The Faire

Chapter 4

Cassidy woke to the warmth of the sun grazing her cheeks and skin. Her eyes felt crusted over, as if she had been sleeping for days. Something like pollen fell around her and settled on her bare skin. Breathing it into her lungs was sweet and intoxicating. It made her feel at ease. She watched as the dust glittered above in the sun rays, catching the light with flashes of color.

When she sat up, she was so immobilized with comfort that the sight of silver vines surrounding her like the bars of a cage did not seem to faze her, nor did she shriek at the limp bodies of the girls beside her, six at her count, stark naked and unmoving.

She recognized the blonde curls of Lizzie beside her, and was even more relieved to see the rise and fall of her back with breathing. They were all breathing, she realized, just softly in a deep slumber. It was a pleasant slumber, judging by the smiles on their lips.

Cassidy glanced again to the silver vines all around her, placing a hand on them and peering through. The vines were as solid as metal and just as cold even under the blazing sun.
A clawed hand suddenly grabbed hers, and she did not flinch back.

What an honor, a voice like her own said in her head. An honor to be touched by these gods.
The hand was connected to a scaled beast with the chest of a man, wrapped up in red and green ivy. His tongue flicked in and out of his wide lips like a snake.

“Lookie, lookie, the girlies awake,” the creature said followed by a hiss. He clamped his hand harder around hers, and threw her back into the containment. Grinning cruelly, all the while, with small razor sharp teeth.

Cassidy longed for another touch, although somewhere deep inside her was a sense of horror. She knew not to speak, and could not think to scream. Anything that could dare offend her captors, her gods, she could not bear to do.

Behind the monster was a man, tall and blonde, with hollowed out cheeks and deep-set bruised eyes. To Cassidy, he seemed pitiful. Could he not see that he was in the presence of a god? Why was he scowling so? His expression seemed dangerous and desperate.

“This should appease our queen, correct? Seven girls in place of one.” The man growled the words, as if the burden of speaking was more than the creature deserved.

The clawed fingers wrapped around the vines of the cage, again, and a slitted pupil expanded and contracted while looking down at the group of girls within. “Methinks, me thinks, the girlies pretty.”
He licked a blubbery upper lip hungrily with a malicious smile. His teeth were small and yellowing, with what looked like meat stuck in between them.

“Harvor, enough!” the man said sharply. His eyes rested on Cassidy’s face, and what looked like recognition flashed in them before he looked away in disgust. Cassidy did not care at all. She felt as if she knew the man, but her mind was too relaxed to focus on where from. “These girls are meant for the queen, and will serve her purposes. Do not turn them to filth with your touch.”

The beast grunted, and pulled away from the cage. Cassidy watched in awe and despair as the beast called Harvor headed out of the clearing, leaving only the man behind. She was filled with a longing for his presence, but he was already hidden by the trees.

The trees circled all around the cage to form a clearing of dirt and grass, and just as Cassidy stared out at them she saw brown hands stretch from the trunks and lovely wooden women pulled themselves from the heart of the trees. Some were covered in bark and their eyes were made of knots in the wood. The women had moss for hair and others had leaves. They were slender and curved like sanded and polished carvings, with knobbed fingers and no clothes to cover their womanly figures.

“Prepare them,” the blonde man said, and left without a further glance.

As they moved, pollen trailed behind their moss-grey hair and their feet were nimble and quick. They sprang delicately to the cage, like they were dancers, and with a single twigged finger each the vines melted to the ground. They lay there, green like snakes and flimsy once again.

The other girls woke the moment the cage fell, but all remained complacent just as Cassidy had. Even with the odd and stunning creatures tugging, pinching, and grabbing their bodies and hair, the girls simply delighted at the attention.

The wooden women led them to a river, and gestured for them to enter the waters. The quick moving water was up to Cassidy’s chin, and the wooden woman at her arm took a wet stone and scraped at her body with so much strength that skin flaked from her naked flesh. After the scrubbing was complete, the woman dunked Cassidy in the water seven times and moved her to the river bed. Her skin was raw and red, but not bleeding.

The women slathered the girls with green and brown sludge, covering their hair and eyes as well as their bodies. Cassidy smelled clay, roses, and mint. When the woman had covered her, stringing the mixture through Cassidy’s chestnut hair, she was led to sit by the water's edge. Bare flesh against the hot stone, Cassidy obeyed.

