Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: A Series of Transitions
I'm having a bad day. I've come to recognize them by the simple fact that almost all my days lately are bad to one degree or another. I think Fate might be having one of her petty tantrums at my expense. Want some stellar advice? If you ever have the misfortune of meeting Fate face-to-face, don't let yourself get drawn into a duel. The dear can't swing a sword to save her life, regardless of what she thinks, so, yup, you'll win and then get to contend with centuries of hurt feelings. Fate: the greatest sore loser in all existence, no contest.
"And then he killed my sheep!"
Oh, dear gods, who in the name of creation cared?!
"The entire flock?"
"Well, no, just six."
"Three hundred. But that's not the point! That troll had no claim to them and he ATE them!"
Well, of course the troll ate the bloody freaking sheep - he's a TROLL! Do they not cover the Billy Goats Gruff in schools anymore? I mean, really, if my ancestors had gone to all the trouble of gifting mortals with dozens upon dozens of handy, child-friendly warnings, the least they could do is pay attention to the blooming things.
"But he left the wool from the sheep on your doorstep?"
"Damn near gave the missus a heart attack is what he did!"
"Were the sheep healthy?"
"They were the-"
"Sir, try to remember that here, now, with us, honesty is not only the best policy, it's the safest."
Oz raises his head from my lap, a deep growl rumbling from his throat as his lips peel back to show off his fangs.
"They were older, yes, but their value was in their wool."
"Which was left for you on your porch."
I don't understand. Am I supposed to understand? Is...is this some sort of mortal mindset thing? Do I, like, shift my brain to the left, take three steps back, tilt my head and magically - BAM! - comprehension dawns? Hungry troll eats old sheep, leaves wool. Farmer (or would it be shepherd? Is that a term mortals still use?) gets the wool, troll gets to eat and...
"I beg your pardon?"
"There was something else. If he returned the unused parts of your sheep, then he would have offered trade for what he took. Honour is an all-or-nothing sort of thing among my people. What else did he leave?"
"There was nothing else."
My people cannot lie. It's physiologically impossible, although personally I've always thought it was some long ago curse we never figured out how to break. That being said, with centuries at our disposal, as a general rule we tend to become very good at using the truth as affectively - if not more so - than any lie. Of course, that's more a hobby of the idly powerful than your run of the mill Fae. Still, either way, it's nice to know you can take a straight answer, rare as they might be, at face value.
Mortals, sadly, have no problems with lying, letting them slip as easily as air from their lips.
It's very annoying.
"There was something. If I ask the troll, he will tell me. If I ask the troll, he will tell me the troll. If I ask the troll, he will tell me everything. I haven't yet because benefit of the doubt is an easy enough demonstration of trust. I like trust. Trust is nice and fluffy, like a kitten, all purring and content. I love kittens, don't you?"
"Of course you do; everyone does. Kittens are cool. You know what's not? Lying. It makes me itchy. Hate feeling itchy. Now, be a good mortal and tell the truth; I want to try and fit in a manicure before the next item on my agenda for today. Incidentally, what IS the next item on my agenda?"
My assistant - because apparently I have one of those - rustles some papers, although I'm pretty sure it's just for appearances' sake; my schedule is on his tablet. "A gremlin infestation."
"A...whose bright idea was THAT?! There is no way I most certainly, most freaking definitely approved that."
"Your brother's, I believe, milady. Should I cancel it?"
"Um, hold off on that. I may need the emotional release, depending on how this goes and whether or not I fit in the manicure. So, what else did the troll leave on the doorstep?"
"There...there was an infant."
Oh, for the love of gods.
"Bring me the freaking troll. And anyone he happens to be with. I also want the farmer's wife and the infant. And I want you to bring that last one yourself. Oh, and could you bring me back a chocolate milkshake too?"
The big jerk laughs. Totally ruins my desired mystique when my most trusted sidekicks respond to commands with laughter. I've always wondered if all those big, powerful mortal leaders had to face issues like this. Was Napoleon plagued by short jokes from his advisors? Was Caesar teased about his epileptic seizures? Did Alexander the Great get to hear his best friends' giggling while he announced his plans to march on Persia?
Maybe I can find a time skipper to take Khary back and make a gift of him. Let him be someone else's joy and pride.
"Milady?" He smiles. "It wouldn't work; I know you lo-"
"Oh, shut up and go fetch. You've been hanging out with Rav way too much; his cockiness is rubbing off on you. Totally unbecoming."
I pause. He gives me his patented patient-meets-knowing look. I sigh. "Yes, yes, of course I do - now will you go?!"
