a mission for Titania. He was caught by the Guard and brought before Oberon before he could understand what was happening. Oberon ordered him interrogated, but luckily Oonagh had planted one of her protegees from Mabh’s tribe in the dungeons. She was a half-boggart, and she escaped with Scape, but not before he suffered terribly at the hands of Oberon’s interrogators.

The boggart took the form of a wolf and sniffed out the banished princess. They were hiding in the woods under a Name that made them indetectable to magic, glamour or hunting techniques, but not to a wolf’s sense of smell. When she saw Scape in such a state, Oonagh dropped all disguise and rushed to him. He told her of the army’s seige and then died in her arms.

Oonagh and Tamlin seethed with rage.

“We ought to go back and head the army,” Tamlin declared.

“No, my love,” said Oonagh. “We cannot win simply by leading the army. Even if we did, there would still be dissidents and those who would not believe in us. ‘Tis not your brother, but the entire corrupt Seelie nation we must take on. For that, let us make a nation of our own, where power, not birthright, should determine who rules. We will take in every halfling and outcast we come across and instead of shunning them, put their valuable powers to use. We shall be called the Unseelie. And we will eradicate the Seelie evil.”