She watched the other girls placed beside her looking like sludge monsters themselves, with terrifyingly white scleras and pupils dilated too large. Lizzie was beside her. She was always painted grey at the fountain, and was the easiest to identify clay and all. The girl shivered with either cold or giddy excitement. Cassidy watched each face as they came clean from the water.

Alicia Pinzon, the daughter of a tarot reader stayed as stiff as a board once clean, even as a fly settled on her lips.

Martina Cooper, who had only volunteered for the wedding reception and had complimented Cassidy on her dress was sitting cross legged with mud still sliding down her short orange hair. After rinsing her down, the wood women ripped the piercings from her ear and replaced the jewelry with the stems of flowers. Cassidy watched as the wood woman tossed the metal from her thin, inhuman hands as if horrified and in pain.

The clay on her own skin hardened to near stone, caking and cracking as she leaned forward to watch a wood woman pull Danny Lucas under the water. She dunked her seven times, as if it were a baptism. The clay flaked away in the water and was carried downstream. Danny’s tight muscles that she used to clutch the corded wood of the woman’s arm had come from hammering horseshoes and shoveling the stables. Her father owned the jousting horses and she traveled with him half the year, and spent the rest at her mother’s ranch.

Next, Cassidy saw Patricia Lincoln, whose skin shone darker after the clay fell away. She was only eleven years old, and had come to stay with her father for the summer. Begrudgingly, so. She had bragged at every opportunity about life in New York City, and refused to eat anything that contained gluten. She was the bombastic girl who had knocked over the chess table at Cassidy’s booth, after losing, and boasted about how she had won so many chess competitions she had lost count. Her smug sneer was gone, replaced with a wide ingratiating smile. Patricia let herself float serenely backwards into the current. The wood woman grabbed her ankle swiftly and jerked her back within reach, causing her head to dunk. She came sputtering back to the surface, the grin re-positioning itself to her face as if drowning was a fun game.

The next girl pulled down to the water, Cassidy did not recognize. She had tan skin and angular eyes, with both of her arms sleeved in tattoos. Her hair was buzzed close to her head, with a set of lines shaved above her ears. There was a symbol tattooed on the back of her neck in green ink, like a sun with the crescent moon inside of it. She smiled with delight and laughter, but appeared more lucid in her happiness. She could not have been older that 20 years in age.

Cassidy realized that none of the girls were. She felt the slightest bit of panic. Then, she was pulled back into the frigid waters and the fears were replaced with pleasure. As they cleaned her skin, scraping the sludge with rocks and leaves, the woman leaned down and retched. The woman had sniffed Cassidy’s hair and something there had made her sick.

“This one reeks of iron,” she called. Several other tree women came to verify her claims, and once proven the cleaning process began again. As she sat drying, the other girls were led away through the trees.

After they finished, the wooden women tested her smell again. They looked satisfied enough but concerned, while some still flinched away. One woman, Cassidy couldn’t differentiate them, gripped her hair in anger and flung her back to the edge of the water. Another gripped the arm of the assailant, and shook her mossy head. She then leaned over Cassidy, brushing the wet hair out of her face.

“Dear girl,” she said in a voice as sweet and ancient as the sea. “Pray tell us, why do you smell of iron so, despite our thorough cleaning?”

Cassidy filled with delight. She was granted leave to speak with a god! Pleasure crept into her, causing the hair to rise on her arms. She felt so happy that she could provide them with an answer.

She placed a pruned finger to her scalp, and said “There’s a metal plate inside my head. They put it in after the crash. It is supposed to keep my skull closed, and my brain protected.”

Cassidy had never spoken of the accident as if was just another memory, or even with a smile on her face. She and Gwen avoided the subject unless necessary, and she would not dare speak about it to her grandparents. They already found enough reason to berate her mother without Cassidy adding to their disdain by telling the harrowing story of how her mother drove them both straight into the back of a garbage truck while high on bath salts. Even the horror of the memory seemed distant, as if she had never heard the crunching of metal like an explosion or seen red when the blood spilled from her skull to her eyes. It was like a television show she was recapping to an interested friend.