"Of course, milady." He vanishes.
Everyone is staring at me, their expressions a mix of amusement, surprise, worry, fear, and outright shock. I sigh. This has been happening a lot lately. It's very annoying. Or maybe I'm just prickly that way.
"When I accidentally bring you back from the dead and get stuck with you for all eternity, it comes with certain privileges, okay? The whole taking liberties with shows of public respect thing? One of those privileges, so let's move on, shall we?"
A couple uncomfortable coughs and averted stares is my reply. I sigh. Figures.
Thankfully, Khary's an incredibly fast fetcher; he's back in minutes with two trolls and a mortal woman in tow and an swaddled infant in his arms.
"Milady, your delivery as requested. What shall I do with the infant?"
I take a slurp of my milkshake. Say what you will about mortals, there's no denying they know their chocolate. Yum. "Bring - is it male or female?"
"Bring her here."
The baby's mortal enough to look at, all pink and soft, a bald little human in miniature. There's power in her, Magic that's yet undefined and undecided, still too young to tell me more than that it's there. Now, power I understand, it's nice and straightforward. Babies, on the other hand, I admit, are not my most favourite thing in the world. In fact, were I list all my likes, they'd be near the bottom. As in, last couple of lines bottom. Actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure they'd even make the list. Khary, however, is merely indifferent as opposed to begrudging like bordering on complete dislike. This is why he gets to hold the infant and I get to give the orders.
Thank the gods I get to give the orders.
"Check her for a Mark. She's mixed blood; I'd like to know which side of her bloodline won out. Gawain? I'd like to know where you got the child. Her story must be...interesting if you chose to trade her for a few sheep rather than just eat her."
"Found. On bridge."
I love trolls; they're all about getting to the point. Sometimes that point is their teeth, but still.
"And you didn't eat her because...?"
"No eat cubs. Rule."
"Of course not. Okay then. Murphy? Why, pray tell, were you with Gawain when Khary went to fetch him?"
"Milady? He was with the farmer's wife."
Oh, for the love of all life, why me?
"Murphy, tell me you're not...tell me this isn't...oh, for pity's sake are you freaking kidding me?! We're the FAE, does this mean NOTHING anymore? We're proud. We're mysterious. We're ethereal. We're noble. We're bloody freaking divine! We are not - NOT! - a bunch of soap opera cast-offs who think with their nethers and kill willy-nilly! That's what the freaking mortals are for!"
Wolves. We're meant to be wolves, graceful, lethal, united, eternal. Mortals? They are Chihuahuas compared to us and yet, here we are, reduced to the same pathetic melodrama. I'm totally going to ban mortal television after this.
The farmer's wife actually screams, her eyes going wide and she begins begging me in Spanish to spare him, telling me I didn't understand, that I had to have mercy.
It is official; I am calling Fate after the manicure, before the gremlins, and requesting a rematch she is totally going to win. This is becoming ridiculous.
"Milady? Shall I carry out the order?"
I sigh and study our little cast of players: the troll having an affair with a married mortal, his lover pleading with me to spare his immortal life, her husband, oblivious and greedy, still demanding restitution for his lost sheep, and the dumb pawn caught in the middle of it all. Oh, blech. I have, truth be told, no idea what to do. Were this the sort of rule I was bred for, I would just have Keeley slay the lot of them and move on to the manicure. Were any of my people's past leaders, I'd...well, yeah, kill them all for the inconvenience and move on.
But me? I'm trying to cultivate a different sort of image, not so ruthless and merciless, a little more understanding and compassion. It's part of my big Master Plan and sadly that means I can't just go around killing whatever annoys me.
On a completely unrelated note - no, seriously, totally unrelated - I cannot wait for the day my Master Plan is complete and I'm free to be me without the facades and masks. Dear gods, the day cannot come too soon.
First things first. "Farmer, what is it you would have of this Court?"
"I want repayment for my sheep and compensation for this inconvenience."
Huh. I honestly didn't think this farmer the type to go for multisyllabic words. And he used them correctly too. Colour me impressed.
"Gawain offered repayment. You've declined it. As for this inconvenience, it is of your own making and thus, as the mortals say, not my problem. However, I do appreciate having this...situation's deeper facets brought to light. In my gratitude, I offer a boon."
"What the hell is a boon?"
Apparently that little demand of his was the extent of his upper class vocabulary. Surprising, this was not.
I sigh. "You know the story of Cinderella? Going to the ball? That was her boon. It's...it's like a wish. Sort of."
"Why would I want to go to a fucking ball?"
