Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both
From the personal files of Madison Bishop, reporter, Fae Times – NOT FOR PUBLICATION
Six months ago, the Fae had some sort of an internal disruption and next thing we mere mortals knew new monarchs had ascended to both thrones, their predecessors apparently dead. Two months ago, the Summer King allowed a mortal journalist inside his Court to observe and report. The resulting eight articles made the journalist a household name, the publishing magazine's sales shoot up in sales and the Summer Court look like a modern day Eden. One week ago, seven weeks to the day after Brennus opened his Court to the mortal public, Fionnuala, Queen of the Winter Court, invited a human journalist to tour her own Court. Which is where I came in.
Lucky me, I won the exclusive look inside the Winter Court. This was an adventure set in motion by a piece of paper delivered to my editor by a troll, one of the more gruesome species of Fae that call the Winter Court home. The brute just appeared by the elevators, walked across the office, handed the heavy stationary to Orwell and vanished. Orwell in turn stood there like a statue for a full ten minutes before finally opening the envelope. Once he had read the contents, he handed it off to me - I happened to be walking past him at the time - and told me to have fun.
One week later, at exactly seven o'clock, there was a knock at my door and I opened it to find Donovan, cousin to the Queen, standing on my doorstep in a white tuxedo; my very own personal escort to the Winter Court.
Unlike the Summer Court's sprawling gardens, the Winter Court was housed within an enormous castle of the Gothic and stone persuasion. The main floor was open to the public and all but the far west wing where Fionnuala and her Knights and Wraiths made their home was accessible to any Fae of the Court. At the Summer Court, only those Fae of the Noble caste were permitted within the Court itself but the Winter Court had no such restrictions. Trolls, goblins, kelpies, gremlins, gargoyles, centaurs, barghests, banshees, brownies, and anything else with a claim to the Court was welcome; Fionnuala, Donovan explained, refused to have any member of her Court, regardless of appearance or appetite, barred from her presence.
That particular evening, the Winter Court was hosting their Queen’s birthday bash. I was led to the back of the castle’s first floor where an enormous ballroom – at least the size of half a football field – took up residence. The room was filled with beautiful Nobles and nightmarish monsters alike, the Winter Court represented in full force. It was made to look like a winter wonderland. The floor shone like glass, its transparent surface looking down into a moonlit winter forest, a lone pair of deer its only visible inhabitants. The black skeletal trees reached up their branches through the barrier to grasp the twisted, crystal pillars supporting the canopy of winter blossoms overhead. At the far end of the room was the throne. It sat empty upon a dais nestled against the breast of a massive ice swan, its wings swept forward in an open embrace. The throne itself was an enormous, high-backed monstrosity carved from diamond. It had plush, overstuffed white cushioning on its back and seat and its frame was shaped like a fall of snowflakes, each one distinct and unique. Above, masked trapeze artists dressed in black and white flipped and twirled and twisted and leapt and swung about while below fire eaters breathed flames of black and blue and black clad jesters juggled and mimed. Altogether, it was a visually stunning room.
Fionnuala, I was told, wouldn’t make her appearance for hours yet, and so I was offered a private audience. I was led through a warren of hallways, rooms, and stairwells to the west wing and then made to climb what seemed like a million stairs to the topmost floor. Donovan knocked on the thick oak door and Keeley, one of Fionnuala’s more publicized bodyguards, opened it. He exuded a coldness so deep it burned and stared at both Donovan and I with disdain.
Once past her bodyguard, I was treated to my first sight of Fae Royalty. She was sitting amongst a plush mountain of cushions tucked within a window seat wearing a sleeveless white ball gown with black snowflakes sprinkled across the torso. A black cat was curled up in her lap and she was petting it absently as she looked out the window at the starless night beyond.
When photos of the Summer King had first been splashed across magazines, newspapers and television, his power had been undeniable. It shone from his very pores, shimmered in every glance and flowed through each move. Anyone who saw him would know him instantly for a King, even the most ignorant could mistake him for nothing else.
Fionnuala did not have that same luxury. She looked delicate and fragile, even half turned as she was, and if anything, she exuded loneliness and sorrow rather than power. Soon she would take center stage in a room brimming with sentient beings – hell, even there in her rooms she was surrounded by bodyguards and cats galore – but her loneliness seemed impenetrable. It was of the flavour of true uniqueness, the sort bred from knowing that nowhere in the universe was there anyone else who could share in your experiences, who could possibly understand you as you truly were. She wielded more power than all the Fae of her Court combined, possessed all the worldly goods her heart could ever desire, and had more people around her than most religious figures but there she sat, petting her cat, and looking so alone and sad it broke my heart just to see it.
It was my first clue that maybe royalty was not all it was cracked up to be.
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