The wooden women chattered back and forth to one another in hushed voices, but Cassidy could hear some of them clearly.

“Cut it from her flesh….cannot damage the queen’s property...the queen would not want her.”

They stopped abruptly as a young man with pointed ears and ink black hair graced them with his presence. To Cassidy, he seemed to glow faintly in the sun, with silver as spoon eyes and translucent skin. He wore clothes and cloaks all in fine black silk and wore a circlet of thistles on his brow.

Cassidy released a sigh, breaking the silence. The chirping laughter of the wood women was obvious in its mocking tone. The inhuman man’s eyes fell on Cassidy, drinking her in like wine. His gaze did not leave her face as he spoke.

“The queen’s patience is dangerous to test, nymphs. Why then has this girl been sequestered here?” His voice was commanding, but cruel and low.

The wood women huffed and spit, and some of them sighed. Still his eyes remained faceted on hers.

She wondered if he was accusing her of wasting the queen’s time, and felt guilty and self-conscious.

“She’s not fit to serve the queen!”

“She’s damaged goods!”

“She reeks of iron!”

“A poisonous girl!”

"Filthy girl!"

The cacophony of words sounded like an angry birdsong. Cassidy clenched her fingers in the wet dirt. Her heart ached at the last words. Filthy, she recalled from a distant memory. Someone had called her that before. She felt filthy, now, to the very core of her being.

She felt ashamed to have disappointed them, and wished to assuage their disgust. Especially, his disgust, the god amongst gods.

Searching his face, though, she found none there. Instead, he gripped her bare arm firmly and wrenched her to her feet. The claws of fingernails cut into her skin. The warmth of his hands sent her heart into overtime, beating so loud her ears were ringing. She tried not to flinch away in her nervousness. She was, after all, not worthy of his fingers touching her skin with her iron odor and human filth.

"Take your leave." His voice was as cold as the northern wind.

The wood women crept back to their trees, fusing there without a sound as if they had never left.

The silver-eyed man pulled from his cloaks an iridescent gown of shining woven webs. It did nothing to cover her, but Cassidy slid it over her head as she knew he intended her to. When she had dressed, he gripped her again, pulling her by the arm into the mass of trees.

She heard the whistling music of what she thought were birds, but when she looked up she saw winged pixies in purple and green skin swinging from the branches and following beside them. They were smaller than Cassidy’s hand, and shone as though glitter covered their skin.

A breeze brushed her dress against her guide’s hand and he stared down at it. He noticed the droplets of blood bubbling where his nails sunk too deeply into her arm, and loosened his grip. Instead, he gently added a hand to her back, leading her by the spine like a ventriloquist dummy. The pair passed through rocky dips in the path and ended in a large grass field scattered with wild flowers and wilder beings.

Cassidy heard music sweeter than any she had ever heard, that begged her to join in the dancing. Women with horns and three eyes and breasts, men with feathers covering them like suits, and creatures of unknown gender and incomparable to any animals known to man were gyrating and dancing with wild leaps and pirouettes and some with sexual movements. Cassidy was certain she saw several of the creatures engaging in the actual act of sex, noticing they did so to the sickeningly addictive rhythm.

Her arms were aching to sway and her feet hit the ground to the beat of the drums. Then the man gripped her harder, nails cutting deeper than before, and the intoxication subsided.

Hundreds of creatures were in the field. Winged creatures, horned ones, and great fat monsters with tiny heads. She saw a bat like creature with sickly grey skin and no eyes chomp down on the shrieking body of a glimmering pixie.

In the center of the crowd rose a great stone dais, carved with ivy and vines and berries. On the dais sat a woman in a throne who did shine blindingly in the sun as if she was radiating light. She was adorned in golden leaves wrapped around her like a couture gown, with golden hair that stretched passed the edge of the dais and stopped just short of the ground. She wore a crown of rubies as red as blood and her lips were stained in kind.

Standing in front of her on the dais, backs to the crowd and heads bowed, were six girls in shimmering translucent dresses.

The silver-eyed man led Cassidy up stones that seemed randomly placed but that worked as stairs, and placed her at the end of the line of girls facing the queen. The queen’s eyes caught hers, and Cassidy saw that they were more golden than the sun before bowing her head in reverence. She glanced up, again, unable to keep her eyes off of the radiant woman.