Oh, for crying out loud... "Cinderella and her ball was merely an example; you may ask for whatever it is you want and, should it be within my power to grant, you shall have it. But be warned, wishes granted by the Fae can be...Keeley, what was that story you told me? The one about wishes and a, um, donkey's hoof?"
"Ah, yes, thank you. Wishes granted by the Fae can be rather like those granted by the monkey's paw; they don't always turn out...as expected. Think King Midas."
"...ancient king with a touch that turned everything to gold? Accidentally touched his beloved daughter and...you know what? Never mind. Point being, you may want some time to think about it before-"
"I want wealth. Wealth and fame and power and success and women and-"
"Blah, blah, blah, I get it. You want to be a billionaire playboy with all the perks. How original. Your boon is granted. Get out."
"Granted? But...nothing's happened! Nothing's changed!"
"You get that I'm not a fairy godmother, right? They're like the peewee league and me? I'm the majors. So if I say your boon's been granted, it's been granted. May it bring you everything you deserve. Enjoy! Oh, and also? Go away. Keeley? Help him."
The farmer disappears, off to enjoy a new life of power, wealth, beauty, and success until the inevitable moment it all sours and turns to ash in his hands. The more powerful the Magic, the more selfish the wish, the darker the end it tends to have. Da said it was how Fate ensured balance, the little twisted finish to added to each spell like this. Whatever. It's not as if it's a problem I'll ever need to face personally, thank you very much. Besides, I did warn him. Of course, mortals rarely if ever actually listen to that warning, but still, I gave it. His impending downfall and misery is so not my fault.
Which leaves me with two trolls, an adulteress, and an infant. There's sure to be a joke in there somewhere.
I am so over this whole personal touch thing. Surely I can figure out a believable reason to fob this job off on Rav. I'm sure he'd love it; the man lives for this sort of public horse show.
Oh! That reminds me. "What's on my schedule after the gremlins?"
"At the moment? Nothing. You mentioned tentatively wanting to go to the fair with London and Fang."
"Yes, I want their advice on a horse I saw there the other day. I don't think it's actually a horse but I can't figure out the what, how, or why exactly and it's been driving me bonkers. When is Tru expected back?"
"Noon tomorrow. Your schedule's been kept clear except for the meeting with the dignitaries he and the others are escorting back and the ball in their honour."
"Awesome. Are we doing a masque?"
"Did you want to?"
"They're sort of my favourite."
"Then, yes, we're doing a masque."
"Double awesome. Right. So, Murphy, what was the plan? No, wait, better question, how did your little mortal hide a pregnancy from her husband?"
Huh. Not a lie, impossible to be a lie, but that isn't exactly the truth either. I look at the woman again. She's beautiful by mortal standards, long red hair in a tidy braid, strawberries-and-cream complexion, big sky blue eyes...Oh. Oh, my gods. That's...I'm going to be sick.
"Khary? I need to know what that child is. Exactly. We're going to need Fang. Did you find a Mark?"
"There is a scar on her hip, I think from a burn. It may have been a Mark someone has tried to remove or conceal."
"After Fang has his taste, I want her healed. Especially that burn. And someone who isn't me should probably summon the Mater."
I recognize the need for the Mater; she provides a necessary service for my people and as such is meant to be held in some regard, especially by me. She's...she's sort of like a nanny and a nursemaid all in one; she tends to our children without parents of their own for whatever reason. Unfortunately, I can't stand the woman. She makes my skin crawl and I've yet to be in her presence and not feel inclined to incinerate her. Of course, I've also yet to actually act on that urge so at least there's that in my favour. It's just that she's...she's...she's just so damn smug. She knows I can't kill her. Knows I can't banish her. Knows I can't even freaking fire her. And so she treats me with a familiarity she hasn't earned and informality that sets my teeth on edge and I really, really, REALLY wish someone - ANYONE - would drop a freaking house on her. Maybe splash her with some water. I'm not particular; any method that results in her death will suffice. I don't even care if it's fast or slow so long as I never have to deal with her again.
"Fio! Darling! You called, sweetie?"
I hate that nickname.
"Mater, it has been awhile since our last meeting. I trust you've been well."
"Oh, well, there's something of a draft in my quarters and the young ones have all caught themselves colds but we trudge on best we can, don't we, Fio?"
Due to, well, me, pure blood Fae children haven't been possible for the past eight hundred years or so; the only young at Court have been the rare child born to mortal heritage, usually scooped up by the Mater within mere hours of their first cry. Little known fact: mixed blood children need time to grow into their immortality, only coming into it once they've reached maturity. Until then, they tend to be an ill and sickly lot, their chances of actually living long enough to live forever slim. Hence the need for Mater. And why her babes were able to catch colds.
