Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: All Work and No Play
Someone pokes my shoulder.
"Cat, wake up."
I open one eye. Fiachra is leaning over me from behind, his poison green eyes full of mischief and fun. I glare to no effect; Fiachra just smiles and flops himself down beside me.
"Come on, Cat. I have plans and you play a totally vital part, so up you get."
I groan and turn my face into my pillow. "Rav, the sun's not even up yet!" I pause a minute and think about what he just said. What's your plan?" I ask.
Fiachra grins. "I knew you couldn't resist! Now will you get up? We don't have much time before the guards get back and you know we won't be allowed to do this if anyone adult hears about it first."
"What exactly is this? Rav, I refuse to budge until you explain!"
Fiachra shakes his head. "No way. This is going to be a surprise. Do you know what a surprise is, Cat? Telling you defeats the whole point!"
Groaning again, I try to ignore him but he steals my pillow and smacks me with it. Sighing, I admit defeat; there's no dealing with Fiachra when he's like this. Or at least no arguing. I vanish from the bed and get a perverse sort of glee hearing Fiachra squawk as he falls into the empty space I formerly occupied. That will teach him to wake me up before sunrise.
"Can you at least tell me what I need to wear for this surprise?"
"I already picked your outfit out. It's on the back of your bathroom door. Even made sure it matches your furball's collar."
I give Fiachra the look that comment deserves and disappear into the bathroom. I am marching back out seconds later, furious. He's apparently gone to visit the pixies because the dress is not only sleeveless, its skirt is so short it's practically a shirt!
"Have you completely lost your mind? I can't wear this! Da will kill me! And you! And the pixie you borrowed this from!"
Fiachra rolls his eyes. "Cat," he whines, drawing my name out to more syllables than three letters could ever possibly deliver. "Would you just get dressed and hurry up? This is important to me, okay? Really important. And I want to share it with you, okay? So come on!"
"If Da finds out and I get in trouble, you are totally suffering with me," I inform him primly, then dash off to change and fix my hair before he has the chance to respond.
He takes me to the beach. I don't know what to say. I stand there and watch the surf come in, crashing against the sandy shore. There are cliffs at my back and black rocks jut out like old bones from the water's surface. Overhead, seagulls shriek and caw and there's a heavy scent of salt and fish in the air.There were no mermaids, no sirens, no krakens, no kelpies, no hippocampae, no water nymphs, no sea monsters, nothing. It was the most rare and magical of all places - somewhere completely devoid of Fae.
Well, besides us, of course.
"Do you like it?" Fiachra asks. He almost sounds nervous.
I look around again and can't speak. This...this is more than just a surprise, more than just a gift. I have no words for what this is, what this means to me. I walk around with a cacophony of others' thoughts and emotions in my head. As Queen, I'll be connected to the whole of my Court, their every experience shared with me. As Princess, it's only with Fae that are physically close to me that I form a bond. My range has grown as I've gotten older, expanding until recently when I hit the ten mile mark. Da was very proud. I've been miserable ever since.
The Fae are a beautiful people. There's something about them, all of them, that allows them to stand apart, and I don't mean their power. The Fae are nature touched, imbued with her fury, her wrath, her passion, her brilliance. We have fangs and horns and claws and tails and tusks and fur and spikes and scales and wings and hooves. We have two heads, four legs, six arms. We combine together the attributes of lions, eagles, horses, wolves, fish, serpents, goats, bears, spiders, scorpions, foxes, peacocks, and ravens. We can be graceful and lovely, grotesque and terrible, greedy and brutal, giving and compassionate, but always, always we are beautiful.
I love my people, love watching them, experiencing them. Their minds are...they're like Wonderland. C.S. Lewis wrote that in Wonderland "everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would." Imagine that times a couple hundred and stuffed inside your head. It's fun, it's interesting, it's complex, it's a perpetual migraine that's usually worth it.
I've never been to the beach before, never been so far removed from the Fae. I live at Court and whenever I go out I travel with a host of bodyguards and companions. Their voices are a constant roar in the back of my head. I...I've never been really alone before.