Her golden eyes lanced straight through Cassidy, and like a hawk’s they were discerning and emotionless even as she smiled. Sharp as daggers and decorated with wooden and glass piercings the queen’s ears sliced through her molten gold locks of hair. Before the queen said a word, a large mass was tossed in front of her by a faerie in solid white armor with equally white hair and black eyes rimmed pink like a mole's.

The girl that Cassidy did not know in the group flinched beside her at the noise. No other girl moved. Even to Cassidy who saw her movement in her peripheral, the girl moving was unusual, but she dared not speak in the presence of the monarch.

The lump rose to his knees, bowing his blonde head in veneration. The same man who had spoken to the beautifully grotesque monster at the cage as if he were the scum of the earth now kneeled before the queen as though she were an idol to be worshipped. She certainly shone like one as she rose a hand nonchalantly.

“Stand,” she said. “Stand, Yorick, and explain yourself to me.”

The name Yorick seemed familiar to Cassidy, until she grasped through her fogged mind and found she knew it from Shakespeare. The skull of the fool to whom Hamlet performed his soliloquy.
The man’s sunken face resembled a skull, and his groveling position on the floor made him seem ever the fool. Cassidy wondered if Yorick was simply a nickname that the man resembled, or the name he went by.

Yorick stood, his eyes never meeting the queen’s. He was dressed in trousers so heavily covered with dirt they appeared grey and a billowing tunic that was stained yellow with splattered blood dried in the fabric. There were torn eyelets in the front of his tunic that once bore a string, but now his bare chest could be seen with a thin white scars and thick red cuts covering the flesh there.

“My queen,” he said, and the guard of knights flanking the throne sneered at him. “I have brought to you seven mortal girls, your favoured number, that I may buy a place here in your court.”
The queen’s smile never faltered, but her gaze turned wicked and blazed like the harshest sunlight. Her ruby lips parted.

“Our bargain, you remember, pertained to a single mortal. May I take from you overcompensation that you have failed to obtain her? Or do you intend to deceive me into believing that one of these mortal girls is she?”

Yorick stammered, hands splayed and rubbing together in desperation.

“N-no, my q-queen. Are not seven girls equal to or greater than the one? I had hoped-”

The queen waved a hand, nails inches long and exaggeratedly pointed. The white knight swung a crystal club so deftly to the back of the man’s knees that Cassidy had not seen him draw it from his back.

The girl to Cassidy’s side took a shuffled step back to avoid Yorick’s crumpled body, and her smile faltered. She stared down at the whimpering man in terror. Cassidy wondered at that. The queen is just, she thought, therefore why be surprised when she punished the unrighteous? However, she began to notice that the air was sickeningly sweet and that the voice in which she thought was terrible and strange.

Cassidy saw the queen’s hawk-like eyes move to the girl. Too late, the girl smiled again.

“Step forward, child,” the queen spoke in such a honeyed voice full of persuasion that Cassidy felt her own body lean forward.

The girl obeyed, stepping carefully over Yorick’s rocking body as he clung to his knees in a fetal position. Cassidy saw that the tattoo on her neck was missing the moon in the sun that she had noticed earlier, and wondered how that could be. The queen’s light radiated off of the girl’s glittering dress making it appear as though the girl herself were shining.

“Child, tell me, from where do you hail? What protection have you that you can ward us off?”

The girl threw up her hands in denial. “No ward, your highness, just a disillusionment charm. I-I have a friend in Denver who met a faerie at the festival one year. They dated for a while, but broke up. It was messy. After that he gave me a mark to avoid being glamoured. Still, I just really wanted to find faeries myself. I am so pleased to meet you at last!”

The queen smiled patiently, like a mother to an excited child. With a near imperceptible flick of the queen’s eyes, the white knight drew a crystal sword and beheaded the girl. Her shaved head rolled to land at Cassidy’s feet, nudging her toes. Her body collapsed with all scattered limbs and limpness. The horror grew in Cassidy, but was still dulled under the surface of the pleasant wonder of magic.