"You should have said something earlier, Mater; we could have acted to prevent such illness. Perhaps, if your responsibilities are too great for you to manage alone-"
"No, no, little Fio, little darling, that's quite alright. No help needed for me, no indeed. Just making an observation, that's all. What reason brings me here, little Fio?"
"In a moment, Mater. First things first. Fang? The child."
Fang appears, his entrance a dramatic flurry of bat wings that coalesce into his human form. He is such a show-off, the brat.
Several people, including the Mater, the trolls, and the farmer's wife, hunch in on themselves and take as many steps away from him as their pride will allow. I always thought it was rather funny, since of all my wraiths, Fang's the most...civil. Khary was a djinn, Keeley a demon, London a berserker, Sabine a cursed werewolf; personally, I would have thought any one of them much more intimidating than Fang, who's lithe and pale and angel-faced. I blame these display of his.
Which, I have to admit, are pretty freaking badass.
Khary hands Fang the baby. Both the Mater and the farmer's wife protest. Loudly.
"Fio, you can't let the Beast FEED on an innocent child!"
"He is not feeding; he is merely having a taste to determine exactly what she is."
"It is not proper, Fio, not proper at all. Poor little Fio, clearly your time away, your past, have affected your judgment. To be expected, of course, but really, dear, feeding children to beasts is just not to be done."
"ENOUGH! Fang, taste. Now."
He does, bless him, nipping the infant's shoulder, the anesthetic in his saliva keeping her from feeling the pain or crying. Vampires. Handy little creatures when they're on your side. And, um, genetically modified, for lack of a better phrase. Which is kind of the only way to get them on your side.
Demons; who'd've thunk it?
"She's a half breed."
"That's information you already had, little Fio. You've harmed the child for no-"
"What sort is the Fae half, Fang?"
Ha! Called it. Little Miss Farmer's Wife was no more mortal than the troll. In fact, if I were to guess, I'd say she and Murphy were in fact a mated set. She likely used the farmer to get with child, then set up this whole elaborate ploy to get the child accepted into the farmer's home until immortality took hold. Why, you might ask? Because, shock of shocks and weirdest of all weird, adultery is second only to treason on my people's list of taboos, even if you did have your mate's permission.
Oh, and by and by, that list of taboos? Does not include murder, although, that being said, only a total moron would kill a Fae; you never know who might take offence at the death and come seeking yours.
What's gross, however, is the wife's glamoured appearance; a washed out and dulled down version of me. Her true form would be something a lot less appealing and, hey, I don't begrudge my people looking however they want - I actually know of one Fae who goes around looking like one of those blue aliens from that old movie - but personally I always try to look like myself, just toning down the more obviously Fae features. I make my blood-red hair copper, round my pointed ears, remove the shimmer from my golden skin, tone down the beauty factor, and turn my sky-reflecting eyes sapphire. Little Miss Farmer's Wife has toned it down even more, strawberry hair instead of copper, creamy skin instead of golden, pale blue eyes instead of sapphire, but I recognize the curve of her jaw, the smattering of freckles, the cut of her hair; the colouring may be dimmed down, the features slightly off, but her glamour is basically me.
So very, very, very gross.
And creepy. Really, really creepy.
I wonder if I can make the argument that mimicry of my appearance is treason. I'll have to talk to Rav about it later, see if I can get it made into Law.
"Well, that clears everything up. Thank you, Fang. So. The child is staying with us. Gawain, as punishment for being such an easily manipulated pawn, you're losing your bridge and are hereby prohibited from claiming a new one for the next fifty years. Murphy, as punishment for being an accomplice of whatever degree in this little scandal, you're hereby sentenced to one century in Tartarus. Someone please tell Torment to think Greek, preferably in the vein of Artemis rather than Zeus; I like her sense of irony."
"Yes, milady. How long should we tell Torment to keep him?"
"Until the child's come into her immortality; then we'll turn him into a puppy or a ferret or something and he can be delivered to her mercies. If she dies, then Torment can decide for himself."
Torment (who was actually rather new to his position; killing his predecessor had been one of my first moves upon my homecoming) has something of a Hotel California policy with the dungeons. I'm oddly okay with this.
"And the squonk?"
Ah, yes, the squonk. My little fangirl.
"What was the plan for the mortal? You set up this whole elaborate plan to get your daughter accepted into your mortal husband's home...but why? It seems like such a lot of wasted effort; the child was his, after all...unless...Fang? Go find that obnoxious little farmer; I want to know if he's the girl's father."