I can't help it; I start to cry.
She's crying. That's not the reaction I was going for. I pause, reconsider, and ultimately decide that, nope, definitely not the reaction I was going for.
Cat's never been to the beach before and recently, with her powers expanding, I thought a day away from it all would be a nice treat. It wasn't easy finding somewhere the Fae are sparse. We're like insects; we're everywhere in some form or another. In the end, it was a draw between this little cove - which, FYI, I've warded up the wazoo to keep Fae-free - a chunk of desert in Egypt and a corner of rainforest in Brazil that's been avoided for good reason. The beach won for the fun factor. Which apparently I completely misjudged, given the sobbing.
I sigh, running one through my hair. It's not easy being a princess, I know that. Her Da dotes on her, would give her the moon if she asked for it, but he expects a lot from her. Her uncle teaches her how to fight. He spends hours training her with all sorts of weapons, in a half dozen different fighting styles, for any possible physical confrontation and several impossible ones to boot. Her Da teaches her about politics, about strategy, about ruling. He sends her to the Summer Court for a season every year; he says she needs to understand all Fae even if she's only to rule half of them. She has so many tutors it's surreal. She has to learn to dress, dance, and act accordingly for for any and all occasions, to speak and read and write in as many languages as her brain can possibly hold, and to understand, appreciate, and respect the customs and cultures of any sentient being she may come across. She has to know the answer to every what, every who, everywhere, everywhen, every how. Just thinking of it makes my head hurt; I have no idea how she can hold all that information without her brain bleeding out her ears.
Like I said, her Da loves her but he expects a lot and sometimes...sometimes he forgets that she's still just a child. I wanted to give her one day where she didn't have to be the Princess of the Winter Court, where she didn't have to be Lyr's daughter, where she didn't need to be the girl who saw ghosts or knew what you were thinking or was surrounded by cats. The other Fae, they don't really like Cat much. The Fae are beautiful, that's what Cat tells me. She says that Fae are nature's pretty poison, that we're reflections of nature's myriad forms and emotions. She says that to love something, you have to understand it, you have to accept it, and you have to appreciate it as a whole. She loves the Fae; they're her whole world. They don't love her; they couldn't care less about her.
We're a greedy, selfish, arrogant species. Immortal and powerful, we live as spoiled children, content in the knowledge our Royal will always be there to protect us. So long as Lyr lives, Cat is just back-up, unimportant and inconsequential until her ascension, still a millennium away. Even seated on the throne with the crown on her head, Cat is little more than the battery pack for our magic and a shield against any possible threats. It's ridiculous.
All of which is to explain that, with all her future days already dedicated to serving her people, I wanted to give Cat one day that was just hers, all hers, only hers.
"Cat? Kitty Cat, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I...we can go home and I'll get you a cat instead. A female Sith Cat to give Oz company. You name her Isis and have the matched pair. I'll even commission matching coll-oomph!"
She tackles me, her arms wrapping tightly around my midsection, her face buried in my shirt. It takes me a minute to realize she's chanting "thank you" over and over again and another minute after that to realize she wasn't upset at all. So I may have miscalculated my miscalculation. Happens to the best of us, I suppose.
I should say something.
"Cat, you haven't even gone in the water yet! That's the best part, you know."
She pulls back, her eyes going wide, and I laugh. "Oh, Kitty Cat, you didn't think I brought you all the way out here just to look around, did you? We have about an hour until your Da notices we've run away. We'd best make the most of it, no? And a beach isn't a beach without swimming."
Against all possibility, Cat's eyes grow rounder, a happy sparkle coming to light in their depths. "Do you mean, big brother, that I'm going to...that we're going to...PLAY?!"
I laugh again and grab her by her wrists, tugging her towards the water as she screeches gleefully and halfheartedly resists. "Little sister mine," I say over my shoulder, "we're going to stuff so much play into today that you'll have to work the next five centuries straight through to balance it out!"
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