“Yorick,” the queen intoned, grinning wickedly down at the corpse. The blood poured from her in a pool upon the grey stone dais. “You have done nothing but delay our bargain. Six days you will have for the six girls you bring-”

“But there were seven,” Yorick whined desperately. Finally, he caught her eyes without realizing he was doing so.

The queen’s face flashed into a sudden intense fury.

“And there are now six, unless you can fathom a way to piece this one together again.” She bit off every word with such sharp precision it was as if they had been the cause of the many cuts on Yorick’s flesh. “No? I thought not. In six days time, you will bring me the mortal I initially bargained for. If our bargain is incomplete, you will suffer her fate in her stead.”

Yorick winced, nodded, and crawled dejectedly off the dais like a wounded dog. The white knight still held his crystal sword, as if eager to take it to Yorick’s flesh. The guards by the queen watched him crawling away with the same contempt shown to a roach.

Cassidy, deep underneath the intoxication, was relieved that Gwen was not among the girls taken. Otherwise, Cassidy was sure it would be Gwen’s head at her feet, her sharp tongue finding its way out of the fog of obedient contentedness to offend the beautiful but terrifying queen.

The queen stood and stepped off the twisted golden branches that made up her throne. She paced down the line of girls, her trailing gown dragging over the corpse and rolling the head away from Cassidy’s bare toes. The closer the queen stood, the more high Cassidy felt. She could no longer shape a single thought of her own, instead hearing that voice like her own worshipping the bloody ground the queen’s feet touched.

Standing still, the queen stared out at her subjects.

“My people, fae of the Court of the Summer Sun, is your queen not generous? Six mortal girls, I am given. Six mortal girls are up for service to play with as you please. The auction will start with this one.”

She placed a hand on Patricia Lincoln’s shoulder. Patricia beamed as the queen turned her around. There was a raucous of voices jeering and cheering, and several fae danced about with glee. Cassidy heard several bids for Patricia, the youngest of the group, with fae expressing plans of a most lewd nature with the child.

The auction continued as such, each girl turned one by one and bidded off to the most grotesque and highest paying bidder. They bid with no monetary currency, but instead offered services and magical goods for their prize. Cassidy tried to remain lucid enough to recognize the faeries to which each girl was sold, but once the queen arrived in front of her as the last prize to bid her mind was wiped clean. At her side, the queen stared down at her discerningly. With the slightest twitch of her nose, Cassidy realized that the queen must smell her filth. Then, the golden eyes fell to Cassidy’s arm, and she quickly jerked Cassidy’s arm up in front of her. She let out a startled and terrible laugh.

Lifting the arm higher for the guards by the throne to see, she kept laughing maniacally. The man with blackest hair and silver eyes took a small step forward, a resigned expression on his face.

“Oh dear, Kirrill, it seems you have placed your claim on this one already. Without anything of your own to offer, how will you pay for your prize?”

Kirrill bowed his head, wispy black hair covering his face and hiding his expression. He did not speak.

The queen smirked and dropped Cassidy’s arm, letting it fall with a thud to her side. The gown of the queen trailed in blood, painting the dais with one long stroke of burgundy, as she walked the distance to him. There was a murmur in the court, some fae pleased with the possibility of more violence, some disgruntled by their interrupted bid. With her long clawed finger, the queen stroked a line down Kirrill’s cheek sensually, leaving a white trace behind. He did not flinch or move, instead staring sharply into her eyes just as he had stared down at Cassidy before. As if measuring her with just his gaze.

“Ah, my pitiful, fragmented son. Were you so lonely? So lustful?” She purred the words. “Did the pretty mortal sway you so?”

Cassidy saw over the queen’s slender shoulder, the muscle in Kirrill’s jaw tensed. The queen laughed again, this time with so much infectious mirth that the crowd joined her. The sound was both musical and eerie in its volume. Leaning towards Kirrill as if she were going to tell him a secret, the queen kissed him. When she pulled away his lips were stained as bloody red as hers were, and his eyes were filled with a mixture of unfathomable desire and abject horror.

“Worry not,” she whispered in low sultry tones. Her voice was only loud enough so that the guards on the dais and Cassidy could hear. “Consider the damaged goods a fit prize for the damaged man.”

With that, she returned to her throne and declared the auction over. When he did not move, the queen snapped her fingers at Kirrill and pointed to Cassidy.