Fang hands the infant back to Khary and vanishes. The Mater moves towards Khary, likely to take the baby, but I stop her with a gesture; I'm not ready yet for the child to be officially claimed by my Court, an act that becomes sealed with her transfer to the Mater.
"Khary, I'd like you to heal her now."
Fang reappears and shakes his head, saying nothing. Doesn't really have to. I sigh.
"So, you chose yourself a nice mortal - one with land, with some degree of wealth - marry him as part of this big plan and then, because you're clearly a total mastermind, you discover your mortal is missing a key element necessary for your plan; he's impotent, isn't he? So you, what? Have an affair with mailman? But then you're stuck with a child the mortal will never accept, who you can't bring back to live with you and your mate, at least not until she's been Recognized by a Court and neither Bran nor I is dumb enough not to notice your mortal is a glamoured troll. Next time, genius? Try coming to me."
"I did! I stood in this room waiting for my audience over and over again - every day for a month, I waited to speak with you, to ask you for help! You NEVER had the time for me and I couldn't wait much longer; we're only fertile for so long! But then..."
"But then someone approached you. Someone who claimed they'd be able to help you get what you wanted. Someone who came up with this whole elaborate plan, including the part where your mortal came here and sought restitution for six dead sheep. Because, just like Murphy and Gawain, you're a pawn."
I sigh. My people might be powerful and immortal but when you got right down to it, some of them are just idiots. "You guys do understand that true Royals are privy to the thoughts and memories of any Fae in their Court, right? And you remember that, unlike my regent, I'm a true Royal?"
"If you knew then why-"
"Did I let you carry through with it? Because I fully embrace the idea that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. Plus, I find everyone's scandals and plots and conspiracies more interesting than anything else right up until they implode and get muck on my shoes. So, little Squonk, prepare yourself; you get to be a weeping lady for the next century! Khary will find a lake or river or whatever for you to haunt. Which, I'm thrilled to say, brings us to the next item on my agenda. Before the manicure and gremlins, that is."
Khary vanishes with the infant and reappears empty handed to take the trolls and squonk away. The Mater is smiling at me, big and wide, showing off her fangs. I roll my eyes; as if she's the biggest, baddest predator that's ever tried to eat me. Please; she doesn't even rank the top fifty list.
Plus, hello? I'm the bloody freaking Queen - I can do this:
"Guards? Restrain the Mater."
Sure, I could do it myself with a thought, but where's the fun in that? So much more satisfying to see the Mater in the custody of my guards.
...with my power restraining her as well. You can never have too much insurance, after all.
"Mater? You're a moron. Never mind the part where you're trying to kill off your current charges. Never mind the part where you've somehow decided to cultivate your very own half breeds by manipulating their parents into committing crimes you then rat them out for so you might take custody of their children. What makes you a moron is that you seem to have honestly believed I wouldn't notice, that I wouldn't do anything about it."
"Oh, come now, little-"
"Finish that nickname and I vow here and now I will take the tongue from your mouth and feed it to my cat. I know what you're going to say - there's no crime in trying to build yourself a tidy little power base. And you're right; there's not. But, unfortunately for you, there is a crime to be had in risking the future of our people. Specifically, in risking our children. I may not like the little darlings personally, but that doesn't mean I'd allow anyone to hurt them, especially - ESPECIALLY - when they are MINE!"
I let my power slip with my anger, the force of it shaking the hall. The cats - dozens of them of all breeds and sizes from tigers to domestics to Fae - roar and hiss, sharing my displeasure. Khary, Keeley, Fang, and Sparrow all appear by my side, weapons drawn and ready. It's quite the image, I have to admit.
I flick my wrist before the Mater can speak, taking her voice before she can say anything else to annoy me. Which, let's face it, would only take a syllable, if that.
"Milady? What, ah, what would you like done with her?"
"First things first, someone competent has to go and tend to the children, check them for potions, poisons, curses, and anything else that comes to mind. Then we need to hire a pediatrician, preferably one of Fae blood or at the very least Magic Touched. And we're going to need a new au pair. Probably going to need to restructure that whole premise. Blech."
"And the Mater? Shall we kill her?"
"Nah, we're going to-"
"Curse her? Go for slow vengeance rather than swift justice? What a shock."
"Quiet, you. But, um, yes. That's what we're going to do. The Mater will be made mortal and cursed to live a hundred lives doomed to have children she will only ever lose. Perhaps then she will come to appreciate what it is she was messing with."
She looks horrified. Good. I never liked the woman it was always for just cause; she deserves every moment of her impending pain and grief. Every. Moment.
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