He was by her side before Cassidy saw him move, and pulled her even less kindly down the dais stairs than when he had tugged her up them. Cassidy left behind red footprints on the stone. She stumbled and faltered, but he did not slow down. There was fury in his face, and the blood red lips of the queen still had their mark on his own.

Kirrill forced Cassidy through the crowd of fae, who grabbed and groped at her as she passed, and through the trees so thick she could not walk without the twigs catching and scratching at her dress and flesh.

He stopped at the base of the largest tree, whose roots were wide and gnarled and whose trunk was as wide as a car. It appeared ancient, certainly there for longer than any of Cassidy’s known relatives had been alive. She marveled at the twisting pattern of its bark, and Kirrill knocked his knuckles against it three times. Dirt shifted, and a hole appeared at the roots with a stone staircase spiraling deep into the earth.

They traveled down the stairs for what seemed to be a single story, and through several dark passages and without seeing another soul. Small candles melted into the dirt walls with wax trailing down them and lit the halls with a very faint light. Cassidy wondered if the faerie's sight was better than her in the dark, and assumed they must be. He seemed adept and superior at everything. Damaged, the queen had called him, yet he appeared so whole it overwhelmed her.

They passed by several winding passages branching out away from their own, but Kirrill trekked forward in a straight line. Cassidy only realized they were in front of an unadorned, wooden door when Kirrill stopped abruptly. Though, he did not say it, Cassidy knew this must be his home. He removed his cloak and opened the door.

Once inside, her released his grip on her and she let her eyes adjust to the firelight. After her eyes focused, she saw a room lined with several thousand books and scrolls in shelves carved into the soil. The shelves carved high up to the ceiling which Cassidy could not touch even if there were three of her. There were glass jars with fireflies and many small candles interspersed with the books, and several ornate chairs surrounded a large black marble table.

Before she could look any further, Kirrill led her by the waist to another room, barely touching her. This room was much smaller in height and crammed full with chairs and tables and a basin. There was an old fashioned oven and a fireplace with flames licking the walls. There was no smoke, but when he placed her there beside it, the fire was warm and toasted her skin. Looking about, Cassidy guessed it must have been the kitchen. Carved into the walls were more shelves, these burdened with glass jars of flowers and herbs, apples and peaches and various fruit, berries in bowls along with carrots and potatoes, paper wrapped lumps labeled as the meat of deer or hare or boar, and gallon-sized bottles containing colorful liquids. Leafy greens seemed to sprout out in random between to stores of items.

Kirrill walked to a large brick basin in the corner furthest from the fire, from which he ladled water into a tin kettle. He hung the kettle above the fire, and watched it with intense eyes as if it would speed the boil. Cassidy stood in subservient silence, a certain numbness she could not explain. The room smelled like a sweet wood and spice.

Cassidy longed to use her manners, like she would in her human life when visiting a stranger’s house. It’s so lovely, cozy, and sweet. It smells so nice. All of those pretty little lies one tells another, except she would truly mean it. It was all so lovely and grand. So magical and unreal that it filled her with joy. Still, Kirrill had not spoken to her yet, not given her leave to speak, so it was as if her lips were cement.

The kettle whistled, loud and piercing. Kirrill turned to face her, still with the red of the queen’s mouth on his own contrasting violently with his inhumanly pale skin. He did not glance up as he settled flowers into a small glass cup that he had pulled from a jar labelled Clemantis in boxy sharp handwriting. His mirror eyes reflected his hands pouring the steaming water into the cup. A pungent floral smell filled the room. He placed the cup in her hands. The cup was hot but she could not flinch away from it.

“Drink,” he demanded with a coldness to his voice.

Cassidy was so honoured to have the faerie serving her anything at all, but something in his expression felt wrong. He appeared disgusted and adamant, like her drinking the tea would make her less vile. Thinking this, Cassidy rose the cup to her lips, and swallowed the whole thing down. The flower petals tickled her throat and a dry bitterness filled her mouth.

As if the bitter taste was spreading, Cassidy began to feel things she had not felt all day. She felt the rawness of her skin from scrubbing, the aching of her bruises from being tossed and tugged, the throbbing of her arm where the punctures of Kirrill’s nails were scabbing over, and the immense terrible horror that had been whispering inside her suddenly began screaming. It escaped from her lips and tears bubbled from her eyes and poured into rivers down her cheeks. The scream that she produced echoed against the cold dirt walls as loud and high as the highest key of an organ pressed and held. Even her own noise frightened her, as she had never heard anything like it from her mouth.

After her voice cracked and the scream stopped, she still heard a shadow of it in her ears ringing.

She found herself crumpled in the corner, clutching her knees to her chest and fiercely shaking.
A girl had died, so viciously and suddenly, and Cassidy had only smiled. Beasts and creatures, inhuman and monstrous, had groped at every inch of her body and she had accepted it gladly. Patricia, small and innocently full of ego, had been sold off to be a child sex slave to one of those hideous faeries and Cassidy could not even recall his face. Then there was the queen, so cold and overwhelmingly beautiful she was like a pear whose skin had been waxed to perfection but had long rotted inside. What reason did the queen have for all this horror? The queen had a girl beheaded without explaining why, had auctioned off young girls knowing the salacious plans of the faeries who won them, and she called Kirrill ‘son’ yet seemed determined to torment him.

The dirt was cold on her back, and she did not even spare a look when Kirrill swept out of the room. Cassidy steeled herself and stopped weeping, though still desperate and terrified. She now noticed more than just colorful fruit and jars on the shelves, and saw sharp instruments and blades hung above a stone-top table shoved against the wall like a counter of a kitchen. They dangled above the tan stone on simple wooden hooks tied to silver twine. There was a stain of blood set deep into the stone, dark brown and red.

Cassidy went to the dangling instruments, and weighed a knife in her hand. The blade was silver like metal, but the handle was wood as rough as a branch freshly pulled from a tree. The feel of it reminded her of the wood women, 'nymphs' Kirrill had called them, tugging her about while scrubbing her naked flesh and their whispered ploy to cut the metal from her skull. She flinched, and dropped the knife with a loud, jarring clang. Jerking another off of its hook, she spun and pointed a crystal blade at the door Kirrill had left through.

For a moment, she thought he had not heard the sound. With a sinking heart she heard the heavy, plodding footsteps in the main room. She stared at the trembling knife in her hand, and paused. Never before would she have considered herself the type to choose fight over flight, but even upon second guessing herself she did not drop the knife.

When Kirrill entered his eyes fell on the blade in Cassidy’s hands and the edges of his lips pulled into a smirk. Unnerved, Cassidy took a step back, bumping into the stone counter. When she glanced down to his hands, she saw only cloth there. He settled it out on a chair by the door, revealing that it was a gown. It was a fine silk, as black as his own attire, but threaded throughout with silver and green swirls of ivy and flowers. It had billowing sheer sleeves and the fabric at the back trailed the floor in a short train.

Her hand fell an inch, unsure whether this goodwill gesture was enough to trust a faerie. After all that she had seen, she could not be sure. Seeing her falling hand, Kirrill crossed the room in three large steps. With each step, Cassidy's armed hand fell closer to her side. She had been a fool to think she could fight him. He was tall and muscular and had the magic to make her slit her own throat if he pleased.

There was no magic when he pressed his body into hers, forcing her back into the stone table. Panic drowned out any heat his body radiated, and she turned cold as ice. His hand closed around her wrist and lifted the crystal blade of the knife to his own throat. A pinprick of blood formed at the point.

“Do not drop your blade. Do not let down your guard. Let not your heart sway with gifts and kindness. Nothing here is without a price. Keep up your blade, always prepared to strike." His words were fast, recited like a memorized song. "I am not some faerie that you can trust. None of we fae are trustworthy. Though we do not lie, it is wickedness we relish in."

His eyes bore into her and she wondered if he had tried to use magic on her again. Cassidy's heart was racing in something stronger than panic, and if he had tried it was a sorry attempt. Nothing was stronger than the terror she felt from his body on hers.

She forced her fingers open, dropping the knife, and Kirrill jumped back to avoid the blade hitting his feet, releasing her wrist. It fell with the same ring as a fork to a wine glass. When he lifted his gaze to her again, puzzlement filled his expression where she had expected to see anger.

If you wanted me to hurt you, you would not have moved, but let the blade pierce your foot, she thought, too afraid to fling those words at him. Instead, she leaned over in the silence and picked up the knife from the floor. The crystal of the blade had not cracked. She replaced it on the hook. With her back to him, she sighed.

“Please, don’t touch me again,” she said in a soft shaking voice. She had said those words before, but pushed the memory down, locking it in the deep vault of her mind.

“As my possession, you say that I should not make use of you?” Still, he did not speak with the anger that Cassidy had expected of him. There was simply amused confusion. “Why?”

She lifted the second knife, the first to fall, back to its hook. With her eyes watching him in the silver blade, she said “It’s as your queen says. I am damaged goods. People see a pretty face and assume no one has ever given them injury. You are not the first to assume I am a possession to be had.”

Kirrill took a step back, turning smaller in the knife’s blade. Cassidy felt a wave of relief. She had no hope that he would respect her wishes, and was startled into turning to face him. His eyes were on the ceiling, as if searching in his memory. As if reliving one for a moment or two.

“I will do my best to serve you otherwise, as I am sure that no begging will cause you to release me.”

He caught her gaze, fire blazing in his eyes, and nodded swiftly. He retrieved the dress, draping it over one arm.

“Follow me,” he said. He led her back into the main room from which they entered, what she thought was the library. Then he led her through a long hallway also lined with books and she realized his whole home must be a library to him. Three doors stood at the end of the hall, as plain as the one at the front of the home. He gestured to the one in the center.

“These are my dwellings, which you should not enter lest you wish to retract on your request. To the left is a room for refuse and cleaning, should you have no time to visit the river. To the right is a room that I have in spare. Do not take its garish design as an implication that I favor you. The previous occupant had a taste for exquisite things.”

With Kirrill’s nod, Cassidy stepped through the right door. He was not exaggerating. The walls were paved in gems and stones, and the floor carpeted with many intricately designed rugs of red and gold. The furniture was purest gold, with red satin pillows and blankets overstuffed with white down. The feathers stuck out in places. There was a wide gilded mirror above the head of the bed frame, reflecting the stunned face of Cassidy and the face of Kirrill in the hall behind her staring blankly into the bed's blankets. Cassidy caught herself wondering if he had spent much time there, wrapped tightly in blankets with some faceless woman.

“Did the queen stay here?” she asked, realizing too late that it was the wrong thing to say. Kirrill tensed.

His eyes matched hers in the mirror, expression unreadable.

“No. However, it is Queen Avi who orchestrated her death.”

“Oh.” Cassidy replied. She looked away from the mirror. Though she knew he did not want to discuss further, her curiosity won out over courtesy and common sense. “Why?”

“Because even a damaged son of many is hers and hers alone to manipulate to her will. Even with a truer heir, I am allowed no happiness without her leave to have it.”

Cassidy felt a chill run down her spine. The queen did not seem likely to let anyone feel true happiness unless its formed from cruelty to another being. She remembered the smile that perched on the queen’s face as she auctioned away a child to a lecherous beast. She turned to Kirrill who stood shadowed in the doorway.

“The other girls,” Cassidy began. “What will become of them? There was a child, I know her, and the queen sold her to someone offering to do terrible things to her.”

“There is nothing to be done,” Kirrill said. He let no emotion touch his voice. “She will do as instructed, serve as desired, or suffer the same fate as the girl you saw before. She is lucky there is enough vine flower and magic that she will not remember a thing if she were to be released.”

“She will be raped!” Cassidy howled, anger swelling up in her. “A child, raped, and you don’t even care!”

In a blind fury, she grabbed the blankets from the bed and tossed them at him. He pulled the covers from his face, his expression darkened. Cassidy bit back furious tears so that her fury was as clear in her face as his own.

“It matters not what I care about,” he said sharply, closing the door in Cassidy’s face.

She fell backward onto the bed, letting the sobs escape her.

She felt helpless and useless. She wondered what Gwen would do if she were there in that room. Would she have called out the queen’s wickedness, unfazed by the magic? Would she have dug the knife deep into the flesh of Kirrill’s neck, ensuring her own escape? Would she have grabbed the other girls and run when the vines fell around them, finding a way to rescue them all from their horrible fates? Gwen was a loosed arrow shot straight to the sky. You never truly knew where she would land.